We went north for Easter, myself, Caroline and Te Whaea, drove to Picton, left the car, caught the ferry, had a night in Wellington, hired a car, drove to Ohau to scatter my brother’s ashes, then dropped Whaea off at her Mum’s in Palmerston North, before continuing to Napier to spend a night with my nephew from my adopted family, whose mother recently died.
It was great not to fly. Airplanes and airports are tedious, a fatal disaster the only possibility of excitement. On a car and boat journey, you experience change in the landscape, you see things and people: are disturbed as the procession of churchgoers with their cross walk through the pleasure-seeking crowd in Picton, over hear conversations, have time to ponder the blind girl and her friend, watch the white stick unfold and snap open, wonder about the man incessantly pacing the terminal, doze as you traverse the strait, watch the ramp come down ever so slowly and the bright light of the capital intrude.
The family gathering was healing. For the first time my brother and sister spoke their stories of the family disintegration, their middle-aged children weeping as the traffic on SH1 flowed past in the distance. The ashes were heavy and ready to form clay. For the first time we seemed to exist as a family unit, a disjointed and edgy one, but that was okay. We’d had to wait until old age for it to happen, but that was also okay.
From there to one of those Californian houses, large and lush, the adopted family having progressed from an ex-state house to this in two generations. It’s why Mexicans keep crossing the border, for they can see that the dream can happen; for these are ordinary working people living in these suburbs. I pondered the recent photos of my sister in law. She’d shrunk into the physical archetype of an old lady on a marae, become a kuia. They’d bought this house so she could have the flat that was attached. She was already frail and an infection in the pancreas quickly invaded and they’d had to make the painful decision to switch off the life support.
I remembered her first appearance at the ex-state house in Palmerston North. She’d been a girl with life in her and as she refused Pakeha puritanism, was a welcome change. I remembered the loving, close physical relationship she had with her infant son. I remembered her sadness when she witnessed my daughter’s growing facility with te reo and her telling us of her regret at not learning the language from her native-speaker father when she was a child. I remembered these things. I hadn’t seen her for ten years and now she had become memory. Remnants of my brother will still lie in the river bed.
My nephew and his wife took us to the local Indian restaurant for dinner. In the morning he showed me his Harley and I took their dog for a walk. The last night of the trip we stayed with Omar and Serena in Wellington. On their wall is a map of Palestine before the creation of Israel, a document lovingly prepared, the Arabic writing a graceful commentary.
It was the most political image I’ve seen for a very long time.