There is a strange symmetry between my maternal and paternal grandparents that is, in all likelihood, something I should have noticed early in life. Both were young during the Great Depression, which swept across New Zealand and changed attitudes for some, reinforced them for others, and was purposefully interrupted by the Second World War. Further, both were romantic liaisons halted while the boys went into the Forces, and resumed upon their return.

For my father’s parents, theirs was the idyll of the apparent innocent of that Age. The enforced modesty of the post-Depression era, and the opprobrium of a post-Edwardian society still enthralled to cold love of the Mother Country meant that if theres was a fiery romance, it was not known to their children.

They recount the tale of a long bicycle ride out to the beach, to sit on grassed cliff-tops, eat watermelon, sunbathe. Did they canoodle in that place? Who knows. Did they hold hands and walk as young lovers? Kiss passionately as young people did, in that crazy, clumsy, Hollywood-esque face-planting so popular in the films of the times?

It was a time before rebellion became the norm. When courting was very much to be done properly. They were in an Auckland of appropriate behaviours and discrete, proper communities, just before the full popularisation of the motorcar, that great leveller, broke down barriers across the city, and created the metropolitan identity New Zealanders south of the Bombay hills dislike so intently.

My mother’s parents? As I say, there is a symmetry, but theirs was the small-town life. Bawdy, earthen, closer to Life itself. Theirs is a tale of a smile across a dancefloor, and a wild night of laughter. He tells of another boy interested in her, but he won her over. They spun on the dancefloor, and He, the competitor swung to close to them. My grandfather, in what became the talk of the district, flicked his hand past the competitor as he and my grandmother moved. The competitor found all this buttons had come undone, and his trousers fell to his ankles.

I can imagine the laughter now. The rolling crowd, drunk on local beer and cigarettes. The Sunday-Best dress. The slicked haircuts and cocked eyebrows. Farmer’s sons and daughters mixing it up with local shopkeepers kids. Youth spilling out of the hall to clutch at one another in their parent’s cars.

Another Age.

The same and yet so different to our own. Each a union of a small Catholic woman of Taranaki ancestry and a tall non-Catholic man. And from these two unions came two families. Each of five children. Each of whom contributed their middle child to what would eventually become my creation. And these families, living on the edge of what was to become a revolution in social thinking and action, were unawares of what was to befall them.

F,FLP

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