Keeping their cool for 65 years

Dawn and Brian Becker with a photo taken at their wedding (also below) on March 21, 1959. They...
Dawn and Brian Becker with a photo taken at their wedding (also below) on March 21, 1959. They celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary with a party for family and friends last weekend. PHOTO: JULIE ASHER
New Zealand, 1959 ... there was no television, Walter Nash was prime minister and the New Zealand Wool Board’s Fleece to Fashion parade started with world champion Godfrey Bowen shearing a sheep blindfolded before mannequins modelled a variety of woollen fashions.

In Oturehua, Brian Becker was looking forward to Dawn Mayall coming from Dunedin on the railcar after her nursing shift finished. She had caught his eye the previous year when his cousin Judith showed him her nursing class photo.

"I’d like to meet that one," he told her.

The two women were friends and an introduction was arranged, ultimately leading to their wedding on March 21, 1959, at St Stephen’s Church in Dunedin.

Moving to Oturehua was a culture shock for young Mrs Becker. They lived in the somewhat isolated Hayes Engineering house and Mr Becker’s work with the rabbit board meant he was often away night shooting.

A keen sportsman, Mr Becker also enjoyed outdoor activities including deer stalking, duck and pig shooting and ice hockey. One of the couple’s earliest meetings was at night skating on the Ida Burn dam.

The pair’s compatibility was revealed on their trip to Dunedin to pay for their wedding photos. Instead they spent their savings on a pup — a springer spaniel they called Chips.

"Best dog I ever owned," Mr Becker said.

The photos were eventually purchased after further saving.

In 1961, with the first of four daughters in tow, the Beckers moved to a lean-to corrugated iron house attached to the side of the garage Mr Becker and his brother Owen had bought when they started Becker Transport.

Mrs Becker recalled working hard to make it liveable.

"I was pregnant again but painted our bedroom, the living room and kitchen and that took away the cigarette-stained walls and ceilings — some took three coats of paint."

She also hung up a plastic curtain as people at the garage could see into their lounge.

While the men were building up Becker’s Transport — starting with three petrol-powered trucks that had done a "million miles" as Shell Oil tankers before being converted to transport company trucks — Mrs Becker was answering the telephone, pouring petrol and mending overalls.

One morning she found a couple she had never seen before sitting in her kitchen; apparently expecting morning tea. They caught the train from Ida Valley to Oturehua to collect their pensions and had always waited for the return train with the previous garage owners and saw no reason to change their routine.

In 1964 the family lost their business and home in a fire. Mr Becker and his brother were away deer stalking and Mrs Becker had taken their three daughters to Dunedin for the weekend.

"It made us homeless and very poor," Mrs Becker said.

The fire was fed by three, nearly full, 60-gallon oil tanks in the garage roof. While all the trucks were saved, the only things saved from the house were the fridge, china cabinet, one kitchen chair, the high chair and some plates.

People in the area were generous and gave money and goods to get them back on their feet again. Mrs Becker sewed flat out for a year replenishing the family wardrobes.

However, not living next to the garage proved to be a silver lining.

"Our private life improved after the fire. Brian wasn’t so handy to be called out to do odd jobs after the garage closed or at lunchtime on Saturdays, so we had more time to ourselves."

Time was important to the family that ultimately included four daughters — Wendy, Fiona, Pam and Claire. There were always people staying for holidays or skating, quail and duck shooting as well as sport. At weekends there were often hockey matches on both days.

In 1995 Mr and Mrs Becker retired to Earnscleugh, although Mr Becker drove for Wastebusters for several years and coached the Dunstan High School clay bird shooting team.

He also enjoyed fishing and surprised the family by buying a speed boat when he was 76 years old to improve his fishing range.

Mrs Becker played bowls and knitted, sewed, preserved and baked for her family and community.

Their last move was to Clyde, where Mr Becker still grows vegetables and Mrs Becker is making clothes for great-grandchildren.

"Our family are very helpful to us.

"We are very proud of our girls and love hearing what our seven grandchildren are doing ... and having two gorgeous great-grandchildren not far away," she said.

Asked, inevitably, what the secret to a long, and clearly happy, marriage was Mr Becker was succinct.

"Keep your cool."

Mrs Becker agreed.