Deepening Roots

CHAPTER 16 – Putting Down Deeper Roots

Our Proud Lascelles Street Home

It was extremely difficult for our family to live in Jervois Street surrounded by the school. Finally, we found the house of our dreams on the market, but a little beyond our budget – a four-bedroom, third-of-an-acre 410 Lascelles Street with its 1929 Art Nouveau stained glass windows and 120 rose bushes sprinkled through perennial herbaceous borders cared for by the president of the local garden club. The interior of heavy-beamed wooded ceilings, with crystal glass doors, and heart rimu-panelled timber walls was immaculately preserved. It even had a workshop as well as a garage. We would need a loan from the bank and a second mortgage from the Catholic Credit Union. The managers of both were part of that Catholic network of families in Hastings whose children we both taught. We got our loan – even though in 1981-82, mortgage interest rates hovered around 10 to 12% – and we moved in. It was seemed just too good to be true.

Aubynne loved the flower garden, and the covering of surrounding trees – the sheer sheltered space. The boys climbed the big cedar, and explored. The workshop soon became the “Man’s Shed” – for computer programming and telescope-making, and for Dominic’s electric guitar practice. We were to treasure our residence here for another 20 years.

Now weekend life centred on sweeping up the weeds and leaves which Aubynne had cleared, mowing the three lawns with a heavy roller motor mower into a flat hard bowling green surface, spraying the weeds, digging the vege garden and staking the tomatoes and beans surrounding the spud, zucchini and pumpkin patches. At the back was a huge set of three compost bins: everything went into one, turned into another 6 months later and turned into the third 6 months later again so that we had more than enough beautiful loamy soil to replenish the grounds during autumn every year.

Becoming Honorary Irish

In these early years at Lascelles Street, we formed long-lasting friendships, especially with the McLaughlin and Kelly families. Brian and Jane MacLaughlin and Dermot and Roisin Kelly had escaped from Ireland during the “Troubles” to teach at St Johns. Their Irish hospitality knew no bounds. They introduced us to the elderly and graceful Mick and Mary Carr and their wide extended Irish family and friends. Parties at the Kelly’s, especially on Boxing Day, drew us into nostaglic Irish folk songs, and back into the world of the 1960s and 70s pop with Dermot’s unselfconscious, bard-like singing and simple playing of the guitar of the songs of their youth. There the whisky and beer flowed, and the endless discussions of the great issues of life, death and the universe. Brian’s pessimism, on the other hand was the foil to Dermot’s optimism. Brian yearned for the old pre-modern world, and wore away at my confidence in defending indefensible modernism. Christmas morning after presents and Mass saw us at the Carrs, with Mick at my shoulder quietly whispering sweet temptations to sample his latest discovery: a dram of Potsheen (smuggled through Customs), or a dram of Paddy, or a Jameson. The rest of Christmas Day disappeared in a haze.

Our Family Grows Again

Our family began to grow up and change. Soon, after three years at St John’s, Simon attained his University Entrance qualifications and after a couple of years at home left to explore the Bay of Plenty, and in 1982-83 was settled and employed at NZ Steel at Waiuku in Auckland. Dominic finished his secondary schooling in 1982 and followed his dream of lead guitarist in a rock band. For awhile he found work in the freezing works, and in casual horticultural labouring, and even attended Massey University studying sociology, but the call of his guitar eventually led him to Australia at the end of the 1980s. Meanwhile, Clarissa attended St Joseph’s Primary School, and later, Sacred Heart College in Napier.

Clarissa brought us into the world occasioned by her friends: the birthday parties, the treasure hunts, the summer holidays with Therese McCarty, and the skiing at Ruapehu. In many ways, Clarissa’s open freshness brought delight to the 1980s.

In 1983 was born Rosalind, a surprise. And a challenge. The pressure by our doctor to terminate raised all sorts of issues for Aubynne and I. She was confronted by the possibility of a Down’s Syndrome baby in mature mother pregnancies. Where was the support from our community? From our family and close friends Aubynne had great support. But looking about and around our parishes, where were the other mature mothers and their young? Nowhere to be seen. This was a very big issue. Without the everyday, common, normal, Catholic example of men and women in similar situations, we felt very alone. We weren’t particularly pious or devout. And yet here we were. And why? Because the revolutionary so-called “Spirit of Vatican II” had deprived the Church leadership of the plain guts to stand up for its own moral teachings. Its parish women were obviously aborting their children.

Aubynne blossomed with the birth of Rosalind, and so did Dominic and Clarissa. This little new life was a real blessing and through the decade we formed new friendships with the playgroup families. Within months of Rosalind’s birth, we became grandparents to Simon’s son, Nicholas. Christmases in the years ahead became larger family occasions, and our holidays extended north to Mount Maunganui, to Mahia, and to Waiuku. The decade of the 1980s was a maturing of settled family life, full of new challenges and discoveries.

Our First Overseas Trip

By 1989, we felt financially secure enough to afford the Big Trip: to see Aubynne’s friend, Laurelle Martin and her family in San Francisco, and to see Lesley, Aubynne’s sister in Toronto. It was also an occasion for me to recall memories of my past in North America. We travelled by Amtrac from SF to Toronto. Great stretches of desert and plains, of storage yards for cars, tyres, boats, of that controlled chaos of the USA. Americans on the train still thought that New Zealand was on the other side of the Sydney Harbour bridge. The only Aussie was dressed as Crocodile Dundee, and the only easy conversation was with a Brit.

We first discovered the huge difference in diet between Kiwis and Americans on the train and subsequently. Tea was Liptons. Cheese was soft bright yellow cheddar. Salads and fresh fruit almost non-existent then. But we loved the melon salads – a lifesaver for us. Meals were big. Huge T-bone steaks and ribs. Tomato sauce everywhere. And sweet drinks: cola and lemonade for breakfast, lunch and dinner. American coffee, so different from European-style Kiwi coffee, and so much more addictive. One could easily drink their coffee all day.

It was a great relief to reach Lesley and John in Toronto and to enjoy their wonderful hospitality: the Tower, the Lakes, the Falls, and the lovely town of Niagara by the Lake. My old Forest Hill school, the old Anglican Grace Church on the Hill, and Dad’s pharmacy were still there and Mother’s small numbered grave was a sad reminder of just how sudden arrangements were in September, 1954.

New York was a series of unexpected thrills. We arrived in the dark by Amtrac at Grand Central Station. Here we were at the top of the station steps in the dark, looking for a taxi, with suitcases, and I very much aware of being the guardian of two daughters among a sea of NY criminals. I had been warned of the dangers of NY. A black man without warning grabbed my suitcase and immediately took it down the road. Aubynne shouted. I followed fast on his heels. He stopped a taxi. Dumped the suitcase in the boot and turned to me with his hand out! I see now – he has done us a service and will want a tip. I opened my wallet in the dark searching for money. His hand behind me reached over my shoulder. Aubynne thought that my money would disappear. The taxi driver remarked that we needn’t have secured his services. Hmmm.. what was next?

The hotel was next. Were those bullet holes in the living room? And those noises outside were sirens. What about dinner at 9.30pm. Sorry sir, the restaurant is closed. I stepped cautiously out of the front door and saw a city of darkness, with criminals waiting around the corner to take every advantage of me. Where could I find food at this time of the night. Gave up and spent the night thinking of how we were to get to the nearby Guggenheim without paying for the safety of a taxi.

It was a lovely sunny morning. But we still got the taxi. The walk back along Central Park was surprisingly uneventful. Our spirits lifted. We came to the corner of 46nd St and to my surprise, our hotel was very near Times Square and the adjacent streets had all-night food available. Oh, what imagination can do. Within 24 hours we were confidently walking the streets of downtown NY through until the late evening. Clarissa and Rosalind loved the city.

On the flight back we, of course, visited LA’s Disneyland – Star Wars was a real treat. Oh.. but the Air New Zealand flight from Auckland to Napier was just so wonderful: real Tararua tasty cheese, real tea, and real lettuce salad.

Our Other Families

Right from the our very beginning together, Aubynne’s family became my own. Les Rickard, RIP, and Mavis Rickard, RIP, made it so easy for me to enter into their lives. And in their lives were Aubynne’s sisters: Lesley, Christine, Laraine and Jill, who all became my new sisters. Frequent holidays to Nelson and our favourite beach, Breaker Bay, at Kaiteriteri, cemented those relationships. Mavis Rickard died soon after Dominic was born, but Les Rickard lived a long and busy life. As our family grew, he remained a most generous and welcoming host to us. And the favour was returned with many visits to us by “dad” for birthdays and Christmases.

Over the decades, I had established infrequent and uneasy relationships with my father and Doreen and their family. By the end of the 1980s, their family had grown: Stephen and Mary and their children, and Sue and Rebecca. It seemed for years that we were worlds apart. It was very difficult to talk with him of his past, even his early life as a young man, or about Chemistry or sports, in which he excelled. But, events in the 1990s drew us closer together. Firstly, my long-lost brother, Paul, arrived in New Zealand with his newly-wed German wife, Hannah. Dad, Doreen and Paul were reconciled. And secondly, by the grace of God, Doreen returned to the Catholic Church. She was dying of cancer. Dad was baptised a Catholic and so were Mary and Sue. Aubynne and I were invited to a big family reunion. From then on contacts were easier, but by then, Dad was starting to suffer from Parkinsonism and soon Doreen’s cancer led to her death.

I would have loved to have had a real heart to heart with my father. After Doreen died, was able to visit him in his care home a few times. One visit was most memorable: the opinion of some was that his memory was gone, that he really couldn’t communicate, yet there were signs that he needed some stimulation. So Aubynne, Rosalind and I bought a pack of cards with us and I suggested to him that Aubynne and I play three-handed 500. So there we were at a little table playing 500 with my father for the first time in 40 years since a way back there in 1956 at 181 Georges Drive with Grandma and Grandpa. He had not failed. He played “shark” 500 with a will to win. He easily beat us both! Within months he died. May Dad and Doreen’s souls Rest in Peace.

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