For Christmas Bev Melville was given a bunch of pens and a large notebook from her family, and asked to write down her memories of childhood. This is the beginning of many.
Paraparaumu beach, with a group of small children from school. We run along the wet sand and then into the sea laughing and splashing and screaming with excitement as we jump in and out of the waves that almost knock us down. Eventually we are told to leave, to come out of the water - but I want to stay just a few minutes longer - it is so wonderful! I have never been to a beach before. A moment longer. I look back to shore and see the others have almost left the beach and I will have to run to catch up.
Suddenly I can't touch the bottom and I am terrified! There is a strong undertow my legs and feet are lifting beneath me. I'm struggling to stay upright, my head is under and I am swallowing water. A big wave lifts me up high, and unconsciously I know that I must stay on top of this wave and not struggle. It has enormous momentum. For a moment I feel my body floating gently within the wave, then in slow motion I am flung towards the beach. Nobody notices as I stagger to my feet and run after the others. But my heart is pounding and I know I have nearly drowned. I feet guilty for staying in the water. It was soon after this that I was sent back to the orphanage, and I felt doubly guilty.
Adam Dudding grew up in Torbay, on Auckland’s North Shore. He is now a feature writer for the Sunday Star-Times.
When our end of Sealy Rd finally got a concrete footpath in 1982, it took so long that the men from the council, with their spades and boots and wheelbarrows, became honorary part-time residents.
Once they were done, Dad said there had to be a party to launch the path. John from No 2 brought out his wind-up gramophone player and set it up on the piece of lawn out front which was probably council land but which we considered to be the joint soccer field of Numbers 2 and 4. All afternoon he replaced the needle on the next Fats Waller or Jelly Roll Morton 78.
I can’t remember what Mum and Dad wore, but it will have been something ridiculous, probably involving hats.
Mr Konings, who lived at the top of the calf-achingly steep driveway of No 1, was, I was incredulous to learn, a salesman of the arcade video games that had just started appearing in all the dairies. He lugged down a machine running Donkey Kong. It was one of those cool two-person machines where the screen was set flat in the middle of a glass-topped table and you sat opposite your opponent, with the image rotating 180 degrees each time it switched between Player 1 and Player 2.
We ran an extension cord from our house and Mr Konings unscrewed the coin-box cover, so a single 20c piece, recycled through the slot, paid for an afternoon of endless games. It reminded me of the dream I used to have around that time, where I’d be standing at the top of our garden path and I’d spot some coins on the ground, then another and another, until I was scrabbling around filling my pockets.
Just about everyone in the street came, along with a few guests from further afield. Our friends Ian and Gerd came in their Super Minx. Ian wore mayoral robes and chains he’d dug up from somewhere -- a stand-in for the real mayor who should, by rights, have been at such an important civic event.
John’s wife Dot baked a cake in the shape of our street, with smooth grey icing for the new footpath and a hump at one end to match the hill in the middle of Sealy Rd. Most of the council workers came too, only they didn’t bring their spades.
Margaret is a reluctant memoir student, conflicted about putting her inner memories out in the light of day, yet wanting to compile at least one robust version of her life’s story. She is astounded at how much it feels as though she is doing open-heart surgery on herself without anaesthetic.
So many places where I feel at home and alive.
Waikaremoana: the Sea of Rippling Waters. I have been named a mokopuna of the taniwha of the lake. My spiritual home. Mists, deep bush, where I first felt awe and panic.
Totaranui: sky, sand, sea, and friends. I've lived there for more than a year in total over sixteen years of holidays with our children. In tents. The smell of canvas, creak of ropes, and snuggling down into a sleeping bag as the moon climbs out of the sea to ride across the sky. Other nights in tents as a child at Wainui Beach in Gisborne, or Napier, or Mahia Peninsula, The sound of surf pounding.
Where ever John is.
Any time I am at a large table with our family and or friends, eating and laughing and toasting life. Any time I'm sitting somewhere and talking with good friends about this and that, and everything and nothing. Sitting around this table now and listening to my fellow writers, as they tell their stories. How can I convey how moved I am? How much I value their taonga?
These past three days, talking with Elizabeth about her illness whatever it may be, that it is serious and most probably cancer, hopefully treatable. Talking to Andrew on Sunday night, in his house, strangely quiet with his son and wife away. Talking with Barbara yesterday, remembering, with her, days and people and events from our years back to when we were seventeen. Making what sense we can of life and its paradoxes and puzzles, its delights and sadnesses. Laughing at ourselves, that we are still a tiny bit competitive, even in our ninth decade!
All these are turangawaewae for me.
Verna Cook-Jackson, presently self-employed, has recently documented her husband Ironman Tony Jackson’s life chronologically for their families and is now pondering how to begin on the more interesting part of writing a memoir about his life, her life and that of family and friends. This is a snippet for the new memoir.
It was sometime in the early 1980s when I first met him.
He was wearing a paisley green shirt, a pair of deep purple trousers, socks and sandals. He wasn’t at all the kind of man to whom I would ever be attracted. To me his most unattractive feature was not the full, shabby, ginger beard but that he was an Englishman. A Pom.
New Zealanders then were still very bigoted. So much so that one sports radio personality had begun a national anti-Poms campaign. People thought it was funny. It was taking a jab at the strong unionists, many of whom were English who were challenging the government of the day. Some Kiwis supported the ‘humorous’ campaign with bumper stickers on their cars that read, ‘Punch a Pom a Day.’ It horrifies me now but back then people thought it was a bit of fun.
We shook hands and I noted the softness of his skin. This was new and the tenderness of his touch. Over the years this man became a friend, then a good, warm friend, then a fellow sporting competitor, then an irritant, an adversary, an antagonist, even an enemy. We reached a dead end. I walked away… for a time. Then I turned around and started back along a pathway towards friendship, then a warm friendship, then a very close friendship, leading into a long and deep love affair.
The socks and sandals had long since gone, the beard had been shaved off, the wardrobe had improved tastefully when with deep love and pure happiness I held those soft hands and said “I do.”
Maris O'Rourke, a pākehā New Zealander, attended a poetry course with Siobhan Harvey in 2008 and that was it. She decided to ditch her consulting work for the World Bank and write fulltime. Since then her poems and stories have been published in NZ and international journals and she has published a collection of poetry Singing With Both Throats and two children's books with Claudia Pond Eyley in their Lillibutt series.
Sometimes I wake and look up to Ruapehu’s five peaks, tinged with sunrise pink, and know it will be a perfect blue day where I’ll ski my feet off. And at the end of the day, for the last run, I’ll go to the top of the Far West, traverse across to Black Magic, wait until the slopes are clear and ski towards the Tasman Sea, glittering sunset gold behind Taranaki, all the way to our hut.
Or sometimes I wake to a white-out, the mountain mysteriously cloaked and only there in my imagination, and my knees as I ski from memory, tilting my head back to suck snowflakes onto my tongue every time I pause to get my bearings.
And sometimes I walk down to the Chateau via the Whakapapaiti Hut lifting ice-panes entire from puddles and gazing through them to create sparkling icescapades of colours against the frosty ferns, twisted trees and clear, cold rivers.
Or sometimes I’ll stay in my bunk all day reading trashy novels (never literature) between naps until it’s ‘five o’clock somewhere’ and time to get up for a glass or two of Glühwein ’glow-wine’ by the fire.
And sometimes, on the right day, I’ll climb to the top of Tahurangi or Te Heu Heu or Paretetaitonga to have lunch at the Crater Lake and ski the Whakapapa Glacier all the way back to our hut by evening.
I’ve asked my sons in a poem to scatter my ashes up there with a karakia and then have a Steinlager with a bacon, onion and Marmite sandwich the way we always do.
Lexie Candy is a volunteer life review coordinator with the Mercy Hospice Auckland. She has been facilitating life reviews for patients for the past 17 years and now she would like to write her own memoir.
We were twelve when we had to decide what course we would take at secondary school. My twin sister and I had no idea what we wanted to do when we grew up. “Well”, said my father, “if you take a commercial course and learn to type, you will always get a job.”
I well remember the noisy clatter as a room full of teenage girls hammered away on sturdy archaic typewriters. The clatter was interspersed with the sound of a little bell when the carriage got near to the end of the line. The mantra was; asdf ;lkj. We wore black bibs which were attached to the typewriter and tied up around our necks so we couldn’t see the keys. That is how we learnt to touch type.
I didn’t really enjoy school and I was dead scared of failing School Certificate because it meant I’d have to go back as a second year fifth. There was quite a stigma associated with that. The second year fifths were not allowed to wear the uniform of their class mates who had moved up to the sixth form. I scraped through, despite failing shorthand. It was such a huge relief. My whole class left at the end of the fifth form. Only the academic streams went on to the sixth form as my form teacher didn’t think we could cope with University Entrance anyway. So dad said, “You may as well get a job”. And so we did.
With hindsight I wish there had been a careers advisor or at least someone giving advice about setting career goals. We were just expected to get a job, as my father put it, “to tie us over” until some knight in shining armour came along and swept us off our feet and we became a kept woman, just like our mother had been.
Wyn Hoadley has, over the years, been writing memoir vignettes for her daughter, son and granddaughter in answer to questions about her life. She joined Deborah’s class because she wanted a memoir writing group that would support her resolve to bring these pieces, and others not yet written, together into one or two coherent manuscripts.
I walk up the wooden stairs, happily, no need to consciously relax, it just happens; even the drive over from Auckland is no effort. My friends think it’s an unusual choice: a bach above a shop in the middle of the main street of a small town. Not so small actually. It boasts the longest main street in New Zealand and a surprisingly good golf course. There’s plenty to do but we prefer to just be there, to read, ride our bikes, watch TV or videos, and drink some wine which we buy at the liquor store across the road. In the early evenings familiar smells of frying hoki from a nearby takeaway, and the aroma of crushed cardamom from the Indian restaurant downstairs, waft up temptingly. It’s a place where we can relax; both of us very protective of this luxury. An old faded couch and patterned curtains, items relocated from our Auckland home, to be reused or rediscovered, add contentment, cosiness, and comfort. And the high scrim-covered walls are perfect for our paintings and artwork.
On Saturday mornings there’s the street market in Grahamstown and we look around for bargains. A pottery bowl, an out-of-print book, a plastic toy once loved by a baby long ago. Steve buys his favourite Anzac biscuits and we have a latte with bagels and jam. Later we’ll walk to the bird hide. We see rich colonies of migrant waders and shore birds on mudflats camouflaged by mangroves - stilts, oyster catchers, godwits, gulls and terns, waders called knots, and others whose names I don’t yet know. We watch from the bird hide built by local Forest and Bird members with a Rainbow Warrior grant from the French Government. The little narrow-gauge railway line which runs along the coastline is charming. We walk to the tiny station and take a ten-minute ride on one of the miniature trains. It costs only a dollar. For our grandchildren it’s a delight. They shriek with joy, happy flushed faces, eyes sparkling. We spend our summer holidays in the place I love, when the weather is warm and the bush is dry, when the water is clear and the pohutukawa trees have bloomed. All too soon, down the wooden stairs, slowly, it’s time to leave …
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