My Garden ~ a Kiwi's take on life

Life is a lot like a garden

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Rube is Not the Word to Describe My Neighbours


 Census 2018 is on my mind. New Zealand is about to count itself.

Our dwelling details will be designated rural. We will count our hens and our cattle. I guess we will explain again, our septic waste and water supply systems, uses of buildings and land. No doubt we will list our gender and our levels of education and income. Who knows what other questions will be asked. Our feelings and views will not be canvassed. Data will show we are neither feather-brained nor bovine in outlook. Such questions are designed to elicit data to give an overall statistical snapshot of people who live in the countryside on Census 2018 day.

What I do know, is that the tally of rural residents living on our country road will show our neighbours’ occupations as: accountant, builder, commercial hydroponic rose grower, dairy farmer, engineer, horse breeder, industrial chemist, land developer, nurse, policeman, retiree, school bus driver, school principal, stay-at-home parent, student, urban business owner, web developer. And what I also know is that these neighbours have busy workdays and busy weekends. 

We affect to live a rustic lifestyle just fifteen minutes drive from the city. To some, country living may seem unsophisticated. Sunhats, jandals, gumboots are not fashion statements. They are practical items that suit the living on the land. Old-fashioned he may be, our neighbour persists  year-round in true Kiwi style by wearing a singlet, shorts and gumboots as he goes about his jobs. We all wear gumboots as the preferred footwear when the soil is saturated after rainy downpours and when we struggle in flooded paddocks to save wrecked fences. 


This time a post had to be pulled out of the water.

In stormy weather, a work gang forms and men rev their chainsaws and tractors to deal to a fallen tree blocking the road. We are able cook up a one-pot meal over the woodburner or gas-fired BBQ during a prolonged power outage.Our gender, our educational levels and occupations count for nothing at these times. Neighbourly commonsense and cooperation matters. These are the same people who on Monday morning, switch to their sophisticated urbane selves and dressed in their city clothes, head into town to their places of work. 

But back to the word prompt for this post. Getting started was the hard bit. What content could I use on which to peg the prompt. I consider myself to have a good knowledge of the meaning and use of the English language. As a competitive Scrabble player, I pride myself on a quick recall of words. How could I have not come across this word? Awkward.

First I thought maybe the word had something to do my birthstone, that precious, blood-red coloured gem, the ruby. Shakespearean quotes came to mind. After all, there are many rub- words associated with red and rubies that evoke emotion and symbolic meanings. Then there are these proverbial words,

Who can find a virtuous woman? for Her price is far above rubies.

Next, I wondered if I could play around with the shortened version of a given name like my Great-Aunt Ruby or a man’s name like Reuben. Both names feature in lyrics of well remembered songs but yielded few writing cues.

Feeling ignorant, I broadened my word meaning search. It was American dictionary time. Hayseed to me is something that falls from a dried grass stalk and is often the cause of a seasonal allergy known as hayfever. Hillbilly, not really in this country. Yahoo or lout, maybe the young guy who 360s at the intersection or weaves his vehicle at speed through the designated 55kph corners of the windy stretch of downhill leaving black tyre marks on the road surface. 

Finally. Got it. This has been an exercise of making sense of cultural use of words to express ideas.

Rural voters were tired of being treated as rubes by state officials who showed interest in them only at election time. 

The word definition and its use in the sentence imply prejudice, a put-down, a negative viewpoint of rural folk. I am word wiser now.

Reminder to self. Memorise the 4-letter Scrabble word list. There are only two hooks, -l and -s, for the word ‘rube’.


A Study in Grandparenting


My mother said of her eleven grandchildren, “they’re an interesting lot”. My mother-in-law loved her five grandchildren unconditionally. Both women were very present in the lives of these children, each quite different in character, each with their hopes and dreams as they grew towards adulthood. They know their grandmothers’ family stories. Both women were comfortable in their grandmotherly contributions toward the children’s upbringing. The kids respected their grandparents. As the joke goes, at Grandma’s, the answer is always, “yes!”

I study my eight grandchildren and I echo the sentiments. People who go before are our mentors. Their  lived experiences and words show us the way. The older generation has a vital part to play in shaping the lives of the younger generation. We share our heritage and values that have held true over time. We each do it in our own way.  

To have a sense of belonging, to know you are cared for within a loving family and are part of a cohesive community, shapes your sense of self and direction in life.

Whina Cooper
Hand in hand with her mokopuna, Whina Cooper walks the gravel road on the protest march to Wellington.

It is worth reading about the late Dame Whina Cooper, whāea and kuia, influential Māori leader who protested against the loss of tribal lands and the alienation of her people.Much is written about her determination to restore pride to people, their sense of self and  access to their rightful heritage embodied in their ancestral lands.

Whina Cooper’s actions and words are a study in grandparenting the next generation, in giving direction and showing the way to care for the next generation in Aotearoa New Zealand .



ANZAC Day 25 April, “We will remember them”

Flanders poppies grow among the graves of soldiers who were killed in northern France. Grandson learned about 100 years of ANZAC history and in 2015, applied his knowledge to create a poppy remembrance garden for a school agricultural project.

Grandson knows 25 April is New Zealand’s national day to remember those fought and who died serving New Zealand during times of war. He knows his great-Grandfather fought in WWII and his ancestors fought in WWI.  He knows that in 1915, Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) landed at Gallipoli in Turkey, the site of New Zealand’s first major battle of World War One with the loss of over 2,700 New Zealand soldiers. He knows that since the first commemorative services in 1916,  Kiwis attend ANZAC services across the world, from dawn until dusk.


My childhood ANZAC commemoration memories are of services held over the years in the local rural community hall, of the silent stillness of the local people watching, moved by the drummer’s tapping accompanied by the tramp, tramp of the veterans’ feet  as they  marched in formation down the road past my grandfather’s house. I see the New Zealand flag fluttering at half-mast in the breeze. I hear the collective voice of my family, my neighbours, my community as we uttered in unison the words, “we will remember them”.  I hear the bugle sound the Last Post  at the close of our lament for the dead.

After the service, people linger. 25th April is a day to be together, to share, to retell stories.

I see my grandfather standing in silent respect, and later in conversation, he would tell that as a married man with children, he was a reservist and he managed his younger brothers’ farms while they, keen to “do their bit for King and country”, enlisted early in 1915, one of whom was ‘never the same’ after returning home from gas and trench warfare.

I see my great-Aunt, church organist and community stalwart, widowed in the early 1930s, childless and never remarried, after her husband, a WWI veteran turned to alcohol to fight his traumas and to die by his own hand.

I see my mother among a group of other war-brides, chatting about their families ‘back home’, recalling the bombing raids and rationing in wartime England, and I know that her Uncle lies in a marked grave in northern France.

I see Dad standing with an older local couple talking about his mate, their son who in WWII  was a prisoner of war with Dad, and who was shot in a camp. In 1992 at Dad’s funeral, the youngest of the three brothers in that family, delivered the eulogy. In part, he said

After my brother was killed, Ken arranged his funeral and then reclaimed his personal possessions. He carried them with him on that infamous forced march into Germany, and as soon as he arrived back in Walton he gave some of them to my parents. Years later when he felt, the time was right he gave the rest to me. I asked him why he had not thrown them away when he was enduring such extreme hardship himself. He replied, “I looked at them sometimes and thought I’ll do that tomorrow. Tomorrow never came.” Ken proved to our family that he was a true and loyal friend.

No-one ever forgets.

Over time in college, at university and as a teacher, I thought further about the pointlessness and horror of war through the words of poets like Wilfred Owen, Dulce et Decorum Est.

The Kiwi voice heard in the poem An Elegy for an Unknown Soldier written by James K. Baxter, son of conscientious objector Archibald Baxter, tells the story of a young nation sending antipodean troops to a theatre of war in a distant country, of painful personal realisations and of the futility of war.

An Elegy for an Unknown Soldier

There was a time when I would magnify
His ending; scatter words as if I wept
Tears not by own but man’s; there was a time.
But not now so. He died of a common sickness.

Nor did any new star shine
Upon the day when he came crying out
Of fleshy darkness to a world of pain,
And waxed eyelids let the daylight enter.

So felt and tasted, found earth good enough.
Later he played with stones and wondered
If there was land beyond the dark sea rim
And where the road led out of the farthest paddock.

Awkward at school, he could not master sums.
Could you expect him then to understand
The miracle and menace of his body
That grew as mushrooms grow from dusk to dawn?

He had the weight, though, for a football scrum,
And thought it fine to listen to the cheering
And drink beer with the boys, telling them tall
Stories of girls that he had never known.

So when the War came he was glad and sorry,
But soon enlisted. Then his mother cried
A little, and his father boasted how
He’d let him go, though needed for the farm.

Likely in Egypt he would find out something
About himself, if flies and drunkenness
And deadly heat could tell him much – until
In his first battle a shell splinter caught him.

So crown him with memorial bronze among
The older dead, child of a mountainous island.
Wings of a tarnished victory shadow him
Who born of silence has burned back to silence.

by James K. Baxter