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The Way Of Things

I have Mum’s ‘fancy worked’ ‘dressing table mat’ – such obsolete vernacular going the way of ‘petrol’ now called ‘gas,’ ‘washing powder’ now called ‘laundry liquid,’ ‘bench’ now called ‘counter’ and ‘pots’ now called ‘saucepans.’ (Soon ‘taps’ will be replaced by ‘faucets.’ Just you wait and see. It’s simply the way of things.)

I look at these people in the photos and feel the tug to write about them as a way of staving off the lonely feeling that arrives once you realise that in your family a whole generation has gone and it’s now you at the top of the tree.

Top of the tree – young apples on our apple tree.

I have decided. I am going to do some serious family tree research in 2021; dig deep, solve some mysteries and clear up one or two disputes. Trusting that this will then feed into my writing. I’ll call it research. Legitimately.

It’s going to involve delicate restoration of a family tree that has faded parts to it; carefully touching up the fragile fabric to see what emerges, what disappears. Doing it. Doing it like someone from that TV show, ‘The Repair Shop.’

Just a small section of our fridge door photo gallery

Photos, magnets and stickers on the door of our (rather old) fridge, remind me of past times, of places where we’ve been and naturally enough, of family. Near and far. Our fridge-door photo gallery is something of a core sample.

My first record player. A remnant from the late sixties. A present from my parents and perfect for pop song 45’s, c&w E.P’s – all bought with babysitting money.

I was meant to share it with my sister, but largely claimed it for myself – at least until I left home and bought my own much smaller and more portable one. By that time I’d graduated to LP’s and broadened my tastes to rock-country, folk-rock – Carole King, Bread, The Carpenters, James Taylor, Gordon Lightfoot, Don McLean, Carly Simon, Neil Diamond … and Joni Mitchell. With Led Zeppelin being a bit of a rogue random.

Mum kept it under a bed in her spare room. After her death, I claimed it back before it was given away to the Sally Army.

Sample of a tray cloth my mother made in 1937 when she was seven years old

The tray cloth was kept by my mother for over seventy years in a wooden chest she called her ‘glory box’.

Glory box is defined in the dictionary as ‘an Australian English word meaning clothes, sheets, etc. that a young, single woman traditionally collects to use after she is married.’ In New Zealand too, it was a very 1950’s thing for a young woman to do.

The note my mother left with the tray cloth

Despite Mum thinking that when the time came for us to go through the things she’d left behind, her four daughters would fight over this piece of ‘ancient’ sewing she regarded as by far her oldest (and arguably her proudest) memento, I was actually the only one who wanted it.

Things seldom turn out the way we imagine.

I have Mum’s ‘fancy worked’ ‘dressing table mat’ – such obsolete vernacular going the way of ‘petrol’ now called ‘gas,’ ‘washing powder’ now called ‘laundry liquid,’ ‘bench’ now called ‘counter’ and ‘pots’ now called ‘saucepans.’ (Soon ‘taps’ will be replaced by ‘faucets.’ Just you wait and see. It’s simply the way of things.)

I have it in a frame hanging on the wall. It reminds me of how Mum enjoyed sewing beautiful dresses for me and my three sisters throughout the 1950’s and on into the ’70’s.

Her grandmother; my great-grandmother; was also good at sewing. After she was widowed fairly early on in her life, she earned money by taking in sewing. Sadly, this skill was not inherited by me. In denial of this fact, for decades, I struggled through many rough attempts to follow a pattern and sew my own clothes; fixing right-sides to wrong sides, fitting sleeves badly, ignoring the rules of selvedge and mis-matching a material’s nap; before finally admitting defeat sometime in the early ’80’s,

I decided I was much happier reading and writing.

Looking out

Meanwhile, at our place, outside in the present moment, the grass grows.

From our upper lawn, looking towards Mount Cargill, the shape of the sleeping warrior outlined in hazy blue against the sky
My present to Robert for his birthday yesterday – a coffee machine

And yesterday; not the faraway sort but the more recent day-before-today kind; for Robert, a birthday treat of dinner out and a movie: Blithe Spirit. Review? Hmmm … okay. Has a slapstick schtick. (Ha.) Some eye candy. But because my tastes lean more to the faster-paced, meaner and more sceptical black comedy (think ‘Knives Out’) to me it came across as tame. Even a little lame. Sophisticated, it is not (apart from the costumes.) Depends what you want in a film. A bit of fun and with some surprises does make it worth the price of the ticket.

The film is never a bore (the worst thing to be in Coward’s upper crust circles) and for that we must be thankful. Still, it never quite flies either. Hail to thee blithe spirit, but bird thou still isn’t.‘ Julien Wood on FilmInk

Dinner was at Izakaya, one of our favourite Japanese restaurants here in Dunedin. Modelled on the Japanese izakaya concept – but apart from the seats overlooking the kitchen, not quite attaining the noisy, iconoclastic chaos of the genuine izakaya-s we’ve experienced in Kyoto. Still. It’s good enough to keep us going back.

Before dinner, we took in the Ralph Hotere exhibition at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. This involves viewing a lot of black off-setting deep colours. Or maybe the other way around. Striking stuff. I especially connected with his 1970’s mural, at one time greeting arrivals (and I presume, departures) in the Auckland airport.

Part of this mural’s concept featured godwits and the shining cuckoo.

Recently I had occasion to see godwits at Foxton estuary, pondering on their astonishing yearly migration from Siberia. Back then, seeing these birds who make the idea of a summer visit and their return from whence they came, something of an astonishing feat, felt symbolic; like a kind of a farewell to my brother in law after his sudden death a month before.

Then arriving back home after that trip north, all I could hear for some weeks around our place, was the strident call of the shining cuckoo.

Furthermore, while at the art gallery yesterday, at four o’clock on the dot, I ‘happened’ by pure chance to be in the right place to hear the chant (about godwits as taught to Hotere by his father) in the artist’s voice. The recording has been programmed to play on the hour every hour. Being right there at the right time in the right place, was totally unplanned on my part. Until I read about it later on, I’d no idea it was part of the viewing experience. Serendipitous, or what?

More keepsakes. And a safe bet that I have yet to reach the end of such

The wooden cross comes from Jerusalem and was given to me by my daughter-in law’s lovely mother (surely there must be a simple term for this relationship? A Japanese word? Or a German one? Both or either would be rather appropriate for me.)

The stone is just one of many positioned around the house – and also outside the house – because, incurable, inveterate stone collector me.

The nest (I believe) to be a silvereye’s / wax-eye’s that fell out of a tree on to our lawn.

Dictionary description of keepsake: ‘a small item kept in memory of the person who gave it or originally owned it.’

One of my favourite songs ‘A Tisket A Tasket’ (as sung by Ella Fitzgerald) ends with the words:

A-tisket
A-tasket
I lost my yellow basket
Won’t someone help me find my basket
And make me happy again?
(Was it green?) No, no, no, no
(Was it red?) No, no, no, no
(Was it blue?) No, no, no, no

Just a little yellow basket
A little yellow basket
.’

I identify with this song’s depiction of the importance placed on a specific (down to the colour) cherished object.

Keeping things for the sake of memories. Keepsakes.