Thursday, 25 February 2016

The Ninetieth Birthday of Jean Waireti Bell

Nana Turns Ninety
by David Bell
Nana, a Great-great grandmother at 90

A special whanau occasion occurred on Saturday, 30th January 2010; the celebration of our mother Jean Bell's ninetieth birthday. This should have been written in the blog much earlier but as the old saying goes, better late than never. It is important to record this event because it unexpectedly brought our family together from all over the country and from overseas. Our Australian whanau, particularly, expended great effort and sacrifice to make it to the celebration. 

We begin the story at its humble origin; a simple suggestion that the family should do something for Nana on reaching such a grand old age.

It's not remembered who, but someone thought it would be a good idea to do something a little special for Nana on her upcoming ninetieth year.Those present readily agreed and it was decided we would take her somewhere for lunch and then home for a small party. Mac and Pat offered to arrange it and we all thought that was that. We had no idea it was about to take on a life of its own and grow into something we never imagined. 

Jess Fealy was the culprit.

In every family there always emerges an organizer; one who instinctively takes the role of pulling everyone together; one full of good ideas and with the drive and energy to make them happen. Jess is one of these. 

As it happened, David and Winnie were conversing with her - probably by email or other electronic media - and casually mentioned Nana's small ninetieth birthday celebration. Immediately, Jess seized on it and said, "We'd like to come to that!" and she wasn't thinking small, she was thinking of the rest of the Aussie whanau.

We, (David and Winnie) were impressed by her good intentions but pretty much dismissed it as wishful thinking. It seemed to us an impossible task to get such a big mob across the ditch at such short notice. 

But Jess was not deterred and she put the word out to the Australian Bells and it took off from there. Stewart and Myra threw their hat into the ring and sponsored their brood while Colin and Beryl came on board. 

This, of course, had a galvanizing effect on those in the homeland. Suddenly, were we looking at a whole different ball game; the goalposts had dramatically changed and we had some work to do. 

Thankfully, Mac and Pat's new home at the foot of Pirongia Mountain was the perfect venue and Mac as our family kaumatua, the ideal host. The farm offered plenty of space and the house the ideal gathering place with its large lounge and patio offering the most spectacular view over the whole Waipa valley to Hamilton an beyond. 
The view of the Waipa valley from the front of Mac and 
Pat's house, Waites Road

Fortunately, Mac and Pat were both enthusiastic about the expanded plans and took the lion's share of the organizing with the rest of us chipping in where we could; and there was a lot to organize; food and accommodation, entertainment and activities, and a host of other considerations.

It was decided that the bulk of the food would be cooked in a hangi and Bully was assigned the job of umu chef. He is an expert at laying hangis so that problem was easily solved. 

Accommodation threatened to be a bit more difficult but out of the blue it was discovered that two neighboring farmhouses had vacancies and were for rent at precisely the times we required. One was five minutes down the road and the other was at the end of the driveway up to the house; how do you explain that for a happy coincidence? These two farmhouses were reserved for the Aussies with the South Islanders to set up tents on the flat near the bush behind the house. We dubbed it 'Tent City'. Other smaller groups were spread out between Denise and Barry's place and the spare rooms in Mac and Pat's house. That took care of the accommodation. 
Above and below: fun on the slippery-slide

Entertainment and activities were the next consideration. The Australians - consisting of Stewart and Myra, Beth and Rob and their kids, and Jess, Matt and children - were scheduled to arrive a few days before the big party and had all planned a visit to the Waitomo caves and Rotorua, so that took care of them for a couple of days. A big whanau trip to Kawhia was also scheduled and other than that all other
entertainments were to be more home-based. 
The trolley in action
A big sloping lawn ran from the front of the house to the big shed below offering the perfect location for a slippery-slide which we put down using a roll of thick black polythene from Mac's shed. I also built a wooden trolley from bits and pieces from the shed. Kids and parents had hours of fun skimming down the slippery-slide which ran the length of the slope. 

The trolley also proved its worth despite a few spills and bruises. 

The Aussies all arrived on schedule and it can't be explained sufficiently in words how thrilling it was to have so much family together. It probably won't happen again in this lifetime so we all made the most of it. The Aussies took off on their sightseeing trips and when that was done we all went to Kawhia for a day. After that it was all about catching up, slippery sliding, trolley rides, a visit to Purekireki Marae, lots of eating, singing and just enjoying being together.
Denise horsing around. Notice the amazingly similar facial characteristics - especially the teeth. Denise has been too long around horses!
Rub-a-dub-dub ten kids in a tub...and a few more not in yet

Finally, Saturday rolled around and it was time for the big event for which we had all gathered.

At this point in the narrative we'll let the pictures do most of the talking.

A Day at Kawhia

The day we went to Kawhia was hot and sunny, perfect for what we had planned; sun bathing, swimming and digging holes in the sand to wallow in the warm spring water that percolates up from below ground.

Above: Australians Matt and Jess Fealy from Brisbane and Beth Campbell from Townsville, left.

All week the weather forecasts were predicting patches of rain but on the day we went to Kawhia it was hot and sunny. It seems the sky gods were smiling on us. 

The drive around the mountain to Kawhia is a particularly scenic one which our Australian families found quite spectacular. Kawhia, itself, is a typical small seaside town, quiet and slow-paced. The beaches are renowned for the iron-rich black sands which, because of the iron content, can get very hot. 

We all went to Ocean Beach about eight to ten minutes out the back of the township where we searched for the famous hot springs where you dig a hole in the sand and create your own small hot tub.

The Matriarchs 

Saturday, January 30th dawned bright and sunny. The hour had finally arrived. At this point let's turn to chapter 29 in Nana's story, Waireti, for a narration of the beginning of that much anticipated event, written as if Nana was herself describing it.

HEAVEN HAS BLESSED us with the gift of a magnificent January day wrapped in golden sun. I am seated in a comfortable chair at the front of Mac and Pat's beautiful home set at the foot of Pirongia Mountain and surrounded on three sides by verdant native forest. Overhead the patio roof shields me from the hot summer sun while sweeping down before me is the whole Waipa valley, green and glorious. This is Mac and Pat's dream home, here on our ancestral land under the protective Gaze of our loved mountain.

Smoke rises from the hangi pit down in the paddock by the tractor shed. Even from here I catch the occasional whiff of steaming food carried on the light breeze. Behind the house Mac has arranged to have a large marquee erected for the birthday feast. In an hour or two the hangi will be opened and the tables will groan under the weight of its offerings.

I see cars everywhere and more still arriving. People are constantly wishing me well, their arms laden with food. I am almost overwhelmed by all the friends and relatives who are flowing about me. There are countless children about as well, their laughter and chatter as they play a delight to behold. I am astonished and delighted to see all the children from Australia here, some I have never seen before. My loved ones have come from far and wide to celebrate my ninetieth birthday with me and my heart is full.

The hangi is done and the food is transported to the marquee where it cut up and placed on a huge buffet table. It seems all my relatives are here along with every friend we have ever known who is still alive. No formal invitations were ever sent but when word went out there was no stopping them. They rolled in like the tide, carrying food and gifts.

Mac stands and calls everyone to the festivities and opens with a traditional welcome. I'm seated with the rest of my generation at the head table and a sea of faces is spread out before us. My son, David, is the Master of Ceremonies and he gives time for speeches. I am touched by the words that are spoken.

My son, Colin, offers the grace and the feasting begins.   
Above: The Tautari sisters, Glenda, Mac and Denise sing a welcoming waiata 

Above: Nana and Granddad at the head table 

There was some concern as to how we were going to feed so many people; a shortage of food seen as a major disaster. We needn’t have worried; everyone arrived with food aplenty and so many people rolled up their sleeves and without being asked pitched in and helped wherever they could. The following are pictures of the hangi and other food preparations on the day.
Above: The hangi ready to go: the pit dug, rocks and firewood prepared, plenty of willing helpers and waiting for Uncle Bully, the chef, to give the orders. Below: Rocks and wood about to be fired up.

More hang pictures following

Above: the hangi on the table and the meat carvers, below

Above: the diners

The birthday feast was magnificent thanks to Bully (Mac and Pat's youngest son) and those who assisted in putting down the hangi. This was all greatly added to by the huge amount of food brought in by friends and guests as shown below with Colin and cousins shelling a load of mussels. 

Above: The birthday cake was presented to Nana by a procession of all her children starting with the smallest on up while everyone sang Happy Birthday To You. 

Portrait Gallery
The following is a collection of pictures and portraits taken during the course of the celebrations.

The birthday girl

"It wasn't the Southern Cross that brought us all home,Mum, it was you." Stewart giving his short speech.

Glenda, our family Kuia (boss lady)

Mac,out first ball
Generation gap

The Family: only Maurice missing and missed.

Uncle Bull, the hangi hero

The slippery slide is much more fun when you've got a fat Grand-dad to ride on 

Three cool bros


A Mossie

Another Mossie that eats sand

      A 'Don't mess with me' Mossie

A lazy little Kiwi who didn't like the hot sand on her feet

Cool hat + cool shades = cool dude

Cheeky photo bomber

The same cheeky photo bomber admiring his big back yard

Silver clouds over Kawhia

A hole in the sky letting out all the rain. We watched the rainstorms from the farm as they swept across the Waipa valley. Our location remained bright and sunny except for one short but spectacular thunder storm.

A lightning flash lighting up the night sky with the lights of Hamilton in the background. Both photographs were taken by Miriam Esteves

Miriam digging for pipis

The cutest little patuapaiarehe came prancing out of the bush

The mermaid

A multi national outfit



The celebrations concluded with a fireworks show

"Goodbye!" Last word to Uncle Colin

The End 

1 comment:

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