You would think that the description ‘Anglican L, Row 17, Lot 66’ would be a relatively straightforward place to find to visit long gone, but not forgotten, relatives at Waikumete Cemetery. Before we knew it we were doing a lap of servicemen (and possibly women I’m not sure) who had fought in World War 1, World War 2 and ‘Korea’. I wonder what they’d think if they knew the Korea war may have entered a new phase. There’s a sandbag setup at the entrance to this area and Dad noted that the hessian on one of the bags had deteriorated, making me wonder what use it might have been against machine gun fire. None I suspect. I pointed out VC recipient Reginald Judson which my oldest (longest) friend Nigel Hughes had researched for me and we’d visited on leadership development programmes. There had been some powerful insights and reflections on those sessions.
Then it was the Jewish quarter, very ordered looking and almost a loop of the Pasifika section going the wrong way around the one way road until at the last minute realising that the people mover was, well moving, and towards us. The colour is extraordinary and although they’re well segregated from ‘Anglican L’ or, later as we were to discover ‘Roman Catholic’ and ‘Wesleyan’, everyone seemed pretty relaxed we were in the wrong place, but it was Christmas day so it was the right time.
Back to the Jewish Quarter and I introduced Dad to the grave of my late friend Dr Lloyd Gavin Lang who died in 2011 and had had a few visitors, judging by the stones placed on his headstone, in Jewish tradition. Lloyd did the 10k at Rotorua one year. Telling the kids after dinner at Rotorua that “you know what happens when you don’t clean your teeth don’t you?”, then smiling to reveal fake rotten teeth that for some obscure reason he’d carried with him for that moment. Even though it was completely unplanned. It still makes me laugh thinking about it.
It was back to the starting blocks, or for new arrivals, the chapel and a map before heading off again. You see, Waikumete is no simple place. It’s got its own roading network and on Christmas day is quite busy, so you do need to be prepared. Soon we had found ‘Anglican L’, next to ‘Anglican K’ and I glanced up a bit to see ‘Roman Catholic’ which seemed more of a warning than a notice, so we stayed put.
Before long Mum had disappeared, in amongst the tall weeds and headstones. She was certain the gravesite was white in colour. It took about 45 minutes before we worked out the system and located her grandparents, my great grandparents. Mum and Dad are great-grandparents, six times over, thanks to muesli and fertile offspring. But I never knew mine. Both died in their 60s in 1950 I learned.
The great-grandparents have a northerly outlook and we cleaned up the grave with spray, removing the Lichen and posed for photographs. They’ll be good for the family tree I’m sure. There’s a five-studded cross which looks like an insert and we assumed that is where the ashes of Aunty Kitty and Aunty Frances (who shares my middle name) must be. If you don’t have your own family, then being put next to your parents in death is probably not a bad thing. Seems kind of resting in their hearts together. My memory of Aunty Kitty was a happy lady, who worked at an IGA or New World on a corner in Dominion or Mt Eden Road. I assumed she was elderly when she died. Fifty-seven she was.
We laid our second posy of lavender from my garden, borrowing a long disused flower holder from the grave next door to set them for photographs. The first posy had been left at Mum’s parents, a much easier find from more regular visits. It was lovely to see someone else had also been and left flowers.
Conscious of the two large birds in the oven we thought it time to go and sometimes you don’t need to hear your mother, you just know what she wants. Which means that’s what you want. So a search on the iPhone and we found the site of her paternal grandparents. ‘Anglican H’. An easier find, now that we more or less knew the numbering system. If there’s ever a call for mail deliveries, I might be able to help.
It was Dad’s turn for a quick march, he remembered clearly the general outlook from a visit many moons ago. South facing, looking over a stand of trees, swaying in the summer breeze, the long grass starting to dry. “I’m sure it’s got roses on the grave” he said. I suspect they may have dried out and gone, I thought. But they were there, a ring of roses, more Presbyterian than Anglican, save your pennies, we’ve bought the flowers that last forever.
Mum wasn’t convinced at first. The inscription battered by the southerly rains was barely readable. Some letters of the stonemason remained reasonably clear – perhaps we should seek a re-do of the job I wondered.
He died on the same day of the year as my birthday, this great-grandfather, a spring passing. She died first though, in 1918, aged 38 years. More cleaning and we discovered two of their children also buried there – including Aunty Rewa – after whom Mum was named. Mum had never known her burial-place so it was special to find and see. And to take photographs of what will not be readable in the near future.
We could smell the birds cooking from outside when we arrived home. It was a lot to do to prepare for one meal but we found a place for everyone, whether Anglican, Atheist or just simply an Aunty. Together.
It was the first Christmas day in Auckland in 62 years for Mum and Dad and we lived every minute of it with family here now and some long gone. Blessed.