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Archive for the ‘Family Stories’ Category

When my Mother died in 1995 her body was cremated as she wished.  I collected her ashes and when I was asked where they would be placed, was happy to tell the crematorium, and pleased to know this was being recorded for the benefit of future genealogists.

I hadn’t thought to ask Mother where she’d like her ashes to go, and briefly considered putting them in the Avon/Otakaro River which she loved.  However I knew this would be offensive to Maori, and decided that I would scatter them in my garden, knowing she’d be happy with this.  I didn’t want to place them under a particular tree or shrub, thinking that could be problematic if we later moved somewhere else.  My idea was simply that she would return to the earth in a general way.  Mother used to live in a Theosophical community and I remembered her saying that after a senior member died and his ashes were scattered on a grassy slope it felt strange to walk past little piles of ash knowing they were his.  Consequently I gently forked Mother’s ashes into the soil, so they were well mixed into various parts of my garden.

Some years later I was disturbed to learn that pregnant Maori women are advised not to attend any funeral or go near a site where there is any part of a dead body (because they are tapu when pregnant).  I wasn’t expecting any pregnant Maori visitors but was aware that if any came I’d need to explain that my home might not be suitable to receive them.  A few years ago an older man, well-versed in Maori spiritual lore, came to see me to bless a taonga I’d been given, and I told him of my concern.  He offered to cleanse my property and we followed a ritual for this.  It’s good to have had this done, to know that Mother’s ashes can rest in peace, and any pregnant visitors are quite safe.

I like to honour local lore,
and tikanga I can’t ignore.

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Swings in Rauora Park are a fun addition to the East Frame, and it’s good to see them being well used.

Swings at Rauora Park

I remember as a young child enjoying the swings at the playground in the Botanic Gardens.  One day I started talking to the girl on the swing next to me and somehow discovered that we shared the same birth day.  I ran excitedly to tell my mother that I’d found a twin!

My birthday on 2 January is the fifth rarest day to have your birthday in New Zealand, and I’ve not met any ‘twins’ since, although I do remember one time when there was a meeting of six Values Party people early in the New Year.  We started with our usual catch-up round, and I said I’d had a birthday since we last met.  One after another, the others said “so did I”.  It turned out we all had birthdays within the same couple of weeks, and were all born under the same star sign.  I wonder if my swinging ‘twin’ grew up to be a Values activist too?

With whom do you share your birth day?
Unlikely to be me, I’d say.

 

 

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Burning incense

My parents came from religious backgrounds, my father Presbyterian, my mother Anglican.  Her Grandfather was a lay reader, Sunday School teacher, and Vestryman at St Peter’s Anglican Church in Akaroa.  My father’s grandfather wrote and published religious tracts.  My parents’ marriage in the Congregational Church was a compromise between their two denominations.  My father’s sister wore trousers to the 1935 wedding, and this was never forgotten.  Sadly there are no photos.

Mother became a member of the Liberal Catholic Church, which I attended through my childhood.  The services there were similar to High Anglican, and the smell of incense always brings them back to me.  Mother was also a Theosophist, their motto being: There is no religion higher than Truth.  Maybe this is the basis for my prime values of honesty and openness.  She had a keen interest in esoteric Eastern religions, was semi-vegetarian, and practised yoga long before this was popular.

Before I was born my father flirted with the Exclusive Brethren, forbidding mother to cut her hair or listen to the radio.  He later moved to the Baptists where he was a Boys’ Brigade leader.  When I came along there was no compromise agreement and so I was never christened.

When my mother was dying I asked what she wanted in her funeral.  She, aware of my pagan faith, said: “Just do whatever you want.”  Knowing she’d been a Christian churchgoer all her life I encouraged her to name one hymn she might like to have, and her choice was Amazing Grace.  This suited me as I think of Grace as being one of the names of the Goddess.  I wrote her funeral service myself, making it pagan but inclusive.

My brother had died before her, and I was instrumental in planning his funeral.  One of his adult sons had never been to a funeral before.  The other had been to three in the previous year, all for friends who’d committed suicide.  My brother was an atheist and we planned his funeral accordingly.  Afterwards two of his friends spoke to me saying how refreshing it was to attend a funeral with no mention of God, and seeking permission to write it up for their Atheist Newsletter.

My own spirituality is wide and inclusive, and when I pray it is to the Goddess in one of her many forms.  I have been comfortable doing a reading in the Transitional Cathedral when asked, and as a celebrant I tailor my services to match the spirituality of my clients.

When my daughter was married in the U.K. Anglican church I made a request for there to be incense, and this was burning in front of the altar throughout, with the scent just discernible to me in the front row.  It would hardly have been noticed, but towards the end the Vicar mentioned that burning incense included other faiths and was a way in which all our senses could be included in the prayers.  I read from the Book of Ruth: whither thou goest, I will go; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God; poignant words for a mother whose daughter has chosen a different country and a different faith.

Incense has wafted through important rituals all my life.  It is a symbol of the air element, bringing clarity and focus, and linking me with many traditions.

The smell of incense burning near
brings back those memories so dear.

 

 

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This poem’s about my Great-Great-Grandmother:

Mary had a scarred right hand
a mole on her right cheek
born 1826 she could read and write
was a plain cook and dressmaker

Why did she turn her hand to crime?
sentenced to transportation
imagine her waving goodbye
knowing she’d not see home or her ten sisters again

Hand given in marriage to another convict
was it love
or a need for protection
I’ll never know her thoughts

I too have a scarred hand
reminder of a childhood fall
a link with my great-great-grandmother
I wonder were her thumbs double-jointed like mine?

 

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Do you like to play cards?  I do!  When I was a child I used to play with the patients in our Convalescent Home.  I suspect it was mainly Snap, I don’t remember anything more complicated.  Some of the patients were a bit doddery and I expect they were simply glad to have the company.  I might have been just seven or eight.

At secondary school a group of us used to play 500 in the classroom at lunchtime, unless a teacher chased us out into the fresh air.

When Stephen and I were first married, and when babies precluded our going out much in the evenings we often played cards: canasta, and honeymoon (two-handed) 500.  Sadly these days he’d rather watch a DVD.  Some of the romance has obviously worn off.

When we first moved into this cottage with the Christchurch Bridge Club as a near neighbour, I signed up for a course of twelve lessons.  While I enjoyed the social aspects I found the game very rigid after the freedom of 500, and I didn’t complete the course.  These days the lessons are offered free, but I don’t feel tempted, even though a number of friends are club members.

I host a monthly card evening at our local Community Cottage and I also play 500 with a group of women friends every few weeks.  Because numbers fluctuate we’ve learned to play three-handed and five-handed, both of which have added challenges and fun.

In years gone by I’ve played the occasional game of Patience, and used computer versions as a way of encouraging volunteers with no computer experience to gain familiarity with a mouse.  I’m fond of an occasional game of Free Cell as a break from other tasks, but much prefer to play cards face to face with friends.  I like board games too, love my daily doses of online Wordscraper, but this has spoiled me for playing ‘real’ Scrabble now that I’ve learned so many obscure words which my likely opponents don’t recognise and may challenge.

A game of 500 is definitely my recreation of choice, especially on a wet winter’s day.  Who’d like to join me?

The inspiration for this post came when someone queried the origin of the phrase to win hands down.  I thought it might refer to when you know all the remaining tricks are yours, and you simply lay the cards down, but no!   It comes from horse racing.  Jockeys need to keep a tight rein in order to encourage their horse to run.  Anyone who is so far ahead that he can afford to slacken off and still win can drop his hands and loosen the reins – hence winning ‘hands down’.  This is recorded from the mid 19th century and began to be used to denote an easy win in other contexts, from the early 20th century.

I learn something new every day.

When choosing which game wears the crown
for me, 500 wins hands down.

 

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The marriage rate for NZ residents in 2018 was the lowest for almost fifty years.  For various reasons fewer people are choosing to get married.  I first became a registered marriage celebrant in 2005.  Prior to the earthquakes I officiated in about a dozen weddings each year, and have always loved doing it.  I particularly enjoyed facilitating weddings  that were informal and different, often held in a private home, in a park, or on a beach.  I’ve even done a ceremony in my own back yard.  It was always satisfying to get to know a couple and create a ceremony to suit them.

After the earthquakes my managerial role took more of my energy, I declined a number of wedding requests, and stopped advertising my services.  Recently I’ve done only a few weddings each year, and none at all in 2019.  There are now thousands of celebrants, with dozens of new ones becoming registered every month, and I’ve decided I won’t re-register this year.  I’ll channel my energies in different directions from now on.  If you’d like me to marry you, you need to be quick as my registration will expire in October.  I’ve cancelled my celebrant website and taken down the sign at the gate.  This dying time of year is the right time to clear away old things and make room for new growth and I have a new project in mind.

It seems the way that things are heading
there’s fewer people want a wedding.

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Doris Day has died, aged 97, surrounded by close friends.  Her songs were the soundtrack of my childhood.  I particularly remember The Black Hills of Dakota, played on a 78 record on the family radiogram.  It came from the film Calamity Jane, and the YouTube version has others singing with her, but on the version I remember she sang alone.  The sentiments in the song mirrored my later longing for the Port Hills of my childhood.  This music came well before Elvis or The Kingston Trio.  The other side may have been Whip-crack-Away! but that was not played as often.

Doris Day’s image is of a wholesome girl next door, but in her biography she wrote:  I have the unfortunate reputation of being Miss Goody Two-Shoes, America’s Virgin, and all that, so I’m afraid it’s going to shock some people for me to say this, but I staunchly believe no two people should get married until they have lived together.  In films she was often paired romantically with Rock Hudson – no whisper then of the fact that his sexual predilections may have lain elsewhere.

In the 1950s the facts we were told about film stars were strictly controlled by the studios.  I wonder now whether Doris Day experienced difficulties on the casting couch.  How different publicity is today.

I can barely remember any of her films, but I expect some will be re-shown on television now.  My mother and elder brother went to the movies every Friday night, but I was usually left at home with a live-in staff member.  My movie-going tended to be with friends at the Saturday afternoon session at the Century Theatre in Edgeware Road, where there is now a supermarket.  We bought sherbet dips and ninepenny tickets,  then moved up to the one-and-threepenny seats at half time.

Doris Day requested no funeral or memorial service and no grave marker.  I respect her wishes, but am confident those who knew her personally will mark her passing in a suitable way.

Those happy memories of Miss Day
bring back some times now far away.

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