It would have been my mum’s birthday last week. It’s over a decade since she left us – sometimes it feels like she’s been gone forever, sometimes it feels painfully close. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not weeping into my tea or tearing my clothes or anything, it’s just that I often see something that makes me think of her, want to talk to her about it, then realise I can’t.
I think of her when I’m doing things I first did with her, especially cooking and sewing; I think of her when I see roses; I think of her when I hear the music to Swan Lake, or Nat King Cole. I can’t travel along SH1 without thinking of when I drove it with her and the subsequent accident she had falling from her wheelchair. Then I have to push thoughts of her aside. When I drive around Island Bay there’s the café we regularly ate in when she and Dad were here, a place we chose as much for its accessibility with a wheelchair as we did for its views of the sea. It’s also the place we left once without paying, not exactly an eat and run as much of an eat and slowly wheel our way between tables, moving the odd chair out of the way. (I feel compelled to point out I did return the next day to settle the debt.)
In a place far away from me there is a plaque in remembrance of Mum, placed next to a garden of the roses she loved and where her ashes were scattered. I’m not a fan of mausoleums and remembrance sites. I appreciate that some people – usually those with some sort of religious faith – need to have that place to visit, sit peacefully, think of their lost one. (Perversely, I love to wander around old cemeteries, although not without goose pimples and a sense that I’m being watched.) The Garden of Remembrance where Mum is sits on a hill overlooking fields where horses graze. Mum liked horses as much as roses, so I like to think she’d be happy here, but I find it hard to associate the place with her. Maybe it’s because, with one exception, every time I’ve been there it’s been freezing and blowing the sort of wind my grandmother called lazy – it can’t be bothered to blow around you and instead tries to go through. I can’t sit in peaceful contemplation, usually because my teeth are chattering so loudly I would disturb the departed and my body is shivering enough to shake them back to living.
In Lyall Bay, the widest of Wellington’s bays, is a moai, a copy of the more famous ones on Easter Island. It stands guard as the sea sweeps up a sandy beach where the quiet is often disturbed by the roar of an engine as a plane takes off from the airport alongside. Mum and Dad’s visit here coincided with Chile celebrating their friendship with New Zealand by gifting a moai to the city. It arrived as a square lump of rock and sat in a courtyard beside Te Papa as an artist carved it into shape. (Carved may be the wrong word, suggesting a gentle tapping with chisel and hammer, rather than standing two metres from the ground atop said rock and swinging a large axe perilously close to your feet as this man did.) Every time we passed – which was often, the waterfront being one of our favourite walks – we would stop and check his progress. As the axe blurred downwards Mum’s sharp hiss of breath matched mine, and together we breathed out as a chunk of stone spat off the rough head shape rather than a spurt of blood or a foot.
Mum and Dad left Wellington before the moai found its home monitoring those who fly in and out of the city. That was nearly fifteen years ago and today it shows signs of the weather, slight pock marks highlighting softer areas, some darkened with damp. Splashes of white are testament to the seagulls that perch on its head, squawking at pesky humans disturbing them. It faces more challenges than its elders on the island and a scar runs across its face following the operation to repair it after brainless idiots pushed it over and broke it in two.
As I do, Mum loved to watch the sea, the wilder the better, and we get some wild seas down on this coast, the water uninterrupted between here and the frozen southern continent. She never came to this park, although we drove past often, but the moai makes this our place. On fine days I sit, leaning against the moai, clutching a coffee and nibbling a muffin. On stormy days I march quickly from the car, shiver for a few minutes, scurry back to the warmth. On her birthday and the anniversary of her death I place a few flowers there, even though I know they will soon be whisked away by the ever present wind. The rest of the bunch I take home and place in a vase on the benchtop. I was lucky to get cream roses this week, matching the flowers from her wedding bouquet. For the next few days I will go about my kitchen tasks with the thought that somehow Mum is with me.