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."'

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