During my life I have had the good fortune to have my triumvirate of wise women guiding me in my life.
I met Jean when I was teaching at Cashmere High School as she was the school librarian. She was highly intelligent, a brilliant potter and a wise woman. I loved visiting her house in St Andrew’s Square where we were surrounded by lovely old things. Jean had a penchant for sunflowers and collections of things in general but especially liked a local vintage/junk shop known as Mrs McIntyre’s and was always buying me a wee something for one reason or another. I am pretty good at decluttering clothes, but I simply cannot ditch things that Jean has given me because they represent such lovely memories.
When Sam was born, Jean played a full role in his life and when he went to school around the corner, Jean would walk along and pick him up and look after him until I finished teaching. He loved going to Jean’s and not just because of the treats. He remembers the grandfather clock in the hall and the toilet because it had a chain and a handle to pull. There was something about Jean’s calm, loving nature that created a bond between them where I knew he felt loved and safe. They owned a beautiful old wooden Christchurch house filled with her family treasures. Jean had five grown up children, but the bedrooms always looked as though they would return at any minute. One of her sons was a talented artist and as teddies are in vogue at the moment, I’m posting my painting that I “bought” from him when he was in year 13. Jean had two more themed teddy pictures up the elegant staircase.
Jean always had some interesting object out for Sam. I remember, there was an old wooden pinball type affair. Jean was a huge comfort to me when Sam’s father died in a climbing accident as she knew what to do and how to be with me. I still have her letters and cards as a guide to help me with other friends who are suffering.
Sadly, Jean developed Parkinsons and severe dementia in her 60’s and died after a period of confused existence in a secure unit. We went for a walk quite near the end of her life along to Addington and she wasn’t talking much at all and was as frail as a bird skeleton. We couldn’t go far but we got along to a small block of shops and we were looking in the window of a secondhand furniture shop. As usual I was whinging and complained that I had never owned a new couch in my whole life. And from the frail wee woman beside me there came a little whisper, “Susie, it’s not the couch, it’s the people who sit on it.”
My second wise woman, Hel, worked at Cashmere High School too. She was a kind of Jill of all trades and did the uniform distribution, the administrations tasks, the photocopying etc. and was also a close friend of Jean’s. How lucky I was to have these two power houses of wisdom around me. We had a lot of laughs in the wee back room and had a running joke about her degree in stapling. Again, highly intelligent, the tasks were way below her pay grade but the school was so fortunate to have someone who could do all those jobs properly. It’s only when they leave that people understand just how efficient and hardworking they were. Hel also adored Sam, and her husband Jeff was also particularly perceptive… as he thought Sam was terribly gift ? Hel was there for me when I needed to retreat to her room. She too, had a home filled with an indefinable sense of love and security. I can’t put my finger on it, maybe it was the garden, or the bottling or the simple food or the lack of need for keeping up with the Joneses or just that I knew I was always welcome whatever the weather. Again, Sam adored them both. Sadly, Hel too has dementia and is unwell but we shared a thing for tamarillos so I tried to find them whenever I visited.
As I mentioned in my previous blog my close friend Bev died earlier this week also with a form of dementia. It was a very fortunate serendipity that Bev came into my life. My geography teacher was her husband and as I lived quite close by, he asked me if I would babysit their three children. Thus began a lifetime of friendship with Bev. I have known all of these women for at least 40 years but I have known Bev the longest at 48 years. Bev taught me how to be a parent. I genuinely didn’t know that some children adored their parents or that they could talk and be listened to with respect, have opinions and ideas and also have very firm boundaries about what was and was not okay. I’m not complaining about my childhood, it was more of a Janet Frame kind of place where the six kids were in one place and the parents were in another and the two only really collided at dinner time and there was no discussion about what we were grateful for, more just endless rows about whose turn it was to dry the dishes after the curried sausages and junket and prunes. I will be eternally grateful for our crib on the Otago Peninsula where we kids ran wild but that’s another story.
Bev also taught me about beauty. There wasn’t a mile of dosh in the household, it wasn’t about that, but way before clean whites and afghan rugs were de rigueur, Bev’s house had a unique calm and charm that was foreign to me. It is a Basil Hooper design but tiny and she and her husband lived there all their lives and John remains there still. Our house was all lime floral carpet and three to a bedroom. Ensuite? What’s that?
To be fair, my mother had neither the time nor the space in her head to even think about décor with 6 children under 8 years of age. It is not about the comparison but I was an angst-ridden teen with diaries filled with dreams and these were not to be shared with the parents.
Bev had beautiful objects and books and best of all she was an accomplished pianist and would play for me and then for Sam. When I moved to Christchurch and then Auckland Bev would come up for our girls’ long weekend where we had an amazing time in antique shops, print shops and clothes shops. We ate delicious food and talked long into the evening. Bev always spoiled me and I have a few very special objects that she either bought for me or we shared or I bought when I was with her. On her last visit we went to our favourite print shop in Devonport (now in Parnell) and Bev picked out a poster that I had coveted a few months before. We were in sync like that so it had to come home with us.
When Sam was little it was the one time I slept the sleep of the drugged as I knew Sam was totally happy and I could hear them in my subconscious chatting and making things. They both sat at Sam’s little table and chairs and Bev was so tiny she felt perfectly at home right there. She was definitely not a grandmotherly figure for Sam and I can’t really think of the right word, perhaps soulmate touches the heart of it. Bev made this beautiful tapestry for Sam and it is now a family heirloom.
She went through everything with me but never dramatised anything. When I needed her she was there but when it came to Sam, they had their own thing going. They would sit up in bed with one ear phone each listening to music, they would scour rock pools, smell flowers, examine bugs at length, talk about everything together. They did paintings, made cards and had a secret code on the backs of their letters. When Sam took up his father’s flute at 5, it was Bev who had the expertise to help him and when he took up the guitar, Bev was the one who got to hear him sing and play, not me. Their close friendship lasted until the day she died. She was always, and I mean always, on his side. Far be it from me to chastise him for anything.
Sam is now an ecologist and I am sure this seed was planted with Bev and he examining and discussing all things in nature. He is an after hours musician for fun because she fostered a love of music purely for his own soul. I believe this is Bev’s huge legacy.
We all need wise women and I was fortunate to have the best crones ever. “By the pricking of my thumbs, something wicked this way comes”. Blood mothers, and totally “wicked” in the current terminology.
“When shall we three meet again?” That is trickier to answer.
To protect their privacy I won’t be posting pictures online.
How lucky are we to have wise women at the helm right now: Jacinda Ardern Prime Minister, Dr Siouxie Wiles , Sarah Stuart-Black, Director of Civil Defense, (Masters in Disaster Management). That’s girl power right there.
Hope you are finding calmness and peace in self-isolation. Ironing is a non-essential service. Who knew? FG
Coming up, a very deep musing on the symbolism of jigsaw puzzles..