Thursday, January 23, 2014

Hamilton Ghost

Top of the charts: Sol3 Mio
I had arranged to stay at my recently-deceased Mother's house for a month, sort out her things and get her house ready for sale. I was also saying goodbye the Taihape, the village I grew up in and had re-visited often as my mother lived there until she was ninety  four.

As I drove out of Taihape I felt the weight of the goodbye sitting with me so I slipped Sol3 Mio into the CD player. It features three New Zealand Samoan singers, two tenors and a Baritone, and is currently top of the charts in New Zealand. They have wonderful voices and they sang me across the desert road. 

My last days in Taihape had been hard ones but I had expected my feeling of oppression to lift as drove north. That didn't happen although the weather was beautiful and as I looked over at Mt Ruapehu rising gracefully from the tussocked hills, I felt sorry to feel so oppressed while in such a beautiful place. Beauty doesn't always help and suddenly I was reminded of the oppression I had felt when driving through the beautiful Bavarian countryside, past the signpost to Dachau.

I drove on past beautiful Lake Taupo, remembering all the holidays we had spent there as children. The waters are crystal clear but it has been a cold summer in New Zealand and the children in the water were hugging their arms about themselves and shivering.

I expected a drab experience in Hamilton where I had booked a bed but it didn't turn out that way.

My accommodation was in a charming old house called Forty Winks in River Road, on the Waikato River. Across the bridge in town the eating houses were buzzing and as I ate my excellent antipasto I realised I would have to  revise my opinion of Hamilton. 

Jim Cooper's ceramics
Opposite the restaurant was the Waikato Museum, with a display of work by Jim Cooper in the Foyer. 

I had to smile when I saw it. You can't help but have your spirits lifted by Jim's work, with its brightly coloured figures and flowers. This display featured a birthday cake and the accompanying text read Unlike other birthday parties this one wont end. It's joy is unceasing

Jim had been my ceramics teacher at Dunedin Art School and I have seldom met a more generous person.  

The Waikato River from the bridge in the center of Hamilton.
 The Waikato Museum is open and fresh and has a magnificent Maori canoe on display in pride of place. It is a replica of one used by Maori on the Waikato River but hidden from the destroying settlers during their wars with the Maori in the 19th century.

 As I wandered back over the bridge I nodded to a small rotund Maori woman sitting on a seat nearby.  Ten meters on I stopped to take a picture of the Waikato river, imagining the canoes that would have plied their trade up and down it's banks. 

Then I heard a voice from behind me call, 'Aren't you from here then?'
I turned around to see that the woman had risen and was walking towards me.
 'No,' I said, 'I'm from Sydney.'
'Oh right. Well its a nice view. I grew up here.'
She told me that there were local problems but that all the street kids now had shelters to sleep in so you didn't see them on the streets at night. It had changed since she had lived here as a teenager and had been a street kid herself. Later she had become a mum to lots of other street kids, twenty nine of them in all who still called her mum. She was on a spiritual journey now, she said. She was finding herself, had come down from Ngauruwahia for the night and had slept rough for old times sake. That explained the bits of bush stuck to her cardigan.

I told her I had grown up in Taihape, that my Mother had died two months ago and that I had been back to prepare her place for sale.
'Oh,' she said, 'now I know why our paths crossed. I didn't know before, but now I do.'
She gave me the sweetest of smiles. She was a small woman with a round brown face and she beamed up at me showing a set of perfect white teeth.
'It was hard in Taihape,' I told her.
She nodded and said, 'I want you to know your Mother is fine. I have a gift you see. That is something I can do and I am here to tell you that she wants you to know she is fine.'
The tears rolled down my cheeks and she smiled and patted my arm. I suffer from dry eye syndrome and had wondered if I had lost the ability to weep, but now I knew the tears were still there.
'Yes,' I said. 'I know she is fine where she is. She wouldn't want to be still here. But it is not so easy.'
 My companion asked me which way I was walking and I pointed along the road in the direction of Forty Winks. She said she was going that way too and on we walked.
'Don't be too hard on yourself,' she said, 'you are strong.'

Her own Mother had died at 44 when she was only fourteen and then her Dad had died and she had developed into a teenager with attitude.
'Oh I swore and was bad and I thought I knew everything in those days,' she laughed. 'I was just a pup, was all. But now I am on a spiritual journey myself.'
She asked me if she could use my name, Elizabeth, in her diary and I said of course she may.

Ring made by Mike Ward
She saw the ring on my finger and asked, 'What's that ring then? What is the story there?'
'It came from Nelson,' I told her. 'I found it in an artist's studio. Mike Ward was the name of the artist.'
'Oh Mike Ward,' she said. 'Yes I know him.'
Mike is a New Zealand identity and politician as well as an artist so I was not surprised she knew of him. He was MP for the Greens Party and is now a City Councillor in Nelson. I told her I had bought the ring but that Mike had given me back some of the money and told me he was giving me the pounamu and I was just buying the setting.
'Well,' she said,' pounamu just comes to you. That's right. You should keep wearing that ring. Let it remind you that your Mother is fine where she is.'
We got to Forty Winks and I told her that this was the place I had stayed the night.
'How much is a bed?' she asked.
'Twenty five dollars,' I replied, wondering if she might decide to stay there instead of sleeping rough. I wondered briefly if I should give her the money, but the thought seemed out of place. Then her phone rang and I made to go as she answered it. She smiled as she nodded and turned away.

As I drove the car out of the drive I looked down the road to watch her disappear, but there was no one there. Had she been a ghost I wondered turning to look the other way. No, she hadn't been a ghost; there she was walking back in the direction we had come, a small round figure talking on her phone. Continuing her own journey.

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