As if a trip to New Zealand was not thrilling enough!
The ante was upped. My significant other who I hadn’t seen for two months, as of November 1982, would join me in Auckland.
Wayne worked with a Helicopter company that contracted with the Sheik of Abu Dhabi. The job was to enlarge one of the islands in the Arabian Sea. Wayne engineered the choppers that flew supplies to the British firm that was apparently dragging the ocean’s bottom to add a kilometer or so to the circumference of this small island.
Wayne would work a two-month stint, then would be flown anywhere for his month’s rest that was a distance equivalent to a trip home. He decided R & R in balmy New Zealand would be more palatable than wintry Canada. We agreed to meet in Auckland.
Reservations were made at a small Family Hotel in downtown Auckland. Since I arrived a couple of days before Wayne, I explored some of the city and visited some of the other guests at the Hotel. We would meet in the Common Room where we could make ourselves a cup of tea and eat goodies we bought for ourselves.
My bedroom was up one flight of winding stairs, just a couple of doors from the washroom facilities. Quaint, I thought, as I validated the rumor that water went down the drain backwards from the Northern Hemisphere.
As I headed down to the main floor, on my way to the Common Room, I checked the rotary dial on the telephone. Backwards. My dyslexia would be challenged when I called an “in-law” relative. This woman, an artist and potter named Doris Dutch, lived outside of Auckland. I could hardly wait to tell her that I had been bowled over by her exquisite works on display in the Auckland Museum.
Down one more flight of stairs, I entered the Common Room with my fresh buns, tomatoes and cheese. A woman, probably in her mid 60s, sat at one of the two tables with a book and her tea. Setting my bag on a chair at the other table, my Canadian flag was in full view.
“Where are you from in Canada?” the woman asked with a perfect Canadian accent.
“Well I live on a small island on the West Coast of British Columbia now, but I was raised in Alberta. What about you?”
She told me she lived in Vancouver, but continued, “Where in Alberta were you born?”
“No one ever knows the place. It had a First Nation’s name that meant ‘Buck Lake’. It was separate from Buck Lake, but I think it’s all incorporated now.”
“Minnehik?” the woman asked. I was completely thrown.
“Yes! How on earth do you know about Minnehik?” I asked in amazement.
“My first teaching job was in Alder Flats, but Minnehik was home to a significant individual in my life,” she said.
“I know Alder Flats. My parents used to take us there occasionally. My mom was a teacher, too,” I said.
“Did you, by any chance know a teacher from Minnehik by the name of Dorothy X?” the woman asked.
“Know her! She’s my mom!”
“You are kidding! You are Dorothy’s daughter?” Her face lit up with incredulous warmth. She put her hand over her gaping mouth. I saw tears well in her eyes.
I laughed and said, “I can’t even come to New Zealand without my mother turning up. Just wait until I tell her about this!”
“She is an amazing woman.” The lady sat subtly shaking her head. “She saved my life one time.”
“Saved your life? How did that happen?”
“Well, it felt like she saved my life. As the new teacher at Alder Flats, all green around the gills, I replaced a section of the curriculum that I discovered the previous teacher had not been teaching. All hell broke loose when some parents found out. I thought the town was going to lynch me. The parents demanded that a School Board Meeting be called. I was going to be raked over the coals.”
The woman went on, “I knew no one. I had no family in the area. It was impossible to have a private conversation over the one public phone at the General Store. I had no idea about the history of this matter and I could not predict what the Board would do. In a nutshell, if I could have been swallowed by the earth, I would have been overjoyed.”
“So what did mom have to do with this?” I asked.
“The meeting was about to begin. The School Board Chairman showed me to a chair to one side of the table where Trustees sat. He took his seat, raised his gavel and said, ‘This meeting will come to order.’ Just as the gavel hit the table, the door at the back of the meeting hall swung open and there stood your mother. She paused, looked around at those present and slowly walked up to the front of the meeting room. On her way up, she looked numerous people square in the eye.”
I laughed. This was all too familiar. We offspring knew that look well and had spent a number of occasions shriveling under it.
“I didn’t know who she was, but she certainly had a commanding presence. It was obvious that everyone there knew her. The place was completely silent. I may not remember all that she said, but I remember her standing there shaking her head and saying, ‘Who do you think you are? Do you think you can dictate what a teacher teaches? We have been through this already. You all need to look at yourselves for the way you are making this teacher feel. She’s frightened to death for merely doing her job well. Is that what you want? If it is, you have succeeded so you can all go home now.’ People actually started to leave.'”
“Wow!” I said, “I never heard about this. What happened?”
“Your mom turned to the Chairman of the Board and said, ‘If you have anything to add to this, Mr. Chairman, do so now before I invite my colleague to join me in her classroom so I can help her make certain the curriculum is offered as prescribed by the Minister of Education.’
“Your mother came and stood beside me. The Chairman said, ‘Thank you, Mrs. X. I think you have just saved us having to miss our suppers. This meeting is adjourned.’ He slammed the gavel a second time.
“And that was it?”
“Most of the public had sheepishly crept out of the meeting hall. Before the Trustees could sneak away, your mother wrung a promise out of them that they would write a public apology to me and post it in the Post Office.”
The story had both of us laughing, but this appreciative woman and I both knew the seriousness of this type of situation. If the public had turned on her, living in the community would have been torturous.
“For the duration of my time in that school, I was fully respected,” she confirmed.
I could hardly wait to come back to Canada and relate this serendipitous encounter to my mother. When I came bursting into Mom’s living room with hugs and shouts of joy, I told her about this woman.
Mom said, “I don’t remember a thing about this.”
“What do you mean, Mom? She called you by name. How can you not remember?” In her mid seventies, Mom’s faculties were excellent and she had no dementia whatsoever. “How could you forget such a significant incident?”
“Well, you see, dear, there were many times when I had to show up and roar. Nearly killed me, I was so frightened every time, but for some strange reason they’d listen to me.” Typically, she could not see her own power.
“It was that glare, Mom!” I said as prepared the fireplace. I turned to grab more newspaper. Out of the corner of my eye I saw it. Then I felt it. “Yep, you’ve still got it, Mom!”
You know, Guides, I sure was proud of my mother as I sat, half way around the world hearing how she helped someone so immensely.
We are aware that you have expressed your gratitude to her a number of times.
My mother mothered in a manner different from the supposedly “typical” mothers. Her lack of domesticity, I admit, meant that I spent lots of time with my friends whose mothers cooked and made delicious meals. But I saw a lot of rules in other households that I thought was quite a price to pay for good smells and yummy desserts.
Being an old soul, it was necessary for your growth to have plenty of freedom for self expression. Your mother understood this as only another old soul could. Your father loved all his children, but had so little time with each of you. His calm influence was less obvious.
Yes, I felt a complete part of them. I took responsibility for myself very early, but I enjoyed that freedom, too. I loved working part time during high school. I felt a bit sorry for the kids who didn’t have a job. It was fun, exciting, and grown-up to work for my own money.
You chose your mother well. You knew, for this life’s experience, you needed a mother with her strength of character, although she could not describe herself as such. A human who would stand in support of her colleagues and friends to the extent that your mother did was indicative of how she supported her children. That unification of spirit, that proclamation of character, that validation of maternal presence was her way of living motherhood. It was the parenting she wished for as a child. She was able to offer it to you.
That she did.