I used to stay a lot with my grandparents in the rural retirement town in New Zealand that they lived in.
Sometimes I’d visit them with my younger sister but more often I’d travel alone, either flying there on a small plane that landed on a runway in a field just outside the town, or taking the Cross Straits Ferry.
Generally I’d be met by my grandfather, driving his tank of an Austin Cambridge.
We’d travel for 40 minutes or so to get to their home. In the final stages of the journey we would pass a farm animal auctioneers which looked like a red bricked, high walled, Victorian Hospital and smelled of animals’ death and panic. Minutes later we would turn the corner and arrive at their house.
There must have been a front door, but I can never remember us using it.
Granddad would park the car in the large garage which was also his haven; shelves lined with old food cans filled with nails and screws and bolts, walls covered in nails from which hung both essentials and possible essentials. This garage was where he would sit on an old wooden chest (stuffed with Playboy magazines) and he would find shelter and relief from my grandmother.
My grandfather was well over six foot tall, and heavy. He walked with the support of a shooting stick,which he could fold out into a monopod seat.
When he had been very young and working on his father’s farm, his leg had been caught in a hay baler and mashed. Somewhere I have a news paper clipping written in more descriptive terms than you would expect from a small town paper, describing how he slipped while working the hay baling machinery.His left leg became trapped in the rollers which dragged him upwards until he was hanging head down, being pulled towards the blades…the machine was stopped just as his steel capped boots were being sliced open.
I never really thought about what an accident such as this must have done to him. Young and good looking from a wealthy farming family, his life and self must have then changed completely.
His leg was saved but he spent many years in hospital (where he’d do the most wonderful embroidery – a rehabilitation they used for the few New Zealand servicemen who returned from the First World War.)
So he would have been in hospital with men who had returned from the carnage and destruction that near wiped out a generation of young men.I wonder if he felt relieved he had not gone to the war, or simply felt less of a man?
Grandad always seemed laid back but perhaps that relaxed attitude was only in relation to my grandmother’s constant anxiety and hand wringing.
I’ll never know now why they married. Did he need a carer? I know my grandmother had a great belief in sacrifice, suffering and doing her duty.
My grandfather’s swaggering New Zealand manly ways tormented her, though maybe she felt that torment would earn her necessary brownie points in the afterlife.
God knows my grandfather’s family were sin incarnate as many old farming families can seem to be. It’s likely that being in a country at the edge of the world, no habitation for miles and just scenery of rutting or dying animals, coupled with a heavy and constant workload, gives you an interesting take on morality.
My grandfather’s two sisters conceived children out of wedlock (but husbands were later found as I have memory of shadow men lurking in the backgrounds of my towering raw handed aunts) and they swapped their bastard babies with each other as they weren’t happy with their respective progenies gender.
On my grandmother’s side of the family such behaviour would have resulted in life long incarceration in the asylum where my grandmother’s father would put wives who were infertile or who had burned out from perpetual child bearing and chores.
I loved spending time with Granddad.
I would go whitebait fishing with him, fascinated by his thigh high wading boots and the tiny fish that were all eye and tail.
His leg had never healed and he always smelled of the pink ointment he applied to the often infected wound, barley sugar sweets and engine oil.
Sometimes he would take me to visit the local dump, sometimes to visit his relatives, sometimes the fish and chip shop. Wherever we went it was as if we were fleeing from rules and confinement and instead having a delicious adventure.
However I have digressed and never progressed further than my grandfather’s garage.The sun is shining today,and I’m not ready to enter the dark shadows of my grandmother’s house.