He literally laughed at death as he lay weakened after a five day stay off his feet in Kawakawa hospital. And then he sighed a long, last farewell and was gone. The tributes came in many ways and, in the wake of his death as he made his last journey across water from Russell to Opua, the car ferries circled each other and tooted; back at his home in Tapeka Point, a longtime Maori friend arrived and blessed each room; the local tour driver said he would continue to tell his passengers when he drove past, that this was the house where the 102-year-old ‘unofficial Mayor’ of Tapeka had lived and tended his vege garden in a home he had built half a century earlier.
Laurie arrived at the Point in 1971 exhausted by the demands of a growing Auckland and at the sparsely settled Point. There he found both stimulation and the calm which reflected his own character. With like-minded pioneers in the early 1970s he planted trees and worked for years to beautify the place.
For him, his children and their growing clans, this was also their home, a summer place they could call their own. But homes by the sea are not what they once were.
Where once a dirt track road wound down to a sandy beach and a scattering of houses, there is now a sealed road and suburbia. Where mention of traffic on the road was once almost laughable, the frequency of four-wheel drives roaring up the road makes walking up to Flagstaff Hill perilous.
Within the family we knew that for many reasons, Laurie’s house would have to be sold after he died – though that seemed an unlikely eventuality. We had always joked that our 102-year-old Patriarch would go on forever – and so too would the golden days lazing by the beaches nearby.
But eventualities eventuate, and after he died the home became what it had to be – a house, stripped of the familiar. After that, his grandchildren really did have something to dread: a sale. But they reassured themselves that that would be a long way off. After all property prices in the area had slumped. Others in the neighbourhood had tried to sell their homes for 2-3 years without success. Some had to accept drastically reduced prices. So, one year after his death when the co-executors listed with a local land agent, they regarded it as nothing more than a real estate ritual.
A week later the agent rang in the middle of a Sunday gathering to tell the family they had an offer. To say it came as a surprise would be an understatement. We looked at each other, trying to come to terms with what this really meant for say, Christmases to come. It was the moment when values and money collided, and money suddenly meant nothing compared to what we were about to lose.
This family gathering became one to remember – and for those most hurt by the news that day, one they wanted desperately to forget, as if the phone had never rung with the upbeat land agent’s good news.
Tut-tut Buddhists might say, pointing to the evils of attachment, but that’s monastic and denies both our humanity and those special places in the heart. Others might rightly point out that in the midst of a crisis of homelessness, this was all just mindless middle class angst. But there’s something more accurate, more poignant, something best learned in a few lines from our former poet Laureate Brian Turner:
Think of what a place could be
When it’s not what we possess
That counts most,
but what we are possessed by.