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Archive for the ‘Family Stories’ Category

Milk stout was given on prescription to both Stephen’s Aunt and his Grandfather in England in the early 1950s. It’s not surprising that he grew up considering stout to be an excellent tonic. Prior to the earthquakes he was a regular at Bailies Bar in the Square and enjoyed their Guinness stout. Later we went occasionally to Cassels Bar in Madras Street where we had pizza, and Stephen sampled their milk stout. I’ve never been a beer drinker and always chose cider or wine.

Feeling the need of building up after his recent operation, Stephen decided a daily bottle of milk stout was just what the doctor could have ordered. Cassels was his choice, and we were delighted to read in this morning’s Press that this has again been judged in London as being the best in the world. Alasdair Cassels’ dream that his beer may one day be as synonymous with Christchurch as Guinness is with Dublin may yet come true.

This local beer was judged the best
outclassing Guinness and the rest

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Nostalgia was the subject for this week’s poetry meeting. I didn’t feel particularly inspired, despite it being National Poetry Day, and I chose to write a Fibonacci poem – always an easy fallback for me. This one is about a wall clock. It was hard to get a clear photo because of the light reflected from the window behind.

Time goes by

The
clock
on the
kitchen wall
is a memento
of my late mother who had it
proudly on her kitchen wall in the nineteen-sixties
like me she wound it every week
with a metal key
still it ticks
just like
clock
work

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Community Energy Action did a full energy check of our home. This was very thorough and included checking shower pressure, hot water temperature, ventilation, and lighting. As a priority they identified the need to top up our 30-year-old ceiling insulation, and yesterday two young men arrived with a load of pink Batts which they installed.

Because we are older and on a limited income this service was free under the Government’s Warmer Kiwi Homes programme.

All this reminded me of an event in the 1970s when we were living in Auckland. We went to the Easter Show and one exhibit had a competition to guess the number of jelly beans in a jar. The prize was a houseful of pink Batts. Later a woman phoned to say that the prize had been won by our younger daughter, eight years old at the time. I expressed our gratitude and remarked that the daughter would probably have preferred to get the jar of jelly beans.

The Batts were duly delivered, accompanied by jelly beans, and we were delighted to have this free insulation for our old villa. Today it kind of feels like we’ve won the competition again.

It’s great to have the extra Batts
to help our power usage stat’s

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The subject of today’s talk was “DNA testing for Family History” and the speaker was Fiona Brooker, founder and director of Memories in Time.

There are four main companies offering DNA testing for genealogy, and Ancestry DNA has the largest database of 20 million. I had my DNA tested by them a couple of years ago, mainly because I was interested to find my ethnicity. This changes slightly as the database is updated, and Ancestry sends me an update at least once a year.

My DNA test kit

I learned to day that it’s possible to transfer your Ancestry DNA results to other databases, e.g. My Heritage DNA or Family Tree DNA, and upload results from other people’s tests. These databases each have different reference panels which may give different results. Interestingly siblings may have different ethnicities because they have inherited different genes.

Once your DNA is registered you will be advised of matches, and the closeness of these depends on how many centimorgans (cM) are shared. If you want to know more about centimorgans and the relationships they indicate there is information at the Shared cM Project, facilitated by Blaine Bettinger. When you get a match and there is a family tree available it’s good to seek the most recent common ancestor. To see this information you may need to pay a subscription to Ancestry, although some aspects are available through membership of Christchurch City Libraries.

New matches can solve family tree mysteries, but beware there’s always the possibility of NPE – Not the Parent Expected. On Facebook there are groups of people who have discovered through DNA that their father is not their father which can obviously be distressing. Sperm donation, which in the past was supposed to be anonymous, may be revealed through DNA.

I was pleased when my DNA matches alerted me to the fact I had a half-brother I hadn’t known about, but not everyone may welcome such news. It’s good to arrange to have close relations tested, especially those who are one generation back, but you need to consider the ethics of this, and ensure you have informed consent. DNA can be used to identify criminals, but Ancestry does not allow requests for information from law enforcement agencies. Sharing of medical information is problematic because the data could be used by insurance companies.

For keen genealogists DNA adds to the toolbox, but it is only one tool among many. Fiona, who is an enthusiastic advocate for genealogy, stressed that if you’ve had your DNA done you should leave the results to someone in your will, passing on the ability to login and access information.

There’s lots of scope with DNA
but it may take you just part-way

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Which War?

Writing to an older cousin I mentioned the war, confident that he would know I was referring to World War II. For us Baby Boomers born soon after the end of that war it will always be The War. It’s the war our parents were familiar with. My mother-in-law in particular spoke often of her experiences in London during the Blitz. My generation grew up during the Korean War and the Vietnam War, but those never gained the same resonance or the same wholehearted support.

David Hill wrote an essay this week pointing out that Armistice Day, marked at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month was about celebrating peace, whereas Anzac Day can appear to be more about glorifying war. Armistice Day is unknown to many of a younger generation in Aotearoa. A couple of years ago I was making a medical appointment and the date set was 11 November. I remarked to the young receptionist that that would be Armistice Day. She replied that the date was her birthday, but she’d never heard of Armistice Day.

In news reports, especially from Britain the war in Ukraine is becoming The War. At this morning’s Auckland Dawn Service the Ukraine flag flew over the War Memorial Museum at the request of the R.S.A. For many in Aotearoa there is more feeling of connection with this conflict than with past ones in Asian countries, and there is fear as to how it may escalate. Will this be the defining war of the future?

We wonder if war in Ukraine
will involve all the world again

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Avian Adoption

For my birthday I’ve been given symbolic adoption of a bird. Not just any bird, but a kākāpō. “My” bird is Marama, one of only 201 of the critically endangered species alive today. She was hatched on Codfish Island on 6 March 2002 and is the smallest adult in the population

It occurs to me that as female kākāpō start breeding around six years of age, she may have children. Maybe I’m a kākāpō grandmother! Kākāpō are possibly one of the longest-lived birds with a life expectancy of over 90 years. Marama will probably outlive me.

Years ago I adopted a Powelliphanta snail, a giant invertebrate native to Aotearoa, ranked as being of national conservation concern. I named my snail Serena, giving her a female name despite these snails being hermaphrodites. In 2005 I was concerned when she needed to be moved because of mining in her habitat on the Stockton Plateau of the West Coast. I’ve since lost track of her and don’t know how she fared after being transferred.

In the 1970s our family adopted a tiny tortoise that lived at Auckland Zoo. Not long afterwards we read in the Herald that tiny tortoises had been kidnapped from the zoo, and wondered if ours had suffered a sad fate.

I just hope Marama lives a long and peaceful life without stressful disruption.

I hope that she will prove to be
a bird of great longevity

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Tribute to Tennyson

Who is the first artist you can remember engaging with? This is a question we were asked in our writing class. I remember an old 78 record of Doris Day singing The Black Hills of Dakota which I loved, but the artist I chose to write about was Alfred, Lord Tennyson. His The Lady of Shalott has been a lifelong favourite, and I love his rhythm and rhymes. We later had an L.P. record of Richard Burton reading Tennyson’s poetry which introduced me to The Lotus-eaters and others.

Some years ago I was browsing at Shand’s Emporium in Hereford Street. They had a box of books in front of the shop and I found a short illustrated biography of Tennyson, published in 1909, which I bought for five dollars.

Biography of Tennyson

Today is exactly sixteen years since my mother died. During her last hours I sat and read Tennyson’s poetry to her, knowing that she loved it too, and being aware that hearing is the last of the senses to fail.

I liked to think his rhythmic word
could be the last one that she heard

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Mother’s Death

The date was 27 October, and this jogged my memory, but I couldn’t remember why.  It was Facebook Memories that reminded me this was the day 25 years ago that my Mother died.  I can never forget her birth date (16 December, Canterbury’s true anniversary day), but her death date had faded in my consciousness.

Her death in 1995 was unlike all the others.  My mother died in peace at the end of a long life and I had the privilege of being with her for some hours up to the time of her death.  She was ready to go “over there” and we were all ready to let her go. 

My Mother had been a Theosophist all her life, and had studied all the great religions.  She had an affinity for Buddhism and ancient Egyptian beliefs, but she was open to all forms of worship especially the rituals of the Liberal Catholic Church.  When my mother was nearly eighty and unable to live independently she moved from Auckland to a rest home in Christchurch.  Her relationships here were limited to the people in the rest home and my own immediate circle.  When I asked what kind of funeral she wanted she told me she didn’t care and I could do whatever I liked.  When I pressed her to choose some music or perhaps a hymn she said that she would like “Amazing Grace”.    Her grandchildren were all overseas when she died. I was to be the only blood relative at her funeral and I could do whatever I wanted.  In the midst of my grief my creativity enjoyed a free rein.  I chose a sympathetic funeral director, Cheryl Cowden, who offered every support yet trusted me to know what was right.  My ritual group Lunatrix helped me with full support.  The Harewood Crematorium chapel was the venue I chose because it was open to the outside world.  I wrote the entire funeral service and designed the service sheet.  I went to the market to buy huge sunflowers.  I collected a board full of photo’s.  I spent hours on the phone to her grandchildren checking out how they would like to be involved.  And I grieved. 

My Mother’s service was a full feminist ritual with about twenty participants.  Apart from the rest home managers those who attended were my own friends some of whom had never met my mother.  We started with a purification.  Guests had their hands washed and dried by Christi, a woman of Lunatrix, before entering the room to sit in a semi circle around my Mother who lay in an open coffin surrounded by flowers.  There was lily-of-the-valley oil burning and an organist playing tunes from Rogers and Hammerstein.  To my surprise Mother’s reflection showed clearly on the window behind where she appeared like an angel looking down on us. 

Mother’s funeral with coffin reflected in the window

I had asked Anne-Marie of Lunatrix to lead the ritual so that I could fully experience it, and she used words I had written while adding thoughtful words of her own.  Four women then lit candles to the four directions invoking the power of different Goddesses.  The woman who invoked fire called on the sun god Ra in reference to my Mother’s interest in Egyptology and to bring in a masculine aspect in honour of my brother.  I lit the fifth candle for the spirit.

Anne-Marie named my Mother’s forebears and her descendants, then Denny (also of Lunatrix) read the eulogy I had written with additions from her own knowledge of Mother.  We then all sang “Amazing Grace” with me fondly considering that Grace is yet another name of the Goddess.

After this I read “The Charge of the Goddess” a prayer which has deep resonance for me, and I placed a flower in the coffin.  My husband Stephen read messages from the six grandchildren and placed a flower for each one of them.  Others were then invited to speak and when those who wished had done so all were invited to take a flower (or a piece of parsley) and place it in the coffin.  I shall never forget the sight of the women from my support group walking up together with their flowers.  One carried a tall iris and I was vividly reminded of the wall paintings from Egyptian tombs.  After this I snuffed out the candles while everyone recited Starhawk’s blessing for the dead and Stephen and I screwed down the coffin lid.  After the recitation of the Celtic farewell blessing the coffin was lowered to the strains of “The Carnival is Over”.

Everyone came to our Cottage for refreshments afterwards and two comments strongly affirmed the way the funeral had been conducted.  One was from the male partner of a friend who said it was all so wonderful he would like his own funeral to be exactly the same.  When I queried whether he would like to have even the parts referring to the Goddess he replied that he would.  The other affirmation came from a friend who turned up an hour later and told me she had been walking on the riverbank unable to come to our home because she was so overwhelmed with emotion.  My Mother’s funeral had been exactly the way she would have wished for her own Mother’s funeral and she had been prevented by her father from doing things the way she wanted.

Some time later I went to the crematorium to collect a cardboard box containing Mother’s ashes.  I was asked where I planned to put them, which I gather they record in case anyone enquires later.  My intention, which I carried out, was to place them in my garden.  My first instinct had been to scatter them in the river, but I was aware that would be offensive to Māori.  I didn’t want to place them under a particular plant, but simply to return them to the earth from whence all life originally comes, so I scattered them all around the garden.  It was some years later, in a tikanga class, that I learned that would make my garden unsafe for any Māori woman who was pregnant.  I discussed this with a spiritual Māori friend who then offered to do a cleansing which removed any danger.  So Mother, wherever she may now be, can rest in peace.

My mother’s gone I don’t know where
she had no fear of over there

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Washing Dishes

I’ve never lived in a house with an automatic dishwasher. When we were a family of four often with extra people for meals, I would have loved one, although it would have been hard to find room for it in our small kitchen. Environmentally it’s better to use a dishwasher. These days, with just two of us, a dishwasher is hardly necessary, although I’ve occasionally thought, after a dinner party, it would be nice to have. I’m the kind of person who always needs to do the dishes after dinner and couldn’t bear to leave them for the next morning.

There’s something satisfying about doing dishes, stacking them neatly on one side of the sink, filling the sink with water, adding the dishwashing liquid (filled from a bulk container at PIKO), setting the rack beside the sink, and then working my way through glasses, china, and cutlery, to bowls and saucepans. I think dishes should be left to drain in the rack, but Stephen usually comes with a tea towel and dries them quickly. It feels good when they are all put away and the bench is clear again.

It’s a companionable task washing and drying dishes, and an opportunity to chat. I remember years ago various camps where we all had our own plates and cutlery and washed them in large tubs of soapy water. In Christchurch we’ve sometimes had power cuts and done the dishes by candlelight while there was still some hot water. If a friend is sick and their dishes have piled up, to wash and dry them is a practical way of helping. When I’ve been overseas I’ve bought tea towels as souvenirs, so drying dishes can bring back happy travel memories.

I remember when I was a child we used a skipping chant “Wash the dishes, dry the dishes, turn the dishes over”. Do you remember that?

I wonder if there are many people like me who still wash dishes by hand?

Dishwashers may be more hygienic
but my tea towels hold mem’ries scenic

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Secret Sibling

I’ve recently discovered a half-brother I never knew I had.

Earlier this year I did a DNA test through Ancestry.com, mainly because I was interested to know details of my ethnicity (98% British, with 2% Germanic Europe – presumably the Huguenot connection).  I’ve since had occasional emails about matches, but not really understood what they could mean.

Last month I met M, a third cousin once removed, for the first time.  She and I had corresponded over our Rout family tree, and she knew I’d registered my DNA.  As she was coming to Christchurch, she suggested we meet and offered to help me further interpret my DNA results.

As soon as she looked at my records, she pointed out that I had one remarkably close match which showed 1029 cM across 16 segments.  To be that close the woman identified had to be either a first cousin, a niece, or a half-niece.  Some excited emails and phone calls soon provided the information that this woman’s father was born in 1944, as a result of an affair his mother had.  At that time, my parents were separated, and my father could well have been in the relevant area of the North Island.  One of the few things I know about him is that he was a persuasive talker – some would say a con man.  I’m also aware that my mother knew he had sometimes been unfaithful.

Sadly, this half-brother is now dead, but I’ve spoken to the half-brother he was brought up with and learned that my father was almost certainly unaware that he had a second son.  So, my brother Bruce and I never knew we had another sibling.  I was delighted to learn about this addition to my family and yesterday I had the pleasure of meeting his two daughters – my half-nieces.  I won’t share any more details as I want to respect their privacy, but I’m thrilled to have enlarged my family circle in this way and to have learned more about my half-brother.

One thing we have in common is that his first initial is the same as mine.  I wonder what he was like.  I wonder how he could have lived his whole life without each of us knowing about the other.  I wonder . . . . .

Ruth and Bruce, unaware there was a missing sibling

My family circle quickly grew
a brother that I never knew

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