Trea­sur­ing a lit­er­ary in­her­i­tance.

Ear­lier gen­er­a­tions have passed on a way with words, if not their ad­mirable gar­den­ing and pre­serv­ing skills.

Metro Magazine NZ - - Contents - TEXT — LEILANI MOMOISEA

My nan turned 100 this year. She is the youngest of her sib­lings, as is my mother, as am I. When you are the youngest, you get to en­joy your older sib­lings look­ing out for and af­ter you. If you live long enough, as I ob­served with my nan, you will one day re­turn the favour by look­ing out for and af­ter them. If you live long enough as a mother, as I have ob­served with my nan and mum, your daugh­ter will one day take care of you, as you did her.

These are those big, un­spo­ken rules of love, passed down through the do­ing and not the say­ing. My nan’s pantry was al­ways full of her home­made jam. Jars that she had re­cy­cled and re­pur­posed. She’d show us out­side how her gar­den was grow­ing, the lit­tle straw­berry patches, the black­ber­ries and rasp­ber­ries, and she could name each of the flow­ers she was grow­ing. Back in­side we’d then gaze with de­light at her pantry full of var­i­ous sizes of jars of jam. She liked to seal them with red and white ging­ham pat­terned lids and would give us kids a minia­ture jar of rich rasp­berry jam as a part­ing gift af­ter our vis­its.

Wher­ever we have lived, be it the hard-to-grow con­di­tions of Raro­tonga, my par­ents’ first home in Napier, or var­i­ous ren­tals and homes in Auck­land, my mum would al­ways trans­form bor­ing patches of dirt and lawn into gar­dens full of colour and life. Mounds of fresh pro­duce came in from the back­yard, beans and cour­gettes and pep­pers, enough rhubarb to make months of stewed desserts.

There is usu­ally a bag full of vegeta­bles my mum has set aside to take home with me af­ter a visit. Just like Nan, she likes to point out and name ev­ery plant she is grow­ing. It has al­ways im­pressed me. Dur­ing pick­ing sea­son in Napier, Mum would pre­serve the fruit we couldn’t get through, the large jars full of ap­ples and pears re­mind­ing me of Nan’s pantry.

Their gar­dens were a labour of love shared cities apart, hours dig­ging in the dirt, the type of hard work that prob­a­bly doesn’t seem so hard when you grew up on a farm.

By the time my nan and mum were the age I am now, they were both rais­ing young fam­i­lies. There are not many par­al­lels I can draw be­tween the life I live now and the lives they were liv­ing then. I have no chil­dren, and no gar­den­ing skills to speak of. Mum has given me the sim­plest of plants to keep alive, and I have strug­gled to do so.

But I could read and write be­fore I went to school, be­cause of my mother’s teach­ing, that love for read­ing and writ­ing al­ways en­cour­aged across gen­er­a­tions. My mum wrote her own fam­ily his­tory and self-pub­lished it for her chil­dren. My nan’s cur­sive hand­writ­ten let­ters ar­rived in flo­ral sta­tionery ev­ery week, and we made trips to the li­brary col­lect­ing piles of books to read while stay­ing on school-hol­i­day trips. So I have these words, passed down from, and writ­ten for, the women who taught me how to use them.

She’d show us how her gar­den was grow­ing, the lit­tle straw­berry patches, the black­ber­ries and rasp­ber­ries, and she could name each of the flow­ers she was grow­ing.

ABOVE— On my grand­par­ents’ farm in Pahiatua, 1958, com­ing home af­ter get­ting vegeta­bles. From left, Mum, Nan, Aunty, Pop.

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