A trip to the city

The elderly lady stands outside the big glass door. Round and round it goes. One side in and one side out. Round and round. It’s new for her. How to negotiate such a beast? Better off crossing a field with a herd of steers than attempting this one.

She counts. One. Two. Three. She watches the briefcases enter the right-hand side and whisked into granite intimidation.

My, my, she thinks. A portal to a new world she has to penetrate. Is this for her? What is on the other side? Crossing over. A great divide; crossing over to the other side.

Through the darkened glass she sees a woman with a stroller negotiate the left side. The glass gate whirrs and she spills into the sunshine. Victorious. She smiles at the observer.

The elderly lady takes a massive breath and rises to her full 61 inches. She steps timidly into the gap, a whoosh of air, a whap, whap, and she stumbles into the high ceiling ogre’s castle. Glass and granite surround her. Suits, a briefcase in one hand and a coffee in the other, scurry across the polished tile floor.  Ants on the patio, she thinks. Her one-inch heels clack-clack as she makes her way to a large counter, centre stage underneath a giant wall of polished igneous rock emblazoned with an equally giant brass numeral 2. A burly 75-inch uniform stands behind the glass-cased counter. Moustache, unsmiling, bored, the mid-morning slump.

She clutches her leather handbag in two hands against her chest and walks over. He looks at her. She looks at him, smiles, and from her bag retrieves a large manila envelope. He spots the address and with his pudgy finger stabs at the glass. 1701, elevator 3. No words.

She stares at the aluminium-framed notice boards in this 25-story cavern of commerce. The moustache points left to the elevators Clack, clack, clack, and she stands in front of a closed, lightly buffed steel door. Lights blink and she hears the rush of air. The doors whisper apart, disgorging passengers. She waits, breathes in courage and steps across the line. Like moths to a flame, a multitude wedge her in the back corner. What next? She peers at the list of numbers and buttons on the wall by the door. She shows her envelope to the suit next to her. “17”, he calls.

Automatic doors clamp shut in a whisper. There’s a shudder and the elevator glides up. Red numbers flicker on a digital display above the entry. There’s a stop at “7”. Suits out and suits in. The same at “12”. She’s now tight in the corner. “17” flashes. The box stops, the entry gapes open. No movement. She can’t move.

“Me,” she squeaks.

Suits shuffle and a half a gap opens at her timid alert that she wants to disembark. She smiles at the suit who now keeps the door open as she hesitates, before stepping across the slit, conscious of the void beneath.

Another granite gallery. Glass doors to the left and glass doors to the right. Another wall-mounted aluminum framed board listing names and numbers. Where is 1701? She compares the name on the envelope. Elevator doors slide open behind her and a young man emerges pushing a mail cart. There’s no smile. But she does. Smiles always win, she reckons. She shows him the envelope, and he waves his hand to the right. “Through there,” he says.

Funny place, this she muses. Even my chickens say hello to me in the morning. I wonder what that young man’s future is? Here is moving envelopes from floor to floor, from one desk to another. I wonder if people thank him or smile?
She has difficulty hauling and holding the heavy glass door open while she slips through. She’s not as strong as she used to be. Farm life made her strong once, but now, not so much. In maybe half an hour she will complete the legal documentation of her late husband’s wishes, her daughter will take over the big farm and she’ll settle into a modest life in the new cottage nearby. She crosses the shiny floor and steps on to the carpet. Passageways to the left and the right. People coming and going. Papers in hand. Worried looks.

“May I help you,” a voice calls. She looks around and sees the black-dressed woman who has emerged from behind a wall.

The elderly lady smiles and shows her the manila envelope.

Name, date and time of appointment. It has taken her three hours by car, bus, and transit rail to reach this emporium of greatness. Her homeward journey to her rural home will take the same, if not more time. She smiles again at the elegant greeter.

“Oh, dear,” the black dress says, her finger on the time and date on the manila envelope.  “Oh, dear, I’m so sorry, but he’s not in today.”




Bookshelves that surprise

The best surprises come at the oddest of times and in unexpected places, like the washroom I spoke of in my previous blog. I gravitate towards the used book racks in out of the way places on the off chance I’ll find a gem. That happened in Kaeo, New Zealand. It’s a fascinating little town, so full of history and for the traveller a good place to snag a ubiquitous kiwi meat pie.  

My soon-to-be-published novel Beginnings at the End of the Road is the story of Brandon Silverberry, a baker turned gardener who listens to God and develops his estate lands to help others.  The heart of the story grows from Brandon’s teenage days as a polio sufferer.

Imagine the size of my smile when I spotted Over My Dead Body by June Opie at the back of a very colourful local knickknack store. It was an instant buy ($3.00 I recall) of this 1957 long out of print book with its mellowed pages by a young woman widely known because of her illness.

Ms. Opie spent her early life just an hour’s drive north of where I grew up. Her story chronicles her arrival in London from a sea voyage from New Zealand in the late 1950s only to end up in a London hospital paralyzed except for one eyelid. It’s a sobering, yet inspiring read.

We spent a lot of time up at the beach at Mokau earlier this year. It is a wonderful getaway place, miles of sandy beaches and rolling surf. The village features a small museum that houses a feature on Ms. Opie and her family. The family graves are prominent in the cemetery high on the cliff overlooking the sea.

The editing phase of Brandon was well underway by the time I got to read Over My Dead Body so it thrilled me to learn that my new book conveys the flavour of a polio sufferer’s fight. In January, while I waiting in the hospital for a blood test, I came across another booklet about the polio sufferers of my home province of Taranaki, We Can Do Anything, the work of Shirley Hazelwood, herself a polio sufferer. All good background.

Westbow Press will publish Beginnings at the End of The Road. I’m expecting the final editorial work back any week now. My author review will take a couple of weeks and then it goes into the design and production cycle. My hope and prayer are that we’ll see a brand new book for Christmas buying.

Wayside washroom

On my recent sojourn in New Zealand, the land of my birth, I came across the neatest and most fascinating public washroom ever. It was located on the main street in the tiny east coast settlement of Kaeo in the Far North District, 270 km north of Auckland. It is only 165 km from this town to the very tip of New Zealand, where the Tasman Sea meets the Pacific Ocean.

Kaeo has been around a long time, first settled by the Maori in the 1770s or thereabouts. Its had its share of ups and downs, floods and fortunes and is now home to about 450 people. And from the brief time we spent there, I can agree with the town motto: Small town; big spirit.

Back to the unisex washroom, bilingual with very definite views on washroom etiquette that leave little doubt as to what is expected. Users are first met by the country’s ubiquitous pukeko, a swamp bird that rivals the kiwi in popular appearances.

Further use and instructions are obvious for all users.





Memorable distraction

Distraction comes easy to me.

For the past 24 hours my head has been in a space I left some 66 years ago — my primary (elementary) school in New Plymouth, New Zealand.

By chance, I started clearing out some old papers while searching for a short story I’d written some years ago and which I figured might be worth updating, or at least seeing how my brain worked back then.

In this futile effort of finding the paper file, I uncovered a newspaper clipping of my classmates and boy, did I get a sudden brain rush of memory. I counted 42 kids in that class of 1953, our final year together before heading off to high school. I’d just turned 13 when the photo was taken and I realize now that I’d shared the previous eight years with most of the faces I saw. I could name each person without checking the caption.

At the end of that school year, we began the journey into our respective lives. The girls headed to their high school and the boys too theirs. We entered into different career streams and slowly the bonds of our preteen years faded. 

One face stands out in the back row. He did not make it to high school. He and I had planned to meet on the corner and cycle to the big intimidating school together. We had it planned, but sadly a couple of days before he was electrocuted by an electric drill, making a milkshake I recall.

By chance, I did meet up with a couple of these guys earlier this year during my extended holiday in the old home town. The thrill of contact fades as fast as conversation drops over the cliff of “what have you been up to?” Sixty-odd years cannot be covered in that opener. After all, my career took me away from New Plymouth in 1969. I returned there for four years in the 1980s and since then there have only been irregular family-style vacations.

My memory names our teachers, the good folk who piloted us through the basics of learning: reading, ‘riting, ‘rithmetic, as they say. The time they spent with us in the classroom and on the sports field. The fund-raising days too, like the penny (it was about the six of a loony) drive we had to line up the coins each day around the perimeter of the netball court; of delivering crates of half-pint milk to each child in each classroom.

I’m left to wonder now where each of us is and where the adventures of life have taken each one of us.