A Mixed Marriage, Part One
A Mixed Marriage
The days before my wedding were full and busy. My mother enjoyed all the organizing and the fuss and the new things, and it wasn't until we got the wedding dress that I saw her eyes fill. My father was busy too, but I'd never seen him so quiet.
Linda: What's the matter with my Dad?
Dad: It's all this wedding business.
Linda: You said we should get married. You want it too.
Dad: We're not going to be enough for you for ever, your Mum and me. Graeme has a lot of strength in him, and he loves you very much.
Linda: What then?
Dad: Your Nanny Ripeka won't come, you'll have to be prepared for that, Baby. She doesn't like it. Her granddaughter should marry one of us, a Maori. And she blames me of course, because there's truth in what she says, but you have to live a long time…
Linda: She's right because she's old?
Dad: You don't know what it's like yet. To be married. Away from home. And you and Graeme might be more different from each other than either of you can tell.
Linda narrator: It startled me for a moment to hear my own fear spoken in my father's voice. There were differences between Graeme and me because we came from different races, differences between Maori and Pakeha, that I had not been able to bring myself to talk about with him. We loved each other, and that was enough. But when my father talked of differences, I thought of the stone my cousin Toki and I had found, that was buried now at the bottom of a deep valley. I was nine years old. We'd gone across to my grandparents' place, and while the grown-ups talked, Toki and me played by the creek that comes down from the hills behind the house. I don't know who saw the stone first. Its shape made it different from the other stones and pieces of stick lying at the bottom of the creek. We lifted it out between us:
Toki: It's heavy.
Linda: Someone made it.
Toki: It's shaped like a big tongue, with a place for your hand.
Linda: By the end, there's a pattern. Feel it, Toki. Almost worn off.
Toki: The water must've worn it.
Linda: Perhaps it was people holding it, and feeling it, like this.
Toki: It's really old! It came in the floods from the hills, and it took years and years to get here. It's hundreds of years old.
Linda narrator: They were all frightened – Mum and Dad, Nanny and Grandpa, and the others. Scared of what we had brought in and shown them. Nanna Ripeka: It goes back. Back to the hills.
Toki: I saw one in the museum. They said it was worth a lot of money. Could we...
Dad: You can't steal from the dead, without harming the living. It's not ours to keep.
Mum: Someone will suffer...
Nanny Ripeka: It must go back. To the place in the hills.
Linda narrator: Grandpa, Toki and my father went, taking the stone, far back into the hills, and buried it back in the earth. Long afterwards, when I got to know Graeme, I wanted to tell him about the stone. Not the story, that would have been easy enough. I wanted him to know what it meant to me. I often think of that stone. And it always seems that I can feel it and see it better now than I could before. As if part of me is that stone and will not, cannot change, whatever I might want.
Linda narrator: Graeme - he was a friend of my cousin Toki. He was a teacher, just started, but his parents lived up our way, and he often came home. I met him playing tennis one Saturday – with Toki's sister Lena. We made up a four. Afterwards, Graeme asked me to go out with him.
Lena: You going to that film tonight, Graeme?
Graeme: Yes. I'm taking Linda.
Lena: Hey! Does her Dad know?
Graeme: Not yet.
Linda: Graeme only just asked me.
Lena: (singing to tease) "Two lovely black eyes - oh, what a surprise!"
Linda: I'm nineteen! Stop it, Lena!
Lena: You gotta look out for her Dad!
Linda narrator: It was a family joke then how my father ‘’watched over' me and spoilt me.
Dad: It's not you I don't trust, Baby, it's these blokes. Especially these Pakehas. You should hear them talk. They talk different from us - and they think our girls are easy.
Linda: Dad, you shouldn't……they're not all the same. You don't like it when they stick labels on us.
Dad: I won't let anyone hurt you, that's all. There's just one thing they want, and once they've got it, that's the last you see of them.
Linda narrator: My father is a man with nothing hidden. When I introduced Graeme to him, I knew he would have something to say, and it would not be said with gentleness and tact.
Dad: You want to take my girl to the pictures?
Dad: What for?
Graeme: Well, it's a good film, and… um...
Dad: All right. But you keep your hands off. Fool around with my girl, and I'll kick your head in.
Dad: Dad nothing. He might as well know.
Linda narrator: I didn't enjoy myself that evening and could hardly speak to Graeme. I kept wondering what he thought of us - of me. The day after that he borrowed his father's car and was waiting to drive me home after work.
Linda: What's it like? Teaching?
Graeme: Pretty good. I'll have a Form 1 class when I go back.
Linda: I thought about teaching. But Dad didn't want me to go away.
Graeme: Your father looks after you, doesn't he?
Linda: I get angry with my father. Sometimes. Sometimes I just want to get away.
Graeme: Let's take a short cut…
Linda: Short cut! This goes right round by the coast!
Graeme: I'll take you straight back, if you'd rather. I don't want to make a nuisance of myself.
Linda: You're not. But Mum and Dad will wonder where I am.
Graeme: Let's talk for a minute or two, then I'll take you back.
Linda: His way of talking was to put his arms around me. Gently. And to kiss me, gently. Then again, but not gently.
Graeme: I like you, Linda. What do you think?
Linda: About what?
Graeme: About me taking you down a back road and stopping the car and pinching a couple of kisses.
Linda: Don't think of it as theft. Since you ask, for a moment I thought my father might be right. That you might want only one thing from me.
Graeme: That I'd love you and leave you if I could?
Linda: That's what he thinks any boy wants to do. Especially if he's a Pakeha. My father is something of a racist.
Graeme: Something of a racist? What about you?
Linda: Not me.
Graeme: Don't worry, Linda. I mean it. Your father doesn't have to worry about me. Not that I'm not normal. Shall I call for you tomorrow? Say yes.
Linda narrator: My mother liked Graeme, but she had to stand up for Dad, too...
Mum: Your Dad,he's seen what goes on. It's not our way. You know how he got his broken nose?
Linda: I know.
Mum: My Dad - – your Grandad - he broke it.
Linda: Just because he'd caught you kissing. But Dad came back next day, and said he wanted to marry you, and they said there was nothing against….…
Mum: It wasn't easy, even in our day, to find someone right for you. And to be sure there was nothing against. My sister was brought up by an old auntie on our mother's side, she married a second cousin, and didn't even know they were related. That was bad. It wasn't her fault. No-one told her the old things.
Linda: But you and Dad, and Nanny Ripeka, you do tell us the old things. Every chance you get.
Mum: Yes. – Ah, but Graeme, he seems a nice boy, and they don't grow on trees...
Linda: Not around here, they don't!
Linda narrator: Dad came round to the idea of Graeme and me, slowly...
Dad: I know that boy's old man.
Linda: Which boy?
Dad: The one you took off with the other day. His father works with me. Not a bad sort of Pakeha.
Linda: Dad! What did you expect?
Dad: But I'm still not having you running around anywhere in the middle of the night, in anyone's car, with anyone!
Linda narrator: All the same, we saw each other most days. One of those times, Graeme stopped the car at our gate and we sat there, surrounded by words that tumbled out of us, about everything – the books we had read, the things we both liked. And perhaps it was the sound of Graeme and me laughing that put my father in a temper. I hadn't noticed his car turn in...
Dad: There's your house, there! Or have you forgotten?
Graeme: I'll drive you up...
Linda narrator: Graeme and I followed the cloud of dust up to the house, and when we got there my father was shouting at my mother...
Dad: You must have seen them! Why didn't you go out and tell them to come in?
Mum: There was no harm.
Dad: Now, boy, next time you know what to do. I won't have her sitting round in cars or driving round anywhere with any of you blokes. Next time you come to the house.
Linda narrator: The anger wasn't important. What mattered was those words, "next time". "Next time you come to the house". So Graeme came to my house, I went to his. The last day, before the holiday was over, he came to the beach with a whole crowd of us - my uncle tom, his kids, my parents, Toki. It's a place where only we go - the only way to it is by land through my Uncle Rhawiti's farm. My mother and I packed a few things.
Mum: Bread - butter - tea - milk - sugar - and that's all. If we don't get any kai moana, we'll have to starve...
Graeme: Kai moana? Sea food?
Linda: Sure. Mussels.
Dad: We can't miss out today. It's a full moon, the tide'll be good.
Linda narrator: We stopped just above the beach, where the creek came through. The same creek that came past my Grandmother's place, where we had found the stone.
("Magic sounds") To the left, and seeming close, were the hills.
Dad: You got to look after those. These new roads and buildings, they're all right but that's enough now, remember that. Those hills, there are tabu places in them. He knows, your uncle Rhawiti does. He's had offers for the land, but I know he'll never sell. He could have been a wealthy man by now. You younger ones have to know because……Well, his bloody kids have all gone, ay?
Mum: Stacking up money in Australia and all over the place.
Dad: So it's up to you. Leave the trees growing and those places will be all right. Leave them like they are, and the creek will be all right too.
Mum: Enough talk, eh? What about the fish and the mussels? We promised Graeme kai moana...
Linda narrator: Then the holiday was over. Graeme went away, and I had to go and visit Nanny Ripeka. I went after work, to stay the night. I was named after her - Ripeka - and that was what she still called me, though I'd changed my name to Linda years ago.
Nan Ripeka: And about time you came, Ripeka. Let's go down to the creek, see if we've caught an eel.
Linda narrator: I waited for her to say more, but not then, and not at tea. After tea, she began to tell me about the old photographs, which I already knew, fading on every wall, to tell me who they were and what they were to me. Then she told me of the ones before that, who were not on the walls, but whom she had known. Then back before that to the ones she had never known or seen.
Nan Ripeka: There's your Grandpa Toki and me, your mother, Naio, your father, Tutanekai; from them, you, Ripeka.
Linda narrator: So the room became full of people. We sat quietly among them in the now silent kitchen.
Nan Ripeka: Mummy said you got a Pakeha boyfriend.
Linda narrator: It was why she had sent for me. I wouldn't look at her.
Nan Ripeka: Why the Pakeha? What’s wrong with the Maori?
Linda: Nothing, Nanny. But Graeme, he's all right. He's not like you think.
Nan Ripeka: Ohh! You're as bad as your cousin. You think a Pakeha is better, and you think you can be happy, but you know nothing. All right for a little while, then he'll leave you. He'll give you a baby, then go.
Linda: You're wrong. You and Daddy think the same old things. You're both wrong.
Nan Ripeka: He's gone now, this Pakeha?
Linda: He's coming back.
Nan Ripeka: We'll see.
Linda: Nanny Ripeka, why is it you dislike the Pakeha so much?
Nan Ripeka: I don't hate, I like the Pakeha and all the things he made; my warm bed, my warm house and all sorts of flowers for me to look at and take to my family, buried over there.
Linda: Then why?
Nan Ripeka: Because. You younger ones. You're giving our blood away. Those old things I told you, you want to make them into nothing. There's nothing wrong with a Maori boy. Nothing wrong with a Maori.
Linda narrator: I wanted things to be right between us, but there was nothing I could say. I kept thinking of my cousin, Hemi and his wife Pam, who was Pakeha, not Maori. Nanny spat on the fire and turned away when Hemi took Pam to see her. They never went back. I wondered what Hemi's life was like now. I wondered if he could be happy away from all he'd ever known. Graeme came home for the Easter holidays. I met him at the bus station. Summer was over, and the rain poured down.
Graeme: I don't know how it'll be, but I do love you. A lot, Linda.
Linda: There's a taxi - come on!
Graeme: You didn't answer.
Linda: This seat is soaking wet.
Graeme: You still haven't answered.
Linda: Because you didn't ask. Anything.
Graeme: Will you tell me you love me? It's the only thing I want to know.
Linda: I do. I do love you.
Linda narrator: Holidays, weekends, letters, life was one long wait between them. Seeing Graeme again. All this time my father was quiet, even friendly towards him. He began to treat him more and more like a member of the family, and in the end suggested the next, obvious step…
Dad: You love my girl, don't you? You really love her?
Graeme: Yes. I really do.
Dad: I want you two to get married then.
Linda narrator: Graeme and I went together to see Nanny Ripeka.
Nan Ripeka: No doubt you're a good-looking young man. But my granddaughter should marry a Maori.
Graeme: But I love her. No-one can love her more than I do.
Nan Ripeka: You know nothing. Love?
Love is the things you're born with and the things you know. You think you know this girl, but what do you know? What's wrong with a Pakeha girl for you?
Linda narrator: Full and busy days, the house full of visitors and presents and food, yet something was missing, and something was wrong. Then the day came, with blue skies, warm and still. It should have been perfect for a wedding. Quite suddenly, everyone was gone, leaving me in the beautiful gown that had made my mother cry, feeling sad and not knowing the reason - or trying but not wanting to know. My father in a new suit, looking miserable.
Linda: Nanny Ripeka. We've got to go for her. She has to come.
Dad: She won't come. We've all talked to her. Leave the stubborn old woman where she is.
Linda: We must drive there first. There's something I've got to ask.
Linda narrator: I ran up the old pathway in the beautiful dress, still clutching the bouquet.
Nanny: Ripeka! What are you...
Linda: You've got to come!
Dad: We should be at the Church...
Linda: You've got to come.
Nanny: I told you no. Why do you think I should change my mind?
Linda: The family - you tell me about the family, all the way back. My Mum and Dad, Rhawiti, Mereana, Tom, Hemi, you and Grandpa, Toki, before them Ripeka again and Rhawiti...
Linda narrator: I began to recite the old names to her, the ones from the wall and the ones before them, and the ones before that. And if I hesitated here and there, my father and uncle joined in with me, until I stopped.
Linda: So there's the trunk and branches of the tree. The branches spread everywhere. And every branch reaches out. Touches every other.
Nanny: Yes. It's true.
Linda: So who else could there be for me that any of you would have allowed? That there would be nothing against?
Nanny: Not here. No-one in these parts.
Linda: You have to come.
Nanny: You look very beautiful. Very beautiful.
Linda: There can be no-one else for me, but I can't do it. I can't go through with it. Unless you come.
Nanny: My clothes, they're not ready. I've got no hat.
Linda narrator: I threw my bouquet on the table, ran into the bedroom and took her good dress from the wardrobe. My father was looking for her shoes so that he could polish them.
Linda: Dad, send Uncle Rhawiti to get the hat you bought for Mum. The black one she never wore...
Linda narrator. Then last, I snipped a couple of flowers from my bouquet to pin on her shoulder.
Linda: Come on now, or they'll think the car has broken down!
Linda narrator: The relief on the watching faces as we came into the church! I took my father's arm as the organ sounded. But it wasn't he and I that people saw as they turned to look. It was Uncle Rhawiti taking Nanny Ripeka to the front seat, and my mother rushing suddenly from her place, hugging the old lady, and starting to cry.
Graeme: Your grandmother came, after all.
Linda: It's all right. Everything's all right.
Linda narrator: Then I was hearing and repeating my name and his. The day had become perfect after all.