Recently Paul & I had the most amazing find. It’s been about 7 weeks since Paul’s Mum passed suddenly, and Paul and his sister Lesley have been going through the house and sorting everything. It’s a heart-wrenching job, especially when the passing was so unexpected. Paul & Lesley are finding things they haven’t seen since their childhood. It’s bittersweet I guess, as they find each thing that reminds them of their Mum.
I’ve not been very involved, not knowing really what is precious or sentimental, but I have been around once or twice. The first time I went around Paul had just shown me a few precious things he had found when I looked around at the huge rubbish skip I was leaning on and there in the middle was the tiniest thing catching my eye. I leaned over and picked it up. A very small item, flat and incredibly fragile, I passed it to Paul and said “Oh my goodness, what were the chances that I would see this? I have no idea where it has been for the past 75 years, it must have fallen out of a book or pile of rubbish that was thrown in the skip.” We both expressed our amazement at finding it. Once a possession of Paul’s Dad, where had it been all those years? What were the chances I’d find it, unbroken, after 75 years of being hidden and then thrown away?
Paul’s Dad was an amazing man. Real salt of the earth. He lived his life in nature’s arms, he had varied outdoor jobs such as working for the Conservation Society, introducing and protecting wildlife, and he spent years in the mid-50’s establishing the Milford track and building huts in the area.
He was also a writer. His parents were blessed with lengthy letters full of details of his exploits in the South Island. He wrote home every week and we now have huge folders of his writings – we are lucky.
A few of the many letters we have, written by Paul’s Dad in the 1950’s. I sometimes wonder if these belong in a museum, outlining in detail the ‘old days’ of cutting and building the Milford Track in the South Island.
He was also an amazingly creative man. He carved wood and bone - pieces like this fish-hook necklace have hours and hours of his clever hand-work invested in them, from the gentle weaving of the braid to the clasp that holds it closed, to the wooden carving itself.
Paul’s Dad, Peter, a framed photo in our home with one of the wooden pieces he carved.
So notable was the quality of Peter’s work, that he was commissioned to hand craft a walking stick for Nelson Mandela when he visited in New Zealand in 1995. The walking stick, crafted from stick to presentable piece, was gifted to Mr Mandela by the New Zealand government.
I told you he was clever.
Paul’s Dad passed away in 1999, a very short battle with cancer took his life, Paul was only 26 years old and we’d only just had our first baby 10 weeks prior. Paul was devastated. Paul is the baby in his family, youngest of 4 siblings by many years, he had been his Dad’s shadow growing up. He is lucky to have uncountable memories of days, nights, weeks spent in the bush, hunting, fishing, learning, studying plant and wildlife and just hanging out as fathers and sons should.
We had a rough few years following Peter’s passing. A first-born son with extra needs, losing Paul’s Dad, moving house several times, working a full time job plus building spec houses after work and at weekends to try and get ahead took it’s toll.
One weekend Paul came home from work and told me he’d had a visit from his Dad that day. It was a hot day. He’d been building a house on a new subdivision, not a tree for miles. Taking a break, he leaned on the bonnet of his ute, tipped his head back to take a drink from his water bottle. As he tipped his head back he spotted a speck in the sky. Barely noticeable at first, Paul watched the speck as it floated around and around and got bigger and bigger. It took a few minutes before Paul realised it was a leaf and he continued to watch it as it got closer and closer and eventually dropped on the bonnet of the ute, right by where Paul was leaning.
There were no other leaves in the sky. There were no trees close by. The leaf wasn’t even typical of a tree common in the area. Paul picked it up and brought it home, knowing it was a message from his Dad.
“ I’m with you. I know it’s tough. You’ll be OK”.
That was the first time Paul felt like his Dad was still with him. It’s happened a few times since, always at really trying times. Always when we feel like things are too much and often when we feel like we are at the end of our tether. The leaves always turn up in circumstances that can’t be explained easily and each time they are unexpected.
A few of the leaves we have collected from Paul’s Dad over the years.
The past few months have been some of the most trying times I’ve had since those dark days of the late 90s. The very sudden passing of Paul’s Mum while I was in California working. The shock of being on a longhaul flight home when 12 hours earlier I was at a Mexican restaurant and everyone was fine. Knowing my husband was at home having to (with his sister) notify family, organise all the funeral arrangements and deal with our 3 children who had just lost their grandmother and I wasn’t there. Getting home and dealing with family, a funeral and all that goes with it. Shock setting in at the months of preparation for the work I was meant to attend in California going to waste. The financial strain of having to leave that work and on top of all that, one of our kids becoming incredibly unwell. Really unwell.
And so it happened. During a quiet moment a few weeks back, kids at school, Paul at work, I sat on my couch contemplating an incredibly emotionally taxing event the evening before. I remember shaking my head to myself and wondering what on earth I was going to do next. I literally shrugged my shoulders, thought to myself “I just don’t know what to do” and at that point I looked outside and I said out loud “Where is my freakin leaf now, Peter?”
And then it dawned on me.
That item that I had found in the skip? That one that was so precious and so old and must have been hidden for years, only to turn up unscathed on the top of the skip for me to notice that day?
A leaf. A leaf written on and preserved by a 7 year old Peter for me to find 75 years later at one of the toughest times of our lives.
He even signed it.
We get the message. “ I’m with you. I know it’s tough. You’ll be OK”.
it’ll be OK.