Lost loved ones: Little woman, big heart

Last updated 05:00 24/02/2013
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Ngahiwi Apanui
Mum, in the mid 1970s, enjoying a cuppa.

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I once asked my mother why she worked so hard to put me through boarding and then university. She replied that at age 20 she had fallen pregnant while teaching in the Far North and was subsequently berated by my grandmother for "letting me down".

She told me that she was determined to make up for her failure by ensuring that her 10 children received the best education she could get them. A rather large prospect by the way for a woman who was barely five feet tall!

She was a solo parent who relied on my grandparents for support and derived her income from work as a telephone exchange operator. My father and the Social Welfare Department (Work and Income these days) made no financial contribution to my upbringing.

As a child growing up on the East Coast of the North Island, I can remember Mum leaving for work at 12am and returning home for breakfast about 6am and then waking me to let me know she would be working someone else's shift and would see me at lunchtime. Some days she would work three six-hour shifts in a row, something that wouldn't be allowed these days.

Education was never rammed down my throat, but I was quietly expected to work hard at school, be respectful to the teachers, and value the opportunity. My grandfather occupied the same headspace regarding education, but expressed it in the same humble way. I never felt pressured by their approach.

On the contrary, I expected to achieve and never entertained failure at any stage during my education. After leaving boarding school in Auckland with school certificate and university entrance, I enrolled at Victoria University and had the time of my life.

I dedicated much of my time to other activities but did enough to complete my degree. Five years later, after I had received my certificate at the graduation ceremony, I returned to my chair to find my mother with tears rolling down her face. It is the lasting image I have of that day, indelibly imprinted on my soul.

It brought home to me what my degree meant to her and that I had, at times, not valued the opportunity to learn. The by-product of a tertiary education is generally a ticket in to the middle class and my lovely partner and I now have several children who are beneficiaries of their late Nanny's sacrifice.

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I sometimes take the opportunity to tell stories about Mum and the place I grew up in. Mainly to keep her alive in our minds but also to quietly reiterate the importance of the role of our forebears to our present.

On a daily basis however, I whisper a quite "thank you", accompanied by a sometimes tearful "I love you". and acknowledge the little woman with the big heart who has given me such a wonderful life.

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