The Anniversary of Dad’s passing

Dad died suddenly in a car accident at just 49 years old. 29th May 1978. It was an unbelievable shock. As I write that, I see myself then at just 19 years old. I was smack in the middle of seven children. Maree, the oldest was 25 with two babies and Marica the youngest was just seven. Barely a year before, Dad had handed me over to my new husband at our wedding.

Dad asks Nana to dance at Colleens 21st 1974

One of my favourite pics of Dad. At Colleen’s 21st. He absolutely loved to dance and here he has encouraged Nana, Mum’s Mother, up onto the dance floor.

As often happened in small communities news spread rapidly. Gilbert was truck driving and hearing it on the RT, came straight to me where I was teaching at a Kindergarten. I was in the sandpit with the children when I looked up. It was unusual for him to visit, but I just assumed he was passing. He stopped and spoke to the head teacher before coming to me and he guided me gently into the staff room saying he had to tell me something. I had a foreboding because of his manner, but could never have expected what it was.

Gilbert told me Dad had been in an accident and to get my bag, we would go. He held me as I cried, but couldn’t answer my questions. I pulled myself together once we got in the car. I needed to be strong for Mum, but became distraught when Gilbert turned South for home, not North for the hospital. Gilbert couldn’t tell me anything, but when I kept insisting we go to the hospital, he simply repeated, we needed to go to Mum, not the hospital. I didn’t get it. If it was bad like Gilbert was leading me to believe…I was confused. My mind couldn’t quite comprehend.

Johnny told me a little while ago he had taken the day off high school. Tony had said “if you’re not going to school then you may as well make yourself useful here”, and got him prepping at the takeaway bar he ran with Mum. Dad drove a van doing deliveries. It was called ‘Fast Freight’. Dad and a mate, Laurie Hyland came up with the idea. The fore runner of todays courier van, he would pick up and drop off stuff as fast as he could. This job was right up Dads ally really. Going fast was in his blood.

Tony told me recently someone had rung Mum and said they thought Louie had been in an accident so Tony and Johny raced to the site, and Tony quickly realising it was bad, told Johny to stay in the car. They then drove to Mum and broke the news to her. How hard must that have been.

Lindy told me she was at work when our cousin came and told her, so she and Chip dashed home.

Maree told me she had dropped Karen to school and Tracey to Kindergarten when she got a rather strange call from an old family friend, asking if she had heard any news. She hung up thinking that was a strange call, when Tony phoned to tell her. No doubt Marica and Michael have their versions too. Every detail so clearly remembered.

When Gilbert and I pulled up at home Mum was walking in a daze outside and I remember her telling me Dad had died in an accident. Dad gone? The whole thing was too much and as each of us arrived, we sat and cried. Stunned. Disbelieving through the next few days, nodding as people held our hands and told us how sorely he’d be missed.

That first day Mum handed me a notebook of phone numbers of people she needed to tell. She was just numb. She hardly spoke. We sat on the side of their bed and I sobbed as I relayed the news to old family friends with her at my side. Nobody could believe it. Neither could I, even as I delivered the news. Mum and Tony organised much of the funeral. Tony was just twenty two years old, organising his Fathers funeral. It wasn’t fair, but he stood tall and shouldered the responsibility.

Mum had wanted to see Dad, and against all advice, we went to the funeral home and saw Dad in his Sunday best. We lined up against a wall, as far from him as we could after being ushered in. Silence. We stood there unsure of what should happen. We had never done this before. Such a strange feeling. I stepped forward. Closer and closer until I was at Dads side and touched his face. So cold, and the colour was wrong. Much too pale for his Arabic features. I fingered the silk of his tie with tears flowing freely as I heard Michael in the background protesting loudly to Mum that I shouldn’t be up there. I shouldn’t be touching him. “Make her stop” he begged.

Mum however stepped forward also and encouraged the others too. We all cried, but I remember, you had to try and keep yourself in check. Not let it go, as who knows…You might not be able to pull yourself back in, and then what would happen? You might not get control of your emotions. You’d be a mess forever. We were grown ups now. It was alright to cry, but just little sobbing quietly. That was OK. Not a screaming heap, like I was fast falling into. I was perhaps the most emotional of all, and even now am the most likely to cry over anything. My reaction was possibly scary for the others. Crying was for babies, not adults.

We left Dad there. That was protocol. The next time we were with him was at the church, but now the lid was closed. That was how it was done back then. There was no more real goodbye. Such a stupid British stiff upper lip way of doing things. I bet my Croatian and Lebanese ancestors never sat around the edge of a room with a hanky dabbing at tears quietly, and I know my Irish ancestors definitely didn’t! How did things get so distant and cold? How was it we pretended it wasn’t a big deal. That someone simply wasn’t here any more.

The church was filled to the gunnals, inside and out. Speakers were put up so people outside could hear, though I was oblivious to that. I heard later it was one of the biggest funerals they’d had and police were diverting traffic.

I remember coming out of the church and there were people everywhere. It was all a blur as we went to the cemetery. That final goodbye as Dad was buried was incredibly hard. Poor Mum. Just turned 46 and Dad 49.

Someone, with the best of intentions took Marica away for much of the time. Crazy when I think now that the best thing is to be together, to cry and share stories and say goodbye. Not stifle it back as you make endless cups of tea for visitors, or accept cakes that stick in a throat too dry to swallow. Eating to fill a belly that has no hunger.

Car 49

I believe it was Tony Buller who got the bright idea to paint the leopard onto Dads race car and he immediately became ‘Louie the Leopard’.

In the race team he was often used to come up the rear and bump off the competitors, so other team members could take the lead. He was the one the public loved. The one they cheered for.

I wouldn’t say Dad was famous but he certainly was well known. Not for his doing any greater good, but for his escapades, dare devil-ness and even now when people hear his surname, if they were involved in the world of cars and racing, then they know of him. Was it weird that he was forty-nine when he died and his race car number was 49?

The older ones who really knew him are gradually falling away now, but the stories have lived on. When we meet any old timers they love to share a memory and they are most often funny. Its good to laugh. Its good to know he touched so many lives in a fun way. I’m sad now that I never really knew him as an adult. I was 19 years old. Had not long left home, just married and was really just starting to ‘know’ him. I was always sad that our kids never got to know him. He adored children and they would have loved him. Now we would never be able to hand our babies over proudly to him, their grandfather. Never to see him rock them as a baby, to dance with them, play his piano accordion or tell them his stories, and I’m sad for that future they lost with him.

At Red Dawson's wedding

Mum & Dad at Red Dawson’s wedding.  Chee thought Grandpa looked like a movie star.

But I was always mostly sad for Mum. She was heartbroken. He wasn’t the best husband. He had his faults and she knew them well, but she loved him more than words can say.

He signed off his last love letter to her before they married. “Goodnight little sweetheart. Yours till hell freezes! Louis x x x x x x x

She told me much much later that just before his death she was worried about something and she had cried. What if he wasn’t around to help her, and he had held her and said, “I’ll always be here, alright? I’ll always be here”. That was just a few days before he died. She told me it took her about three years to stop being so angry and sad. To stop crying herself to sleep. The nights were the hardest, bought up in a world where you ‘grin and bear it’. It was the first time in her life she was to sleep alone. All her life she had slept with her sisters in a double bed, until she married Dad. It wasn’t till she went to a ‘coping with grief’ weekend that she could move forward.

True to my form the tears are flowing freely as I write this. I still think of Dad as we pass the spot where he died, and I’m grateful for that instant death. His dog, Rom a constant companion, killed with him. Thrown from the vehicle. Micheal apparently retrieved him, and Johny helped bury him. That would have been hard too.

The roads are different now. Realigned and widened so visibility is better. I get why people want to put crosses at the place of death as that’s the place I most often think of him. I never visit the cemetery. There is no solace in the grey rows marching down the field, marking death, after death, after death.

I read the other day of an app you can get where you get a reminder every few days that you could die at any moment. You would think it would be a morbid sort of thing to get, but they say it makes you stop and smell the flowers. To be grateful for each day and all that is in it.

Why am I thinking about this now? Because the 29th of May 2018 is the 40th anniversary of his passing, and our family gathered with yet more great grandchildren at the old homestead where Dad grew up, where we also grew up as he took over half the farm, and where Johny and Sarah have since raised their family. We stood and laughed over shared memories. The amount of times we moved the bricks, how careful we had to be with the water, the parties and Lindy sneaking out the window…that was a pretty high window Lindy! I can’t help but feel like a young girl again there.

Dinner was peppered with some of Dads favorites like Fried rice and Nasi Goreng that he got Lindy to bring home from her job at the takeaways, and Lindy had made Mum’s Lebanese cabbage rolls.

We ohhhed and ahhhed over Johny’s alterations and imagined the house warm and toasty, when it had been freezing when we were children. We were amazed at the master bedrooms new ensuite, comparing it to where we had nine of us with one bath and toilet in the same room, when we were young, to the three or four bath/shower options now! Amy marveled how small the house was for a family of nine, while Lindy marveled that Johny had kept the same wallpaper in the back toilet that Mum had done.

We watched a DVD Tracey had made of the days of racing with Ivan Swain who pointed out he often raced Dads No: 49, and we laughed uproariously as Tony clicked through reels of family slides. Lindy with her blonde hair halo in her communion clothes, as she assured us she could have been a nun. Dad chainsawing right beside the washing blowing in the breeze. God, he must have made Mum angry!

Tony with his arms around yet another dog and Micheal in the go cart. Our children were amazed at all the pictures of dogs, as we argued over whether it was Rom or Peter or Fritz or Patch or Remus or Loot or Jason… Who would call their dog Jason? Most of our dogs were pre-loved and pre-named.

But most precious of all, we were thrust back to a family, with a heap of kids and extras around a table. Full of life and laughter. So many memories there in that old place. Thank you Johny and Sara for opening your home once again.

ASCD&O assoc

I just might give my memorabilia another outing May 29th. Dads badge from the very early stock car days. Auckland Stock Car Drivers & Owners Association.

 

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That will be several hundred thousand dollars, thanks…

Channie goodbye

We were Christchurch bound to help Chee and Annie move into their new, OWN, home. There had been much effort perusing available properties with pros and cons weighed carefully. Under floor and roof cavities inspected carefully with a builders eye, and no stone unturned when the decision was made. Offer was accepted and suddenly it was time. We were ready to pack and clean, unpack and admire.

They give cakes with mortgages now!

The new house has the requisite veg garden and a potting shed, glass house, slash tool shed made from old window frames. The very best kind. Outdoor spaces for summer shade and winter sun. A large new garage, with a door opener no less, almost brings tears of joy with its beautiful floor stretching metre, after metre into a long driveway, providing hours of fun to two little girls on their bikes.

 

Time to find new homes for everything

Tara n Sifa’s move into their city house was the same, but different. Fresh paint and new carpet with the promise of beautiful floorboards beneath it suited them to a T. A tiny footprint meant careful planning inside and out. Engaging a landscaper’s advice first giving clear instructions and in just a few short years, the outside looks amazing. An architects advice for the inside also meant a clear way ahead, and a budget.

Both homes with some room for improvement, they will do just fine for the next part of each whanau’s journey.

I remember well the homes we looked at to buy for our first home in 1979. Some were new and tiny, with their low ceilings and boring layout, skinny halls and no storage. Then there were the ones that had been remodeled to the point of not being sure where the front door was or how you accessed a lounge through a bedroom. Oh there were beautiful ones too that we could never afford, but then we were always drawn to the older homes. The bungalows with good bones and a top line of lead lights, solid timber doors and brass fittings. In our price range these mostly needed work, but they were loved family homes and spaces we could see ourselves in.

House

An old photo of our first home forty years ago

Our first home was built in 1940, had two huge bedrooms and a large sun room on the side with windows that pulled right back to make it a veranda and sat on a quarter of an acre with plum, feijoa, apple, pear, lemon, grapefruit and a walnut tree. The kitchen had pull down flour bins and was painted in mint green with brass handles and a speckled green bench. The lounge was beautiful with a semi circle window seat with lift up lids for storage and every room had jewel like multifaceted lead light windows that lit the room up with the lower afternoon sun. It cost us $27,500 if my memory is right!

hallway.jpg

Piano lessons in the hallway

The master bedroom was so huge, apart from our King size bed, we had a bassinet on my side, a single on Gilbert’s side and a cot in the far corner. Children came and went from various sleeping arrangements as they wished. Not every one’s cup of tea but it worked well for us. We completely renovated every part while retaining its originality. We oiled timber, repainted sills, re carpeted with a patterned axminster wool, and built a new rimu kitchen. Then Gilbert decided we needed to move. We were expecting our fifth baby and had always said if we moved, it would be to the country. With my new kitchen and double oven, at first I told Gilbert he would have to sell me with the house, but soon became excited at the prospect of a new beginning in a new space.

We gathered up our jars of feijoa chutney, plum jam and guava jelly made from our very own trees and moved to the country, to a house that resembled a bit more of a house ‘for removal’ as it had not long been plonked there, than a loved family home, and we started again. Also built in the 40’s but with sheep grazing right to the door, both inside and out was a bit of a mess. Thirty years later and only the lounge ceiling remains the same. Everything has been improved and for now it still meets all our needs. We have created some great memories here. Lets see what the future holds…

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I work in a wok

Hot days at work are sometimes like being sauteed in a wok. I could skip summer and go straight to a very long Autumn. I love Autumn. It’s my favourite month by far.

“What a lovely holiday you must have had!”. Some people exclaim when they see my deep tan making me look like I have been pan fried. In fact we work in a slight depression, where almost all areas have been concreted so any wind wisps above us, and as the sun sizzles down relentlessly, the passive heat from the concrete reflects up, making sure we are tanned to an even mid brown on our undersides as well. Some of us diligently marinate in a sunscreen before morning tea, but I have misgivings about rubbing a chemical concoction onto the biggest organ I have each day. I’m lucky that my Lebanese genes ensure melanin comes to the surface protecting me and confusing those unsure of my heritage. I have been asked if I am Indian more than a few times, but mostly the assumption is I am New Zealand native Maori.

I reminded my chiropractor I couldn’t come on Thursday nights as I am going to Te Reo classes. “Oh yes”, she remembered, “hows that going? Is it coming back to you from when you were young?” I smiled. “Not really, my Dad was Croatian-Lebanese, and my Mum was Irish, so we never spoke Te Reo at home.” She was a little embarrassed and said she expected people were confused and I probably have it happen all the time. Funny how we need to have a tag.

I arrive home after another scorcher of a day and sink into my favourite lounge chair with a magazine on my lap. I only need to read a few lines before I know will slip into a nice comfortable nap when Wheriko, who is sitting beside me intently writing in her lined exercise book, begins to hum quietly, and its just enough for me to look over. “What are you writing?” I ask.

“Well, Nanny, she starts, I am planning my birthday. Its in 5 days and I have so much to organise. We had a meeting…” she goes on.”Who had a meeting?” I ask, intrigued as to what is going to happen at this auspicious birthday. “Well, Me and Kahu, (who is 7) and Tai, (who is 4) and Kaea, (who is 1)…she continues,  were working out what kind of music we should have at the party”. “Ohhh, and what did Kaea think?” I ask, smiling at just what a one year old would have chosen.

Kids at Calendula

We went to Calendula cottage for lunch, much to the delight of the children.

“Well, Wheriko looks up from her notes, Kaea and Tai didn’t stay for the actual meeting because they got bored waiting, while Kahu and I were getting ready for the meeting…”

I chuckled to my self imagining the two older girls preparing as if for a real board meeting while the two young ones had more pressing matters, like how they should stack the seventeen matchbox cars Tai had into a box and still be able to close the lid.

“So what did you decide?” I ask, now not terribly interested as my lids slip down and I begin to drift off as she explains. They first discussed what music the cousins, Milan, (who is 9), and Lagi,( 6), Marie, ( 8) and Tui, (5) might choose if they had been at the meeting. I doze for a few minutes and stir as she is still rabbiting on about music called ‘marmalade’. “Is that a kind of ‘Jam’?”, I ask. Wheriko looks over at me, unsure at what I mean and at my mischievous smile, rolls her eyes. “Nannnnnyyyy”.

Wheris bday

Birthday cake to die for. Simone made about seven layers and each of a different colour, so when cut, a rainbow effect delighted the children and amazed the adults!

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Garden Post Script

Well here we are in Autumn and while the garden was good, it didn’t reach the dizzy heights I had hoped for. I wasn’t drowning in tomato sauce or searching for extra jars for pickles and chutneys. In fact we hardly had enough to put in our own meals let alone have anything to offer to visitors. I blanched just one batch of beans for the freezer before they got rust dammit.

 

The garlic was OK but we didn’t get as much as I expected. Planted six red onions from the countdown packs and got three beauty’s only. Broccoli went to seed before I could turn around and the bloody rats stripped and ate the corn while it was still standing, again. The watermelon plant produced nothing, but the rock melon had three or four little beauties hanging there, which were scoffed by the vermin. All gone. Just the skin was left like a damp cloth curled up on the ground.

For the first time I trimmed leaves off the bok choi instead of lifting the whole plant and just like they said, its kept growing new leaves, which is perfect! I had left a couple of beetroot plants in at work and they are now about a year old and produce beautiful salad little leaves all the time so will endeavour to leave a couple to go to seed the same here.

The other thing that worked really well was the sweet 100 toms being trained up the mesh. It was perfect. They were easy to pick, stayed off the ground and no mucking around tying them up.   The big tomatoes however, that I tried to tie up like Goong used to, didn’t really work out. It was a lot of work and would have been easier to just tie up to their own stakes and will do that again next year. I can see Goong needing to find a system that didn’t use stakes when he was planting hundreds, but for my dozen, stakes are easier and better I think.

The kumara grew like there was no tomorrow, and I tried to keep on top of it but it was too fast for me. I’ve started to trim back now but I suspect the goodness went into the leaves as the kumara I dug up at the edge was barely bigger than my middle finger. I patted it down again and promised to water it over the next few days. I’m unrealistically hopeful those suckers slow down and the tubers swell, or we are not going to get any ‘actual’ kumara. I read the leaves are delicious stewed and a lady lightly steams before freezing them while they are in abundance. I read that after I put a tonne into the compost…maybe next week.

The little purple Maori potato, riwai, look gorgeous don’t they! They came from Ricky and while we will get just one feed, one for Ricky and a few saved for seed, they were delicious roasted.

The hens did well until the weather cooled and are slowing down ready for their rest period. Its time to clean out the hen house and refresh the litter under the perches. I’ve done their nesting boxes already, though I have lost a couple again. I could hardly blame Paddy again as the door was still shut, but they look like they had been attacked by something. Then I read about falcons coming down and grabbing hens out of the blue. The article said he never would have believed it, but saw it with his own eyes. My God…What can I do about that I don’t know, but if we didn’t have a supermarket I can tell you we’d be up shit creek, that’s for sure!

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Popeye comes home alone…

“Dear Mum, A few lines once more to let you know everything is OK. Been raining fairly continuously for the last few days…”
Inside Nana’s glory box was my Uncle’s letters to his Mother, our GrandMother.  We all knew they were there, but Mum said it was too painful to have them out and there they stayed.  I never looked at them until after Mum’s passing and the glory box was left to me. He was no stranger. His photo sat on all the family mantles and was remembered in prayer. I sat down and began to read and was soon lost in the voices of a Mother and her son. He writes from his first entry into the army, through his training and then deployment overseas to fight in World War 2. He talk unbearable heat and the pyramids in Egypt, the camaraderie of the boys and coming across other boys from local families.
 “The boys are strangers to one another, but it makes no difference at all”
He writes of the cold, cold winter with snow and ice in Italy, the locals and their help when needed and of considering to try and learn the language. He shares stories of their escapades and fun, of trying to stay cool in the heat and warm in the numbing cold. His last letters come from Italy, where he was tragically killed in a jeep accident on Xmas Eve 1944, at just twenty two years of age. He is buried there in Forli, where many of his family have visited him and tragically many others lie.

maurice1
Every letter has been cherished and safely stored. Cruelly after his death, Nana received his letters that were in transit at the time. Returned to her was a bundle of his clothes and personal items, like his shaver and his pyjamas, along with the last letters she herself had written to him, that he had never received. A Letter from the King, Medals and thank yous from the local RSA on behalf of the community, and the army. Beautiful words from the Priest and the Padre who attended his burial and went to great lengths answering Nana’s questions and getting photos of his grave for her. A letter also from his regiments commander, as well as notes from his fellow soldiers, telling Nana how sad they were at his death.

maurice7.jpg
How sad and poignant are these windows on the past. It was incredibly moving to read, and as a Mother my heart broke thinking of the sadness she must have carried. Condolence cards, telegrams and letters arrive after his death notice, many from other Mothers. Together these families bore so much sadness. Imagine hearing of the losses, day after day. Friends neighbours and relations.

 

Before Mum’s passing she wanted to ensure the protection of this group of items that had been kept safely together for around 70 years and she asked Lindy and I to see that they were not squirreled away by one person, nor split up, and we promised we would speak to the museum about accepting them. My Aunty Molly as the last surviving sibling gave her blessing also and shared some beautiful memories of her big brother as we sat together one afternoon.

He was the eldest of six and our Mum was the youngest. He had wriggly hair that was held back with a hair cream, but when wet would drop down in ringlets. He worked hard on the farm and it was where he wanted to be. Nana however had other ideas. She wanted him to have an easier life and managed to get him a job at the post office, but after three days he begged her to let him leave, hating every minute of it, and returned to the farm life he loved.

Molly fondly remembers him tossing the girls a shilling if they gave his shoes an extra good shine, ready for church on Sunday. She remembered the family story about how Maurice rode Topsy the pony to school each day but one day, coming to the gate after a fresh coat of paint, Topsy shied and Maurice was thrown off, breaking five toes. A lovely big brother to his five younger siblings, Molly also remembered them playing rounders in the paddock.

 

When the call to war came, he saw this as an obligation. Especially as he didn’t have a family yet and he was soon signed up and in training. He was offered dispensation on the basis of needing to help the family on the farm, given Grandpa’s ill health,  but he declined, explaining to his Mum and Dad that he couldn’t look other families in the eye if he stayed behind, when their Fathers and sons had already gone.

“You’ve been having quite a time of it. Too bad I couldn’t be there to give you a hand out with things. Still, as Pop says, these things are sent to try us. By the look of the war news, our little vacation may be short lived. ” 21/8/44

 

When it was time for him to leave, the two youngest girls, Molly and Maureen, ran off to find something special to give him to take, and knowing it had to be small, decided on a little badge of Popeye the sailor man. This seemed perfect as Maurice was about to embark over the seas on a trip where he would certainly need all his strength!  Maurice wrapped his fingers around Popeye as he kissed his parents, four little sisters and a younger brother goodbye.

“Been cooking for ourselves for sometime now. Doing pretty well too, believe me. A few spuds were dug up when turning into a paddock. A rooster that annoyed us at about 5am each morning, and various other things all helped toward our feasts. Whilst digging, one of the lads stuck a large jar of vino. I need not relate exactly what happened. A good many songs, both old and new were sung. Not the type they taught us at school. All in all it was good. First five or six drinks were the worst. After that it was just a matter of form.” 6/9/44

 

His letters come regularly from his travels and he writes without reserve as a son who is very close to his Mother. He writes of the weather, the places and the people he meets. He gives news of old friends and relations whenever he hears snippets, knowing she will pass this along to their families, as they are to her. Each family in this small community sharing the burdens, and the grief when it comes.

Maurice Xmas card
Shortly before Christmas 1944, she sent him some money so he might buy anything he needed as he had talked of his watch not working, but instead he buys her a beautiful Italian leather handbag and sends it to her for Christmas. She receives it and tells him he shouldn’t have spoiled her, the money was for him. He tells her, rumour has it there is an end in sight and she will meet him before ‘one Xmas’ on the wharf, though not this one.

 ” I suppose you are thinking seriously about hay making if you haven’t already done it” 23/12/44
 His last letter is dated 23rd Dec and he is killed the next evening in a road accident. She uses her beautiful leather handbag just the once, taking it to the Boxing Day races, unaware that he has died the day before. Her last letter to him is dated Jan 2nd 1945. It is posted on the 3rd and she talks of the wins and losses at the races. She posts it the day before the family is notified of his death.
Molly remembers this morning well. The girls were being hurried by Nana as they finally have the weather and the help to get their hay in, and the men are working hard up on the farm. They girls are busy preparing morning tea, when there is a knock at the door as a man with a telegram has arrived. He sees the girls and Nana and asks for their Father. The girls tell him he is up the farm and he sends one to get him as quickly as she can.
Nana must have known by now what this telegram contains, and as the news is delivered Molly remembers Nana didn’t cry. They are all numb finding it hard to believe their big brother won’t be coming home. Nana steels herself and tells the girls there is no time for sitting around while the men are up the paddock waiting for hot tea and to get it up there quickly. The news is carried up and delivered with morning tea and Molly said she remembered no one wanted sandwiches or cake.  She never saw Nana cry, but she heard her, many a night after lights were out.
Photo sent by Fathe Fletcher
Sharing the story with my children and grandchildren, I know it is a familiar story to many families and last year we decided to join Lindy’s family at the Waiuku Cenotaph where Maurice’s name is engraved. The crowd was much larger than I expected for a small community and contained so many young people it was heart warming. While we may not agree with war, or the decisions of the governments, I have no doubt our world today could have looked very different, if our Men and Women didn’t stand up when they were asked to.

We approached the Auckland War Memorial museum some time ago to discuss the items we were holding and asked if they were interested in having them as part of their collection. They were thrilled with our offer and said it is very rare for a group of items such as this be preserved so well, for so long. To have a local family story to compliment the items and be something they can showcase as a group is very special. A story that is sadly familiar to many families and one we can share. They said they will get offered a letter or two, or bits and pieces, but to get such a full account is very special indeed. From his first letter to his last, and his personal belongings, still packaged in its govt brown paper tied in string.

 

 Popeye
As I parceled up the letters from the glory box something fell back in with a thud and I almost didn’t look, but glancing in saw something coppery and reached to find Popeye.
The badge Molly had talked about, that the girls had given him as he left. I held him in my hand as my thumb absently ran over the surface, and I have to say I shed a tear as I imagined five young children kissing their wonderful big brother goodbye, never fully appreciating where he was going, and the chance that he may not return. The badge he held dear, and was thankfully returned with his belongings. I asked Molly if she wanted the badge back. “No dear”, she smiled sadly. It would be too sad.  As the last living sister, she gave her blessing for it all to be donated as Mum had wanted.
After having the letters professionally photographed so that all family members can have a copy, the parcel was delivered to the Auckland War Memorial Museum so that they will be safely kept together as a group along with his other personal items.  Fitting that it’s our National War Museum and Maurice’s name is there on the wall of honour. That his story, a local family one, can be on display and that we, his family can be proud of.
Maurice O'Connor aged 22 yrs died 25-12-44
“…hoping this finds you all well, I remain, your soldier boy, Maurice.”
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Moon Gardening is damn annoying…

I was walking around the garden a few weeks ago and thought the veg garden has probably not looked this good in a while. Is that due to planting with the moon or just good luck? The morning light was soft and lovely, so thought I’d take a few pics and fill you guys in on something I never get sick of talking about. The garden is always different. Every year, every month, every day. There is always something different to excite me. I had decided to stick to the moon gardening guide but it is damn annoying and I have to be firm on myself, on the other hand, plants are doing well and relatively pest or disease free, so maybe its the way to go.

 

Raising seedlings is probably the most annoying part. I pop them in at the right time and they are up and healthy in a few days. Then I have to wait THREE weeks sometimes, before its the right time to plant out or on. If I miss that timing for any reason, its ages before the next time and the seedlings are all leggy and hungry. Part of me thinks to just plant any old time but I am trying to stick to the calendar, so need to do some more research on that.

Compost is easy, free and incredible, and the mainstay of a healthy garden. Damen made me these compost frames when he started university. I’m guessing that was about 1998 so they are now about twenty years old. Gilbert set up the jig after I described what I wanted, and they have been one of the best things in my garden. While I can make compost anywhere with these, I have only ever had them here. I put them here so accessed between the main front garden, the hen house, orchard and the veg garden. Perfect.
1Compost turned

COMPOST BIN-Interlocking boards mean I can make compost anywhere

The boards work between the three bins. So looking at it now, I have just turned the middle bin into the third bin. This is about six months old and completely decomposed from weeds and paper, hedge trimmings and kitchen waste, into a rich humus ready to go onto the garden. The first bin was then turned into the middle bin. This is about three months old and most of it was broken down but still some more decomposing to be done. I am now clearing areas and busily filling the first bin. The boards will be getting higher and higher on the first bin as I build that up, pinching boards from the middle bin as it decomposes.
2Wormery

THE WORMERY- Set up in an old bath it has been running for about twenty years

This is the wormery and was set up in an old bath about twenty years ago too. Gilbert has popped it up on legs at the front to fit into the slope of the land so it will drain into a bucket below. I layered in scoria on the bottom, so the plug hole wouldn’t block. Then a layer of peat, so as to replicate the warm base worms would be used to. We tip in food scraps along the length and re cover. They eat almost anything, but we are careful to not put in too much citrus, onion and garlic outer leaves, because I think that’s hard for them to process.

I also don’t put in cooked food, bread or meat scraps of any sort, as that will attract dogs and rats. I use card board also as a top to exclude light but still lets rainfall soak through. They eat this also, then an old piece of carpet on top. Once a year in spring I gather up as many worms as I can, after feeding them at one end only for a week and then empty the nutrient dense vermicast onto the garden beds. Then placing the worms back in, they are ready for another year. The worm tea drains out of the plug hole into a bowl and about once a month I use a 10% to water ratio to fertilise. Real simple.

I usually use the worm tea as its available, rather than stock piling, after reading its only viable for short periods. Studies have been done and while they don’t fully understand how it works, it definitely keeps plants disease resistant and I have found this in my garden. I don’t need a scientific paper to tell me it works, but nice to know it wasn’t in my imagination.  The big drum next to that is what I place stinky seaweed, comfrey leaves or similar to rot down over six to eight weeks, then strain off as a fertiliser for the garden, and next to that is my potting table. This was rescued from a work shop and I love its sturdiness.
3Glass house and coriander

GLASS HOUSE & CORIANDER BED

The bed under the crab apple tree is the coriander bed. It used to be the kids sandpit incidentally, so about thirty years old also.  We had coriander almost all year round, constantly reseeding…until Simone thought she would help me by weeding it out and thinking all the coriander looked like weeds, cleared the space for me. Gee thanks Simone.   After going to seed this summer I hung the spent plants upside down in the crab apple tree and let the seeds drop. Already after the last rains the new seedlings are just starting. Maybe I can get back to that constant supply. I know some people hate coriander, but I love it!
4seedlings

SEEDLINGS and plants waiting for the right time to plant dammit!

The little glass house came from Mum, via Lindy. Gilbert cut me perspex sheets as the glass was broken and glass is ridiculously expensive to get cut to size. Inside the glasshouse you will see new edible flowers that I’m getting ready to plant and some new seedlings. My biggest struggle is to co-ordinate seed raising with the moon planting and having a constant supply. It would be a lot easier to just buy seedlings regularly but I’m trying to seed raise my own now to save money. It’s not as easy as it sounds.

5Birdbath LHS

LEFT HAND SIDE OF THE BIRDBATH

This is the view from the left of the birdbath. Strawberries are on the right in a stainless steel tub that came from work and they are covered with old bread baskets I rescued from the back of a supermarket years ago when we used to deliver milk. These work perfectly and I wish I could find more. They have big enough mesh so that the plants have heaps of light and rain, but small enough to not let the birds in. You’ll see an old bath been turned into a seat under the crab apple tree and two more old baths at the back that are also filled with strawberries. That’s 60 plants divided between 9 people and its about perfect with almost a punnet a day coming in. Excellent value and the bath is the perfect height for the children grazing.

The other day I heard a dainty little sing song voice and stood up to see Kahu breakfasting on strawberries and peas. She didn’t know I was watching and it was so beautiful to just stop and enjoy her humming as she dined. She must have sensed me watching and turned. I smiled and she turned back unperturbed after laughing at my comment I thought she didn’t ‘do’ breakfast.

On the left hand side of the pic is a bed of garlic, red onion and at either end sweet 100 tomatoes. Once the garlic and onions are up I can let the sweet 100’s trail along that space, and plant beetroot in the middle.
6Birdbath RHS

RIGHT HAND SIDE OF THE BIRDBATH

I made the shape for the herbs from old concrete fence posts from the farm in Puni where I grew up. I got those from the back of the tractor shed along with two wagon wheels from Mum before she moved out, so maybe thirty years ago. In there is lots of parsley, oregano and chives.

Behind you see broad beans finishing from winter. Never been my favourite bean but so easy to grow at a time when not much else is happening and I love the flowers in salads. This year we discovered a dip by processing the beans, garlic, olive oil and feta cheese. While the beans are a bit of a job to shell, boil and then remove from the skins, the dip is delicious. Climbing that same mesh is a cucumber and some sweet 100s self seeded in there from last year.

 

Left hand side of the pic you will see the kumara up the fence line and Yaccon. Yaccon is a south American tuber so grows like a potato. You can scrub the skin or peel and the kids prefer it raw. Its a cross between a pear and a kumara I would say. You can eat straight from the ground or grate into salads, or roast where the natural sugars caramelize and how I like it best. On the right hand side you’ll see our beef steak tomatoes. Big meaty slices mean just one slice per sandwich. Perfect for a big family.7Beans
 CLOSE UP OF THE OTHER BEANS- Kentucky Pole
9Righthand side

The right hand bed has silverbeet. It was constantly annihilated and I couldn’t figure out what was eating everything with no sign of caterpillars. I covered it with mesh and everything recovered, so pretty sure its birds. Damn devils. Left hand bed has Bok choi and sugar snap peas.  Sugar snap are the best value ever. The children love to eat raw straight from the vine and although I love them in a stir fry or raw in a salad, I rarely get them inside. Next bed back is Kale and broccoli.

8Courgettes and lettuce

Behind that is Zuchinni, cucumber going u the mesh and lettuces hidden by the borage in there. Borage has a faint cucumber taste if you eat the flowers and it attracts hundreds of bumble bees. Alysumm is there too. You can eat the flowers but I read to plant them amongst your greens and the white butterfly, which is territorial, will think the patch is already taken. I’ve watched them hover over and fly on, so like to think its working.

 

In the middle of the beds are tyre piles planted with Riwai, Maori potatoes from Ricki. Not sure about the tyre system, but because I read all the time you should move to new spots each season, it makes sense to me to lift the tyres off, harvest the spuds and drop the soil into the hen run fence line for beans and start fresh with new tyres and new soil. After this harvest I will drill holes in the sides as the tyres hold water in the dip and I fear we have a mosquito breeding ground.
11Tomatoes strung
Here I tried something but was really pushed for time. Instead of clearing the three foot high weeds, I simply pushed them down. Layered wet newspaper on top and made a hole pushing some compost in and planting Six Grosse Lisse tomatoes in the back, basil and eggplants in the front. What happened is the plants are pretty much suspended over a pile of rotting weeds and I quickly realised it was never going to give enough nutrition to the growing plants. I opened the space up later and filled each hole with compost and seemed to have saved the tomato plants but will repot the eggplants and pop into the glass house and see if I can extend their growing season and get some fruit at least. If nothing else I learn’t to do it properly the first time!
10Tomatoes staked
Another six tomatoes are in this bed, ‘Beef steak’ along with a comfrey plant that turned into a comfrey patch. I was told you will never ever be able to move comfrey and I must admit when I planted it there, I was pretty sure if I wanted to move it, I would be able to. I decided people hadn’t tried hard enough to move it and anything was possible.
When I wanted to move it a few years later, I dug to Africa and couldn’t get over how deep the roots were. They also broke up easily and I damn near sieved the soil, but still didn’t get rid of it all. So now I have a comfrey patch, instead of a comfrey plant. If I had left it alone, it would have just been happy in the corner there. Not too worried as I harvest for the chooks, for the compost and to make a fertiliser tea. Just heed the warning. You will never, ever move it once you have planted it. Never.
Nasturtiums ramble through here and they are friends with tomatoes too. Red cabbage and tomatoes however are not friends according to my companion planting book and at the end where I had some cabbages finishing from winter I popped two tomatoes. A bit of an experiment to see what would happen and I can say the two tomatoes who were planted there, were half the size of the tomatoes further down the bed, so can confirm they literally hate each other…but as soon as I pulled out the cabbages, the tomatoes took off and ended up the same size.
I’ve learn’t a lot this summer. The garden looks amazing and we are starting to reap the benefits. Part two on progress another day…
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I had a dream…

I had a dream. . .We had gone out for dinner and to our surprise, a show was about to start.

We sat waiting expectantly with no idea what was about to happen. Suddenly a woman came out and we were told she was going to sing, but strangely she was then strung up like a trapeze artist. We waited as the music started. She swung out and the ropes took her to just in front of us.

So close, I could see her hair was all done up in a bun and even what she was wearing. We wait but nothing more than a strangulated high pitched garble comes from her mouth. The music stops and starts again and she tries again, but seems frozen with fear. The dream ends.

Dreams

I am interested in dreams and their meanings and evidently my Nana was too as I found this book in amongst her bits. However the meanings in here are bordering on ridiculous. If I dream about needles for example, its likely there will be arguments over property. If I dream about red lips, the future is favourable, but if I dream about thin lips, then there is sorrow on its way, and if I dream about a fire…it doesn’t mean anything!

I was thinking about this dream the next morning while I was brushing my teeth, so vivid, I felt like I had been there. I was wondering about its meaning, when I remembered someone talking about ‘performance anxiety’.

I have been working on something that was about to be published. It is another blog that is from my diaries detailing trips to China. The first, in 1998 just several days and the second in 1999, with our five children for several months. The diaries, written 20 years ago to the day, detail our time in the Chinese village my Father-in-law came from. We have no language, there is no power, no plumbing.  In my diary writings I share excitement, fear, being humbled and being angry. It was an experience of a lifetime for our family.

Diaries

I had already typed up the diaries, wrote and rewrote the pre-amble, anguished over the ‘About Me’, and thought hard about every word. The first post was about to go live…was my mind having ‘Performance Anxiety’?

Here’s the link if you are interested, and here’s hoping its not just a strangulated high pitched garble!

It is an open blog, so feel free to add anyone in who might be interested.

Our trip started with Josie buying ten tickets to China! It was in February 1998, exactly twenty years ago, and I remember it like it was yesterday. I was sitting in the lounge looking out the window…and so my diary begins….

My China diaries. Back to Nanlingcun

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