Sport 20: Autumn 1998
Barbara Anderson — Day Out
About three times a year my friend Ruth and I drive over the Rimutaka Hill to see our friend Lindsay, who lives in the Wairarapa. We would like to make it more often and so would Lindsay, she says, but you would be surprised to find how difficult it is to get three women organised for the same day, same time, weather permitting.
This is because we are busy. We are not proud of this fact. When people ask us how we are we do not reply, ‘Busy.’ Busy is not how you are. Busy is what you do with days.
Nevertheless, we are.
One of the reasons Ruth is busy is because she and Tom are good grandparents and either she is visiting grandchildren to the north, or the south, or locally, or they are coming to stay.
Ruth and Tom like this and know how lucky they are. Ruth is also an ace cook and hospitable as well. Twenty-four for Christmas dinner, you know the type. Her daughter cooked the turkey this year. But even so.
Ruth also does good by stealth and is funny with it.
When I say weather permitting, I mean it. Who would want to drive over that hill in a force ten gale? I don't enjoy it in fair weather with a following wind, but Ruth likes driving, which is lucky for me. I'm not bad at the wheel, I have never had an accident but don't quote me. It's just that either you're keen or you're not. I've never been a bags-I-drive kind of girl. Or indeed bags-I-anything much.
Our friend Lindsay is also a busy woman. She cooks and sews and reaps and hoes and her husband, John, is not getting any younger. Lindsay also has grandchildren; older, busier, coming and going they frequent her days. Her daughters are busy too. Astonishingly busy. Lindsay doesn't how they do it, and nor do I. Most people in the Wairarapa are busy. There is not much ambling or rambling—except, of course, on the Wine Trail.
Ruth tucks two or three cushions underneath her so she can see over the wheel, and we're away. We cruise along beside the Hutt River.page 9
We note the debris from the last flood, the broken branches, the silt piled against the willow trunks. Goodness, we say. We talk all through Upper Hutt, which, as always, goes on for longer than you would expect. We sail over the first group of small hills which is a preliminary hurdle before the five-bar of the Rimutaka itself.
I realise I am exaggerating. There's nothing wrong with the Rimutaka Hill and it's better than it was. I know a young woman who drives a twenty-six-wheel articulated truck over it twice a day and loves every minute. During the First World War when the men had finished their training in Featherston they marched, in full kit, up and over the Rimutakas to Wellington.
Nevertheless, I still don't like it. It is covered in bush and scrub. ‘Its cliffs are sombre and its defiles mysterious’, but the road it too near to both.
Ruth is unperturbed. Before long we are up and over, have passed through Featherston which is the Gateway to the Wairarapa and are creaming down the straights towards Masterton. The power lines are singing along beside us and we are still talking.
To our left lie the mountains, but Ruth can only glance.
Shadowed with clouds and wreathed in mist, their leviathan shapes, blues, greys and purples, roll on forever. They are mysterious and unknown, and likely to remain so.
We agree with the psalmist who wrote, ‘I will up lift mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.’ We nod our heads in unison. However, we are not convinced that our help cometh from the Lord, let alone that He made Heaven and Earth.
Ruth adjusts one of her cushions with a quick heave and says that if the help which cometh from the hills doesn't come from the Lord, where does it come from? That we can 't have it both ways.
I say that's not the point. We say we can get a sense of numinous awe from the sublime wonders of Nature without…
‘What's numinous? ’
‘Spiritual, awe inspiring.’
‘Well, a local deity, perhaps. Small g.’
‘Like the Maoris?’
‘No, but…’ I see the sign in the nick of time. ‘Mushrooms!’ I shout, and we turn onto the side road and head for the farm.page 10
‘How do you feel,’ I say later when we get back to Ruth's car with our five-dollar trays of mushrooms and what good value, ‘how do you feel about us lending fifty-seven million dollars to help bail out the financially embattled South Korean Government?’
Ruth resettles a large, fresh, pink-gilled mushroom. Mushrooms are fragile and she does not want any to spill or spoil before we get home. She gives a smaller darker one a reassuring pat before getting back into the driver's seat. She snaps her safety belt, plumps her cushions. ‘I can see why it makes sense,’ she says. ‘“Major New Zealand trading partner, fifth largest market, vested interest in its recovery.” All that. But …’
‘The Minister of Finance says that the chances of getting the loan back are “very high”.’
‘“Very high”,’ says Ruth, ‘is not high enough.’
We are silent as we drive through Carterton, which goes on longer than the previous village, Greytown. One is considered more desirable than the other but I can never remember which.
‘The Accident and Emergency Department,’ says Ruth suddenly, ‘is so run down there are holes in the linoleum.’
‘However, my main problem at the moment,’ she says after a pause, ‘is my funeral.’
I give her profile one startled glance, then clam down. Ruth, her eyes focused on the road ahead, is not thinking about the immediate future. Ruth is onto abstracts, the practicalities of these abstracts are giving her concern.
‘In what way?’
‘You know.’ Ruth says you know quite often, and pokes you for emphasis, though not at the moment. ’Being Jewish, going to an Anglican boarding school, marrying a Welshman. I feel I've lost my roots.’
I take a quick peek over my shoulder to check the mushrooms. ‘What's that got to do with your funeral?’
‘Everything,’ says Ruth. ‘Who's going to do it?’
‘You don't have to have anyone now. Not a professional. You can get a coordinator. A sort of MC.’
‘Who?’ says Ruth, staring sourly at the straight black asphalt unrolling before her and not another soul in sight.page 11
‘Anyone. A family friend. Marriage celebrant. Some vicars don't mind no God now.’
‘But which sort of vicar.’
‘What about a Rabbi?’
Her glance withers. ‘I don't belong to the Jewish faith. I never have. How can I start at this stage?’
‘You could read it up.’
‘Read it up.’
I know what she means. I had a T-shirt once. So many books, so little time.
‘And anyway,’ she says. ‘I don't know that I want to.’
‘Then why fuss?’
Ruth sighs. ‘There're some peppermints,’ she says, ‘in the glove box.’
They are large peppermints, dusted with soft sugar; good of their kind, but cumbersome.
We take one each, suck in silence. ‘It's because,’ she says eventually, ‘I'm scared of death.’
‘I can't see for the life of me how the sort of funeral you have is going to help that,’ I say. ‘You're putting the cart before the horse.’
‘Well, they'll have to do something,’ she says. ‘Won't they?’
‘Yes, but why should it worry you? You'll be the last person on earth to be taking an interest.’
‘It's all very well for you,’ says Ruth.
This is true. As with everything, death only matters if you care. I am rather a chucklehead in this regard, but again, don't quote me. I try harder.
‘How about the Salvation Army?’ I say. ‘You've always been a great supporter.’
‘You can't just bail up a uniformed officer and ask him or her to take over your funeral. You're no help.’
‘Well, then, try your local talent. The clergy.’
‘I don't even know who they are.’
‘Then find out. Patti, you know Patti?’
‘She tracked one down. Nice man. Quite young. She asked him round for a cup of tea and explained her position frankly, and asked him if he would be prepared to take her funeral service at a later page 12 date. He said certainly, that was his job, or one of them, and that it would be a pleasure, or words to that effect. They had quite a merry time, Patti said, working things out, choosing this and that, getting the whole thing teed up and a rough draft down on paper, and then he had a sherry and a few nuts and departed. Patti was delighted, so pleased to have the whole thing organised. It had been hanging over her, she said.’
Ruth laughs and laughs. ‘You have to hand it to Patti.’
‘Yes. Except the poor man dropped dead next week.’
‘How terrible. What?’
‘So then what?’
‘I'm not sure. I think Patti sort of lost heart.’
‘Tt,’ sighs Ruth. ‘What an awful story.’
‘Yes.’ We are silent for a moment or two.
‘I don't like those ones, do you,’ I say, ‘when the congregation are invited to come up and share their own memories of dear old Ralph?’
‘Not much. Not when they talk to the box.’
‘You can see why, though. It's all a matter of personal preference.’
‘Yes,’ says Ruth bleakly.
I have been tactless. ‘You'll be all right,’ I say quickly. ‘Why don't you have one of those no God ones and a family friend coordinating and a few people asked to speak. And beautiful music. You're musical. Some of those ones are lovely. You could decide the music now. That'd be something done.’
‘So could you.’
‘No. The Cow Cow Boogie wouldn't get me anywhere.’ I think about it for a while then perk up. ‘There's the hymns though. And those wonderful old prayers, psalms, the old words. Glorious. Restore your faith in anything. You cant't beat them, really. I've been to some inspirational funerals with God and hymns and the old words.’
Ruth turns into Lindsay's carport and switches off the ignition.
‘Which God?’ she snaps.
Lindsay comes to greet us. She is pleased to see us and vice versa. She declines mushrooms. No, no. She can get them any time. She stands beside Ruth and tells me she is half an inch taller than her, though this is a moot point.page 13
If you boiled the three of us down you would get three average-sized women, happy to be together again.
‘What've you been talking about?’ says Lindsay as we walk into her house, which is filled with light and warmth and welcome.
‘We've been working,’ I say, ‘on our funerals.’
‘Oh good,’ says Lindsay. ‘Where've you got to? Which sort? Let's have a glass of wine.’
Ruth shakes her head. ‘Not for me, thank you,’ she says sadly. ‘I'm driving.’