Landmarks

When I met Clemency in my English 3 class at the University of Canterbury I found that her father was the Dean of Christchurch, and didn't know what that meant; something to do with the University or some church or other, I assumed. Soon after I went to her home at 80 Bealey Avenue for the first time. I am a boy from the Eastern suburbs, where small, low, close together houses were built by the state. I had never, ever, in my life set foot in a house that large and couldn't quite imagine why one family would need all that space. It was a little overwhelming, and was not made any easier by Dean Underhill who hoped, for the first three or four years of my relationship with Clemency that I was a passing fad like the paisley shirt and would soon go away. Clemency's mother was another story. She and I found an instant rapport and established a very deep friendship that lasted until her death in 1985 and, I hope, lasts still. It was in this house that she shared the Gospel of Jesus Christ with me. The Deanery was a gracious, welcoming house, always a little ragged around the edges but always full of people and music. It was a place for Christmas days and long, long evenings spent around a fire happily talking theology with Valerie and or/one of the many young people who temporarily found shelter there.

It was here we held our wedding reception in December 1976. It was on that day, giving my groom's speech underneath the enormous chestnut tree in the front garden, that many people, myself and Clemency included, discovered I had a gift for public speaking.
I could never pass that place, even after it was vandalised by developers without a pang of love and regret.
All that ended on Tuesday week ago.


Of course before the reception there had been a wedding. 
 Clemency and I were the thirteenth couple married in Christchurch cathedral in it's long history. We needed to be married because a month after the wedding we were headed for Auckland, to St. John's Theological College and living together without benefit of license wasn't going to be a good look. Some years previously I had gone into the cathedral to pick up Clemency's brother Jonathan from choir practice and happened upon an evensong, my first exposure to this beautiful but puzzling phenomenon. During the service some young men paraded in wearing cassocks: that year's crop of new ordinands. Watching them, I suddenly knew with depth and power that I wanted to be one of them. My call to priesthood. So, a few years, many interviews and a time as a youth worker in Avonside parish later, I was standing in the Cathedral getting married. Bishop Alan Pyatt, My Father in Law, Bob Lowe and John Barker all played a part, and I don't recall having much say in things like liturgy and music. Ever since, I have loved this old building and I must say that I was especially delighted with the enormous angels hanging from the roof last time I was there. Now angels, and for all I know the roof they hung from are no more.


Many years and much reading later I was Vicar of Sumner, a time of mixed blessing, but my very little daughter Catherine was very happy there. Every time we drove in or out of Sumner we passed Shag Rock
(note: this picture is not mine, but I wish it was) As we passed the rock, going in or out it would speak to Catherine. Being as cunning as a row of foxes, the ancient rock would assume the voice of one of her parents so as not to alarm the little girl
"Catherine! Where are you off to today?"
"I'm going to Grandpa's and then we're going to buy NEW SHOES!"
"What's wrong with your old ones?"
"They're too small. See."
"Oh. OK. Hurry back Catherine, I'll miss you."
"Bye, Shag Rock."
"Bye."

The rock was the last remnant of a headland that once made Sumner beach even more of the sheltered bay that it now is. During the earthquake, like so much else, it too fell to earth and is no more.

There are other landmarks all gone now. Other repositories of memory and signposts to the past gone, like I suppose the events they are associated with; leaving traces now only in the way they have shaped and formed the living who remain.

Bye Shag Rock.
Bye. See you around.
No. Not this time.

Comments

Alden Smith said…
The loss of lives in this earthquake are the hardest to take and the hardest to get into some sort of perspective. The secondary losses are our icons. Of all the images I have seen of iconic places in Christchurch that have been destroyed the photo of Shag Rock is the saddest - I grew up with that rock, sailed my P Class and later my OK dinghy past it many, many times - this is the first photo I have seen of this - I didn't know until a minute ago that it had been destroyed - it makes me very, very, very sad to see this. You can rebuild buildings, churches and houses but you can't rebuild that familiar old friend.
Anonymous said…
These photographs and their narrative was a reminder to me of another disaster many decades ago now, in a different country. There was a terrible bushfire (or actually several different bushfires): my parents' house burnt down, my mother's parents' house burnt down, many people died. Along with the two houses, all the family photographs over more than two generations were lost (weddings, baby pictures etc), and with them a whole story about shared experience, which in some ways then seemed to render the experiences themselves "lost", intangible, unrecoverable. Thought-provoking stuff.
Elaine Dent said…
I am so sorry. Going back to places has a way of grounding us. The sudden loss of place as well loss of life must be so jarring for you and the people you serve. In your own grief, may you bring others comfort and hope and help them tell their stories too.
Warren Featherston said…
I remember my first visit to Cambridge University in 1971; I forgot to take my camera. As I was taken around by a colleague I tried to remember what I saw, thinking this may be last time I would see this place. Those minds-eye pictures still remain. Like you Kelvin I grew up in Christchurch and am still trying to come grips with the devastation I see in the news reports. Many of those images remind me important landmarks in my life. Like my trip to Cambridge, I still have those minds-eye images to remind me of growing up in pre-earthquke Christchurch.Thank you for your images and your stories which relate to the image.
Leanne said…
*hugs*

It's awful, isn't it? Especially when it's home. But try to think of the good, and the memories, and the joy that all those places gave you. Keep them alive in you.
Kelly said…
You wouldn't belive how surprised I was to see the lovely photo of my home before the quakes and before the developers. It was also lovely to see the photo of you and your wife under our chesnut tree. 80 Bealey Ave has so much history and I am so proud to say that I was part of that history for her final 5 years. xxx