The King of Bonhomie

Posted September 24th, 2010 by Penny Wise

Sep 24, 2010

Well it looks as though we're going full steam ahead with the move! Today is my boys' last day at school. This morning they were both hugely excited as I sent them off with a disposable camera each, a bag of lollipops to share with their classmates and a permanent marker. 'Have a wonderful last day!' I yelled at them as they got out of the car - but as soon as the first friend descended on Liam to sign his school shirt I could feel my eyes welling up and thought I had better make a hasty exit before I turn into a snivelling wreck! Yes, we're moving to our dream location and can't wait but we've been loyal residents of Te Kauwhata for 15 years now and the place and its people have been good to us. It's supposed to be a town but it's far more like a village really. As I went about my errands this morning it occurred to me 'We know everybody!' The ladies in the bank. The group of parents and grandparents selling baking outside Mr Patel's to raise money for a school sports team. The drivers of pretty much every car that goes past.

In comparison, when we move to Whangamata, we will barely know a soul. But over the years I've learned that it doesn't matter. For one thing, we have each other but for another, Whangamata has felt like our second home for a long time now. People in the shops and around the place already recognise us and are always friendly. It's going to be one heck of a big change though. For the first time in our lives, we're going to be townies! Or should that be beachies? For the first time in almost 20 years Noel and I are going to be surrounded by houses - but not neighbours. In our cul-de-sac of around 20 houses, only about five of them are actually lived in; the rest of them are holiday homes which are empty for half the year. For the first time ever, I'm going to have to make an effort to find out who our neighbours are and get to know them.

We've never really had to do that before. When Noel and I first went farming together we lived in a little place called Tirau. Back then it was a real 'one horse town'. There was nothing there and we thought 'What on earth are we going to DO in this place?' But we didn't have to worry - we had neighbours. We had barely even finished unpacking before they were on our doorstep bearing welcoming gifts of baking and soup. Before I knew it I was being taken to craft groups, coffee mornings, you name it, I gave it a go. In the two years we lived there, our neighbours came to mean a lot to us. We went to dinner at our neighbours and vice versa. We would stick the BBQ on the back of a trailer, trundle down to the river at the back of the farm and hurtle downstream in an old tractor inner tube. We helped each other when disaster struck on the farm. I babysat their children so that the mothers could go out to work a couple of days a week. Our neighbours drove me hours to pick up my wedding dress in the days before I could drive. They organised our stag and hen parties, without us even knowing. They sent telegrams when we got married on the other side of the world. They lent me maternity clothes when I was pregnant, so that I didn't have to buy any. They came to the hospital late at night when our first baby, Luke died and sat with us. They helped us organise his funeral and turned up in their droves to support us as we buried him. I returned home from hospital to a spotlessly clean house, a roast chicken in the oven and enough food so that I didn't have to think about cooking for at least a week. More neighbours still brought us flowers and food parcels. They kept us company, kept us smiling and sat and got horribly drunk with us on the days we couldn't quite hold it together. That was almost 16 years ago and Tirau is now a buzzing township, chock-full of cafes and shops and even motels. Our neighbours have all moved on too, but we are still in touch with some of them and I have never forgotten how amazing they were during the toughest time in our lives.

Moving to Te Kauwhata six months later was a little awkward. On the one hand it was good to get away from the sadness and make a fresh start - but on the other it soon became apparent that people knew we were 'the poor young couple who had just lost a baby' and everyone treated us with kid gloves. Still, it didn't stop them from coming around and introducing themselves, bringing us baking and inviting us to dinner. One tradition the district had for years, which has now sadly gone by the wayside was an annual 'Welcome In' dinner. Being a farming community, new families come and go on June 1st every year and when you're stuck on a farm day in, day out it can be hard to meet people. In the winter months you can go for days without seeing a soul or setting foot off the farm. The Welcome In dinner was always well attended and was enjoyed by everyone. Long time locals relished the chance for a good old catch up and it was great for newcomers to put names to faces so that next time they filled up their car with petrol they were already on first name terms with the garage owners, or if they were in strife on the farm, they knew just where they could go to find a familiar face that would help. It's such a shame those annual dinners are no more!

Six months after moving to Te Kauwhata I became pregnant with Liam and once again our neighbours came to the rescue. As you can imagine, the pregnancy was very stressful as I was terrified of losing another baby. The fear was even greater once I developed toxaemia but I lost count of the number of ladies who came just to sit with me and reassure me; some of which had gone through the same thing and understood how I was feeling. These same lovely ladies were among the first on the doorstep when I arrived home safely with Liam, bearing gifts and hugs and I was touched when our nearest neighbour Tracey presented me with a beautiful cross stitch for the nursery, which she had made herself.

I'll never forget the first time I saw her husband. We hadn't even moved in yet and I was horrified to see him pushing a bath on wheels full of burly looking blokes down the road. Straight away I thought 'Oh heck! What have we got here? Is THAT our neighbour?' It was indeed. Ross turned out to be the president of the local Young Farmers club. He also soon turned into Noel's best friend. They formed a fishing club together, with over 100 members and we have had some great times, with many barbecues and Pot Luck dinners, both at home and at their family beach house. Our kids have all grown up together, gone to school together and play sports together. Ross is loud, he's hilarious and incorrigable - and over the last couple of years I have come to really admire him.

You see Ross is a bloke who has his priorities right in my book. He works hard and he plays hard. Friends and family are everything to him and his wife Tracey. They think nothing of travelling wherever necessary to see the people they enjoy spending time with. Their house is always open, always full of people and both of them would do just about anything for anyone. When they get home from a hard day on the farm, they say to each other 'How about we give Rob and Jan a call and invite them over for tea? Stuff it - how about we give all the others a call as well?' Before you know it, there are 20 people or more in the lounge, sharing food and drink and plenty of laughter. There is always a LOT of laughter and Noel and I always come away thinking 'You know, we really should do that more often!'

But that's why I admire Ross and Tracey - because we DON'T do it. For me, having people over for dinner is stressful. It's a BIG THING. Everything has to be perfect but they have taught me it's not about that. It's about the company. My very favourite Christmas ever was the first one that we had at this house. We invited ALL the neighbours, old and new and it was magical. The lounge was heaving with people and I remember thinking 'This is what it's all about!' We used to do things like that - but not any more. Over the years we have lost touch with so many of our friends and neighbours and we only really have ourselves to blame. We got so wrapped up in our work, in our kids, in being 'too busy' that we barely know our current neighbours. Our previous neighbours were our best friends; I used to write about them a lot when I first started my blog. We were close, our kids were close, even our pets were close! Our home was their second home and vice versa. We would do anything and everything for each other and often did. It was reassuring to know that there was another family in existence who were as bonkers as we were! We supported each other through the hard times and laughed hysterically through the good times.

But then they moved away. Not far, just a few miles down the road - but away. We were all sad that they weren't going to be our neighbours any more but we were all still friends. It shouldn't have changed anything but it did - or should I say I did. You see, I was never one to just 'pop in' and I figured they must have been too busy for visitors having just moved house. I didn't like to bother them. I thought I was being considerate but now I can see it must have looked like I didn't care. The longer I left it to get in touch, the harder it became. The weeks turned into months and the months have turned into years. It often makes me sad - and angry at myself for not taking the risk, getting in the car and going to see them. Even if I had turned up out of the blue and they were too busy for a visit, at least it would have been better than not turning up at all. It lost me the best friend I had had in years and I still miss her. As for the neighbours who replaced them, I haven't set foot over there since they left.

So when we move to Whangamata one thing is for sure. Our door will always be open, to friends and neighbours old and new and there will always be beer in the fridge and plenty of gas in the barbecue. I have a feeling Ross and Tracey will be among the first to come and visit. They'll think nothing of driving an hour or more to see us at Whangamata. Mind you, Noel and Ross DO share a fishing boat together. Some things will never change!

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