40 years ago, we (my parents, my 9 year old self and 6 year old brother) moved to the other side of the world, ‘for the kids’.
My Dad was a civil engineer for the Dutch Railways, my Mum was at home, I took horse riding lessons, we didn’t speak English and had never been to New Zealand. I drew a picture of a snowman when we visited the NZ immigration office.
The threat of nuclear war was a possibility, my Dad is (still) a thinker, getting as far away from Europe as possible would keep us relatively safe from anything that went on there.
We left close family and friends behind, an amiss to this day. We didn’t return until 7 years later, at around $2,500 each for the return flight. Phone calls overseas were expensive, Dad couldn’t find a job, he started work helping a Dutch carpenter and went off each day with his (hand) saw.
We moved to New Plymouth, Dad got a job with the Ministry of Works. Our piece of paradise, a 120m square Lockwood house on poles that swayed in the wind (Cyclone Bola) and earthquakes, a fabulous place with a bush like jungle, sun, plum and feijoa trees and plenty of room for an extensive vegetable and flower garden. Mum was ignored outside the school gates, she was a foreigner. She gardened, shopped, walked, baked, loved us.
For the next 7 years I was able to exercise ponies for a local lady who loved them as much as me, school was fun, somewhere along the line I learnt English (and missed fractions), we camped and walked, explored NZ, and I headed off to Massey University, thank you Labour Govt. Dad had been made redundant in the late 80s when the MOW was restructured and in hindsight we were probably getting by on about $25k a year. ‘Stress’ was not a word in our vocabulary. I only have good memories of part II of my childhood, in NZ.
Mum was always there, gentle and kind. When I moved away it was via phone calls, letters and many a parcel. I know she missed us, and her family overseas, her love for us was unconditional.
She died at 67, from breast cancer. I still miss you Mum. She had a simple but full life, lived well.
Like many of you, at this moment, we are in isolation, in our own piece of paradise. I’m with my two wonderful boys and husband, a fabulous garden, and muffins in the oven. The sun is shining, I can see and speak to friends (and it’s free) and I feel happy. We are enjoying each other’s company, gotta job I like, plenty of projects on, books to read, and I can still do my daily walk around the block. We are regrouping, no superfluous stuff, we are well.
However, my heart (and donations) go out to those less fortunate, those who’s homes are smaller, colder, those of you who don’t feel safe at home, who are sick, those helping others who are scared to go home, or who will never come home again. Those of you who won’t get ‘me’ time, young children and babies are hard work, won’t ever argue with that.
And things are a changing, people don’t have jobs, salaries are being cut (yes in our household too), planes have stopped flying, we are physical distancing (not social distancing!), wearing masks and gloves to the supermarket, the environment is getting cleaner, people are dying, and small things have big emotional impacts.
The Woman’s Weekly was around in the 80s, something my Mum always enjoyed. It didn’t take a nuclear war to close-down their printers, instead a world-wide pandemic (yeah, I know they were probably on the decline with less advertising and digital taking over). I sincerely hope that NEXT will get resurrected ‘after’, it really isn’t the same reading a magazine online. In the meantime, ‘me’ time will be me and a cup of tea, and a creme egg and a book.
I am grateful I live in New Zealand, where we can (hopefully) stamp out coronavirus, where we can feed our own nation, where we can holiday without needing to go overseas, where there is space and clean air and water, and beaches and where we have friends and family. Where I grow a flower garden in honour of Mum.
I thought I had to become famous, create a masterpiece artwork, set up a nation-wide project to help others. But no, 40 years on and much more recently I discovered it is not about that. It is about being kind, about being happy, about a simple life lived well.
A good life.
Will we remember this time? Or will we just go back to being busy, and stressed, flying, polluting, forgetting our neighbours and those in need.
Will we still be kind? I hope so.
Stay safe, be well.