28 June 2009

Back to the Reformed Church

Well, that is a bit of a cheeky title, and misleading. Susan and I have not left the Catholic Church and returned to the Reformed Church.

But last night we had the pleasure of attending a Reformed Church dinner.

The occasion was the 20th anniversary of the official establishment, in 1989, of the Pukekohe Reformed Church., and the 25th anniversary of the ordination of John Haverland, the current minister.

I confess Sue and I were a little nervous. Eddie had told us, some weeks ago, that the dinner party was going to happen, and that we were to be invited. "Perhaps the date will be some evening when we are tied up," I thought :-) But no, it was to be for last night, the 27th of June - and we were free.

Susan was concerned. There were certainly persons in the Reformed Church who, at the time we became Catholics, were very upset at us; at least one or two had clearly cut her, when meeting her, in the early days. I recommended that she ring up John Haverland and ask his advice. She did, and he said that he would ask the Session (the meeting of the rulers of the Church) that evening.

His reply was that they said they definitely wanted us to come, and that they were sure no one would be disturbed.

So we went - and from everyone's reaction, I am sure he was correct.

Eddie and Eveline came as well, so they dropped by our house yesterday evening, and we went together. I am very pleased that we did go. The proceedings were as expected. There were talks from persons who had been involved from the very beginning to the present day. I myself was asked to speak briefly about the way in which we, with the Jacksons and Darbys, had been the part of the beginnings of the congregation.

All of this will not be of much interest to some of you, and what follows will be completely dark to all except members of my family and friends who were, or are, involved in the Pukekohe Reformed Church - so if the rest of you have read this far, you may safely close your browser at this point. I am going to list some of the people we saw and talked to.

  • Mike and Tina Flinn - it was really lovely to see them. I love Michael, with whom, and his brother Richard, I worked hard in the early days to get the Church going. They sat at our table.
  • Daniel, Joshua, and Jason Flinn - what lovely young men! Daniel is particularly handsome. He and Eddie were very close as boys and we are all at the same table.
  • Roel and Alie Voschezang - at our table but I was able only to greet them briefly; too much going on.
  • Derek and Janine Grul - Janine was the organiser of the whole thing and did a marvellous job.
  • Many many others, listed in no particular order
  • Alice Voschezang - just married and beautiful.
  • Jacqui Phillips and most of her children - also stunningly beautiful young people. Whare Phillips died only a few weeks ago.
  • Mike Waldegrave and two of his and Jacqui's boys: Mikie and Jacob. Jacqui had to stay home with Jonnie, but said she would otherwise have come.
  • Craig and Sharon Roberts
  • Alice Voschezang recently married a guy from Masterton who seemed to know us and our kids well - don't know his last name & will try and find out.
  • Donald van Dorp and his wife Nancy
  • Don and Jenny Petchell
  • Jaap Loef, his wife and some of their 13 kids. A number of his kids are now living in the USA and Aussie
  • Carl Larsen, who was Ross and Glenys's minister in Balclutha. Ross, I gave him my e-mail address and if he e-mails me, I will put him in contact with you. He asked about you and Glenys.

(Susan wrote the lines after the Roberts above). I'm sure there were others I am not thinking of, but my children and other friends from the Reformed Church will remember many of these.

It was really good to see these people again. Yet it was a melancholy meeting, after all. Ken Campbell opened the proceedings, talking about the days before the Church started, when he conducted a Calvinist Bible Study in Pukekohe - talking about such topics as Total Depravity (the 'T' in TULIP, the Calvinist's motto). There were numberous reminders of what we see as the sad poverty of Protestant Christianity.

This morning at Mass I recalled something that Roel Voschezang had said to me in 1994, when I was talking to him about the possibility of my becoming a Catholic - and he did not understand that was what I had in mind, although I believed I had told him clearly enough. At the time he was involved with a political group (the now-defunct Christian Heritage Party). One of the men working with them was a Catholic. The man said to Roel, once, that he (the other man) did not really understand how what Protestants did in their Sunday services could even be called worship.

Mass is not said very well in the Pukekohe parish. By that I mean that the homilies vary from acceptable, if not deep, down to ... well, downhill. The music, occasionally really good, is mostly poor and sometimes terrible.

But I was carried away today by the reality of the Mass. Please pardon me, all you who are not Catholics. This can only sound like mysterious references to private experience. So, I suppose, it is. Certainly any Catholic who does not believe the teachings of the Church - and in particular, who does not believe that Christ is bodily present at the consecration - that, indeed, we have the unspeakable privilege of receiving Christ, and Him crucified, at Communion - to such a Catholic, I am sure there is no powerful sense of reality.

I myself can in no way deny that reality.

There was a time in my life, in 1984, when I thought I had ceased to believe in God. I certainly had lost any sense of the reality of God's existence. I experienced a kind of existential certainty that God did not exist, that faith was an illusion.

But I could not make myself act on that certainty. I tried to not-believe - tried, and failed. My sense that faith was all illusion did not leave me immediately. My experience was the same. I concluded, however, that if I could not live as if God did not exist, I would rather live as if He existed.

My un-faith did not last long.

So here. I have - thank God! - no temptation to doubt the reality of the Presence - but I cannot imagine ever leaving the Catholic Church.

"Lord, to whom shall we go? Thou hast the Words of Eternal Life."

21 June 2009

Nothing new under the sun

Last night (Saturday the 20th of June) was our second concert of the year. I thought it went pretty well, considering. Our music was:

  • Mozart, overture to "The Abduction from the Seraglio" (just five minutes of fun, lovely music)
  • Weber clarinet concertino - University 3rd year clarinet student Natalie Harris - she was really good, though she weaved and danced too much, and had a treble clef sign tattooed on her back :-)
  • Brand new piano concerto by Dunedin composer Anthony Ritchie. I always hate contemporary music when we start it and end up - if not loving it, at least loving playing it. Emma somebody-or-other was the really amazing pianist
  • After the interval we did Dvorak 9 - very well known, very moving and dramatic - and a terror to horn players. It was that one concerning which I wrote 'considering' above :-)

Susan always comes, loyally, to our concerts. Last night, even although she had pretty severe back pain, she came. And when she comes, we always do the same thing. She shows up about 6:30PM, after the rehearsal, having bought food from Burger Fuel - they, and only they amongst fast-food places, have gluten-free hamburgers. And we eat in the car.

Last night I told Susan this reminded me of when we were kids and our parents used to take us to drive-in theatres. This was pre-television (for us, and for many families). My parents would bring the three of us to the outdoor theatre. There was a sand-pit and playground up front. The sound was from a little hang-on speaker that you stuck on the side window. There was a marvellous place called the 'snack bar' up front where you bought popcorn, cokes, etc.

That was the 1950's. In fact, for me it was the early 1950's. To the best of my recollection we never went to a drive-in after we moved to Oroville in June, 1954; Peter may correct me, but I don't think we did.

All gone now - or so I thought. Television, and then video tape and DVDs, had driven them out of business. Apparently there has been a mini-revival in the States. And according to Wikipedia there are still some functioning in Australia.

I don't think there are any in New Zealand. I would be interested to know whether there ever were any. As a child I loved going to the drive-in. We wore pyjamas. Kind of being at home but not.

Drive-in restaurants are another matter - some other time, perhaps.

13 June 2009


The Feather River Astronomy Club is, perhaps, the only thing in my life that I feel satisfied I attempted and succeeded at.

I don't remember exactly when and how it began. I am pretty sure that I was not yet in high school - not up to 9th grade / 'freshman' year / 3rd Form. I must have asked around about an amateur astronomers' club and was astonished that nothing of the sort existed in the area. There may have been something in Sacramento.

Adolescence is the time of omnipotence. My son Johnny may have been 14 or 15 years old when he decided that he wanted to organise an "Indoor Soccer" (or was it "Indoor Cricket?") tournament for the North Island (perhaps only northern half?) Reformed Churches.

I told him he was mad. It was a huge undertaking. He needed not only to coordinate everything but to ensure there would be lunches available for purchase; collect fees; keep accounts; etc.

He did it, and did it well. As I recall his total budget was close to $10,000.00. He did, in fact, lose money on it, but a very small amount (which he covered).

I have a series of well-intended failures to my record - PhD in linguistics, Yapese monolingual dictionary, and many lesser projects - which, on the half-full/half-empty scale could count as partial successes rather than failures. Nevertheless, one and only one of my ventures ever succeeded as I intended: the Feather River Astronomy Club.

I don't exactly recall dates, but it would have begun around 1955, I think. Our membership was amateur astronomers and science teachers from as far north as either Red Bluff or Redding (my God! Redding has a population of 100,000 according to Wikipedia!) - Dick Van Alstyne, that was - and I think some came up from Marysville/Yuba City. We met monthly - don't recall where - my house?? - and at least in the early 1960s it was still operative, after I had left for University. Google shows no trace of it now so perhaps it has died - or perhaps it is still just quietly carrying on without the nonsense of Internet presence.

I was very pleased to have done that, and it shows how my keen interest in astronomy, which eventually led to my astronomy major at University, continued to grow. By 1956 or 1957 I had bought (using money from my rabbit business!) the only telescope I ever owned - a little 4-inch reflector. My experience with that 'scope probably illustrates the reasons for my failure both as an astronomer and as a linguist. I was, and still am, very much interested in the science of both fields. Nevertheless, as a now-amateur linguist I really spend most of my time playing with language, learning new and interesting things, dilettante stuff, really - but not much with the hard work of linguistic science. And with my telescope I never did boring but important stuff like new-comet spotting - a time-consuming and tedious job in which amateur astronomers are particularly important - but rather finding and goggling at interesting, and, especially, beautiful, objects. I am afraid all my scientific interests have remained at the amateur level.

All for this week-end and perhaps for a while. Next week-end is our next concert, so I may not get 'round to doing anything then.

06 June 2009

Oroville move

I suppose moving is always a bit traumatic, and a bit emotional. In the northern hemisphere school year 1953-4, I was in sixth grade - "Year 6" in modern New Zealand parlance, and more or less what was called "Standard 4" in the old terminology. At the time there were, I think, two high schools in Bakersfield: Bakersfield High, on our west side of the tracks, and East Bakersfield High on the other - that is, the dark - side. Racial segregation was certainly not a legal fact of Bakersfield life; it was nevertheless a pretty real separation.

We were on the white side, and I suppose Bakersfield High must have started with 7th grade - 1st Form - rather than there being a separate intermediate school; at least I anticipated, with some fear and trepidation, attending high school in September, 1954. So when it was announced that we were moving to Oroville, I think I felt a certain amount of relief. At least the daunting prospect of Bakersfield High did not face me. And Oroville was not yet real to me.

Peter was in 5th Grade. Mrs Soeder was his teacher. Mrs Soeder asked Peter's class whether any of them would not be at the school the following year. I suppose Mrs Kimble did not ask our class because it was assumed we would all be off to high school. Peter responded that he would not be there next year. Mrs Soeder told him - according to Peter - not to be silly, that his father was far too-well established in this town to leave, and didn't believe him.

Peter has never forgiven Mrs Soeder for that.

My father moved our household himself. I recall a lot of trips from Bakersfield to Oroville - some 700-odd Kilometres. Did he hire a truck? He must have, I think. Some, at least, of our trips were in our station-wagon - a 'woodie' - with us kids in the back. I recall one trip during which I hummed to myself the tune (just learned) of Aloha 'Oe - feeling very melancholy. I was leaving Robin Dalley behind. Robin 'liked' Donald Langston (who was tall and handsome) rather than me (who was short and ugly). I had dreamt of her seeing my better qualities once we were in high school. Now it would never be.

I suppose the move started considerably earlier, as at least Jeremiah had moved up there by himself in February, 1954. But it is certain that we were living there from September, because we - all three of us, I assume - started at Bird Street Elementary School. Miss (I think - I could not imagine her being married) Ida Huganey was principal. I thought at the time that she was about a hundred years old. This link:


appears to say that she was principal from 1900 through 1956, so I might not have been far wrong! If this is correct, she was principal when Ishi showed up there in 1911. She and I both left the school in 1956. To the best of my knowledge, there is no connexion.

I was now in 7th grade, which was very exciting. I had different teachers for different subjects, just like high school. I really did begin to look at learning much differently. In Bakersfield I had been deeply enamoured by science - particularly astronomy - but now I was beginning to see a little of the seriousness of the enterprise. Mr Jernigan was my science teacher and greatly impressed me.

I also began to become more serious about music. Mr Wolcott was the band teacher, and I joined the band, playing the cornet. I am pretty certain that all three of us - Peter, Robin, and I - were in the marching band, but cannot be certain from my memories. Peter may recall.

In Bakersfield, I had been a member of the Bakersfield Amateur Astronomers' Club. But in Oroville there didn't appear to be one. So I started one.

01 June 2009


I think Jeremiah began to work for my mother and father around 1947 or 1948, doing lawn and garden work around my father's optometric office in Bakersfield. He was born in Tyler, Texas - or at least he considered it his hometown - born about 1908, I think, so that if he were alive today he would be 101. Peter knows quite a lot more about Jeremiah than I do.

Though he first entered our lives as a yard worker, he became of great importance to my own growing up.

"Jerry" had little formal education. He could read, in the sense of puzzling out written material, but I think he was functionally nearly illiterate. We grew up with him, so never thought anything unusual in having a 'black' man (actually I think his ancestry was fairly equal parts of African black, American white of some sort, and American Indian - again, of some sort) as effectively a second father during our Oroville years; and one whose native English was fairly non-standard - not only East Texas vowels, but such archaisms as 'holp' as past tense of 'help.'

Jeremiah had been married, and had, I think, two, or possibly three children. Herbert was the one Jerry talked most about. Herbert lived in Los Angeles and was himself married and had some children.

I remember a time - perhaps about 1971 or -2 - when I was visiting at my mother's house in Hilo, talking to Jeremiah about religion. I had become a Christian by then and was eager, with new-convert zeal, to talk with Jerry about the Lord. He had a phonograph record - and old 78RPM, I think - of a preacher talking about repentance. Jeremiah loved to play that record.

He told me that he was glad I had come to the Lord, that it was a good thing, but that he himself had made a mistake at one point in the past, that the only way for him to come back to God would have been to go back and undo that mistake - and that that was now impossible. I think he thought he was doomed to Hell as a result. He may have been talking about the divorce that separated him and his wife.

Or he may have been talking about his relationship to my mother. That is a matter which will have to come into these posts at a later time. Anyway, Jeremiah died in the early 1990s, I think - Peter will know the date - and I pray regularly for his soul and his rest with the Lord, whose "mercy endureth forever."


Oroville is more famous than I imagined - at least it is according to the Wikipedia article. To me, it still feels like my home town. I suppose that is because I lived what feel like my formative years - age 12 to 18 - there.

To the best of my knowledge, my father had never farmed before. He was, however, the most practically skilled of men, and never one to have any qualms about learning new skills. Years after Oroville, when his lower spine was in very bad shape and he could not farm (this was on the ranch in Hawai'i), he taught himself bookkeeping, from a textbook, and worked for several years as cost accountant - or perhaps it was bookkeeper - for one of the hotels, until his back healed.

The farm he bought in Oroville - some 8 Km out the Olive Highway, near the corner of Canyon Drive: View Larger Map

I see Kelly Ridge is now "Quail Ridge" - must have been more saleable.

Anyway, in, as I recall, February, 1954, Jeremiah moved out to the farm.

And I think I must talk something about Jeremiah before going on about the farm or Oroville.