Kay McKenzie Cooke is a poet based in Dunedin who sent these Words for Christchurch, sharing her personal connections to Christchurch and how the earthquake has impacted the lives of people around the country.
‘Makes you think’
I was looking forward to the start of 2011; I hadn’t found 2010 to be a very settled year. On one level, I put the unsettled feeling down to it being the Year of the Tiger. However, I don’t put much credence on such, so on another level, I just put it down to life.
An event that had started 2010 off for me, was reading at a poetry reading for Chinese New Year celebrations at the Chinese Gardens here in Dunedin. As it happened, it was also the day that my youngest granddaughter was born. Both her mother and her sister were also born in the Year of the Tiger; something that had been on my mind that dusty, windy day. One of the other readers there said, “The Year of the Tiger is meant to be a year peppered with sudden surprises.” I wondered what was ahead.
As the year progressed, on a personal level, surprises did seem to be happening; one of them was a wonderful, quickly-arranged visit over from Japan by our son. He had with him his nine-month old baby boy for us to meet (and hold and hug). There was also my mother’s 80th birthday in September to look forward to.
Then at 4:36 a.m. on September 4th, there was a not-so-good surprise. A massive earthquake hit Christchurch causing a great amount of damage, but miraculously, no loss of life. Luckily, all our family there were okay and their houses largely undamaged.
In the aftermath, we selfishly wondered if our mother’s birthday party, planned to be held at our sister’s place in Christchurch, would go ahead. Could we expect our 80-year-old mother to be alright there, with all those aftershocks and talk by geologists of the likelihood of another ‘big one’? However, my sister and her two daughters were okay, her house was okay, and she said, “Of course it’s still at my place.” The party went ahead and the arrival of a sister secretly flown over from Perth to surprise our mother, was a success.
While in Christchurch we experienced the fear of after-shocks and saw where broken parts of the city lay, cracked and shattered. I drove with my sister to go and buy supplies for the party. The trip took us hours because of slow traffic on damaged and blocked roads.
I thought about what Christchurch meant to me. My husband, Robert, spent three years at university there and after we got married, we lived there for a time. My sister has lived there for nearly forty years now. Early in the twentieth century, three of my father’s sisters (Agnes, Alice and Joy) in turn, moved from their home in Orepuki, Western Southland, to make their homes in Christchurch. They married there, raised families there and died there.
Richard Liddicoat, the Christchurchian who has invited writers to write in support of Christchurch, happens to be the grandson of one of those sisters; Alice. In September, 2010, my sister and I met him for the first time. I remember us sitting at a favourite cafe of his. I remember the owner hailing him as we walked in the door. (I wonder if that cafe still exists?) We sat at an outside table, and as we talked I could see on the banks of the Avon River opposite, cheerful daffodils bobbing normally in a spring breeze.