"Have they found her teeth?" I asked while rushing back in the door of my sister's house in Temuka.
She shook her head.
The drama had unfolded 10 days earlier, during a previous visit for house painting. While resting my neck from ‘ceiling crick', I picked up the Timaru Herald.
Tucked in the Lost and Found ads was a time warp: "Lost, one set of false teeth in the King/Princes St area. Phone …"
I almost snorted tea through my nostrils, then checked the date on the paper, expecting to find 1962, from an era when false choppers were the norm.
Dentists yanked out teeth in job lots, whereas now they root-canal them and implant them and generally mine the beggars for the rich gold seam that they are.
A reporter on the Herald with good instincts followed up the ad, and the next morning the bereft owner of the dentures was splashed across the front page, looking, um, down-at-mouth.
She'd taken her teeth out because of a painful gum ulcer, and popped them in an envelope, which must have fallen from her bag.
How hard can it be to find an envelope of teeth on a busy street? The story had alerted an army of searchers … case closed. Not so.
Every journalist knows that one day's tragedy is the next day's short mention in the Briefs column on an inside page. No trace of the gnashers had been found.
With troubled mind, I packed the car and resumed my odyssey south for a family Christmas in Riverton. They say adventures happen to adventuresome people. That's all right then - we can avoid them by staying at home.
Like sex and supermarkets*, adventure is overrated, best enjoyed secondhand and supine on a couch.
After my hairy ride fording a stream in Danseys Pass, and wild nights flayed by gales in my pup-tent, I was ready for a quiet sojourn in Riverton. It's a cute little town with, as I am still discovering, myriad links to Nelson.
The Santa Parade would be over in five minutes, I sneered, but a long procession enthralled us all, even my urbanite daughters.
The eldest paid tribute by posting a commentary, plus pictures, on Facecloth (I think that's what she called it). To wit: "Here are the top ‘Lynchian' wonders of the Riverton Santa Parade:
1. Donald Duck on a jet-ski .
2. A troupe of people riding quad-bikes in animal onesies (and one in a morph suit).
3. Whitefaced Michael Jackson on a pushbike.
4. The disembodied head of Nelson Mandela somehow managing to high-five people.
5. A lip-synching Abba tribute band.
6. Not one, but two silage trucks (undecorated).
7. A half-melted cat costume.
8. An accordion band in a logging truck.
9. The Queen in a sportscar.
10. Many assorted tractors.
11. A tractor-load of drunken, dancing Scotsmen.
12. Noah's Ark with a flat tyre."
She forgot the clever Buzzy Bee float built around a mobility scooter. And those agricultural vehicles were massive, as befits dairy-rich Southland.
Like Takaka, Riverton holds its parade on Christmas Eve, declaring that this is about celebrating the occasion and the community, not to kickstart an orgy of consumerism.
On Christmas Day, my youngest, back on holiday from Japan, introduced us to candy sushi, radio-controlled floor mops and green tea Kit Kats. (More than 200 flavours have hit the Japanese shelves in the past decade.) Civilisation is a wonderful thing.
After a week in the windblown Deep South, I squeezed a chocolate-bloated body, plus dog, into a hatchback at dawn for a two-day run home, up the safety of SH1 this time.
We negotiated a maze of similar placenames designed to confuse enemy invaders, almost taking the wrong turn to Winton instead of Clinton (motto: "Welcome to our Three-Horse Town"), and onward to Milton.
Dunedin passed in a fog - literally, all the way up the Kilmog - and not even Oamaru ("Steam Punk Capital of New Zealand") could halt the impetus. Thanks to the early start, we were in Temuka by lunchtime.
A few last painting touch-ups passed in a slough of despond over the dentures - a slough not helped by a TV programme that night revealing that you can buy a country villa, outbuildings and swimming pool on a decent chunk of land in rural France for half the price you'd pay in Nelson. Our property prices are insane.
My own overpriced pile was calling me, reached after a long and boring drive up the centre of the island through rain - so torrential at one point that the road disappeared. No disrespect to my hosts over the previous three weeks, but I wanted to sleep in my own bed.
Once unpacked, I pinned up my Calendar Girls calendar to announce 2014. Here's a conundrum: Is a nudie calendar still a nudie calendar if it benefits a good cause?
I'll blindfold myself each month while flipping over a fresh page. On the other hand, it is charity. Perhaps just don an eyepatch …
A lavender farm in the middle of nowhere in Danseys Pass, a Cornish-type fishing hamlet near Colac Bay, the art deco splendour of the ‘Refreshment Rooms' at Ranfurly - the journey was a constant string of delights, and if you didn't see them you weren't looking hard enough.
I'm left with a blown-out bucket list. The Rail Trail is crying out for a repeat, and there's a new Alps 2 Ocean ride finishing in Oamaru - dovetailing with steam punk festivities, possibly.
Bonspiel at Idaburn Dam must be a blast, and Molesworth is a siren's song. Those motorhomers who spend six months exploring the South Island - with their own bed in the back - have got it sussed.
[* Playwright Willy Russell's classic line from Shirley Valentine about the similarity between sex and supermarkets: "Just a lot of pushing and shoving and you still come out with very little at the end."]
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