The day I left New Zealand, I thought that would be the end of it. I would never ever glance back, wonder about the possibilities that I had left behind or see myself as torn between two countries, my homeland and my newly adopted home – Australia.
However, life has a funny way of throwing all those things back in my face what sometimes seems to be a daily slap in the head.
For instance, last night, the Twins – Frodo and The Princess were discussing their latest adventure together. Another bit of Princess designed body art that will tattooed up one of their calves in celebration of their forthcoming birthday.
As I sat there listening to the description of the Maori inspired tattoo, I was swept back in time to the life I once had in New Zealand. Where I used to sit amongst the women of my family, listening to them discussing our lack of Maori heritage or so My Grandmother would like to believe.
For that brief moment, I had retraced my years of womanhood back to being a newly fledged teenager sitting at my Grandmother’s kitchen table, surrounded by my Aunts, my Mother and Grandmother and hearing distinctly the authority in my Nan’s voice clearly stating – “No way do you have Maori blood in you – you are totally white”.
(Sorry for being rather blunt and obviously politically incorrect. But these are the words spoken by a woman brought up in the generation where ‘white and non white’ normally didn’t mix let alone marry.)
Even now whenever I happen to see my Nan on her visits across the ocean, she still has that blunt tendency to say whatever she wants and her grandchildren can be heard saying rather loudly ‘Nan, you can’t say that. That is so wrong!’
Anyway, ‘totally white‘ in my Grandmother’s mind meant we were totally, truly forever and ever, always be filled with the Jewish blood that flowed through HER veins. That she just happened to deposit into mine through the generational gap.
In my Grandmother’s mind, my Grandfather Kevin’s Maori blood line, could not have possibly survived and been eternally wiped out by the sheer fact my Grandmother was Jewish.
She also thought that my Grandfather, Kevin, was the nice good looking young man who lived over the back fence. Who faced life being continually beaten by his father and whipped by his Mother. Who just happened to have a ‘nice suntan‘.
That nice looking tall young man in her mind was the perfect route to her own escape from her over bearing mother and before he had a chance to gasp, let alone speak; they were hitched in a rather expensive wedding. That featured in the local paper….”Jewish Heiress marries Hospital Worker“.
ANYONE who happened to mention within my Grandmother’s hearing that my Grandfather sported the natural soft glow of milk chocolate skin that most Maoris have; was given the heave ho as they were escorted to the front door. Knowing my Grandmother, they were most probably given a nice mouthful as their arse fell out the front door.
What I must admit I found highly ironic was by the time that conversation was being held, while she spoke at that kitchen table, both my Mother and I happened to glance down at our bare arms and saw the evidence that Kevin is alive and well within our own veins.
We both smiled at each other in acknowledgement, while sneaking peaks at my other Aunt’s skin tone that truly highlights her own father’s heritage of being a Fijian…. and let my Grandmother’s words wash out to sea.
My Grandmother is and was the true matriarch of our family. Whenever we came to her house, she ruled it with an iron fist. Her word was final and I can assure you, her backhand slap nearly took your head off your shoulders! However Nan’s house was always full of noise (young kids will do that) and lots and lots of food and music.
She was not known for being the best housekeeper in the world but is well known for never resisting a bargain. She was the authority to go too on marriage, sex, children, female problems and other such things that would make a girl blush!
She was also pig headed, stubborn and ruthless when she felt you had done her a slight. Her nature was not forgiving and I only ever heard her say she loved me was the day I told her I was getting married. In fact, I could NOT have gotten married without my Grandmother meeting my intended Husband and as for getting her blessing…. not without risking life and limb to do so!
She was of the old school and told me enough times in my life that she would need to ‘inspect’ him, just as she and my Great Grandmother had done to my own father. To be honest, I was scared shitless…. not for me but for him!
My Grandmother invited us both to dinner at her house. My Mother and I both had the same worrying look on our faces. As we got into the car, Mum yelled out “Good luck!” as my prospective husband gave me a quizzical look.
I had seen such a meal prepared by Nan once before, for a prospective husband of one of my aunt’s. Let’s just say this… he was weeping at the end and didn’t get invited back!
My own husband to be – had been warned and duly ignored the fore mentioned advice at his own peril. Oh she was so damn subtle about it too; that he didnt realise until it was too late. She owned him and his stomach at her mercy!
As she slipped three meat rissoles the size of a small child along with the mountain of mash potato that left him with little visibility onto his plate, she started the interrogation.
Little questions at first, all the while ploughing more and more food onto his plate with a sweet little old lady’s smile that as her grandchild, I really knew, was one famed by a barracuda. She asked him more and more questions about family, life expectancy rates within his family, siblings, weather status in Australia, did he own a home, what kind of car did he have, did he have good teeth and had we had sex yet.
He might have nearly choked to death at that one, if I didn’t give him a massive wallop on his back.
Just as he was thinking he could survive the torture of eating all she had put before him and being asked nonstop questions, she upped the ante…. she brought out dessert. If I hadn’t of known his eyes were a deep emerald green by that stage, I would have instantly known when his eyes jumped out of his head. At the ‘Mountain of food’… she lovingly called dessert as it was placed in front of him.
Truly, I tried not to snigger but I had warned him!
He dutifully ate all that was put before him, including the second and the third helping of dessert. My Grandmother blessed me with a smile and removed his plate, before he died from obesity.
That night, we got her blessing and were given a present that we still cherish nearly 30 years later. In 1938, when she was just shy of turning 19 years old, my Grandfather, Kevin gave her a beautiful hand crafted plate for their engagement along with the highly desirable diamond ring she worn even after they divorced. We were deeply honoured and I know my own Mother wept tears of joy at the gift because she had never been allowed to have it.
When I said My Grandmother was ruthless, I meant it.
By the time she was 23, my Grandmother had divorced my Grandfather and took their two daughters without a backward glimpse. No warning, he came home to a note and divorce papers on the table. She was remarried to a man, who attend the same Synagogue as her parents. It was decided he would be a good match by my great Grandmother. He would remove the “stigma of divorce” off my grandmother’s shoulders and allow her to show herself in the Synagogue.
The birth of another daughter only unleashed his hidden brutality further. The day of their divorce; my Grandmother wore two black eyes, a split lip, broken cheekbones and broken ribs as a parting memento of her marriage.
It was then my Grandmother decided to give marriage a break and continued to raise her children alone. She worked as a seamstress after my great grandmother had cut her off from any inheritance after marrying Kevin and as a house keeper before running a boarding house from her home.
Until one day when she was looking point blank into the eyes of being a 40 year old woman; this blue eyed, six foot tall blonde haired gorgeous man walked past her sight and swept her off her feet.
‘Herbert’ was just the man to show my Grandmother that ‘love’ could be sweet, gentle, sexy, laughable, exciting and most important, trusting. Within a short time, she became ‘Mrs. Herbert’. For their honeymoon,they piled the kids into a boat and went to Fiji to meet his family. His father was a rather rich plantation owner who not only had a nice wife but several other ‘wives’. Who just happened to be full Fijian and worked on the plantation….’Herbert’ was the son of one of his ‘other‘ wives.
From what I understand, ‘Herbert’ had some serious explaining to do and that nice floor length mink coat my grandmother owns along with the nice new home…. just might have eased the pain of discovery.
They did have a happy marriage even though it was sometimes unconventional for the 1960’s. One point being, my grandmother and my mother delivered a child within 3 weeks of each other. Both had another child within months of each other in 1963, when I was born. During this time, my Grandmother have given up the boarding house and took up real estate with a vengeance. All the while, she managed to out rival her own mother’s wealth.
So by the time the 70’s rolled around, my Grandmother was the proud owner of many houses, townhouses and units through Auckland. To this day, she is one the few women I admire, look up to and whole heartedly love with my heart.
It was my Grandmother who I went to see not long before I left the shores of New Zealand. While sitting with her after a rather lovely and slightly huge roast lamb dinner, she asked me what being a New Zealander in the terms of heritage really meant to me in particular? I don’t ever remember my Grandmother asking me such a question before. So it took me sometime to reply.
I truly don’t identify with the ‘label’ of being Jewish simply because I have never attended a synagogue nor did I follow the faith. Yes, I am Jewish but to me it is only a word… a connection, if you will, to my grandmother’s past.
I don’t identify with being a ‘Maori” even though it flows through my veins. Nor have I ever used that ‘connection’ to obtain what could ‘rightfully’ be mine as a Maori descendant. Nor do I identify with any of the heritage passed down from my own father’s side which includes English, Scottish and a dash of Welsh.
I was born a New Zealander and therefore in all my thoughts, it never mattered to me what heritage of blood flowed. Instead, it mattered what my homeland in all its beauty meant to me. I identified with the green lush grasses, the endless streams of flowing water filled with trout, salmon and other yummy delicacies.
I identified with the mountains capped with snow and clouds, the roads that lead to towns of small and large populations and beautiful sights that stirred the glance and entertained the mind that all this splendour was yours to behold. It also meant the nights of wandering out the back with my Dad, as we watched the steam train hurtle past our house. We listened to the steam train blow its horn as we watched the amazing glow from the burn box be filled with shovels of coal.
Memories of walking through the vastness of the country with my father leading his troop of three children as he gave us valuable tidbits of information regarding fauna and flora. That still to this day comes spouting out of my mouth unprovoked. It is the memories invoked from watching my Mother race across the road to the bakery and knowing within minutes when she would return, I would be enjoying the sheer bliss of eating a freshly made Eccles cake.
The way the sugar would dissolve in my mouth and the texture of how flaky the pastry was, before it floated in the air as if it were a ballerina dancing.
The smell of freshly made potato bread. My Mum literally surrounded by all the colours of the rainbow as she left her sewing room to give us kids lunch. The sheer delight of watching snow fall and being allowed to play outside the snow as the ground cloaked in whiteness. The feel of my little red gumboots as I walked singing The Carpenter’s – ‘I’m on top of the world’ at the top of my lungs, not knowing that my mother stood on the back step hysterically laughing with glee.
Mum yelling to Dad as we drove along the road in our beautiful blue Holden station wagon with chromed siding- “Pete, stop, stop…it’s PUHA!!!” Before she virtually threw herself out the door to gather up the plant that closely resembles one rather ugly weed but tastes so divine when cooked with pork.
New Zealand to me is not a blood connection but a heart connection. It is a part of me, just like breathing is to my body…. an intangible necessary essence of life.
So as I listened to the twins tell me about the prospective design of their next tattoo; I asked them to put a little bit of me into that tattoo. A little bit of their heritage, their blood line and their essence from me….. N.Z.
Just like to point out, Miss scarlett has told me NOT to write a bloody novel…. ooops!
Love from me
The Kiwi who flew across the ocean to become a Prawn.