by Witi ihimaera
Once there was a nest, floating on the sea at summer solstice, and happy voices to charm the wind. And somewhere, somewhere, float scattered straws, perhaps only a single straw, which I may light upon….
It was summer, and my parents had decided that they would go to Auckland for a few weeks. We were five, then: Mum and Dad, myself, Kara and Pare. I was the eldest, an important seven years old, and there were my two little sisters. It was decided that we would stay with Nanny Caroline while Mum and Dad were away.
We'd never been to Nanny's place. She was an auntie of Mum's and lived up the Coast near Ruatoria. We didn't want to go. Auckland seemed a better place, but Mum said, ‘No, you can't come.’ But as a bribe, only if we were good children at Nanny's mind you, she would bring back some toys; a red clockwork train for me, and a doll each for Kara and Pare. That decided the matter.
So one morning, while we were still asleep, Mum got up and packed a small suitcase with clothes she thought we would need; a few shirts, shorts and a pair of
sandals for me; some cotton frocks for my sisters. ‘You won't need much,’ she said. ‘It's summer and it gets hot at Nanny's place. Anyway, most of the kids up the Coast run around with no clothes on.’ That remark just about brought on a revolution until Mum said that we didn't have to take off our clothes if we didn't want to. We were very shy children then, and didn't relish the idea of showing our bottoms and you-know-what to strangers.
We had to take a nap that morning; we always had to take a nap if we were going anywhere, even to the two o'clock pictures at the Majestic. But we couldn't sleep. The thought of going away from home, the first time, to a strange lady's place in the strange country, frightened us. ‘It's about time you got to know your relations,’ Mum said. ‘You kids are growing up proper little Pakehas. And Nanny Caroline's always asking me if she's going to see her mokopunas before she dies. Don't you want to see your Nanny?’
We were always respectful children, so we had to say, ‘Yes, we'd like to see Nanny.’ But we didn't really, because we didn't know her. Only what we'd heard: that she was very old, at least fifty, that she had grey hair and a moko. Oh, yes, that she was married to Uncle Pita, and had twelve children with names as funny as ours. Even longer than Mum's, which was Turitumanareti something-or-other. Nanny Caroline's children also spoke Maori. We couldn't, and we wondered how we would be able to talk to them. But I had been to Scouts and Kara had learnt some sign language from Janet, the Pakeha girl next door, who was a Brownie. But we still didn't like the idea of going; it was all Maoris up the Coast, no Pakehas, and we were used to Pakehas. Furthermore, the Maoris didn't even wear pyjamas to bed and we knew that was rude.
But Mum said, ‘You'll like it up there and anyway Nanny knows you're coming.’ So we had to go, because it's not polite not to go to somebody's place after they know you're coming; just like the time when Allan had invited us to his birthday party and his mother got angry when we didn't turn up.
Dad put our suitcase in the boot of the car and yelled out to us to hurry up as he didn't have all day. We kissed Mum goodbye and told her not to forget our toys. Pare started crying, so Mum gave her a lolly. We hopped in the front with Dad and he started the motor. ‘Goodbye, Mum,’ we cried, hoping that she would suddenly change her mind and let us go to Auckland. But she fluttered her hand and went into the house. We wondered if we'd see her again.
We slept most of the way to Nanny's place. The heat from the motor always made us feel sleepy. But most of all, we hoped that when we woke up, we'd find that going to Nanny's place had just been a bad dream. But it wasn't a dream, because every now and then I'd make a small crack in my eyes and look out and see Gisborne going past, then Wainui, then Whangara. At Tolaga Bay, we stopped at a small shop and Dad bought some orange penny suckers. We had pointed out that it wasn't fair that Pare had a lolly and we hadn't. So for a while, we sat quietly sucking our lollies and watching the hills coming to meet us. Pare had a sucker too, and that wasn't fair either, because it meant that she had had two and we had just had one. But Dad wouldn't stop the car again. He said it was a long way to Nanny's place and he was in a hurry.
Sometimes we sang songs, because Dad liked us singing songs while he was driving. He said it helped keep him awake. We wondered that if we didn't sing, perhaps he'd go to sleep and we'd never get to Nanny's place. We crossed our fingers. But Dad was wide awake that day.
It seemed ages before we got to Tokomaru Bay. That was the furthest away from home we had ever been. We watched silently as the township slid past, over the edge of our world. After a while, we went to sleep again.
We must have been asleep for a long time, because when the truck bumped to a stop. it was night. ‘Where are we, Dad?’ I asked.
‘Almost at Nanny's place,’ he said. ‘Hop out and open the gate.’
I opened the door and ran to the gate. It didn't have a latch, just a piece of wire wound round and round a batten, but I managed to get it untangled and the gate swung open. Dad drove through.
Kara and Pare were awake, and we sat looking out the window, watching the head-
lights bobbing along the rough, muddy. track. Then all of a sudden, the track disappeared and we were at the edge of a cliff. Far below, we could see the sea, thundering against the rocks, white-tipped and angry. And on a small spit of sand, shone the lights of Nanny's place. ‘Here we are,’ Dad said. Pare started to cry again.
‘Tom! Is that you?’ a voice yelled. Dad yelled back. ‘Hang on a minute,’ the voice said.
We looked down to the house and saw a man putting on his gumboots in the light of the doorway. He shouted in a strange language and a smaller shadow appeared from inside with a tilly lamp. The man took the lamp and we watched as it glided along the beach and started to climb up the cliff. We heard the man huffing and puffing and swearing when he slipped, and we clutched each other because he sounded just like the fee fi fo fum man.
Then he was there, and he didn't look like a giant. But you could never tell. With him were some kids. They surveyed us curiously. They were wearing pyjamas, tucked into gumboots.
‘Tena koe, Tom!’ the man said. He shook Dad's hand and grinned at us. Then he shook our hands too, even Pare's. ‘Here, give that suitcase to Albert,’ he said. One of the kids took the suitcase. He was quite a bit bigger than I was.
‘Right! Let's go down to the house,’ the man said. He turned to us. ‘Come on, mokopunas, your Nanny been waiting for you all day.’ We followed him. Dad was carrying Pare because she was the smallest. Kara clutched tightly to his coat and I clutched Kara. Dad was speaking to the man, and every now and then they would both laugh and look at us.
At the door, Kara and I bent down to take off our shoes. ‘E tama!’ the man laughed. ‘Leave them on, leave them on.’ But we still thought we'd better take them off. Nanny's children giggled and we were embarrassed. Then, suddenly, the light seemed to go out. We looked up, startled.
‘Tena koutou, mokopunas.’
It was Nanny Caroline and she was crying. She grabbed us to her and squeezed us. She was soft and very fat and she had a funny mouth because she didn't have any teeth. Then she held us away from her to have a good look at us. She mumbled something in Maori and then in English. ‘You kids look just like Julia.’ Julia was our mother's Pakeha name. She gave Dad a hongi and began to growl him for not bringing us earlier, speaking flat out in Maori and giving him playful smacks.
We observed our Nanny carefully. She didn't seem old, not as old as we thought she would be. She looked a bit like Mum, except that she was fatter and didn't have nice brown hair. She did have a moko, and it looked very nice, all green and curly.
Nanny ran her eyes over us, concernedly, and began to mumble something like, ‘You kids are skinny,’ and ‘Doesn't Julia feed these kids, Tom?’ and, ‘We'll soon put the beef on them.’ On an open fire was a big black pot. We clutched Dad tightly, and he whispered in Nanny's ear. She laughed and went to the pot and motioned us toward it. The children giggled. We went and had a look. Inside, was some kai. We were suddenly very hungry. I looked at Kara and grinned. She grinned back.
We had a big feed then, on large tin plates filled with potatoes, mutton chops and some funny stuff we later found out was seaweed. Nanny piled our plates so full, that some of the food overflowed onto the table, but she didn't seem to mind. The children sat down with us. Kara asked for a knife and fork and the kids giggled. But Nanny said ‘Turi, turi,’ and told Grace, the biggest girl, to get us knives and forks. We were embarrassed then, especially when we saw the kids getting stuck in with their fingers, and Nanny and Uncle Pita and even our father slurping away at the seaweed. Every now and then, the kids would giggle and put their hands over their faces and look at us and giggle again.
Afterwards, Nanny introduced us to the other children. Tamihana, the eldest, was nearly as big as Dad. Then came Grace, George, who was very shy, Albert, who'd carried my case, and Kararaina, a girl with huge eyes. Hone gave me a big grin, and Sid, who seemed about the same size as I was, smiled too. Kopua and Sally were younger. Sally looked smart. I was surprised when Kepa, who was four, came and stood by me and held my hand. Whiti, just a bit smaller, came over too, and held onto Kepa. Emere was crawling on the floor. It wasn't made of wood, just dirt. But Emere didn't seem to mind. She
crawled between everybody's legs and every now and then, one of the kids would put their hands under the table and put a piece of mutton into her mouth. Nanny had a cat too, and the cat and Emere often had to race for the meat. Emere mostly won.
While we were having our tea, Kara and I looked round. Nanny didn't have electricity, just some lamps and candles and the light from the fire. The room was very plain, hardly any furniture except for the table, two long forms, a few extra chairs, a cupboard for crockery, and a small tin food safe. On the wall was a picture of the King, and a big photograph of Nanny's whole family, except for Emere. When we pointed this out to Nanny later, she laughed and said, ‘Emere's there!’ But we still couldn't see her, so Nanny pointed to her puku in the photograph, and we thought she was rude.
The room was decorated with pictures from magazines, and streamers from last Christmas were strung across the rafters. In the middle of the roof, a long sticky fly paper hung, spattered over with dead flies. And on the mantelpiece above the fire, was a long piece of newspaper, cut into jaggedy patterns. The house was very warm, but a little smoky, because the wind used to come down the chimney and billow the smoke and ash onto the floor.
Outside, we could hear the sea saying swish, swish, swish. It seemed as if Nanny's place was a nest floating in the sea….
After tea, Nanny Caroline told the kids to wash up. We asked if we could help, but she said, ‘What you think I have all
these kids for?’ But Kara helped and she and two of Nanny's girls were soon gabbling quickly. Kara was always good at getting on with people.
I sat down by Dad and listened to him and Uncle Pita talking, but I couldn't understand. And anyway, I wanted to go to the toilet. I leaned over and whispered to Dad. He laughed and asked Nanny Caroline, ‘E Kara! My boy wants to go and have a mimi,’ I looked down to the floor quickly and blushed.
‘Kopua,’ Nanny called, ‘you show your cousin where the lavatree is. Go with him. He might fall into the hole.’ Kopua grinned at me and got a torch. ‘Come on coz,’ he said.
Nanny's place didn't have a toilet inside. I put my shoes on and Kopua shone the torch along a track. At the end of the track was a tin shed and Kopua shone the torch inside. ‘I'll wait here,’ he said. He sat on a log.
‘No, it's all right,’ I said. But he just sat there, directing the light on the seat. I tried to hide myself as I slid my pants down. I wished the place had a door on it. I was sure that they could see me from the house.
‘Pass me a comic,’ Kopua said. I reached down to the wooden boards and threw him a tattered Western. He swung the torch from me to the pages. We weren't allowed to read comics, only Dad. I tried to hurry up and make as little noise as possible. And when I finished, I tried not to rustle the paper too much.
‘I'm finished now,’ I said when I was dressed again.
‘That was short,’ Kopua said. He grinned. I was glad it was dark. We walked back to the house.
Dad was getting ready to go. Pare had fallen asleep and he had taken her to bed. Kara was crying and I would have cried too, except that boys aren't allowed to cry.
‘We walked with Dad to the truck. He kissed us both. ‘Be good,’ he said.
‘Will you be back to get us?’ Kara asked.
‘O course,’ he said. We held him tight and then he hopped into the truck and started the motor. The truck backed onto the track, and headlights swung round. Then it slowly trundled away, and we were left standing with Nanny Caroline, under the lamp collecting moths to its glow.
That night, I tried not to cry too loudly, because I was in the boys' room. There were three beds, and I shared one bed with Kopua and Hone. I was in the middle and it was uncomfortable because Kopua kept on kicking and Hone was always pulling the blankets off. It was strange sleeping with other people, but Nanny's place was very small. The younger ones even slept in her bed, with her and Uncle Pita. I wondered how the kids didn't fall off, because Nanny was very fat and Uncle had a big puku.
Kara and Pare were sleeping in the next room. We had kissed each other before going to bed, Kara and I, because now that Dad was gone, we only had each other and Pare. I couldn't go to sleep for a long time, because Pare woke up soon after Dad left and she kept on calling ‘Mummy, Mummy,’ and that made me cry too. But Nanny got up and I watched the candle flickering past the door and heard Nanny comforting her. Then the candle floated past the door again, and I saw Nanny holding Pare in her arms, taking her to sleep in her bed. I wished I could go too, because Nanny looked just like Mum in the candlelight. For a long time, I listened to Pare sobbing, and the warm hushed sounds of Nanny singing her a song. Then the sobbing began to get quieter, and soon there was only that soft lullaby, sending me to sleep.
The next morning, I woke up to find I was the only one in bed. I jumped out and hurriedly got dressed before somebody came in. There were no doors and I was shy. I called through the wall, ‘Kara, are you there?’ There was no answer, so I crept slowly into the room to have a look. She was gone. And so was Pare.
I walked into the kitchen to look for them. Nanny was sitting at the table playing patience. Pare was clinging to her skirt. ‘Tena koe, sleepyhead,’ she laughed. I looked down. ‘You have a good sleep,’ she asked.
I nodded, ‘Yes, thank you, Nanny.’
She laughed again and said ‘Come and give Nanny a kiss.’ So I put up my cheek for her. ‘My mokopuna,’ she said kindly, ‘you're Julia's kid all right. You got a hungry puku?’ I said yes, so she yelled out, ‘Grace! Come and get some kai for your cousin.’
Grace came in. and through the open door I could see Kara playing with the
other kids. I felt she had forsaken me and was very hurt. I turned to Pare and kissed her, but she was busy playing with the cat. I was alone and I felt very sorry for myself. Kara came in and said, ‘You're up at last.’ She laughed and the other girls laughed too.
I ate my kai and then sat silently for a while. Hone came in. He had just finished milking the cow. ‘Gidday, coz,’ he greeted.
‘Gidday,’ I said.
He put the milk pail down and some of the milk sloshed onto the floor. But Nanny didn't seem to mind. Hone came and sat by me. Then he said, ‘You want to come?’
I asked, ‘Where?’
‘Just to look around.’
Hone was about two years older than me and taller too. He had big shoulders and a lot of muscles. He swaggered a lot, but that was only for show. I liked him.
We climbed to the top of the cliff and rested without speaking to each other. I looked back at the house and gasped. Hone laughed.
‘What's wrong, coz?’ he asked.
‘Look at your house,’ I said. ‘It's almost in the sea!’
He laughed again. ‘That's because it's high tide,’ he explained. ‘You want to come here in winter, we turn into a boat then!’ For a long time, I couldn't take my eyes from the house. It was very old and made of rusting corrugated iron, nailed firmly together. It was very small, a small tin shack standing on the sand, lazy smoke curling from the chimney. But the most surprising thing was that the sea lapped just a few feet away, like the edge of a slice of bread that someone had bitten. I could just imagine the house suddenly floating among the waves, floating, floating away….
‘Don't you get scared?’ I asked.
Hone shrugged his shoulders. ‘If we drown, we drown,’ he said.
‘Look over there.’ Hone pointed out to sea. A small row-boat bobbed among the glistening waves.
I shaded my eyes. ‘Who's that?’ I asked.
‘That's Dad and Tamihana,’ he answered. ‘They're having a look to see if they caught any crayfish today. That's how we live.’
I looked at him, puzzled. ‘Does it take long to catch crayfish?’
He laughed. ‘You are a townie! You use pots to catch crayfish.’
‘Oh,’ I said. Is that all that Uncle Pita does?’
‘That's all, that's how we live. A good life.’ I looked out again. I wasn't so sure.
Hone stood up. ‘Come on coz, there's still a lot to show you.’ We walked together along the cliff, Hone pointing out all the landmarks; where an old pa used to be, a small sandy cove where they usually went swimming, the cow bail, the neighbours' house so far away. We went down the track to the main road and watched the cars whiz past, the kids in back seats staring back at us. A big sheep truck rumbled by and the driver waved and honked his horn. ‘That's Uncle Jackie,’ Hone informed me. ‘He's one of your bones too.’ After a while, we turned back.
‘What you do at school?’ Hone asked. I told him that I was in Standard One and he said he was in Standard One as well, so I said I was dumb anyway. Because Hone was two years older than me, and he looked embarrassed. He said he was leaving school as soon as he was 15 and going to work on a station. I was envious. ‘What you going to do?’ he asked. I told him Mum wanted me to stay at school for a long time. ‘What for?’ I couldn't tell him. I didn't know.
When we arrived back at the house, some of the other boys were playing Four Square with a tennis ball. Every now and then, they had to run after the dog, because he would rush up and grab the ball in his teeth and run away with it. ‘Get away, Spot!’ they would yell. And they would squabble that the ball had gone into somebody else's square. ‘Cheat! Cheat!’ they yelled. They saw me. ‘You want a game, coz?’ I joined them. We played for a long time and it was very exciting. I won a few games and Kopua told me, ‘You can play good.’ That made me feel very proud, but I wasn't so sure that I could because sometimes it seemed that they were letting me win. Especially Kepa who made such a fuss when he lost a point. ‘Don't be sore, snotty nose!’ one of the other boys would yell.
The girls decided to join us, so Kopua made some more squares in the sand with a piece of stick and we played with ten squares. That was more exciting!
Kararaina got so carried away, that she forgot to be a lady and tucked her dress into her pants.
Then Nanny called, ‘Haere mai ki te kai,’ so we scrambled inside. ‘Having a good time?’ Nanny asked. I nodded excitedly. ‘You kids can go for a swim afterward,’ she said. So we hurried up eating.
‘Can you swim?’ Albert asked, as we ran down the beach. I nodded. In Gisborne, Kara and I used to go to Swimming Club with Graeme and I had once won a twenty five yard race. ‘I can too,’ he said. Ahead of us, I could see Kara and Pare, screaming and yelling and waving their towels. Sometimes, Pare would be left behind because her legs were small. So Sally would grab her up and give a piggy back for a while. Pare loved that; she always liked having a ride. We played tiggy all the way and I was almost out of breath when we reached the cove.
‘You fullas go and get changed over there,’ Grace yelled when we got to the cove.
Kepa poked his tongue. ‘She thinks she's boss,’ he whispered to me.
‘And don't you look, either,’ Grace added, ‘or I'll give you a hiding!’ The other girls giggled and hid behind a rock and whispered quietly to one another.
‘Come on, coz,’ Albert said. He motioned me to a shady place. The other boys were nearly all undressed. I looked away quickly, because Sid had hairs. ‘Eee!’ they yelled, pointing and slapping at each other's you-know-what. ‘Eee!’ I turned myself away from them, slipped down my pants and put my togs on. The others laughed. Then we ran down the beach and plunged into the sea.
The sea was warm and we splashed round, swimming in circles because Nanny had said not to go too far out. The girls joined us. Grace had a petticoat on and a bra and she was fat. ‘Look at the whale!’ Albert yelled and Grace caught him and ducked him underneath.
He came up spluttering and she said, ‘What you call me, what you call me ay? Say it again, go on, say it again. Aha! That'll teach you!’
But Albert wasn't scared of her. He swam away from her where she couldn't get him and began calling again, ‘A whale, a whale!’
But Grace couldn't be bothered with him. She cradled Pare in her arms and Pare made bubbles in the water and said, ‘I can thwim, look at me thwim!’
We stayed in the water for a long time, because it was very warm. We swam races and played tag, and Spot came and swam with us. Spot was a good swimmer for a dog. He could even bark in the water.
We stayed at the cove all afternoon. Sometimes we swam in the sea, sometimes we raced on the beach. And sometimes, Kepa threw a stick for Spot to fetch. Then Spat would prance along the beach, his tail wagging, and bring it back. A lot of times, we just talked, getting to know each other. And Albert and Kopua put their arms round me just to show that we were friends.
Albert and Kopua knew lots of things that I didn't. They knew how to milk a cow, strain a fence, ride a horse, drive a truck, all of the important things. I admired them very much; that I knew my ten times table and could spell hard words and speak properly didn't seem half as important. And afterwards, Sid tried to teach me how to whistle the dog with my fingers. I tried and tried, but Spot wouldn't do anything, just sat with his head cocked to one side. looking very puzzled. Everybody laughed and Kopua said. ‘You're a townie, all right.’ But I didn't mind them laughing, because I was laughing too much myself.
About four o'clock, Grace yelled out, ‘We better go home now.’ And as she was the boss, we hurried to get changed.
I was so happy, that I didn't bother to turn my back. ‘Eee!’ my cousins grinned. I smiled.
Then Albert said, ‘Let's go and give the girls a fright!’ I wanted to say no, but the others were already scrambling over the rocks. ‘Sssh!’ they said as I came in my shoes. Albert got a handful of sand and threw it over the rock, then we scrambled away, laughing.
The girls screamed and Grace's voice boomed out, ‘I know it was you, Albert! I know it was you! Just wait when I catch you. I'm going to give you a good hiding!’
Albert turned to me. ‘That'll teach her for pushing me under the water.’ He yelled out to Grace, ‘E koe, you tutae thing!’ We ran away down the beach before Grace could catch us. But she did in the end and slapped us boys over the head, even me, but I didn't mind, because it meant I
wasn't a stranger anymore.
That night, we had crayfish for tea. We didn't have a wash because Nanny said, ‘You mokopunas already clean enough,’ and we were glad. The crayfish was boiled in a big pot.
Kara almost cried when she looked at them boiling. She came to me and whispered, ‘We're going to eat them alive! They're still waving their legs!’ But by the time the crayfish were cooked, they were very dead. Nanny showed us how to eat them, ripping off their legs, breaking them open and sucking the meat from them, and then gouging into the body with her fingers.
‘Put some of the brown stuff on the flesh,’ she suggested, indicating a thick brown paste inside the crayfish. So we did, and the crayfish was sweet. We really gorged ourselves, even Pare who usually didn't eat much. Nanny just laughed and was very pleased. ‘We'll soon put the meat on you kids,’ she said.
After tea, Albert told me that the brown stuff was the crayfish's tutae. I told him not to tell lies.
Kara helped with the dishes again and I offered too. But Uncle Pita said, ‘That's woman's work.’ I decided to tell Mum what he said when she got home, and maybe I wouldn't have to do the dishes any more. For a while, Uncle and I talked.
I was curious about something and I asked him; ‘Uncle, why do we call you Uncle and Nanny, Nanny?’
He laughed. ‘A long story,’ he said. ‘Nanny and me were related before we got married!’ I tried not to blush.
‘It's like this, mokopuna,’ he began. ‘Nanny is my auntie.’
‘She doesn't look older than you,’ I said. ‘She isn't, but she's still my auntie.’ ‘Isn't that naughty?’ I asked.
Uncle's belly shook with laughter. ‘E tama, you're a funny one!’ Nanny came to see what was happening. Uncle told her. He winked at me. ‘Your Nanny was the naughty one,’ he said. ‘She was waiting for me in the bush and she led me astray!’
Nanny hit him and growled him in Maori. ‘Don't you listen to him,’ she told me, ‘He's a big liar.’
‘So is Dad,’ I said. They laughed.
Afterwards, we all sat by the fire, and George got his guitar. He had a good voice and he made that guitar sing. Uncle Pita had a smoke and Nanny had a pipe. Kara and the other girls went into the bedroom. The boys sat at the table, playing cards and yelling ‘Snap!’ Spot was eating a bone by the fire. The candle began to burn low. Pare got sleepy and Nanny picked her up and rocked her in her arms. ‘Time to go to bed,’ she said. ‘Put out the fire when you come, Pita,’ she added, and then trundled off to her room. I played cards with the boys for a while, and then we went to bed too.
I kissed Uncle Pita on the forehead and he smiled. ‘Good night, mokopuna,’ he said.
I followed Albert into bed and crawled into the middle. ‘We don't kiss our father,’ he told me. I was surprised, because we always kissed Dad. When I told Albert, he said, ‘I'm never coming to your house!’ He grinned and turned over and went to sleep.
For a long time, I looked up at the ceiling. The fire from the kitchen flickered through the door. Then I heard Uncle Pita stamping about and the fire flickered away. Then there was no noise, only the swish, swish of the sea outside the house. My eyes were tired and I soon went to sleep.
Pare didn't cry that night.
The next morning, I woke early because I wanted to go with Hone to milk the cow. Nanny was still in bed, but Grace was in the kitchen lighting the fire. She grinned at me. ‘What you doing up?’
‘I'm going with Hone,’ I said. I watched her as she bent and lit the fire, blowing at the small flame.
Hone came in with a big load of wood which he dumped by the fire, and picked up the bucket. ‘Come on, coz,’ he said. I followed him and we walked down the path, past the toilet, and trudged through the field to the cow bail. Lottie was already waiting for us, and she mooed ‘About time you came.’ Hone patted her flanks and she walked into the bail.
‘Aren't you going to tie her leg?’ I asked.
‘No,’ Hone said, ‘she's a good cow.’ He got some grease and rubbed it on her teats. Then he began to milk her. Spurt, spurt, went the milk, foaming in the bucket.
‘You're full today, aren't you?’ Hone said to his cow. Lottie mooed again, and swung her eyes to look at me.
‘Do you always talk to the cow?’ I asked. ‘All the time, she likes it.’
So I began to talk to Lottie too, saying
‘Good cow, good cow.’
Hone laughed. ‘You want to have a go?’
‘I've never milked a cow before,’ I said.
‘Come on, have a try.’ So I squeezed over and sat down on the stool. From below, Lottie was huge, and I was scared she might kick. ‘Good cow, good cow,’ I whispered. But I was scared. I pulled and pulled but no milk came out. ‘She's got no more,’ I said.
But Hone was too busy laughing. ‘You look hardcase,’ he said. Lottie began to get impatient, and she moved.
I jumped up. ‘You better finish,’ I said. He grinned and sat down. I was glad that at home we got our milk in bottles.
We went back to the house and had breakfast. Afterwards, I went and watched Uncle Pita put the boat out. I wished I could go with him but he said, ‘Tomorrow, mokopuna, tomorrow.’ I watched him rowing quickly out to sea.
All that morning, I played with my cousins. We went up a hill to some cabbage trees, and chopped some leaves off. Then we sat on the leaves and went sliding down the hill. That was fun! Afterwards, we made spears from toitoi and played war, yelping and screaming along the beach. Only, the girls didn't play fair. They refused to stay dead. ‘You missed, you missed!’ they would say.
‘Cheat! Ee, you cheat!’ we would yell.
Nanny called out to us to come and have lunch, so we hurried back because we were very hungry. ‘You like pipis and pupus?’ she asked. Kara and I looked at each other. What was that? The children grinned and Nanny was very surprised. ‘E kore!’ she said. ‘What that Julia been feeding you kids?’ She shook her head and mumbled something in Maori. ‘Right.’ she said. ‘We'll get some this afternon and have a big feed at tea.’
‘Hooray!’ my cousins yelled, so we did too. We hurried up, then, and the girls rushed through washing the dishes while I went with the boys collecting the kits and knives. Nanny said that we may as well get some pauas for Uncle Pita as he loved them. ‘So do we!’ yelled the kids and rolled their eyes and licked their lips to show Nanny how much they liked pauas. So we took knives to prise pauas from the rocks.
‘Hurry up!’ Nanny kept saying. ‘We haven't got all day.’ She cut some slices of Maori bread to take with us, and filled a flagon with cordial. ‘Kia tere!’ she called.
‘We're ready! We're ready, Mum!’ my cousins answered. We pushed through the door and skipped along the beach. Nanny puffing after us.
‘Hold your horses!’ she yelled. We looked back at her and giggled. Even Pare could run faster than Nanny.
We circled the beach, skipping through the sand and waded across a small inlet where seagulls were basking. The seagulls flapped away with furious noises cackling, ‘How dare you, how dare you disturb us!’ A bright blue kingfisher scooped low across the inlet, flashing its reflection across the water.
‘Hurry up, Nanny!’ we called. She picked up her petticoats and splashed carefully towards us.
‘Wait your hurry!’ she yelled. When she joined us, we ran away again, towards the reef.
When Nanny caught up, she plonked herself on the beach. We were already in our togs and running into the sea. ‘Come on, Nanny!’
But she just sat there, her puku heaving, and flapped her hand. ‘You go ahead,’ she said, ‘Nanny's going to have a little moe, she's tired.’
We waded into the sea. We had shoes on, because Nanny had said that the reef was sharp. Albert and I paired up. He gave me the sack to hold. He reached into the water, underneath a ledge, and tugged. ‘This a paua,’ he told me. In his hand, he had a big shell and inside was a long black rubbery looking paua. ‘You got to be quick,’ he said, ‘because if the paua feels your hand, he sticks tight to the rock and you got to use a knife to get him out. Here, you have a try.’ I put my hand down among the seaweed. I was scared because a crab might bite me. Or maybe a giant clam would clamp my hand and not let go, just like I'd seen in the pictures.
‘Ouch!’ I yelled. ‘Something prickly down there!’
Albert laughed. He grabbed underneath and pulled out a brown spiny thing. ‘This is kina!’ he said.
‘You eat that?’ I asked in wonder.
Albert licked his lips. ‘Kina's beaut!’ he said. I opened the bag and he dropped the kina in.
It didn't take long to fill our sack. Albert did most of the work. I had to use the knife. We worked our way from one pool to another. I was entranced. The seaweed waved gaily and the anemones opened their petals and little fish scurried away from our hands. Sometimes, I tugged too hard and a piece of reef would come away and muddy the water. Most times though, I fell back and got all wet. Then Albert would laugh and point his finger at me. A lot of times, I forgot all about the sea and a big wave would sneak up and say ‘Got you!’ before it slid over my head. But I didn't care, because it was fun looking for paua.
After we'd filled the sack, I pulled it after me and took it up the beach to Nanny. She smiled. ‘Good ay?’ I nodded, then ran back to Albert. ‘Don't go too far out,’ Nanny yelled, ‘the shark might get you!’ She laughed and her puku jiggled. I knew she was joking.
We stayed all afternoon in the water. Sometimes, I had to have a rest. I'd look up and see the other kids, and sometimes it seemed as if they were kissing the water. I saw Pare looking in the shallower pools for pupus, because they were easiest to find and looked like snails. When she saw one, she'd scream to Grace in her little voice, ‘I got one Grace! I got one!’
Then Grace would have to come and get it, because Pare was too scared to pick the pupu up. ‘Yes, Pare, that's one,’ she would say.
All afternoon, Pare was yelling out to Grace, ‘I got one, I got one!’
And it seemed all afternoon, that Grace kept on trudging back to Pare to pick the pupu up and saying, ‘Yes Pare, yes Pare.’ She must have been very patient.
Suddenly, Kara screamed. I looked up, to see the girls hustled about her. ‘Take it off! Take it off! Kara screamed. We ran up to see what was wrong.
Grace was laughing. ‘It's only a baby,’ she was saying. On Kara's arm was a little octopus. She was crying, so George picked her up and piggy-backed her to the beach to the arms of Nanny.
‘There, there, Kara,’ Nanny soothed. ‘See? It won't hurt you.’ She poked at the octopus with a stick and it moved. Kara screamed again. The kids all laughed. So did I, but I was scared of the octopus too. I didn't want to go back into the water, because what would happen if the mother octopus was out there? Kara stayed with Nanny on the beach, and after a while, she calmed down. She poked at the octopus and inspected it. ‘Uncle Pita like octopus,’ Nanny told her. Kara couldn't believe that Uncle would actually eat it. But he did, and she felt very proud.
‘I caught that octopus, Uncle,’ she said to him. ‘I caught it!’
When all the sacks and kits were full, we played on the beach. Then Nanny said, ‘Time to go,’ so we picked up the sacks and trudged home. We had to rest a lot, because the sacks were very heavy. I was tired, so I had a nap. Kara and Pare joined me. The other kids giggled at us, but Nanny said ‘Turi, turi,’ and shooed them outside. We always took a nap if we were tired.
Uncle Pita got home late that night. We had a big feed. And you know what? Pauas are good!
The day dawned, and true to his promise, Uncle Pita took me out with him in his boat. We started out early, and Tamihana came too. Uncle Pita was very strong, but he puffed a lot at the oars and kept on mumbling, ‘Boy! I'm getting old!’ Sometimes Tamihana would have to row for a while, while Uncle had a rest.
One time, I asked Uncle, ‘Shall I row for you?’ It looked easy. Uncle winked at Tamihana and nodded his head. So I grasped the oars, but it was hard! We just stayed in one place, and soon I was puffing and blowing as much as Uncle had been.
So he said, ‘Never mind mokopuna, your uncle too heavy to move!’
‘Sorry, Uncle,’ I said. But he just laughed.
We reached the first crayfish pot and Uncle Pita steadied the boat. He began hauling at the line and far down in the water, I could see the wire cage. The pot broke the surface and Tamihana reached in and grabbed the crayfish. I thought he was brave, because the crayfish looked very fierce, waving their feelers in the air and going click, click with their claws. Tamihana threw the crayfish at my feet and I yelled. I almost upset the boat, but Uncle thought it was a big laugh. The seagulls must have thought so too, because they began to cackle.
Uncle Pita talked to me while we went
from one pot to the other. He told me that he came from Ruatoria and never went to school. He made Ruatoria sound a grand place, and his eyes sparkled as he remembered the times when he had been a little boy.
Some of his stories were funny and made me laugh. Uncle would laugh too, and Tamihana would have to say, ‘E pa! Keep still ay? or else we'll have to swim back.’ I didn't like that idea, because the shore was so far away and I could only swim twenty-five yards at the Macrae Baths. But Uncle kept on: about how he had ridden a horse into the picture theatre, how all the girls had run after him but Nanny had been the fastest, on and on, tale after tale. ‘Boy, you're a real bag of wind!’ Tamihana said, when Uncle started on about his exploits on the football field. But Uncle took no notice of him because I was a good audience.
‘Yes,’ he said, ‘If it wasn't for me getting two tries and drop-kicking a goal in the last five minutes, East Coast would have been haddit! Naturally, I saved the game, that's what everybody said. They said I would have got in the All Blacks easy!’
Tamihana winked at me. He pointed to Uncle and whispered, ‘He's porangi, coz.’ Then he jostled his father and said, ‘Hey! You'd better wake up!’ Uncle got offended and swore at him. But Tamihana just swore back. I wished I could swear; I tried, but the word came out hushed and embarrassed and hid itself in a dark corner.
The bottom of the boat was becoming quite filled with the seeething bodies of crayfish, and I was quite astonished to realise that it was afternoon. It must have been afternoon, because Uncle Pita told me that there were only a few pots to go. I was hungry too, my tummy grumbling that it hadn't had lunch. We reached the last pot and were spilling the crayfish into the
boat when I noticed a stirring in the water, a grey fin slicing towards us. A shark! I yelled. I was petrified, and sat down quickly. Uncle laughed and rocked the boat and I was almost crying because I was scared we'd tip over. ‘Don't tease him. Dad,’ Tamihana said. He came and sat down by me and told me not to be afraid. We warched the fin circling the boat, the grey shadow gliding through the water. The shark was huge, longer than the boat, at least it seemed longer to my small eyes. Uncle Pita threw some fish to it, some of the fish that we had also caught in the pots. The shark rolled over and went ‘gulp, gulp’ and the water swirled.
‘That shark is our friend,’ Uncle began. ‘He looks after us and he's very old and very tapu. Nobody around here ever dare to kill him. He protects us.’
I was surprised and still afraid. The shark came to the side of the boat and began to scratch against it. ‘Itchy ay, e hoa?’ Uncle whispered to it. Then he put his hand over the side of the boat and caressed the fin.
‘He always comes to us about this time,’ Uncle continued. ‘And every time I feed him. I been feeding him for a long time, very tapu, very sacred. Don't know how old he is, a thousand years perhaps. Many Pakeha try to get him, but he's too sly. Aren't you, my friend?’
Uncle put his hand down again. Then the shark seemed to disappear, slicing out to the sea, magically fading so that I wondered whether I had dreamed it all.
‘You ask your Nanny about the shark,’ Uncle confided. ‘When she was a small girl she almost drowned in the river mouth. All she remembers is crying for help and then going under. Then next thing, she's lying on the sand. She looked up and she saw that shark going away. That shark is sacred and helps our people. You only have to call him if you're in trouble and he'll come. Nanny didn't believe it until it happened to her, and now she won't let anyone harm that shark. So you just remember, mokopuna, if ever you're in trouble in the sea, you pray very hard and call him and he'll come. He'll come…”
I asked Nanny about the shark when we got home. Her eyes glistened and she told me that everything that Uncle had said was true. ‘It's not lies,’ she said. ‘The Pakeha think so, but he's blind.’ I was glad that I was Maori.
And that night, I dreamed that I was riding astride that shark rushing happily through the glistening water, laughing….
The sun shone bright again the next day, the laughing lights fleeing away from the wind, across the sea. ‘Can't catch us! Can't catch us!’ they seemed to whisper and skittered across the waves again, leaving sparkling footprints behind.
I had woken early, and we had had porridge for breakfast followed by a big mug of cocoa. ‘Eat up, mokopunas,’ Nanny had said when we had looked dismal and were reluctantly stirring our porridge. ‘It'll make you big and strong,’ she said. We had never liked porridge, but when we tried Nanny's porridge, we even licked the plates because it was so good. Nanny had just chuckled to herself, ‘Beauty ay, good ay?’ and the other children had chuckled with her.
After breakfast, I had gone with Albert to pick up the groceries from the mail box. The groceries came every Tuesday and Thursday along with the mail. Then I'd watched Nanny and Grace making Maori bread in the kitchen. Nanny had big strong arms and she pummelled and prodded the dough to make it firm. She gave Kara and Pare a piece of dough each, and they made gingerbread men, brown and puffed, smiling with the crooked lips which my sisters had given them. Kara wouldn't eat hers; she said she'd show hers to Mum as proof that she could cook. So Pare said she'd leave hers for Mum as well, but she'd just have a taste, just a wee taste mind you, but ended up eating her gingerbread man. She started to cry then, so Nanny said she could make another, perhaps the next day.
Now, here I was, lying in the tall grass at the top of the cliff, watching the clouds scudding past. Far below, I could hear the small piping screams of the other children, playing on the sand. I had been playing with them too, but sneaked off to be alone for a while. I always went off alone when I was happy. Then I could talk to myself and indulge in my fantasies with nobody to shake their heads and cluck ‘Tsk, tsk.’ I won't tell you what I dreamed about, because daydreams are like wishes: if you confide them they break into little pieces and won't come true. And I so wanted my dreams to come true! I crossed my fingers
and even my toes and I looked up at the sky and let my words grow wings and flutter away…
I heard voices calling, soft and far away. ‘Cousin, where are you coz?’ Then giggles rippled round me and whispered words said, ‘Sssh!’ ‘Ssssh!’ So I closed my eyes pretending I had not heard them coming. ‘We've found you! We've found you!’ the voices screamed.
‘What are you doing here?’ Kara asked. ‘Come on! We're going to have a ride on the horses!’ She grabbed my hand, and we ran down the hill, chasing the sun as it rippled over the fields.
‘There they are!’ Albert pointed. Far away, grazing near a small cluster of trees, were three old horses. We scrambled over the fence and ran toward them. The horses looked up, startled, pricking up their ears and whinnying anxiously to each other.
‘Don't frighten them,’ Sid whispered urgently. ‘Don't frighten them!’ We divided into groups. Each group surrounded a horse. Closer and closer we circled.
‘How we going to catch them?’ I asked Sid.
‘Just jump on,’ he answered. ‘It's easy.’ I wasn't so sure.
We drew nearer to the horses. ‘Easy, boy, easy,’ Albert whispered to the one we were after. ‘Easy, boy.’ His words were liquid and cunningly kind. He put his hand on the horses's mane. The horse quivered and shied away. But it was too late, for in a trice, Albert had leapt onto its back. He gave a yodel and kicked the horse with his bare feet. Away the horse went, drumming across the paddock. I watched with admiration; my cousin was clever!
By now, the other two horses had also been mounted. Sid was on one and Grace on the other, grasping hold of the manes and flying quickly in pursuit of Albert. We ran after them and Grace looked back at us, her hair streaming and her dress hitched into her pants. ‘Heiaho. Heiaho!’ she screamed.
At the other end of the paddock, we bustled round the horses, trying to get the first ride. ‘Let me ride too!’ Pare yelled. ‘I want to ride the horthy too!’ So Grace leant down and pulled her up behind her. Away they went, thrumming across the grass, Pare's little bottom bouncing up and down as she clung tightly to Grace.
‘Come on,’ Albert said. ‘Let's get after them. We'll show that Grace!’ I tried to jump on behind him but the horse was too big. So Albert gave me his arm and hoisted me on. He kicked the horse in the flanks and away it went. I closed my eyes because I was scared. Kara, Pare and I had never ridden on a horse before and it was harder than it looked, especially without a saddle. It was very bumpy and the horse was so slippery! ‘Hang on, coz,’ Albert yelled when he felt me slipping off. ‘Hang on!’ He kicked the horse faster still and we were almost at the fence! Surely we would crash, or maybe we would jump! I held on tight and screwed up all my fears, but just before we reached the fence, the horse staggered to a stop. But I'm sure my heart jumped over, because I felt all empty inside. ‘You all right?’ Albert asked. I nodded. ‘Good ay?’ I nodded again.
Grace jiggled her horse over to us and we sat watching the others coming towards us. Kara was riding behind Sid and no matter how hard he was kicking the horse, it just ambled along in its own sweet time. ‘You porangi thing!’ Sid was yelling. ‘Come on, gallop, you porangi thing!’ But the horse just kept ambling along, disdaining any encouragement. The other kids were trying to make the horse go faster, too. But no luck. When Sid got to us, he said, ‘Let's swop horses.’ Grace shook her head and so did Albert.
‘You can keep your tutae horse,’ Grace said.
And Albert said, ‘It's not the horse, it's the driver!’ We all laughed then, and Sid got wild. He hopped back on again. ‘I'll fix you!’ he said. He slapped the horse. ‘Ana to kai!’ he said, but the horse just kept standing there. Sid got off again. He picked up a stick and you know what? He chased that horse around the paddock all afternoon, yelling out to it, ‘You stink horse, you porangi, you hoha thing!’
When the day began to wane, we thought we'd better go home. Grace had to do the potatoes and Sid had some wood to cut. But we were too lazy to walk all the way back. Poor horses! Having to carry the 13 of us! But we were very small, and somehow, we managed to put six on our horse: Albert, Kepa, Sally, Hone, Pare and myself. I was in the middle with Pare. We got
to the beach and Grace said ‘Come on, we'll have a race!’ So off we went, trotting down the sand. The horses couldn't go very fast because they were very tired, Sid's horse was playing up again, and we left them a long way behind. But our horse and the one Grace was riding were neck and neck just about all the way. It was an exciting race! We grinned at each other and all kicked our legs to make the horses go faster. But Grace was cunning. She cut in front of us and then made her horse gallop. We tried to make our horse gallop too, but it was haddit. So we just ambled along, listening to Grace and the others skiting and yelling in victory. We thought they'd win. But then, Kopua started sliding off the tail and he grabbed Kara and Kara grabbed Whiti and Whiti grabbed Kararaina and Kararaina grabbed Grace, and next thing you know, there was only the horse galloping along the beach with nobody on it! We gave a shout of glee and just to make our victory better, yelled out to the kids lying in a jumbled heap on the sand, ‘Ana! Good ay?’
We sailed past and heard Grace screaming at the others, blaming each of them. But they wouldn't have any of that. They started blaming each other, saying, ‘It was your fault!’
‘No, it was your fault, you pulled me off!’
‘It was him, he pulled first!’
And poor Kopua got a slap over the head.
When we reached the house, we dismounted and waited for the others to catch up. ‘We won!’ Pare yelled.
But Grace wouldn't give in. She said, ‘No you didn't! Our horse got here first!’ — which was true, but it wasn't fair.
So a squabble started and would have developed into a war if Nanny hadn't come out and yelled ‘Who told you kids you could ride Mr Hewitt's horses! He'll shoot you kids one day!’ But Nanny didn't growl Kara, Pare and me; how were we to know that those horses didn't belong to Nanny?
After tea, Nanny said that we all had to take a bath because we were dirty. My cousins groaned, because that meant having to boil up the water in a copper and then ferry the water by bucket to the bath. I had forgotten that Nanny didn't get hot water out of taps like we did at home, so when Sid told me, I groaned too. It seemed hard work, just to have a bath. But Nanny said she wasn't going to take dirty kids to town next day, And town was such a magic word, that we immediately said we'd have a bath. So while the girls were doing the dishes, I went with the boys to the wash house, where we filled the copper and lit the fire. Then, when the water was boiling, we all stood in a row and swung buckets down the line to the bath. When the bath was full, we got undressed, but Nanny yelled out, ‘Hey! You fullas just let the girls go first because you make the water too dirty with your patio feet!’
And the girls yelled, ‘Yes! We don't want Albert's kutus floating in our water!’ So we had to put our clothes on again and wait until the girls had finished. But they took so long that the water was cold. So Nanny told the girls that they just had to boil up some water for us and they moaned.
But Nanny said, ‘Well, if you girls want to stay in the bath all the time to be beautiful, that's your fault.’
And Albert yelled out: ‘Ana to kai!’ Albert was very cheeky. But Grace got her own back, because when the first bucket came, she poured the water all over him and it was freezing.
I had never taken a bath with other people before. None of us had, not even Kara and Pare who didn't even bathe together at home. At home, you had to knock on the door before you went into the bathroom, even if Pare was in the bath. I had gone in once, and Pare had screamed and tried to hide herself with a small flannel. And she was only four! But at Nanny's place, my cousins always bathed together, because it saved having to heat too much water. At first I was embarrassed about sitting in the bath with Sid, Albert and Kopua. I was right in the middle, as usual and they were rude! Sometimes, they'd say ‘Where's the soap,’ and pretend to hunt for it in the water and pull my you-know-what. ‘Eee!’ they would giggle. ‘Eee!’ Then they would splash each other, but I got the worst of it, being in the middle. It was fun, though, having a bath together, because my cousins were such hardcases. But when I got out and dressed myself, I looked at the water and it was very dirty. I wondered if Albert really had kutus.
Nanny said that we had to go to bed
early that night, so we did. But we didn't go to sleep right away, because the argument about who had won the horse race started up again and we ended having a pillow fight. Even when we were settling down to sleep, Kopua and Albert kept on calling to each other… ‘we won’… ‘you didn't’… ‘we won’… ‘you didn't’… ‘we won’… ‘you didn't’… and next morning, they were still at it.
We had to hurry and do lots of things that morning, because Nanny said we wouldn't be going until all the work was done. So the girls hurried and cleaned the pots and swept the house, and I helped Sid bring in the wood. Then, when Nanny was satisfied, she said, ‘Go and get dressed.’
There's something happy about going to town. It must be more so for people who live in the country, especially as far out as my cousins did. But their town only had a few shops and only one picture theatre too! That's what Albert told me, and he was very envious that our town had three theatres which showed films every day. My cousins liked films, especially Hopalong Cassidy or Audie Murphy with lots of bang bang in them. They hated kissing films.
We dressed ourselves quickly, and you could tell that Kara, Pare and I were townies because we had neater clothes. So just to make scores even, I took off my shoes and didn't wear my best jersey. But I still looked different: I suppose that I was more shiny. I wished I wasn't.
‘Hurry up, Nanny!’ Kara yelled, when we were ready. ‘Hurry up. Uncle!’ We joined our cousins and raced up the cliff and clustered round the truck, playing games. Nanny and Uncle trundled after us, Nanny in her best dress and hat, and Uncle still putting on his shirt. We clambered on the back tray, and Uncle started the truck. Oogoo, oogoo it coughed. Oogoo, oogoo! We slowly chugged our way down the path and turned onto the main road.
Uncle's truck was very old, but it was a good truck! Nanny said it was better than walking, even if it only went slow. But my cousins must have been ashamed, because they would yell out to Uncle, ‘Put your foot down, e pa!’ and make rude comments about the truck. I suppose trucks have feelings like horses, because we broke down twice and had to get out to push it to make it start again. Even Nanny! And once, the engine began to boil, so we had to stop at a creek and put some water in the radiator. But that didn't stop my cousins yelling out to the truck.
The truck didn't take any notice. ‘Wait your hurry!’ it replied huffily. Oogoo! Oogoo!
On the way, my cousins pointed out places of interest: the farms, an old Maori pa decaying in the wind, a church, the spot where a car had crashed the year before. Then we played a game about who had the most white horses on his side of the road. That was fun! Sometimes a flash car would pass us, and if the people looked too smart, we made faces and wiggled our behinds at them. Nanny told us to sit down and not be porangi.
When we arrived at Ruatoria, Uncle parked the truck in front of a big building which Sid informed me was the pub. He asked me if I liked beer and I said I hadn't had any. He didn't believe me. We clustered round Nanny. holding out our hands, and she gave us some money. Five shillings! Each! Kara and I couldn't believe our eyes, and we certainly believed Nanny when she moaned, ‘Boy! You kids are driving me broke!’ She wasn't talking to us though, but to her children, who thought that five shillings wasn't enough. Even Uncle had to hold out his hand for some money. He got more than us, though. But he moaned too, and Nanny said to him, ‘That's all you're getting for your beer.’ So Uncle shook his head, muttered to himself in Maori and shuffled away.
We went with Nanny for a while, following her from shop to shop as she bought the stores; some more kai, some material from the haberdashers, and some pots. Grace wanted a new pair of shoes, a pair with stiletto heels. ‘What for?’ Nanny asked. ‘You already got enough,’ But Grace insisted, so we went to the shoe shop and watched Grace parade up and down, wobbling from side to side.
The man said, ‘Would you like them wrapped up?’ but Grace said she'd wear them. She walked out the door while Nanny was paying for the shoes, and we never saw her again until that night.
‘She's gone to see her fella,’ Sid informed me. ‘She's hot on him!’ We giggled.
Afterwards, Nanny told us to carry the packages to the truck. When we got back,
she said to the boys, ‘You kids better have your hair cut, ay?’ We all disappeared.
We wandered round together for a while, but then began to split up. The girls went their own ways, and we went ours. I stayed with Sid and Hone, because we were about the same ages. George went to the billiard rooms. He lit a smoke and he looked tough in his jeans and carefully combed hair. Later on, we saw him with a freckled Pakeha girl and they were holding hands!
At the milk bar, we had a fizzy drink. Then Sid and Hone took me on a tour round the town. It wasn't very big, but there were a lot of people walking about, and my cousins seemed to know every one of them. ‘That's Auntie Miro, that's Nanny Tawhi, that's Miss Jacobs our teacher, that's cissy George, that's Hera Heta and is she a hakuri thing!’ Some of the people were fat, some of them thin, but mostly fat and dressed rough, except for the Pakehas, who had shoes on and their singlets tucked in.
We walked past the pub and saw Uncle drinking flat out. He must have been very thirsty. Sid went in to ask for some money, but he said, ‘Kids not allowed in here!’ There were lots of people in there, and more were arriving every minute, stumbling through the door as if they hadn't had a drink in months. Nanny even joined them with some other korouas.
We went back to the shops and looked at the counters, stopping every now and then to talk to some of Sid or Hone's friends and finding out what they were doing in the holidays. I was too shy to speak, but Sid and Hone seemed proud of me. ‘This is our cousin,’ they would say. ‘He comes from Gisborne and his father's got a beaut Holden.’
‘Aaa!’ their friends would gasp, and look at me as if I was a somebody. I wasn't though, and our Holden wasn't that flash.
After the shops closed at five o'clock, Sid, Hone and I went back to the truck. The girls were already there and they asked, ‘How much money you fullas got left?’ They had 4s. 7d. and we had a florin, so we pooled our money and bought some fish and chips.
Kararaina shared out the chips, ‘One for you, one for you, one for you,’ until we had an equal pile. There were some chips left over, and my cousins offered them to us. But Kara and I didn't accept, so the extra chips were given to Pare, who was the smallest. Afterwards, we dug in our pockets just to make sure that we hadn't missed a halfpenny or a threepence. But no, there was no money left.
At six o'clock, the pub closed and a stream of people spilled from the door. Some of them were really ‘rotten’ as Sid put it, weaving and swaying as if they'd just finished turning round and round and round and were still dizzy. Some of them were singing songs, rude songs, and clutching each other for support. An old lady even did a hula on the pavement. The people made for their cars and trucks, piling into them along with their crates and flagons.
Nanny came out with Uncle. ‘Stand up, man,’ Nanny was saying, and she called out to us to help her put Uncle in the truck.
‘How you, mokopunas?’ Uncle slurred, ‘how you?’ Uncle was very heavy and he smelt funny. Some other people were with him, and they piled on the back too, taking swigs from a bottle. A big shiny barrel was thrown among us and the truck shook like anything.
‘Go and get Tamihana,’ Nanny told Albert. ‘I'm not letting any of these boozers drive me round.’
‘Where we going, Mum?’ Kararaina asked.
‘To Auntie Puti's.’
Tamihana came and hopped in the driver's seat. We took off and the truck must have been going very fast because it swayed round the bends and instead of saying Oogoo! Oogoo! it went Ooooo! Nanny told Tamihana to slow down as we weren't having a race, but he said, ‘Who's driving this truck, me or you?’
When we arrived at Auntie Puti's place, there were already lots of people there. A guitar was playing and people were singing. ‘They're having a party,’ Sid told me. We helped Uncle off the back and he swayed inside.
Uncle must have been very popular because there was a great roar of greetings, ‘Gidday Pita! Where you been? Where's your glass?’
Auntie Puti came out and she looked very nice. Nanny said, ‘These are Julia's kids,’ and Auntie looked at us and went ‘Aaaaa!’
We had to press noses then, because that's the way they kiss in Ruatoria. Auntie Puti had a soft nose. She took us inside and we were scared, because the people looked very ferocious and had red eyes. But Auntie told us not to take any notice of those rotten boozers and kicked everyone out of the kitchen, telling them to take their stinking beer with them. Then she made a kai for us and we ate it all, because we were very hungry.
Afterward, we helped Auntie with the dishes and she asked us how our mother was. Mum and Auntie Puti had gone to school together; they weren't closely related but they had been very good friends. Auntie had a big family too, nine children, and she yelled out to them to come and meet their bones. So we bashfully said ‘Hello.’ Then Uncle came in and told Nanny to come and join them in the front room. Nanny went and Auntie went with her, ‘just to make sure those boozers didn't break anything,’ she said.
We went ouside and played for a while, until it got too dark. ‘How long will we be here?’ Kara asked.
‘They'll be going all night,’ Sid answered. ‘They always do when they have a party.’
‘Oh.’ Kara whispered. We sat on the verandah, listening to the music and the singing, and watching the people coming in and out. I don't think Auntie had a toilet at her place. And those people had the runs all the time! We were very tired, and Pare was falling off to sleep.
But when Nanny came out and gave us some money and said, ‘You kids, go to the pictures ay?’ we jumped up and were wide awake.
‘See you later, Nanny!’ we yelled, and ran down the road. And guess what — Nanny had given us two whole pounds! I'd never seen so much money!
There were lots of people at the pictures, mostly young like us. We got some lollies and our tickets and then rushed down to the front. It was strange at that theatre, because they didn't have nice seats, just rows of forms. And the people brought their own blankets and wrapped them round their legs because of the draught. You were allowed to eat fish and chips too! And even allowed to throw paper and things. It was exciting and what with all the commotion going on, I was quite prepared to see someone galloping a horse down the aisle. My cousins looked round, shouting greetings to their mates and going and talking to them. Of course, Pare, Kara and I were dragged along too. ‘These are our cousins,’ Sid would say. ‘They got a beaut car!’
On our travels among the people, we came across Grace. She was sitting at the back with her boyfriend and he was kissing her! And she had funny marks on her neck. ‘Eeeee! Grace!’ Albert yelled. ‘Eeee! Grace!’
The picture started and everybody began to whistle and bang their feet. The shorts were three cartoons and something about growing wheat in America. Everybody booed because it was too long. Half-time came and went and the lights dimmed for the main feature. A cowboy film! It was exciting, even if the picture broke down about three times. But the main actor was good. Quick on the gun, because at the big showdown, it only took him one bullet to kill three men! At least, it was marvellous for my cousins. I didn't tell them that the film had jumped. But it was still an exciting film, and the whole theatre rocked with yells and screams and whistles. Sometimes, somebody would run up to the screen to try to help the goodie if he was in trouble. Then everybody would yell, ‘Sit down!’… ‘Get off!’ and throw things at him. But that only made matters worse, because then the kids would scramble up there too, just in case somebody had thrown some lollies. Then you couldn't see the action at all. Once, even Kara ran up there and when she came back, she had a mintie and let me have a suck.
After the film, we piled out and got some fish and chips. We saw Grace at the shop too, but she pretended she didn't see us. She was sitting carefully, swinging her feet so that everybody could see her new shoes. Some of her mates were with her, and even though she had a boyfriend, she winked at another fulla — I saw her! George was there too, with his girlfriend, and she smiled at us. Sid said she was a prefect at school and her father was rich. We hung around the fish shop for a while and then we started home to Auntie's place, reenacting the action of the film. ‘Wasn't that beaut when he shot those men?…. And that time when…
The party was in full swing, the house shaking with activity. Pare started to get
sleepy because it was way after twelve, so I asked Sid what time we were going home. He looked at me and said, ‘We never go home on Friday nights!’
‘Where do you sleep, then?’ I asked.
He motioned to the truck, ‘We brung some blankets,’ he added. Sid explained that Nanny and Uncle liked going to parties during the weekends. And the parties that were held never stopped until Sunday! Even the party tonight had started on Wednesday when everybody got paid and it wouldn't stop till the beer ran out. I was really surprised. ‘Sometimes.’ Sid told me, ‘It goes on for a whole week.’
We put Pare to bed, then played Cowboys and Indians. But one by one the Indians got tired and threw away their arrows and crept onto the back of the truck. In the end, there was only me and Sid, and you can't play Cowboys and Indians with only two people. So we climbed into the truck too, pulling the blankets round us. There were about fifteen of us, all in a row, the girls already asleep. Grace wasn't there, nor Tamihana nor George. For a while, we lay awake talking to one another, but it had been a long day and we soon went to sleep. The last sound I heard was that guitar still plunking bravely and those boozy voices singing a party song. And you know what? When I woke up the next morning, that guitar was still going!
As Sid had predicted, the party continued all Saturday. Sometimes we went into the house to pinch a piece of bread, and sometimes a drunken man would give us money to buy some kai. Nanny came out every now and then to drag us into the house to meet new arrivals. ‘Julia's kids,’ she would say and they would whisper to each other, ‘Aaaa!’ Then we'd have to press noses all over again. We tried to remember the names of all the people we met, but it got too much for us. Mum had so many friends and relations! But we did remember some of the people and how they knew Mum. For instance, there was Uncle Claude who brought Mum up for a few years, but she was always running home to her own mother. I would have too, because Uncle Claude talked very loud. Then there was Auntie Haraina who was only a half-sister because she had a different father. I couldn't understand that. But most interesting of all was a man who was very boozed
Te Ao Hou is always glad to hear from new contributors, Maori and Pakeha. Articles, news items, photographs, stories and poetry dealing with all aspects of Maori life and culture are welcome. Apart from short news items, all contributions published are paid for.
Te Ao Hou'saddress is Box 2390, Wellington.
and came up and grabbed me and said that he and Mum had almost got married, but Dad cut him out.
Throughout the afternoon, we played until I was tired of playing. So we went to look at the meeting house. It was scary and dark. The window was broken, so we hopped through and looked at the carvings. Pare got a fright because all the faces had glaring eyes. And there was one especially, which she wouldn't go near. We played in the meeting house for a long time, mostly ‘ghost’, because it was so dark. But when night came, we became too scared because Sid told us lots of horrible stories, and everybody knows that ghosts come alive at night. So we hopped through the window again and ran back to Auntie's place.
About nine o'clock, Nanny said we were going home. Uncle didn't want to come because he was having such a good time. But she kicked him in the behind and said, ‘We got to take the kids to church tomorrow.’
Everybody laughed at that and said, ‘Stay,’ or ‘Just one more, just have one more beer before you go.’
But Nanny was firm. ‘No,’ she said, ‘we're rotten enough already and the priest will smell us a mile away.’ So the people told her she was a spoil sport. Nanny didn't care that they called her names. She picked up her bag and then Uncle Pita and yelled out, ‘Haere ra, everybody.’
We got onto the truck. I was glad, because I'd had enough of playing. I was tired of all the people and wanted to be alone. George drove us, because we couldn't find Tamihana. Or Grace, either! So we hunted for them both, going from one party to the next. We found Tamihana quite easily, but it took a long time to find Grace. She was with her boyfriend and she was drunk! Nanny smelt her breath and really went
wild. She slapped Grace on the cheek and said she'd get a good hiding when we got home.
So we finally rolled out of Ruatoria. On our way home, we huddled under the blankets and sang songs. We had to stop a few times because Grace got sick, ‘Ana!’ Nanny would yell. ‘Good ay, Grace? Have some more beer!’
Grace started to cry. Then she said, ‘Where's my shoes?’ They weren't on her feet we had a look.
‘Someone must have pinched them,’ Sid said.
‘Don't tell Mum,’ Grace whispered to us, ‘she'll really give it to me!’ But all the way home, Grace was crying and moaning, ‘Where's my shoes? Somebody's pinched my shoes!’ She never found them.
The next day, we got dressed in our best clothes. Nanny put on her hat and some stockings because you always had to wear a hat and stockings when you went to church. She tried to get Uncle out of bed but he only grunted when she nudged him. She even sat on him and kicked him, but he kept on snoring, his big puku rising out of the blankets. Nanny told us, ‘Your uncle's going to end up in Hell!’ We shivered, because Hell was a bad place and Uncle wasn't bad really. We decided to pray for him.
Nanny had to wake George up and tell him to take us to church. George grumbled at Nanny and even swore at her. He must have forgotten it was Sunday. Nanny hit him on the head, and he said, ‘All right, all right! I'm coming, I'm coming!’
We hopped on the truck and waited for him. ‘Where's Grace?’ I asked Nanny. Nanny said that Grace was staying behind to cook our lunch and that the church would fall down anyway if Grace walked in, so we were glad that Grace didn't come.
The church was about five miles down the road and we got there just before the service began. George stayed in the track to have a moe. But all us kids followed Nanny in, shaking the minister’, hand at the door. The church was very old, but it looked very holy. We knelt down and said prayers and then stood up when the minister came in. They have a lot of sitting down and standing up in Nanny's church. You get tired. And the songs are so hard to sing! Sid had brought a comic with him and while the minister was reading his sermon, Sid read his comic. Nanny saw him and clipped his ear.
After the service, we stood outside the church, while Nanny put on her best smile and renewed her acquaintances. ‘No, Mrs Andrews,’ we heard her say, ‘my husband couldn't come today, he got the flu.’… ‘Yes, Mr Graves, it was a lovely service, wasn't it?’ We just stood by and giggled. Nanny was grand!
We hopped back onto the truck and woke George up. ‘All set?’ he asked.
Nanny took a count. ‘Hold on! Where's Kararaina?’ We looked at each other, mystified. Then Nanny said, ‘She must be seeing her brother up the hill.’ Sid was sent to get her and I went with him.
I was puzzled. I didn't know that Sid had another brother. ‘Oh, yes!’ Sid told me. ‘His name is Jimmie and he comes after Kararaina, She always goes to see him every Sunday.’ We walked up the hill behind the church, along a dirt path. And right up the top was Kararaina, sitting on a headstone in the graveyard. She had been weeding round a small grave and she had placed some daisies in a glass bowl set on top of the grave.
She looked up and smiled. ‘We ready to go now?’ She asked.
Sid said ‘Yes.’ He turned to me. ‘This is Jimmie,’ he said, pointing to the grave.
‘Oh,’ I said, surprised.
Sure enough, the headstone read: Jimmie Tapanui, died 1947.
‘He had a hole in the heart,’ Kararaina said, ‘but he's my best brother.’ She sniffed. Sid took her by the hand. We went out the gate, washing our hands in a small iron pot at the entrance. Kararaina looked back. The daisies twinkled bright yellow in the sun. ‘Haere ra, Jimmie,’ she said in a low voice, ‘see you next Sunday.’
When we got back to the truck, Nanny didn't growl Kararaina. She just kissed her on the head and held her tightly in her arms. George started the truck and we went home.
The days passed quickly after that first week. That is the way days are when you are happy. They sneaked past quickly, yet they were also timeless, merging into one another as if they were a long, bubbling burst of laughter. Days that were tranquil and without strain, in which every activity
no matter how ordinary, seemed suddenly polished and sparkling and new. We played on the beach, went for swims at the cove, and our happiness did not stale. Even our silences were content, blissfully sleeping in our minds, listening to the soothing sounds of the sea.
More and more, I found myself running to the top of the cliff and sitting there, looking down to the beach and the bounds of Nanny's life. I envied my cousins that they lived here, in this timeless place, and closed my eyes, hoping to imprint the happiness I had found indelibly in my memory. Then I would look down again, and see Nanny sitting outside her door, surrounded by her children, laughing in the sun And far away, bobbing in a calm, emerald sea, Uncle Pita and Tamihana would be inspecting the crayfish pots. My contentment would begin to bubble over and I would run down the hill to be with my cousins and my Nanny.
But even solstice comes to an end; there is an end even to summer days. It seemed quite suddenly, that the days rushed forward like a big wave and plunged down upon us.
For one morning, when the sea was sparkling, there appeared a car on the cliff. And waving to us from far away, were Mum and Dad.
Kara, Pare and I were overjoyed to see our parents. Pare cried. We hugged and kissed each other, then Nanny and Mum had a little weep to themselves. Uncle came back from the sea to meet Mum and Dad and Grace made a cup of tea. Mum asked if we'd had fun, and we all started talking
together, telling her what we'd done. Mum laughed and said, ‘See! I told you you'd like it at Nanny's place.’ Then she turned to Nanny and whispered how we'd performed when told that we were staying with Nanny while she and Dad went to Auckland.
Nanny just smiled and hugged us. ‘My mokopunas,’ she whispered. ‘They're your kids all right, Julia,’ she said.
Mum said we couldn't stay very long as she and Dad had come here straight from Auckland and hadn't been home yet. But Nanny said we'd better have some lunch first. So we all sat down at the table and had a big kai. Mum was astonished at how much we ate. Nanny was very pleased. She said we could take some crayfish and pauas with us when we went. While we were eating, Pare asked Mum if she had remambered our presents. Mum said they were in the car, so all us kids ran up the cliff to see them. And Mum had bought me a beaut red train! And she had also bought presents for my cousins! ‘You shouldn't have done it, Julia,’ Nanny said, when she saw the tablecloth that Mum had bought for her. And Grace gave a scream of delight when she saw the dress which was her present.
‘I hope it fits you,’ Mum said. So Grace tried it on and it was just perfect.
‘You kids thank your auntie,’ Nanny said.
‘Thank you, Auntie!’ they chorused. We went outside and played while Mum and Dad talked to Nanny and Uncle.
Then they came out and said, ‘Time to go.’
Suddenly, we felt very sad. We went into the house and packed our suitcase and our cousins crowded round us, silent. We wanted to go, but we wanted to stay as well. Kara cried. I wanted to, but boys aren't allowed to cry. Instead, I told Sid that I would ask Dad if we could come back next holidays.
We went up the cliff to the car.
‘Goodbye, Nanny,’ we said. We hugged her close and she took out her handkerchief and cried.
‘Goodbye, Uncle Pita.’ He shook our hands.
Then we said ‘Goodbye’ to all our cousins. ‘See you sometime,’ we said.
We hopped into the car. Dad started the motor and backed the car onto the path
‘Goodbye!’ we yelled. ‘We'll be back!’
We crowded the back window and waved and waved and waved.
Then we were gone.
I never saw Nanny again.
I never even went to her tangi.
And if I ever met my cousins in the street, we had little to say to each other.
You see, I grew older. I spread my wings and flew from city to city, year after year after year. Sometimes, I found a haven, a small niche from the wind. Most times I have been happy. Yet…
Somewhere is a summer solstice, a floating nest.
POLYNESIAN MIGRATION MEMORIAL
The Cook Islands Library and Museum Society invites entries for a competition to design a Memorial to be erected in Rarotonga to commemorate the migration and voyages of the Polynesian people. The Memorial is to be erected close to the place from which the Great Fleet is reputed to have left for New Zealand.
The design should be such that the Memorial can be erected for approximately $2,000 in permanent materials.
The prize for the winning design will be $50.
For full conditions relating to this competition, please write to:
The Secretary, Cook Islands Library and Museum Society, RAROTONGA