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When everything was new
The days are getting cooler at the edges. Getting old enough now to know not to take a summer for granted; thinking back over the long sweep of them.
Mum’s sister Adrienne lived in Auckland. We’re going to Orewa this summer. Do you think David would like to come up and have a holiday with his cousins?
David was eight years old and very excited to do this.
So many things are new when you’re eight.
Dad used to go away to shows and ram sales. We would stand in the terminal and wave as he strolled out to the plane and we waited for the propellers to turn and build to a deafening roar.
Now it was my turn.
The Viscount on the right is going to Auckland and the Viscount on the left is going to Christchurch and that's yours on the right they explain to me and out I go, confidently like Dad, and up the steps and into the Viscount on the left and then after a few minutes the hostess kindly comes and explains to me what I’ve got wrong.
An hour or two later I’m in Auckland for the first time in my life. I have no memory of this at all, sorry beautiful Tamaki Makaurau. I assume Uncle Brian drove us straight to Orewa. Possibly there was no quiet moment to take it in because Brian was a talker, a garrulous Yorkshireman who sold educational books to schools and liked a beer with his mates at the RSA, and if most men use 20,000 words a day, Brian used those ones up by lunch and then went on to the 19,000 my Dad would have left over.
My Mum is vivacious, her sister was quieter, a smoker with a wry word, the calm in the storm of a boisterous house.
I loved being with my rowdy city cousins.
Charlie was the big brother who wised me up to wordly things.
Smiling Trish and Nicky were amused by the world, kind and warm. Thanks to cancer they would both have their last summer before they were 40.
Worrying is for grownups. We swam in the rolling surf, ate, played, slept. The green lilo I’d got for Christmas was my boogie board in the surf, my bed at night. Surf, eat, sleep, play over and over because when you’re a kid the summer holiday stretches out to the horizon.
We stood on rocks with Brian and his mates with waves crashing around us as they baited their surfcasters.
We read comic books.
Charlie told jokes and I laughed at them even though I didn't understand them.
One afternoon Charlie said, you like Coke don't you?
I had never had it, had an idea he meant Coca Cola but wasn't even sure about that. I said yes sure I did.
Charlie said Dad can we go to the dairy for Coke? Which meant can we have the money.
Into the dairy we go, a bottle for Charlie, one for me, one for Trish and Nicky, so we’re both carrying two. I’m looking forward to finding out what Coca Cola tastes like. The bottles are a fascinating shape and colour, cold against my arm.
We step down off the kerb. The inept boy who can choose the one wrong plane out of two fumbles his footing. The boy falls over. Somehow he manages to not just break the bottles, he also manages to put a gash in his wrist.
The Coke is all over the ground now and so is my blood, great red pools of it because the wound is a couple of inches long and my flesh is exposed in a way I’ve never seen before. I’m absolutely fascinated to discover that as pasty as I am on the outside I'm even more ghostly white on the inside.
Charlie runs home to get help.
Next thing there’s a tea towel tight around my wrist and Uncle Brian is driving us to the doctor.
So many new things are happening to me this holiday: a lilo, a plane, Coca Cola, now stitches. I had no idea there was such a thing and now here they are being clipped into me. Also a blunt-feeling tetanus injection, and the novelties are not over yet.
You were lucky it just missed the tendon the doctor says solemnly. I nod back solemnly, even though I don't know where my tendon is or what it does or why this makes me lucky.
Uncle Brian says Adrienne's making curry for dinner. I love curry. Do you love curry David? As far as I knew I had never had curry. I said yes I did and I was very much looking forward to it.
How does a clumsy eight year old with a bandaged arm swim in the surf? Awkwardly with one arm up and out of the way. I can’t recall if surf lifesavers ever came running but you wouldn’t blame them.
There’s a photo from that time and if it might sometimes seem I shade the colour a bit hard about awkward geeky kid, this should take care of that.
I was happy though. Memory filters out the grey days, so maybe what remains is too golden and generous, but memories are places you live too and they make a warm place to be.
All I need to recall is the Coppertone bottle on the kitchen bench and the smell it offered up as we squeezed it out each new day and I have the smell of that summer and the entire memory.
All these years later Brian is gone, and Adrienne, and Nicky, and Trish.
Charlie takes a tinny out onto the Manukau for Snapper whenever he can and I feel bad that it’s years since I last saw him.
And on my wrist I have a scar, still, about as long as my little finger, a reminder of how much there was to take in when everything was new.
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