Auckland, NZ, 1987
“Goodbye,” I said softly, hugging my stepmother.
“Take care Rusty,” she said. “Good luck.”
I’d never lived under the same roof as my stepmother, my dad married her when I’d already left home, but we were friendly enough.
“Thanks, Jenny,” I answered. “See you in a few years.”
That’s what I believed, that I’d return to New Zealand after a few years away. We’d done it before a couple of times, my wife Suzie and I. We’d gone off for awhile to Africa in the seventies and Australia in the eighties, but always we’d come back.
If you’ve lived there you’ll know… New Zealand is a difficult place to stay away from.
Nevertheless most Kiwis in those days went out to see the world. They probably still do. New Zealand being a small country made of islands in the South Pacific ocean, you have to go overseas to go anywhere.
New Zealanders even had a phrase for it;
“Getting your O.E.”
Now we stood in the Departures Lounge of Auckland International Airport, embracing family and friends before we boarded our plane to go and do it again.
America this time.
New York City, where we had chums upon whose couch we could crash.
I watched Suzie hug my father goodbye. She’d lost her father tragically when she was very young, and I think she loved my dad all the more for it.
But it wasn’t all lovey-dovey between them, not in the beginning. When I first started going out with Suzie my father was disappointed I’d taken up with a girl so much younger, and while I was still legally married, too.
He’s quite religious and he hoped that I would return to my first wife and the baby and do the right thing (as he saw it). But I was past all that before I’d even met Suzie. He blamed her anyway, as if she were some Bathsheba who with her sensuous charms was luring me away from the straight and narrow.
“My dad’s religious and sometimes he’s got some crazy ideas,” I said to Suzie when he refused to have anything to do with her.
“The stupid old fart,” I added with a laugh.
“Shame,“ she said. Which if you know a South African means almost anything. It could be shame you got fired from your job, shame you won a million in the lottery, shame the baby looks so cute.
“Oh well, that’s his problem,” she added, and immediately forgot about my dad and his problem. She laughed and said nothing more. She was wise that way and besides, Suzie was never very good at being angry or holding a grudge.
Turns out my father wasn’t very good at it either, because within a few months his heart softened. All it took was a chance meeting in Albert Park. He and Suzie met by accident in the botanical garden and I suppose, surrounded by all that beauty and believe me the gardens of New Zealand are extremely beautiful, they inadvertently shared a smile or a gesture that said life was too short to stay angry with each other.
I imagine that’s what happened. I know them both pretty well and I can visualize it that way. Suzie has very expressive eyes that have a way of inviting you in…
I wasn’t there. I was in Milford Sound on a video shoot.
My father, caught by his good manners, invited Suzie to tea in the cafe a few steps away by the fern garden.
“We talked and talked,” said Suzie to me on the telephone that night. “Why didn’t you tell me your dad was such a sweetie?”
“Sweetie?” I asked. “My dad?”
She must have got the wrong dad, I figured.
But no, it was really him. He called me that night also.
“Why didn’t you tell me about her, son?” he asked me. “She’s terrific!
To be continued...