Julie is fascinated by memory, story and the creative process. She sailed to New Zealand from the United States aboard her yacht Miss Kathleen. Writing helps Julie enjoy the beauty and understand the meaning of life.
My earliest memory is standing on my toes, looking out onto Lake Michigan from the 22nd floor of our family apartment. When I see a picture of myself on the sill with my little hands pressed against the window, I remember the quality of lightness in my home. Surrounded by windows, without curtains, there were views onto the lake and the city below, and sometimes simply the clouds. I remember my mother’s loneliness, as an immigrant, having left the support of her country and her career as a brilliant young scientist to focus on raising children. I have a memory of her holding me in one arm and cooking or tidying up with the other; keeping me safe from my older brother’s reach. I remember yearning to feel her love. While I sensed something was wrong, what I didn’t know, as a baby, was that she was yearning for this love as well.
But my first official memory is when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon. People can’t believe it, but I have a clear image of the event as seen from my position on the floor, on my belly, at nine months. I remember the fuzzy movement on the screen of our black and white TV, brought out of the closet only for this occasion. I remember seeing the wooden legs of our couch and the complex woven fabric underneath its cushions.
The moment I entered the world, the sun was just below the horizon and the moon was setting. Jupiter, Pluto, Mars and Uranus were aligned and also rising. It was the ‘60s, a time of upheaval, sexual revolution, liberation and scientific discovery. It was also a time when my father slipped into a deep depression.
I have forever had a fascination with the moon, with science, with the stars, and with the deep vastness and exploration of new horizons. Being born I think for me may have felt like taking a first step onto solid ground after a wild journey of floating in space, like making that first uncertain step onto the moon.
Lorene is currently employed as an interviewer for a market research company. The nature of the job allows her more time in between projects to pursue her desires that have been on the back shelf for far too long. Writing and Painting. Now Lorene is set to write and paint her heart out.
At present I like being home. The spring garden is full of new life. Regal tuis, tiny finches, playful rosellas. The shrieking White Cockatoos seldom fly over the house, only the valley. They are considerate. Kereru in a tree, five at once. On occasion a shy kingfisher makes its presence known. The black assassin cat sits waiting. Jingling. His neckband.
The birds geographically leave droppings of a promise, gifts of flowers and unwanted weeds. Are they sowing gratitude to nature? I’m happy to see the wild orchids are back. They don’t oblige every year. The pink cherry blossom trees fit upright tight between other specimens, determined. Camelias white, cerise and crimson. Shiny leaved magnolia. Bottle brushes deep to vivid reds, not to mention the exotic leucadendron and protea. Two huge Japanese cedars, landmarks from afar. Our home is on a flat ridge.
East beyond the sparse Kanuka and Manuka over the valley and towns Rangitoto feigns its sleep. During my petulant moods, fierce red rock spews powerful into the sky, followed by darkened smoke. Sky Tower and not so tall skyscrapers manage to connect with a heaven of every hue. Auckland city stands petite.
Colours of storm and night. My husband sighs in his sleep. I forgot the time and missed the moonrise. Out of view the Tasman Sea, hidden but not forgotten, by a hill of lofty pine, reduced, felled profusely. Logging trucks heard daily. The scalped right side of the mound saddens me. I wonder about the destiny of those tree giants, perhaps they are bound for China, reincarnated into furniture?
Sometimes in the still of the night we can hear the roar of the waves. The wild meets the tame and I feel safe and secure.
Amanda Aitken is a mother of two small energetic boys who loves to read, write and sometimes just stare into space in her free time.
It is one of the first houses you see as you curl into the bay - a little, teal weatherboard bach with thick white wooden window frames, from which the paint peels in an endearing way.
“There it is,” yell the boys, pointing gleefully, as we drive along the beachfront and then snake our way up the hill. We pull off the road onto the bottom of the section and the boys launch themselves from the laden car, sprinting up the overgrown grassy bank to the front door. I grin at my husband then follow them and begin the familiar ritual of opening up the house, inviting the outside in, and letting the lushness of the setting envelope me. The air is thick with the smell of jasmine. Agapanthus and torch lilies shoot out bolts of colour against the vast green undergrowth and together cicadas and tuis create an orchestral effect in the trees overhead. In front of me is the ocean - flat, wide and shimmering. At each end, pohutukawa trees reach protectively out over the bay, dark against the white sand of the beach. The light of the setting sun is casting a soft peach beam across the outgoing tide.
I reluctantly shake myself from my reverie and take the groceries into the kitchen where the facilities are basic, but that’s how I like it; each meal a mini adventure. Before long we will be laughing as the boys pile their plates as high as they can and together we will move out to the table on the deck, lighting candles as dusk surrounds us.
This is our time.
Jane Wilkins is an independent celebrant who loves bringing ceremony into everyday life. She has a keen interest in memoir and biography and is currently working on her father's story. On Deborah’s course Jane has found memoir to be a healing and creative modality to work through serious life struggles.
My darling. My tall, dark, handsome darling, Tane.
I was love struck. I never thought he’d be interested in a plain Jane. In fact I was asked many times by various people, “How on earth did you get him?” to which I would reply, always miffed, “Possibly because he saw something in me that he liked.”
Experiencing the love of this beautiful, quietly confident man changed my life. He would prepare delicious picnic baskets that we would share at our favourite hollow in the sand dunes at Piha watching sunsets on long, lingering summer nights; loving each other.
I followed Tane around the world for his job as a pilot, a job that he adored. He told me he was in heaven every day, flying in the sky, not a care in the world.
The arrival of our baby daughter. From the beginning he was an adoring, doting, loving father. Nothing was too much effort. He wanted to be a stay-at-home dad, he wanted to home school our kids. He would push Mary in her home-made swing for hours, with the patience of a saint.
When he took a regular flying job with a commercial commuter airline company affiliated to Air New Zealand we felt secure in our tiny family and private universe.
And then Tane died – the engines failed. He went to work and never came home. His kiss on my cheek at 5am lingers in my cells. The police knocked abruptly at our door. How can they be telling me this? They must have it wrong.
Am I hearing this? They are asking me the colour of his underpants. For Christ’s sake I don’t know, he left home at five this morning.
I would never feel his touch, never see his smiling face again.
Susan is a mother and grandmother and works in her family’s design and art businesses. She has always been interested in family history, photos and stories and has a simple wish to keep these memories alive for her extended family. She wrote this story of her birth while attending Deborah’s ‘Writing Your Heart Out’ class at the Michael King Writers Centre.
When I was growing up, Mum always told me that my October birth at the Royal Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, England, caused a great amount of interest, and also consternation, amongst the nursing staff. Delighted that the father of the new arrival had been born at the same hospital twenty-six years earlier, they were at the same time concerned that the young mother of this newborn baby was many thousands of miles from her home and family in the town of Hawera in New Zealand. Hence they showered mum daily with love and attention and doted on her new baby daughter, Susan Lesley, showing me off to all the newcomers on the ward, and constantly marveling that mum had travelled so far to have her baby. Mum was newly wed and six months pregnant when she left the shores of New Zealand, with dad, on the immigrant ship Captain Cook. She was leaving her own family behind and heading towards a new family, to my English grandparents who were awaiting the arrival of their first grandchild with great anticipation. My arrival was welcomed too by my young uncle and aunt. Uncle John was a university student and Aunty Josephine a fourteen-year-old schoolgirl, when I was born.
Born early in the morning with my father’s pale blue eyes, soft English skin and a mop of coppery coloured hair, the nurses soon nicknamed me their little ‘copper-haired Kiwi’. I still have a lock of that delicate baby hair, safely wrapped in now brittle brown tissue and stored between the pages of my plunket book. I looked at it recently and thought about mum’s stories of my birth, and the love of those devoted nurses. Did they ever wonder what happened to their little ‘copper-haired Kiwi’?
Katherine first wanted to be a writer at the age of nine. Getting side tracked, she became a marine biologist which led to her meeting her husband and having two children. While she held onto her love of writing through study and work, the last two decades have been spent predominantly as CEO to her family. Now, in the second half of her life, Katherine would like to begin writing again; telling stories about the people closest to her heart.
We hold hands going down the steep, old wooden stairs one at a time; each step a challenge for my little legs. My dad goes into our bathroom and shuts the door behind him. From inside he tells me not to open it and to wait for him.
So I wait. I hear the toilet flush. “Daddy are you there?” I wait. “Daddy?” I wait some more and try to pretend I’m not in the scary basement where I’ve never been on my own before. When my bravery finally vanishes and I am about to try and scale the steps back up to the bright kitchen, I hear a creak and look up to see my smiling Daddy standing magically at the top of the stairs. I gaze at him in wonder. “How did you do that Daddy?”
“I flushed myself down the toilet and it took me outside.”
“Of course. How else could I get back here?”
I get him to do it time and time again to solidify this amazing thing only he can do.
As a young adult I finally asked my Dad how he did the impossible; confessing how I had told countless children about his trick. Laughing, he told me about the wee window high above the cistern that my three year old self never saw and how he squeezed himself through the narrow gap into the garden and came back through the front door.
Thinking about this now, I realize that the memory of his laughter as he explained his Houdini act is as precious to me as the actual performance.
After years of putting everyone and everything else first Cheryl is now making writing a priority. She is passionate about recording family and local histories, before they are lost forever and gains great satisfaction in helping people realise that what might seem ‘an ordinary life’ to them, can be extraordinary to someone else.
‘Oh give me land, lots of land, under starry skies above, don’t fence me in’. So begins the Cole Porter classic that, in my youth, I thought was written about me. I lived in the same house for the first twenty years of my life. It was a stable, loving home, but right from my early days I craved open space and would escape suburbia, walking down the street, less than 200 metres, to Porritt Stadium.
It was so much more than a running track - the green expanse of the soccer fields, the little piece of bush with its well-worn track leading to distant streets, the farmland behind where cows chomped on the green grass, and the water tower, commanding, on the hill. There I would meet up with friends, and we would walk, or run, or cartwheel barefoot through the grass, dodging the bees on the clover flowers. When I was eight, it was at Porritt Stadium that my Grandfather taught me to ride a bike, and eight years later it was in the carpark that I first attempted to drive a car.
Numerous times I would climb the small service shed beside the water tower, sit on the concrete roof, and look out over the city. There, I spent hours, mulling things over, working them through and making sense of the events of the day. There, with my friends, we would chat, laugh, share stories and secrets, then go our separate ways home. There, I could lie back and just be, feeling the sun beating down, listening to the birds and cows, watching the clouds go by.
Porritt Stadium: a meeting place, a thinking place, an escape place, my green space.
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