Letter From New Zealand

John McManamy Health Guide
  • Sunday evening in New Zealand: I’m propped against the pillows. A tea is by my side. Classical music is playing on my iPod. I’m headed out of Wellington at 5 PM tomorrow for Auckland, whence I board a flight to LAX. Yesterday, my daughter Emily got married. Life is beautiful.

    To pick up from my last report:

    Wednesday: Emily hatches a fiendishly evil scheme. This involves me meeting up with my old mate Chris at a cafe called the Astoria in the lower end of town. Then I trek back at a slow wilt to my apartment unit on the other end of town. I don’t know how Emily does it, but she waits till I flop into bed, then phones to suggest we meet up right away for a quick coffee at the - let’s see - the Astoria.
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    Emily is now into full bridal mode. Saturday is the big day and NASA has nothing on this countdown.

    Thursday morning: I wake up. My frontal lobes are missing. I’m supposed to meet my sister-in-law Lynn and my niece Cahira at the harborfront at 11, but my hard drive is refusing to cooperate. I need to be sharp for the rehearsal at 4, and am seriously considering reorganizing my day around serious hibernation. I decide to soldier on.

    We tour Te Papa together, Wellington’s new world-class museum, featuring traditional and contemporary Maori culture. Even without frontal lobes, the experience is enlightening and moving, everything the “muse” in museum is supposed to represent.

    At 2 we board a ferry, not one of the big ones that ply the Cook Strait between North and South Islands. This is more like a water taxi that will drop us off a mile-and-a-half from the wedding/rehearsal venue. With a stiff sea breeze blowing in my face, I feel myself beginning to revive.

    At the rehearsal, I meet many of Emily’s and her fiancee Hamish’s friends for the first time, and start to perk up. Then we repair nearby to Gail’s, mother of Emily. I find myself having a great time talking to people I met at my own wedding to Gail more than 30 years ago.

    Emily, by now, is referring to me and Lynn and Cahira as “Team America.”

    One of Hamish’s mates offers me a beer. I politely decline, pleading I’ve had entirely too much alcohol since I’ve arrived. “Yeh, mate,” he retorts, “but what about t’day?”

    I laugh and accept the beer. Now I remember I love New Zealand.

    Friday: I get to spend some more time with Chris, then I meet up with Lynn and Cahira. They’re loving every minute of their New Zealand/family adventure.

    Saturday: Emily’s good friend Katcha and her husband Russell pick up Team America. We get out at the church. A crowd is milling outside in the splendid sunshine, in a festive mood. Twenty minutes later, we all find ourselves self-organizing our way inside.

    How do I describe the sight of my daughter in a wedding gown? The tear in my eye says everything.

    At the magic words, “... man and wife,” the gathering erupts into spontaneous applause. Emily has that effect on people. The applause is also for the wonderful man who is now her husband. The applause is also for her mother, Gail, who has been a nurturing and protective momma bear to her bear cub.

  • At the reception, I’m seated next to “Linda,” an old law school mate and best friend of Gail. Her husband Eddie flew in from the Philippines specially for the wedding. Eddie is recently-retired High Court judge and family friend who several years back admitted Emily to the bar in a special ceremony.
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    Emily and Hamish pop by our table. For once, I have nothing to say.

    I find myself dancing till late into the evening. Or, more like it, a universal expression of thanksgiving and celebration.

    I grab a cab home. The driver is a young man from the Arab Emirates. He’s been in New Zealand for nine years. His family is scattered throughout the world. He hasn’t seen them in all this time.

    I have felt this kind of separation many many times in my life. I find myself relating to the driver, but he is also identifying with my joy. When he arrived here, he tells me, he only knew the words, “hi” and “bye.” That was it. He is taking IT courses. He is optimistic about his future here, in New Zealand, the country of his choice.

    “I be like Barrack Obama,” he laughs, in reference to his dark complexion and his sky-is-the-limit attitude.

    Sunday: We’re back at Gail’s for an informal barbecue. Before I know it, I find myself saying my good byes. “Will you be back?” many of them ask.

    A twinkle comes to my eye. “First grandchild,” I find myself saying. “And I might just stay.”
Published On: March 16, 2008