Maureen Sudlow was born in New Zealand in 1944 - a war baby - and intends to be the 'Grandma Moses' of writing. She has lived in most areas of New Zealand as her husband was in the NZ Air Force. She says, ‘I've got lots of rejection slips on the walls of my study but have had a few poems published.’ Maureen recently completed a Diploma in Creative Writing with Whitireia and has been short-listed for the 2012 Storylines Joy Cowley Award.
My mother died in between the Christchurch earthquakes – not as a result of them, but simply too tired to worry about staying alive. So in December 2010, after the quake in September, I went home to say my last goodbyes. Even then the city was shattered, worse than I had expected.
When I visited the Arts Market I could see a lot of quake damage, more so among the stone buildings of the old University. Many parts of the complex werestill cordoned off, with scaffolding very much in evidence. However, despite the damage and the drizzle, most of the market stalls were doing good trade. In the centre of it all an adult choir in white robes were singing Christmas carols with brass band back-up. The spirit of the place was amazing. Everywhere there were smiling faces and friendly chatter. On the footpath was a large cupola that had been carefully removed from the Great Hall. Incongruously, it had been decorated with Christmas lights.
But I felt as though I was walking in the ruins of my life. I found it hard to grasp that my mother was no longer there..
We lifted your coffin.
You were light,
the husk of a seed
winnowed by wind.
But when I held
in my hands
of sinew, blood, and bone
that once defined
the limits of your life,
my arms were stretched
with the weight
of my grief.
Back home in Northland, and the February quake struck Christchurch with devastating intensity. I knew then that my childhood was finally lost and finished with. My mother and my hometown were gone – or changed beyond all recognition. This was a lonely place in the journey of my life...
Sue is a nurse by profession who has now begun her quest to become a published writer. She has dabbled in writing children’s stories and is attempting her memoir. Deborah’s Life Writing courses and her website have been a major incentive for her to continue along the path.
The phone rang. It was my manager asking if I might help out in Christchurch for two weeks.
“They are struggling down there,” she said. I considered how Plunket staff, through the quakes and aftershocks and recent bad weather had continued to deliver a service under very difficult circumstances. My own situation in Auckland was relatively easy.
“Yes,” I said, “I’ll go, next week.”
After the call I felt relieved because for months I had been thinking about Christchurch. When the rain splashed down ferociously I was glad I did not have to trudge outside to use a portaloo or have to empty a chemical toilet. When enjoying a hot shower I was aware that this luxury was not available to many in the quake ravaged city. Looking out on my garden there were no deep fissures in my lawn and spring had already announced its presence with the arrival of freesias and daffodils.
I had watched the media coverage and wanted to do something more than make a modest donation via the credit card. There was no real sacrifice in that. I had put my name down on a web page offering accommodation to anyone who might want a break from portaloos, cold showers and liquefaction but nobody had taken up my offer.
Before departing I commented to my partner that the weather looked ominous but on arrival at Christchurch airport the air was clear and crisp. During the night the snow arrived, lots of it. Marooned in my motel room I ventured out briefly to get supplies and remained in hibernation for two days. When the weather began to clear I drove off in my little red car and presented myself at Plunket’s new area office. The previous building was in the red-zoned central city.
When asked to conduct wellness checks on babies and children in their homes I felt, momentarily, nervous. Driving to the different addresses my car struggled in the grey slippery slush. ‘This is what you wanted, the hard stuff,’ said my wee internal voice.
I drove past stickered buildings, rutted roads and abandoned streets. One day I found myself on the edges of the central city, looking through mesh fences and felt I was looking into a movie set of a war zone.
I met Cantabrians who amazed me with their matter of fact, pragmatic approach. I heard their stories and simply listened.
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