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Archive for the ‘Family’ Category

#15 of Blogging with Friends

My mother was born a Rose, and I always envied her that. It’s a beautiful name, but she then became a Rooney, which isn’t bad, but it isn’t great either. It was common in the small farming district where I grew up thanks to my grandmother and my father and his brothers and my cousins. Otherwise it was not a common name – not one I saw in the media, or read in books, though not as unusual as that of friend who was the daughter of Dutch immigrant. But it was odd enough that people generally asked to hear it twice, and were uncertain how to spell it. I used to have to say “like Mickey” but not everyone understood the reference, despite all the replays of his movies that were shown on Sunday afternoons in the days when NZ only had one TV channel. By the 2000s, especially in Europe, it got easier. I remember in 2007 being amazed that a German hotel receptionist just nodded, and said, “yes, like the football player!” It was my first experience in many years when I didn’t have to spell the name, or think carefully whether the person listening would understand if I said, “double O.” (NZers typically spell things this way, saying “double L” or “double S” for example, but we’ve been told that others don’t do that.)

That double O has been problematic for much of my life. For some reason, a lot of people see Rooney (my surname) written down and automatically change it to Rodney. It makes sense when typed or written in upper case, but it annoys me nonetheless. A Cambodian official used to call me Rodney, which bugged me slightly, and I’ve had air crew look at my boarding pass and say, “Welcome aboard, Ms Rodney!” That’s a minor gripe though, compared with the habit a bunch of kids developed in high school, lengthening those Os, adding a few more, intoning my name and that of my cousin (in the same year) to mock us or embarrass us. When I got my AFS scholarship to Thailand, my class bought me a T-shirt with a NZ logo on the front. I was thrilled till I turned it around, and found they had written my name with four – FOUR!!! – O’s on the back. I took the T-shirt to Thailand, and wore it, and so of course, that meant my AFS friends adopted the same habit of lengthening my name, though with – I hope – more affection than mockery.

There’s obviously something about that particular combination of consonants and vowels, as ten years ago or so people started ending words with “ ….arooney.” (Search, for example, the word “fabarooney.”) I’ve even heard Stephen Fry do it on QI! I remember my friend saying it to me casually in a conversation, not even realising until I laughed and pointed out what she was doing!

And I’m not even going to begin to discuss what happens when a woman with a name beginning with an R spends a lot of time in Asia, where they have pronunciation difficulties with Rs and Ls, interchanging them frequently. Think about it.

Still, it is my name. I chose to keep it (or rather, I chose not to change to something new) when I married, sticking to my principles, happy to remain the person I’d been since my birth. I’ve never been Mrs <Husband’s name>, sticking to Ms or preferably just my first name and my surname.

And now I have another name too, also a flower name. Whilst I was given the name in 1980, I never really used it until I began blogging. I’ve been Mali (Thai for “jasmine”) for over 12 years now. I quite like the fact that I am Mali to so many, and I know I will answer to that when (I am being positive here) I eventually get to meet so many of my fellow bloggers and readers.

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The entrance to our farmhouse was always much grander than the farmhouse or in fact the farm itself. The house was situated on the corner of the road, but set back probably about 100 metres, which gave us added privacy. Road noise wasn’t a problem, as the only people who drove up this road were the few people who lived on it (a total of six houses) and the mailman. A driveway wound its way in front of the house, and around to the yard. (I’m using yard in the NZ context, which means a dirt (or mud, depending on the season, or maybe concrete) yard around work buildings.) From the yard, with the dog kennels, farm buildings, haystack, and carports for the cars and tractors, and the cowshed (milking shed/dairy) at the end, there was a large macrocarpa hedge separating the work area from our private garden and little house.

Lining the driveway off the road were large walnut trees.  They’ve been there forever – I realise now I don’t know when they might have been planted, but they’ve been there at least 60 years and probably 80 or more. At times they’d get so huge, joining together at the highest, leafiest points, my father would decide to “top” them, cutting them back sometimes by a third, sometimes more.  They provided luscious shade and privacy in the summer, and in the winter, after they’d lost their leaves, they were a stark but still constant presence.

The walnuts would fall from the trees, and we would harvest them in autumn – around April – and spend winter evenings shelling the walnuts for sale. We only did this in my teenage years – before that they were largely left, I think – and there was never much (any?) money to be made from them. My father was really the only one who liked eating them – though I quite like them now. It was always damp and cold picking up the walnuts that had fallen to the ground, and was not a task I particularly enjoyed. I do love the trees though, and I’m always happy to see that subsequent owners of the farm have kept them. I checked they were still there when we passed by in 2018 in pouring rain, though this photo is from two years earlier. Long may they last.

IMG_20161116_153107 Hook farm walnuts

Another in the Thursday Tree Love series – find all the other bloggers doing it here.

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Week Six of Blogging with Friends

Note: My father-in-law is my only living parent or parent-in-law. He’s very different from my parents, so not always easy to understand. Choosing him for this post – when the task is to write an advance eulogy or note of appreciation to someone still living – is actually a lesson in compassion. It requires me to make an effort to remember the man behind the  loneliness, old age, bad decisions, and aches and pains. It asks me to see him as he was, and as he surely still feels he is on the inside.

I’ve known K, my father-in-law, for a long time. I met him a year or so after I first met his son, many moons ago. I was the first young woman to arrive in their family, and I’m sure it took some adjusting, given that they had four sons and I was a vocal (to them at least) feminist. In more recent years, as he has aged and lost his beloved wife of 63 years, I have played more of a caregiver role, and in turn that has taken some adjustment too. It is sometimes hard for him to accept, but I know he appreciates what my husband and I do.

K was raised by hard-working parents, who had come from lesser circumstances, and as a result he always valued a strong work ethic, practicality and self-sufficiency, and education. He has always been a serious man, focused on doing what is right, being frugal, and taking pleasure in hard work. He believed in committing to the good of the community, and voted accordingly. It was a point of chagrin – and much amusement to the rest of us – that his vote was always cancelled out by that of his wife, and vice versa. Perhaps it was a result of being born just before or during the Great Depression, but he shared that strong desire to “do what is right”for the community with my own father, though it manifested in very different ways.

Accordingly, K has never believed in putting one person above another. This made him scrupulously fair (perhaps inflexibly so) as a manager, and as a father. Some years ago, when he and his wife were travelling with one of their sons and his family, they stayed in a hotel on an Executive floor. His son had thought it would be a good idea to use the Executive lounge for the whole family to get together at the end of busy days of sight-seeing. Father-in-law told them they were “getting above their station in life!”

K always had an interest in how and why things work, and perhaps being an engineer was inevitable. I love the story from his childhood, when he fashioned a makeshift diver helmet from a bucket (he cut into it and fixed a small window to look through) as a child, weighted his pockets down, and walked underwater on the seabed looking at the fish.

When I first met him, he was still in his 50s, at the top of his profession, taking pride in his technical knowledge, and the city landmarks that he had built and maintained throughout his career. He still takes pride in that, and well into his 80s, he lobbied for recognition of the organisation and its staff (it was privatised after his retirement), resulting in the placing of a commemorative plaque on the waterfront in Wellington.

Whilst K’s work was always technically complex, at home he got his hands dirty, and loved it. His garage was his workshop, and even now he treasures a large set of much loved tools, some of them from his father. He still lives in the home he designed and helped build, back in 1962, and has maintained lovingly and meticulously since then. His practical streak – his ability to figure out how to do or make something – was inherited by my husband, and I’m grateful for that too.

He took great pride in his large garden, focusing on growing food to eat, and leaving the more frivolous (in his view) issue of flowers and beauty to his wife! In their later years, they both enjoyed spending a day working in the garden together. The satisfaction of a day’s hard work outside, and the results of fresh vegetables or fruit, or a well-tended flower bed, were amongst their greatest pleasures. In the last couple of years, as his physical health has waned and he has been unable to maintain the garden, he has – I think – appreciated the fact that my husband has still endeavoured to grow vegetables there.

House-hunting back in the 1990s, we brought K and his wife to see the two houses on our shortlist. After the visit, he sat down and wrote a list of pros and cons for the two houses. We were staying with them at the time (we’d just returned from living in Bangkok), and I don’t think it was an accident that we found that list sitting prominently on the otherwise tidy desk in the study (which we were regularly using to make calls, get privacy, etc). There was a long list of pros for one house, and an equally long list of cons for the other, with only one pro. “Interesting design,” he noted. Reading it, I could hear his puzzled sigh as he wrote it. FYI, this is the house we are still living in! He only saw the practical issues – aesthetics and views weren’t even considered – and couldn’t understand our choice, though never argued it with us. A few years ago, when we had to spend megabucks to strengthen our cantilevered concrete driveway (one of the cons he had noted), he never once said – to me at least – “I told you so.” I appreciated that. Though I’m pretty sure he would have thought it, and probably said it to my husband’s brothers too!

But he enjoys a bit of fun too. Never a fan of travel, he has had no choice when all four of his sons have lived overseas at one time or another. We nonetheless managed to get K and M to visit us in Thailand. I have a happy memory of him playing volleyball with my husband and I in a swimming pool on the beach in Cha-am, leaping out of the water to catch a ball. It was probably the most animated I’ve ever seen him! He played and loved sport as a young man, and that has stayed with him, these days enjoying sport on TV. He’s not very forgiving to the teams when they lose, but has learned over the years to turn the TV off and go to bed if things are going badly, to keep his blood pressure from getting too high. We are all happy for him when they win!

He’s also a fan of puns, but I won’t hold that against him. Much. He does like a laugh, and a happy grin or chuckle from him makes our day. These days his pleasures are small – sports on TV, a visit from us or a favourite niece, a phone call (or rare visit) from one of his sons, a chocolate bar or an ice-cream, and the meat pies my husband buys him for lunch on weekly “shopping” days.

K has struggled for years with retirement, the resulting depression, and ageing. I would never tell him this, but as a result of watching him, my husband and I have learned how we want to spend our retirement. Speaking frankly, he has taught us what not to do. As a result, we have plans in place to try to make our old age (when we won’t have children or even nieces/nephews nearby to help us) easier. I hope we’ll do what we say we’re going to do. And if we do, we can be grateful to him for that too.

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