The end of an era

3 July 2014

Things have been a bit quiet here at Mermaid’s Purse. Life is usually busy and full, so sometimes there are gaps… but over the last week or so everything seemed to freeze over. Suddenly. I was at my mums place for a weekend with Luna and Blake, planning a bit of family time and sewing prep, when I had the phone call that my grandfather had died.

It is always a bit of a shock to receive one of Those Calls. My grandfather, known to me as Robt, was 84, and dropped dead putting gear in his car. Robt was very passionate about his faith, and grew up as the eldest child, and only son (he had two younger sisters) in a missionary, or pioneering family in a Christian organisation that is known today as Jehovah’s Witnesses. He was a skilled builder and worked on Kingdom Halls across New Zealand and on some pacific islands, so he was well known within the Witness community.

Here are some early photos, with my nana Shirley, they were married in 1950, these are a little earlier on.

Shirley and Robt 40s

I love this one, it is on the steps outside the Winter Gardens, the trees are a little shorter than they are now!

Shirley and Robt at the Winter Gardens

Here is one of their wedding photos, happy day!

Shirley and Robt wedding meal

And here’s another so you can see Nana’s dress Robt’s sharp suit.

Shirley and Robt wedding

Robt’s truck, ‘Progressive Builders’.

Robt's truck

Robt built his family home, in Mt Roskill, here he is working on the section, that’s him on the big tractor and my dad in the little car.

Robt and Robbie tracktoring the section

I have many fond memories of this home, spending time with Nana Shirley and Robt, the rich swirling carpet, which was actually quite scratchy, there was a beautiful deco style fireplace with a huge mirror above it, etched glass on the front door and on some internal doors. Apparently Nana was a great entertainer, and loved cooking for friends, laying the table and no doubt creating a warm atmosphere.

Here’s a typical dinner party scene, that’s Robt in the bow tie, my mum and dad on the left, along with family friends on the right and uncle Chris, right front, Chris was Robt and Shirley’s second son.

Robt dinner party

This space is etched in my mind. Robt would sit, as always at the head of the table, from there he could see straight into the lounge and watch the 6 o’clock news with his dinner. I remember breakfast of bacon and eggs, my brother, Daniel, and I would sit, one on each of Robt’s knees for the meal, I don’t think this was comfortable for him! Robt had a radio on the bench next to the table, the radio was always on, tuned into the National Radio program.

I remember eating granny smith apples in bed with them both when I stayed with them, I remember the pink crimpeline curtains and the wide windows in the bedroom. There was an orchard in their backyard, and so the apples were from their own trees.

Robt loved his technology, and took many, many slides of his activities as a Witness, and other family events, and holidays. He had a caravan and he and Shirley and family travelled around in, mostly, I gather while I was very young or before I was born. He had a massive concrete block garage that was big enough to house it, and it was a big one!

Along with his own building projects, Robt had contract work for Housing New Zealand, and he had a business leasing refrigerators and freezers. He had two vans for this job, one, The Bluebird was Nana’s vehicle. I loved it, the inside of the van was lined with the same rich and course feeling carpet from one of the Kingdom Halls he worked on, it was power blue. He had another brown van, The Panel, before then, he drove one of these trucks, that’s my dad there.

Robbie with Robt's truck

Robt had two sons, my dad, Robbie and then uncle Chris, here they are playing in the backyard.

Chris Robt and Robbie in a paddling pool

Fun at Eastern Beach with the boys, that’s my dad standing.

Chris Robt and Robbie at Eastern Beach

I also remember that Robt kept half full bags of chicken potato chips in the dinning room sideboard especially for us kids, which was sweet, except that they were always stale, I can still taste them when I think about it! Robt used to travel and would bring home pens, from everywhere. And he used to bring home watches, like really cool calculator watches. They were pretty cool in the eighties anyway.

I remember his desk, where he did his paperwork, which, to me just looked like piles and piles of paper, one of his many radios, the desk lamp and books, and more papers piled up… Which looks a just a little bit like my desk. Robt had radios everywhere, including a little transistor on the windowsill next to the loo!

Robt had some truly sad times in his life. His first wife, my Nana Shirley died of cancer in her fifties, I don’t remember much of Robt at that time. I recall my mum helping her wash in the bathroom, which disturbingly was a similar colour to Nana near the end of her life. We used to visit every evening towards the end which was tough on us all. I recall my parents were heartbroken and seeing my dad breaking down in tears for the first time. Robt was no doubt heartbroken, but was also distant.

Happily for Robt, he married Keren, and welcomed her and her daughter Naresa into his home and family. This is when there is a gap, for our family, it was a tough time. I don’t really know the details, but at this time family communication with Robt, and my dad’s relationship with his dad fell apart. Things had changed and there was still so much grief in people’s hearts. But, Robt was happy, and became a grandfather again, when his stepdaughter Naresa had Eden and Ella, and I’m sure that brought him happiness and warmed his heart.

Of great sadness to Robt must have been outliving his own two sons, Robbie, my dad, died in a car accident in the 90s, and his brother Chris also died in a car accident some years later. So in some ways this is a closing of a book, or the end of an era for the family. Chris is survived by his wife Adrienne, and their two sons, John and Peter. Robbie, is survived by Colleen, myself and my brothers, Daniel, Robbie and Timmy. Robt had great grandchildren too, Daniel’s daughter, Holly, and my two, Luna and Blake.

In many ways, Robt’s faith consumed him and influenced his relationships and family values. For Witnesses, that means taking a hardline when it comes to people who leave the organisation, as my father, and later I did. That severed our relationship, so my story with Robt ends more than a decade ago, despite my attempts at reconnecting. And that is ok, we each made the choice that felt right for us, and we were still family, if dysfunctional.

Robt and Angela

I know funerals are often sad affairs, but I do love learning something more about the person who has died, from friends and family speaking to those gathered. My experience is often of tears and laughter, hearing those stories we all have and treasure that can be comforting to reflect on.

Jehovah’s Witness funerals are usually quite different, they are firstly an opportunity to preach, and secondly talk a bit about he person who has died within the context of their life as a Witness. They don’t have photos, special items, old movies or any of that sort of thing, while the intention is to receive comfort and hope from the Bible, they can be a bit lacking if you want to think about the person who has died.

That’s why I’m sharing this here. I had these photos in my handbag at the service, ready to share, but, when I got there I realised it was not going to be the place to share and remember. Regrettably, the service was very brief and the elder giving the talk, didn’t mention the names of Robt’s sons, grandchildren, or great grandchildren and so I have remembered them here too.

Rest in peace Robt x

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