Monday, 14 November 2011

what history feels like

I just sent an email and a couple of photos to a young girl in New Zealand whose primary school teacher is a friend of mine, Rachael, from way back in the day. This young girl wrote to me seeking additional information about Grandad - yep, Roi Te Punga, who has gotten quite a bit of airplay on this blog :)

They are working on school assignments where they had to pick someone (I think it was someone Maori or someone from Maori history or something) and do some research about them, and this girl picked Grandad!

I suppose this is how it goes - I'm readying myself to go and find more about Hamuera (tonite I booked accomodation and arranged a couple of meetings) this week, while in NZ a school girl who I don't know and to whom I'm not related is working on a project about his son.

Histories get written like this - people and events are ascribed value by being remembered, and this value is enhanced or confirmed each time they are remembered thereafter. It's always selective (I told her some stories and some things about the family tree, but - as always - chose to share some and not others) and it depends so much on circumstance. Rachael knew Nana and Grandad: perhaps she told her student about him and in this way his story is being heard in a classroom in Canterbury in late 2011.

I suspect Grandad would be quietly mortified to know he is an historical figure, and his humility meant he resisted acknolwedgement during his life (only agreeing to accept his MBE and an entry in 'Who's Who in NZ' for the sake of others rather than for his own satisfaction)... but this is what happens: layers of story, layers of time, layers of telling... and before long things are remembered beyond their original tidelines.

Mum told me recently that the council with responsibility for the graveyard where the Te Pungas are all buried keeps an eye on the newer graves when there is a lot of bad weather, and keeps small piles of dirt nearby in case the run of the rain across the newly pressed soil makes it compress or slip in ways which will prevent a smooth healing of the land.

I am still in an in-between place with my grieving for Grandad... still waiting with small clumps of dirt to fill the dips left by memories which ruffle the skin of my heart. Writing tonite to a small stranger who knows nothing about the grandfather I still miss, but who has been diligently working on a project about a man who had a public life as well, has been an opportunity to get mud on my hands again and gently fill more faultlines which have been appearing during this period of Remembrance Day and preparation for my first Christmas without him. It has also been an opportunity to straighten my back and stand up to look around a bit: noting the others buried on the same slope, the cars speeding by on the road, the hills quietly rippling all the way to the horizon.

And so I wipe my hands together and rub the dirt off them, scrape the mud from my fingernails, wash my hands with water - I'm leaving an urupa after all - and go. 

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