For a number of reasons, the last few weeks have been chaotic. We’re busy and trying to get things done – and life sometimes attacks all at once. In the middle of all of this my Aunty Joy slipped away. She’d been unwell for a long time and I’m sure in the heart of the grief there was release for everyone as well. The last time I saw Aunty Joy she was as I have ever known her. She always wore her hair in a plait over the top of her head – a bit like a halo I guess. Loud, sharp, loving, believing, welcoming, laughing, fearless – look you straight in the eye stuff. Wonderful.
When we were kids we used to absolutely live for the family assaults on the drains on my Grandparent’s farm. The drains were home to the native freshwater lobster – koura – ‘crawlies’ we called them. Aunty Joy would be front and centre, in the drains and grabbing the crawlies with her bare hands, and flipping them into the kerosene tins we used as buckets. Bare hands. I still have a thing about dealing with crawlies with a net let alone my bare hands. I know, I know, harden up. We’d cook the crawlies, peel the now red shells off, and enjoy the succulent flesh with fresh brown bread and butter. I can remember the absolute pleasure Joy took in the simple (but fabulous) food.
Later in life there would’ve been a good chance engaging with the police if I’d had another of Joy’s measures of gin. Great gins and tonics, ice, fresh lemons. But heavens, the generous measures had to be carefully managed if you were planning to drive at some stage.
Aunty Joy was part of my learning to drive. She took on the responsibility of caring for my Bedstafar after Bedstamor died. We used to drive down to visit them and I did thousands of kilometers of highway driving before I got anywhere near a driving test. As a result, when I got to the test stage it was literally ‘drive around the block, hmmm, I can see you’ve done this before, here’s the licence’.
Aunty Joy worked a friesian cow farm, and as a kid I spent time with her and her family as they exhibited their prize winning cows. I found it all kind of strange as we had never exhibited/contested with our cows (I was a seriously city kid by then too). I can remember feeling that our cows were kind of like family, and you don’t go showing your family like that. Well, I know, some families do; but we didn’t. I learned some things about judging cows, however, I was to blow any credibility in this respect with Aunty Joy later when I dared enquire about getting the wonderful black and white hides for floor mats – a kind of kiwi zebra skin mat. Looking back I don’t know what I was thinking – perhaps it was the gin.
Last week there was a major power cut here in Wellington – even the Beehive had its electricity nipped. I thought at the time as I scampered down the endless flights of stairs to get out of my building, probably Joy getting a last statement. She’d have laughed loudly at the pricking of the balloons of stuck-up politicians and inflated bureaucrats. I can remember the intense arguments over politics at pretty much any family gathering. Oh boy. Head for the hills. Aunty Joy had an opinion and had absolutely no compunction in articulating it clearly and loudly. She was of the generation of Sonja Davies – Bread and Roses, and the Labour Party could not have lost a more staunch and consistent member. I believe Aunty Joy genuinely saw the Party as a champion for the rights of people – workers – the common kiwi. She certainly had the heart and strength for it and if every person was as staunch in these things we’d have a rather different distribution of resources in New Zealand.
Finally, for this commentary, mention of Aunty Joy cannot go by without her faith in action. I’ve mentioned her Labour Party affiliation, however Aunty Joy welcomed people, young people in particular, into her heart and home. I’m willing to bet that at her funeral there’d be more than a few people who’d been supported in their youth by words and deeds from Aunty Joy. Pivotal to Aunty Joy was her strong faith – her engagement with the Lutheran Church community in Palmerston North will be missed – truly the passing of a legend. I was unable to attend her funeral. I can imagine it though – in my mind I can hear (and she would’ve loved) the old Lutheran hymns – What a friend we have in Jesus and the like. Her passing has left a much bigger gap in my heart than I would ever have guessed, and yet I’m glad too. Last night when I was listening to a cd and heard a rendition of ‘What a Wonderful World‘ – it’s kind of our family’s theme at these times – I felt sure Aunty Joy was reunited with her Arthur, and all was as it should be.