29 April 2012

Settling in

Susan was very lonely - particularly that first year.  Our first few weeks in Auckland had been spent in and around Howick, with the Browns and others, so at least there were acquaintances - and Americans, at that - but they were considerably older than we were.  I had almost immediately begun to make friends at work.  Once we were in Mt Eden, Susan was quite alone.  We were very fortunate in Dr and Mrs Grigor, our landlords (and doctor), wonderful people - but, again, much older than we were.  We attended Valley Road Baptist Church at the beginning but were soon members of Hillsboro Baptist Church.  Nevertheless, Susan was bored and lonely, at home alone all day.  Money was, as always, never in overwhelmingly abundant supply.  I had significant University debt to pay.  We decided that Susan would look for a job.

In order to go to work, she would need transport.  Our sole private mode of transport was the one-cylinder kick-start Honda 90 that I had innocently thought appropriate simply to have packed in with the rest of our household goods - causing a certain amount of consternation to the man from the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries who had been deputed to watch as our goods were unpacked - he had it trucked down to the docks for steam-cleaning!  I normally rode the trolley 'bus to work.  Susan would have to learn to drive a motorcycle.

She did, with only a little difficulty.  She will remember her first solo ride in Cornwall Park.  Sheep graze freely in the park - and the road where she practised is not fenced.  Sheep graze safely in the park for the most part - but the first time Susan drove on her own, one crossed the road in front of her, causing her to panic and fall over in the grass.  Once I had stopped laughing, I picked her up and she was all right; the sheep escaped unharmed.

I can no longer remember the details of Sue's job hunting in relation to the friends we had made at the time.  Certainly we were very soon close friends of Ross and Glenys Jackson - now living in Melbourne and destined - or doomed? - to major involvement in our lives; with David and Heather Patterson; with Peter Mulholland; with David Curle and his family; with Maria Subritzky (whose wedding we attended in January, 1976).  Suggestions for jobs with Christian employers may have come from some of these, or from others.

Two job leads did not seem suitable - one to an importer, one to the local office of the Sudan Interior Mission - for various reasons.  The New Zealand office of World Vision had just been created the year before. Susan was hired there in, I suppose, late March or early April, 1973.  When she started, the office was very small.  So far as she can remember, the staff at the beginning were Geoff Renner (the boss); Mrs Hayden, office manager; Mrs Gillet, accountant; Angela Necklen, office junior; and Susan - who had the exalted title of sponsorship manager.  This eventually became a job as large as its title implied, since the essential bread-and-butter operation of World Vision is the financial sponsorship in small dollar amounts by individuals in the wealthier parts of the world of individuals in the poorer parts of the world.  When Susan finally quit, near the end of May, 1975, she was still in charge of the sponsorship programme, managing something like four or five thousand New Zealand sponsors.

21 April 2012

Strangers in a strange land

When we had got to know Mervyn McLean, a fellow lecturer in the Anthropology Department and ethnomusicologist, Susan told him of her night on the 'plane - and he laughed.

Susan had slept very little on the 'plane.  That was in part, of course, natural enough.  She was leaving the only country she had ever imagined living in.  Her life was apparently to be very different from anything she had ever expected.

But she had help in staying awake.  Mrs Wynn-Williams sat in the seat next to her.  Mrs Wynn-Williams was - and judging from her age at the time, I think that 'was' is in the proper tense - mad.  She had with her a long and elaborate manuscript.  It contained an epic poem, partly in Māori, partly in English.  In the margin were vivid drawings, many of persons stabbed with knives or spears and bleeding graphic blood.  She talked on and on - perhaps all night - about this poem, and about the person who had written it (I don't think it was her), and about her hopes for its publication.

Mrs Wynn-Williams was quite interested in the fact that I would be in the Anthropology Department.  She knew persons in that department quite well.

She did, indeed.  Mervyn described her as someone who frequently came and pestered them, wanting something done about this item of literature.

This was our introduction to New Zealand.

Moving to a country where one's native language (albeit in a slightly different form) is spoken invites one to believe there will be no differences of any consequence.  Perhaps moving to Montevideo or Mumbai would have been easier in one respect, at least: one would expect change.

The differences are not, in fact, of any great consequence - but they are bewildering:
  • driving on the left - well, of course you know that will be the case, but you have to learn to look right, then left, then right, before crossing the road - not the other order
  • light switches - on is down, up is off
  • taps - cold water on the left, hot on the right
  • toilets - the word 'toilet' itself is mildly improper in the US.  The first time we went to someone's house, Susan asked to use the 'bathroom' - then came out embarrassed to say she couldn't find the toilet.  It was in a different room (this seems to be changing in newer New Zealand houses).
  • scales.  Susan weighed herself in that house, and came out puzzled.  It said she was 8 and a half something - stones (14 lb to the stone - this was before we went metric).
  • tea - not the beverage, the meal.  Normally means 'dinner'
  • supper - not dinner!  Pre-bedtime snack and cup of tea
  • 'bring a plate' - when invited to a shared meal - 'Ladies, bring a plate' means you had better put something on it
And so forth.  Accommodation didn't take long, but it did take some time.

We arrived at the airport - what was then the International Airport, which is now the Domestic.  Bruce picked us up and drove us to his house in Takapuna.  Joy almost immediately took Susan shopping.  Sue could scarcely understand her English.  Every time Susan would reach her hand out to take something to buy, Joy stopped her - 'get it much cheaper at ...'  By the time we got back to the house, Susan excused herself and went to sleep in someone's bedroom - all too much!

The University put us up in a motel for two weeks in Kohimarama.  This was in fact lovely.  It is just off the beach.  Still, we were astonished when we got up early our first morning and went down to the beach and found people actually swimming!  To be sure, it was high summer - the temperature probably 18 or 20 degrees (Celsius, that is - high 60s Fahrenheit) - far too cold for swimming to us Hawai'i folk.

Those first weeks in Auckland are a bit of a blur.  I had started work, found the people I worked with wonderful, but kept stumbling on bits of culture shock ('no typewriter on my desk??!!  How do I write things?  Oh, write them by hand and give them to the secretary to type up!'  I bought a manual typewriter for myself.)  Learnt to drink - and love! - tea rather than coffee.  Very little coffee drunk in Auckland in the early-to-mid 70s.

We were overwhelmed with help from people.  From someone at work, we met Jack and Joy Pinajian.  Jack was a real estate agent - and an American - who started to hunt for flats for us.  They also introduced us to Dale and Gerry Brown, Americans with New Tribes Mission living in Howick - and in whose house we lived for a short time after the motel ran out.

Eventually we found a flat, not through Jack, but through the Staff Wives Club of the University (which ceased to exist in 1983 - not very politically correct, I fear).  Susan had attended a meeting - possibly even been a member - and a lady there - a Mrs Grigor - said that her father- and mother-in-law had a two-bedroom flat for rent in Mt Eden.  As I recall, the rent was $35/week.  We moved in, perhaps sometime in March, to 619A Mt Eden Road - and didn't leave until shortly before we moved to Yap in March, 1976.

16 April 2012


With an actual contract for me to be a lecturer for three years (1 February, 1973 through 31 January, 1976) at the University of Auckland, I expect that Susan and I experienced some anguish of heart as to whether I should accept the job.  As I recall, the salary was something like NZ$9,500 - but what did this mean in terms of costs of living in Auckland?  Was this high pay?  Low?

The University also agreed to pay to ship our household goods to Auckland - pretty much an open-ended promise, if I remember rightly - and to keep us in a motel for two weeks whilst we hunted for a house.  Still ... I was still paying both alimony and child support for Edna and Kathleen - US$75/month, together, I think.  I had still student loans to pay off.

And I was supposed to have decided to study theology!

We decided that I would take the job.  We would move to Auckland.

I have little memory of the ensuing three or four months - which probably means that Susan did most of the work.  Susan had two jobs to quit; I had one.  What was involved in terminating the rental of our house?  I do not know.  What did I say to Edna and Kathleen?  The mind is blank.  There were passports and visas to apply for.  Did we initially have New Zealand permanent residence?  I think not, but I think the process was already under way for that to be granted.  By some means - no doubt involving a great deal of labour on Susan's part, surely some, at least, on mine, and a great deal of assistance from friends - we arrived at Honolulu International Airport on the evening of 31 January, complete with tickets and other travel documentation, and accompanied by friends.

My University companions must have had some positive feelings for me.  They pooled together and bought for me a leather briefcase, with my initials stamped on it in gold, as a going-away gift.  Some parts of that briefcase continued to be used by me until around 2008 - 'some parts,' since it was by then rather like grandfather's axe: same axe, two new handles, three new heads, but the same axe.  The briefcase had been multiply-repaired during the thirty-five or so years I had it.  I have been reduced to using a backpack since then.

Susan was, I think, as much bewildered by the whole business as anything.  Unlike me, she had never been outside the United States.  She had never met Bruce and Joy Biggs; I had been very close to Bruce for several years.  I was going to take a job; she was going to accompany me - and that she could have done anywhere.  We had, until only a few months earlier, believed that we would be moving to her hometown about now.  Now we were moving into the unknown.  She told me, years later, that when we had landed at Auckland and left the 'plane - down a ladder onto the tarmac; no covered tunnels then - she looked back and saw a PanAm aeroplane, and had a feeling of longing just to run to it to get on board and head back for the known.

Two of our closest friends from the University who were there were Shelly and Nicole Harrison - Shelly a fellow linguistic student and both from Toronto.  Shelly had said to us, a few days before we left: 'Well, John and Susan, soon you will hear the Air New Zealand stewardess say, "Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to begin our final descent to Auckland International Airport.  Please return your seatbacks to the full upright position; ensure your seatbelts are securely fastened; extinguish all smoking materials; and set your watches back twenty years."'

11 April 2012

It may have been about 1966 that Bruce Biggs came to teach at the University of Hawai'i.  It was certainly in 1967, if not 1966, that Bruce hired me as student help to work on programming his linguistic data - large sets of cognate correspondences amongst Polynesian languages, as illustrated in the table from that page.  Bruce had data for thousands of cognate sets from dozens of Polynesian languages, and wanted to study the clustering implications for the languages based on these words.  This was the programming I did for him initially.  Later, I helped produce an English-Māori wordlist from Williams's Māori-English dictionary.  I was a student of Bruce's as well, of course - and, particularly when my first marriage broke up, he and his wife Joy helped me with moral support and encouragement.  Bruce was a very dear friend to me.

Some time before Susan's and my trip to the the US mainland Bruce and Joy returned to Auckland, where he lectured on linguistics in the Anthropology Department of the University of Auckland (at the time both linguistics and Māori Studies were taught in the Anthropology department) - and Bruce was then Head of Department.

My understanding of the circumstances that led to that telegramme are shaky, and it may be that friends from the time who know more may correct me.  The Bishop Museum in Honolulu sponsors academic research, including linguistic research.  I think that Bruce had been in Honolulu under their auspices - and that when he returned, an arrangement was made to send one of the linguistic lecturers from Auckland - Andy Pawley - to Honolulu for a three-year stint in this programme. Auckland University was thus to be down one linguistics lecturer for the three-year period 1973-6.  And Bruce was the one who sent me that wire asking me if I wanted to apply for the job.

Susan and I were significantly disconcerted - thrown for a loop, in fact.  I had, for some months, been planning to study theology.  Even more pleasing from Susan's point of view was that I proposed to study theology in Portland, the city she grew up in until about the age of 12 - and, she tells me, a beautiful city, and one where many of her relations lived.

New Zealand??

The idea of moving to New Zealand was not quite so foreign to me, perhaps, as it must have been to Sue.  I had been close to Bruce; I had known Herb Fava when I worked at AmFac; and I had lived in Yap in 1969 and again at the beginning of 1972.  Susan's overseas experience had been moving from Seattle to Honolulu.

A little later, when we knew we were moving there, Susan tried an encyclopaedia, then went to the public library - not much helpful information there.  But there was at least one thing in the library: a travel magazine that had the address, in Los Angeles, of the New Zealand Consulate.  She wrote them - they sent some information (which she, sitting next me here, says was 'ugly') - but they wanted to know why she was writing.  They did not have us 'on the list' - what list??!!

We went to our minister, Pastor Cook.  What should we do?  How do we decide what God's will is?  We thought we had known - Portland and the Baptist ministry.  Now this!

Pastor Cook pointed us to Psalm 37:4 - "Delight thyself also in the LORD; and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart."  What, he wanted to know, was the desire of our heart?


Well, it was clear that we had to give Bruce some sort of response.  We decided to apply.  The application had arrived, by post, shortly after the telegramme.  I filled it out and returned it.  Not very long afterwards a contract was sent me.

01 April 2012

Paying debts

In the (northern) summer of 1972, Susan's grandmother Lois ("Lolo"), together with her great-aunts and -uncles, were quite old.  I do not remember which of the two of us decided that we should make a trip to the US mainland to visit the various members of Susan's family.  It was an expensive trip, certainly - we needed to visit Los Angeles, Bakersfield, and Chico in California, and Portland, Oregon and Seattle, Washington.  Perhaps I was beginning at last to have some sort of social conscience that led me to feel it was necessary to make these contacts before the oldest of them died - paying social debts.

Susan's mother had separated from her husband in, I think, April, 1969.  The reasons were - as must usually be the case - complex.  They had been married for nearly 27 years.  They had two children.  Nevertheless, separated they were, and Sue's mother moved first to stay with her brother Robert Stretcher in Bakersfield, for some brief period, but had settled in Los Angeles - indeed, when she came to Honolulu to meet me in December, 1969, it had been from Los Angeles that she had come.  My brother lived - and still lives - in Chico; and the remaining members of Sue's family, including her father, some in Portland, some in Seattle.  Sue's sister Candace was, by this time, at Nyack Bible College in Nyack, New York so we would not be seeing her.

And I had decided, in any case, that, having finished my PhD in linguistics, I would study for a theology degree at Western Conservative Baptist Seminary in Portland, Sue's notional home town.  So our itinerary was set: Los Angeles, Bakersfield, Chico, Portland, Seattle.

Sometime in August we flew to Los Angeles.  I think we spent about a week with Virginia Peery.  It was not an easy time for her.  I was by now a puritanically- and dogmatically-minded Baptist Evangelical - and Susan's mother was an Episcopalian.

Not - as I only discovered from talking to Susan recently - a lifelong Episcopalian.  She had perhaps been reared vaguely Methodist; in and shortly after high school she attended an Episcopalian school and had been deeply and seriously converted.

Nevertheless, I spent some considerable amount of the short time we had together trying to persuade her of the complete wrongness of her position.  May God forgive me for my self-will and arrogance.

We did, nevertheless, have some nice times, including driving to the San Diego Zoo - one of the best in the world.

And then we took the Greyhound coach to Bakersfield, to spend a few days with Sue's uncle Bob and Aunt Lois - and her cousin Virginia Anne.  We also visited the location of my family's house and my father's office in South Chester Avenue - the location, because the only remaining building within hundreds of metres was the office itself, with a 'Condemned' sign on it.  A new freeway was being cut through to bypass Bakersfield.  I was shocked at how small the office looked - compared with my 11-year-old memory.

Another Greyhound to Sacramento where my brother Peter met us.  I recall little of this meeting, but I suspect it was somewhat tense.  Peter's brother - me! - had now changed wives (Susan for Edna, whom Peter had known - still knows, for the matter of that), drugs (Christianity for marijuana and LSD), and, in prospect, careers (I told him I was going to study to be a Christian minister instead of being a linguist).  I think we had one somewhat nervous discussion about the Christian faith - little else.

He drove us back to Sacramento whence we flew to Portland - Susan's wonderful and truly saintly grandmother Lois, her great-aunt Helen and her husband John Alexander, and her widowed Aunt Haddie.  I remember this time with nothing but pleasure.  Susan's grandmother, in particular, is one of the very most wonderful persons I have ever met.  I am confident we owe much of the happiness in our lives to her prayers.

In Portland I was interviewed by someone from the seminary.  I was very much impressed by the man himself, and by the academic as well as religious atmosphere.  I looked forward with eagerness to studying for a theology degree there.

Susan's father drove down from Seattle and brought us there, where we also met Great-Aunt Marcia and her husband Bill Crittenden.  Flight back to Honolulu, via San Francisco (I think) - to find waiting for us a telegramme (perhaps one of the last of its breed) from New Zealand.