The Anchor of A Hometown

Tuesday, December 1, 2015
Sometimes, the world seems just a little bit too mad. A lot sad. And, let's be honest here, downright scary at times.
When life gets too much, or the world gets too frightening, where do you go?

I don't mean physically where do you go? But mentally? Where is your safe place? The place where you retreat to when the world is crumbling?

Where do you go to fortify your mind, to keep your sanity and to face your fears and your questions and your brink of insaneness?

I wonder if some of us go back to the age of innocence. Back to a time in our life when all was right with the world?

I go back to my hometown. To Marlborough. Back to when we were young. And carefree.

I was thinking about this recently, because around the same time that Paris had it's horrific events, the phenomenon of a little Facebook group called Old Marlborough - the way we were, grew up out of nowhere and the Marlbarians, young and old, flooded in. We grew up in a special place! It was nice to go back, even if it was just a virtual nostalgic group, to a time and place and be with people who are familiar and kind and safe and who have the same history of growing up in a place that was wonderful.

Suddenly we were reconnecting with old friends, old neighbourhoods, old school mates, and saying 'remember this' and 'remember that person'? People were posting old photos. Photos of streets and schools and shops and people.

It has been a lovely, lovely respite from the reality of today's world to step back in time, to go back once again to that unique and close community that I grew up in.
We were lucky we were.
We didn't know how lucky we were.

The beautiful Dashwoods. Those foothills beside the Withers. As you drive up the coast from Christchurch, it's always the time I know I'm nearly there. It's that feeling of coming home. This is my place. This is the soil of my birth and the soil where my grandparents and family and ancestors rest.
The wind rushes through the dry, tawny grass. It looks alive some days as the ripples of wind dance through the grasses, moving up the slopes of the hills, drawing you eye over the top to the blue moving expanse of Cook's Strait, with the Wairou Bar where we used to play as children lying unchanged as it always has under the cliffs of Cloudy Bay.

My nephew Ben Lees, of Ben Lees Photography (and Cantabrian) kindly allowed me to use this photo taken from those beloved Marlborough hills, for this blog post. It's my absolute favourite photo ever!

Check out his beautiful website here.

When I think back to my childhood growing up in the jewel that is Marlborough, New Zealand, I think of the hills that surrounded us, nestled quietly at the edges of the town, hazy in the summertime, frosty in the winter. I think of the orchards and the berry farms, now replaced with the more lucrative vineyards, on the outlying plains where my parents would go every summer to gather the bounty of our province unto ourselves, to store up for the winter. I can smell the warmth of honey hanging in the air at our local honey shop. The beekeeper whose wife used to teach me in Girls Brigade.

Hot summer afternoons while we swam in our backyard pool, the familiar smells of vinegar and pickles and bubbling jam and boysenberries floating out from the kitchen window as Mum bottled them. She'd come out to get the washing in, fingers stained red and black with the juice.

I think of my school and friends and church and the nun who used to teach me piano lessons. Of wondering what kind of hair she had under that black wimple. Of Grandad and Nana and the dogs and the boat and Nana's lolly jar and her love of books. Of reading us snippets from them and teaching us life lessons from poetry. Of Grandma and her rosy cheeks and warm kitchen and apron and her kindness.

I think of the school camps down the sounds and at Deep Creek, and the fun we used to have. Our overnight survival tramps with our teacher, the games of truth and dare around the old house, and when we were supposed to be asleep listening to the mothers who were with us, all laughing and talking out in the kitchen with the comfortableness and ease you can only have with those you've known all your life.

Me (left) and my sister at our childhood home.
Christmas shopping with Mum in the town. The best place to get gifts for the aunties and grandparents was at McRobies, a long shop in the middle of the town, with tables and shelves bursting with products. There was always something to buy in that place. A soap with a picture on it. A small china tea set. Embroidered handkerchiefs. Bubble bath in animal-shaped bottles. That handy do-dad for the kitchen that Grandma surely has been waiting for.

Or the day the Farmers store burned down. Or driving in the country at night and seeing the old oat stubbles on fire. They made such a pretty ring of light.

Of summer holidays camping by the rivers, or with all the extended family at the bach down the Sounds, or sunbathing on the golden beaches at Kaiteriteri.

I remember the Sunday afternoons walking downtown with my school friend after church to buy the nicest cream buns and warm, crusty bread at Granny Scot's bakery, then eating most of it before we got home.

And how at the age of 13 it all changed. some of my friends moved away. My family moved away.
And how, in spite of telephones and letters, life was never quite the same again. It was good, we went on to good and exciting things, but nothing can replace your childhood town.

A note written during our last church service together with my friends.
So many wonderful people. Friends who we walk through life with. They'll always be there. The friends of your parents who have known you since the day you were born. You can't have airs and graces around people like that. No matter how successful and sophisticated you become later in life, when you're with people who knew you as a baby, the layers of adulthood fall away.
There's an authenticity about that. There's something rather wonderful about it too. A safety. A feeling of security. If they're still there, it's going to be ok. It's all going to be fine.

It has been wonderful to visit it all again, even when I live 12 hours away from my hometown and am removed from those days by 30 years. They're my people. That's my place.

We were so lucky and we didn't even know it.


Brennan said...

Ah love those Blenheim days. Alas 'The End of the Golden Weather'

Brennan said...

Ah love those Blenheim days. Alas 'The End of the Golden Weather'

Elizabeth said...

Lovely to hear from you again! It's been a while, so my guess is you have been mighty busy! How is the house building going? Or are you in now?

You took me back to my childhood with that beautiful post, we left when I was 16 & life was never the same again - not bad, just different, like you said! But my best friend from those years is still a very close friend now; and I am so blessed to have a friend who has known me for so long.

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