Summer's warmth and chill
Summer days at the beach - hot black sand burns my feet as I race towards the water. Even in the heat of summer the sea is cold but I leap in. Ngamotu beach is my favourite place.
And New Plymouth's a good place to be a child - World War II is over and the 1950s are on their way.
Out of the water again, I spread a towel on the sand and lie there basking for hours. At home, ,um spreads Calamine lotion on my blistering shoulders. I'll be down at the beach again tomorrow. Peeling and itchy skin is just part of summer, along with the annual mardis gras and the pony rides.
But we don't stay in New Plymouth the whole summer holidays. All too soon we're on the Rongotea farm, where there's nowhere to swim. I wander over the paddocks in the stifling afternoons, bored, boiling hot, longing for cool water, longing for a swim.
As it happens, the farm does have water - there's a drain through the
swamp. Can I pretend it's a free flowing stream? Shall I paddle, sink to my waist, let the water cool me? I'm so tempted. On these hot hot days I nearly do it, but each time I change my mind. There are eels in the drain.
Once I baited a fishing line, tied it to a post overnight and went back next morning to find an eel caught there. Long, fat and black. I cautiously let it go. No, the drains are out for swimming.
The coast is really not that far away, with nice beaches. But we never go there. Not to Foxton, not to Himatangi and especially not to Tangimoana.
And why not? The answer's on the wall in the seldom used sitting room on the cold south side of the house. A framed sepia photograph of a solemn young man. Eighteen-year-old Bob, the uncle I never knew, drowned at Tangimoana during a family picnic in 1928.
He was swimming with a friend at the mouth of the Rangitikei river. They got caught in the current, neither were strong swimmers and both drowned.
No one talks about Bob. With the ignorance of childhood it never
occurs to me that my loved grandma must still be grieving for her eldest son.
After the sad summer of 1928, she refused to let the rest of the family go swimming. The colour green was also out of bounds, for Bob was wearing green togs when he drowned.
I didn't know about this during those parched summers at Rongotea. Back in New Plymouth, I learned to swim at school and green was my favourite colour.
My mother was 11 years old when her brother died. It wasn't until I was an adult myself that she took swimming lessons at the New Plymouth city pool. It was a brave thing for her to do, for it's not always easy to buck a family taboo and face one's fears.
I don't remember her ever swimming at Ngamotu beach, though. But maybe the water was just too cold.
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