It Used To Be Green Once By Patricia Grace


Patricia Grace, born on August 17,1937, whose real name is Patricia Frances Gunson, is a New Zealand writer who is a towering figure in the rise of Maori fiction. Her works depict the true Maori culture and diversity. Through her writings she showed the world what it is to mean to be a Maori.

She is born to a Maori father and a European mother and identified herself as a Maori. Her first book is Waiariki published in 1975. Her stories are written in English, though some Maori words are left without translation. She has named her characters in original Maori and not ‘Pakeha’ ( European white settler) names.

Patricia Grace’s story “It used to be Green Once” is taken from her collection The Dream Sleepers and Other Stories. Her Mum is the main character. It is an ordinary story about the everyday lives of the Maori people. The narrator tells about some memory she and her siblings had with their Mum. Colloquial language and Maori identities are preserved in the story.


The Maori short story ‘It used to be Green Once’ talks about the author’s childhood experience with her mother. She introduces the mother figure as a funny and interesting character whose actions used to shame the narrator and her siblings when they were children. She shamed the children by putting red darns on their clothes, by stitching togs for the children from old swimming togs. The kids never wanted to wear them because they were too big for their size. She also used to give them rotten apples and pears, after digging out the rotten bit, to school. That made the kids embarrassed. They didn’t have school bags and shoes for school. The story is how their mum’s car which had no brakes and a squeaky horn shamed them the most. She would drive past the neighbours honking . People would yell the items they wanted and on the way back after shopping she would throw their items of grocery (as the car had no brakes)

Then one day their dad won a lottery and everything around them changed. Mom got a new car, a shiny green Chevrolet. The children too got all they wanted. They started to feel they were no more ordinary. Mum and Dad didn’t change at all. After the new car she took all her friends and relatives for shopping. Sometimes she even forgot her new car had brakes. It was always jam packed that some of them sat squashed between others and the shopping items. The boot was always open because of the things in there. It was never kept closed. Some would hold their bags and shovel handles out to the sides or to the roof. Now one looking closer at the car can find it used to green once as there are some patches or green here and there.

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I. Answer the following questions

1. How many children did Mum and Dad have?

Ans. Fourteen

2. How did the fruits become “holey?”

Ans. The rotten parts were dug out.

3. Why did the children ask the driver to stop the bus when they saw Mum approaching?

Ans. Mum’s car had no brakes.

4.”but then one day something happened that changed everything.” What happened?

Ans. Dad won fifty thousand dollars in a lottery.

II. Answer the following questions in a sentence or two each

1. Why did Peti hate swimming at school?

Ans. Mum made togs from old swimming togs. The togs Mum made were thirty eight chest and Peti was only ten.

2. Why did Uncle Raz give Dad his car?

Ans. Uncle Raz couldn’t fix the car anymore, and he had been fined.

3. Why did Mum toot the horns of the car on Wednesday mornings, when she was out on the road?

Ans. She wanted to tell all her mates and relations along the way so that if they wanted anything they’d have to run out and call it aloud to Mum.

4. Which was the only accident that Mum ever had in her car?

Ans. One day when she threw a side of mutton out to Uncle Peta, it knocked him over and broke his leg.

5. How is Mr.Hadley, the Pakeha teacher, presented in the story.
Ans. Mr.Hadley looks neat and the children loved to walk with him. Unlike the children Mr.Hadley got into Mum’s moving car whenever she offered a lift.

6. How could Dad buy a new car?
Ans. Dad won a lottery of fifty thousand dollars.

7. List a few things that Mum did to shame her children.

Ans. Mum did red darns on their clothes, made togs for children from old togs, dug out the rotten bit from apples and pears and made them carry it to school. They were more shamed by the old car which had no brakes and top.

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III. Answer the following questions in a paragraph.

1. What picture of the mother do you get at the end of the story?

Ans. Mum was kind and helpful to all in the neighborhood though she was strict and tuff with the children. She used to yell at the children when they refused to wear the tog to school. The children never won an argument with her. We also get to know that Mum was sensitive and she loved her old car.

2. How did the winning of the lottery affect the parents and children?

Ans. Mum got a big shiny green Chevrolet and Dad got a new cowshed with everything modernized and water gushing everywhere. The children got new clothes, shoes, bags and togs. The children started taking posh lunches to school. Sandwiches cut in triangle, bottles of cordial, crisp apples and pears and yellow bananas. All kids started acting like they were somebody instead of ordinary like before. They would nag mum to take them for a picture. They got flash bread spreads and a piano too. Mum and Dad remained the same ordinary people unless that she got a new car, some new dresses and a new pair of galoshes to put over her slippers and dad got a new milking shed and a tractor.

3. Discuss the symbolism of the car in the story.

Ans. The new car in the story is a green one. It is perceived to be a sort of upgrade, and initially makes the children feel as though, with their better car they are now better people. This as we find out is not the case and the car being a possession does not change the nature of the family. The way in which the car is covered with bits and pieces and squished with too many people inside it, can be seen as symbolic of the land which we use and develop to satisfy our own needs as a society.

4. Why did the children hate Wednesdays?

Ans. Wednesday was Mum’s day for shopping. The children did not want to meet Mum in her old damaged car on their way to school or back. They tried to be sick on Wednesdays but Mum would yell and get them out of bed and pull down their pyjamas and set their bums on cold lino.

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5. How does the story convey Maori consciousness?

Ans. It Used to be Green Once’ gives an insight to Maori culture. It is about a large family living in a small town in New Zealand. The story shows how important are family, relatives and friends more than any material possession. The Mother figure in the story is very helpful to all people in the community. The story tells us how relationship matter over money.

IV. Answer the following questions in not more than 300 words each.

1. Discuss the humour in the story.

Ans. Patricia Grace has beautifully depicted the nuances of an ordinary Maori family living in a small town in New Zealand, in her short story ‘ It Used to be Green Once.’ She has used humour a tool to depict Maori values. The story is about simple ordinary people living together in a community. The reader identifies and could relate at once with the introduction to ‘Mum’,but as the story moves on one finds the characters have something special in being Maori.

The mother had to sustain a family from whatever less they had. The children who are too little to understand were shamed by certain acts of the mother like cutting up old swimming togs and making two. Dad used to get rotten pears and apples for cheap. Mum would dig out the rotten bit and give them to the children, to take for lunch, which they called “holey fruits.” The children didn’t mind this until one day Reweti yelled to them “who shot your pears.?” Grace portrays all these innocent bits with her boisterous way of story-telling.

There is Mum’s car which is the centre of laughter in the story. It is compared to a dinghy to which people throw themselves over the sides, because it had no brakes. The horns of the car were like a flock of ducks coming for feed. Even after the family won the lottery Mum never changed. She was still the busy jolly person. On Wednesdays she would change into her purple dress made from a Japanese bedspread. She also wears her brimmed blue sunhat and slippers for shopping.

They way Grace describes the full packed green Chevrolet and the boot of the car always left hanging open because of things heavily dumped are all humorous depiction of everyday life.

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