OUR MANGAMUKA SUMMER
I have heard it said somewhere, a strong indicator that a person has reached the wrong side of fifty is when they begin to experience recurring memories of certain events from their childhood. It would appear there is some truth to it, because lately whenever I look out of the window at gray, overcast skies and watch as the trees and shrubs recoil from yet another icy blast of southerly wind, and the clouds begin to dump one more spring downpour on already sodden pasture, I ask myself, 'Was the weather really this unpredictable when I was a youngster?' I cast my mind back to the mid-fifties when I was a twelve year old boy. Long before the prevalence of television, computers, play stations, skateboards, roller-blades, video arcades; heck, when even cars were considered a luxury. A time when El Nino was not an everyday topic of conversation and political correctness unheard of. When a mother was not required to find work in order to help meet higher mortgage payments, or pay off the dreaded credit cards spiraling high interest added repayments. I recall more carefree times ... setting off on summer vacation with the rest of my family (an annual venture our parents meticulously planned and saved for throughout each year) and relive the feelings of sweltering claustrophobia in the back of our old Morris 12 van. That year, we drove northwards, with the relentless sun beating down on the unlined steel roof. Was the weather as unpredictable back then? I thought not! Then again, perhaps it was nothing more than an aberration on my part. Or a willingness to believe that, like the weather, everything seemed so much simpler. Or was it? Because our father was disabled, Mum did all the driving. And whether it was due to Dad's ineptitude as a navigator, or Mum's inability to follow 'the most simple of instructions', I do not recall. But loosing our way on more than one occasion, found us finally reaching our intended destination at dusk. What I do remember vividly, were the huge sighs of relief expressed by myself, my two sisters and younger brother. We were equally suffering from nauseous effects of travel sickness. Having successfully negotiated the notorious Mangamuka gorge, (as it was known then) our father announced that we were almost there. The declaration made upon entering the picturesque Victoria Valley, south of Kaitaia. Crowded, as we were in the near windowless rear of the van, with choking clouds of dust pouring through the ill-fitting rear doors, our view was restricted. Between the heads of our parents a patch of dirty windscreen limited any appreciation we might have had of the surrounding fauna and flora. That, and the teeth-chattering, bone-jarring ride caused by a combination of corrugated metal roads and the old van's lifeless leaf spring suspension. With each turn and twist of the road, we clung on to anything, including each other. "Whoa!" Dad cried. "That must've been the turnoff we just passed." Mum stood on the brakes, sending us kids crashing into the back of their seats. "No place to turn here," Dad observed, stating the obvious. "You'll have to back up," he added authoritatively. With a philosophical sigh, Mum ground the gear-lever into reverse, and with her head poking out of the driver's side window, fish-tailed the van three hundred yards back to the turnoff; which from my limited perspective appeared to be nothing more than a goat track. The dubious path wound along parallel to the Mangamuka river for a way, turned inland through a patch of gorse and scrub for a bit. After what seemed like hours of jolting about, the trail turned back toward the river again before petering out all together. "This can't be it!" Mum said in an alarmed voice. The van came to an abrupt halt. "You've brought us down the wrong road, George," she said accusingly. "What do you suggest we do now? If we try to turn here, we'll probably get stuck. And don't even suggest that I reverse all the way back to the main road." "No need to panic. This is the place alright," Dad stated with conviction. "It's exactly how Jummie described it. That'll be the ford up ahead. Stick her In low, and ease her down the bank. See! There's the track again. On the far side." "Then how come there's nobody here to meet us, as promised?" Mum remained unconvinced. "We're so late, they probably gave up, thinking we won't be arriving 'till tomorrow. Stop worrying. We'll be okay, just as long as you keep her moving once you hit the water. It's only when you run outta momentum that you get into trouble, Jummie said." "Well I don't like it, George…" Mum replied doubtfully. Peering ahead at the fast flowing water. "You two boys hop out and walk on ahead," ordered Dad. "It can't be too deep, you can see the rocks from here. All right! Was our immediate response. Only too glad of the chance to stretch our legs. Brother Dan, fifteen months younger than I, needed no urging over this issue at all. Unlocking the rear doors, we tumbled out and ran down to the riverbank. "Listen, boys!" Dad shouted. "Just yell out if your mother strays too far one way or the other." Barefoot, we waded carefully across, the water rising no higher than our knees. The stony ford, clearly visible: a ten to twelve feet wide section of raised riverbed. Reaching the far side, we turned to watch as Mum slowly eased the van down the sloping bank. It entered the water with a theatrical splash. Dan and I gave a loud whoop of encouragement and waved her forward. I imagined the look of both determination and trepidation on Mum's face. Almost halfway across, then suddenly, the steering-wheel jerked violently in her hands as the van's left-side front wheel rode up on a large rock. It hung suspended for a moment, caught up on some part of the chassis, until spinning rear wheels swung the vehicle around side on. The left rear slid off the ford and dropped sickeningly into the riverbed proper; about three feet below. In stunned immobility, Dan and I watched as Mum frantically pumped the gas pedal. The rear wheels spun furiously, spraying water in every direction. Canted over on such an acute angle, the old van looked both tragic and comical. Exchanging anxious glances, we quickly waded back. "Turn her off, Gwen!" Dad could be heard shouting. "It's no use, we're stuck fast. All you're doing is wearing out the darned clutch." Her emotions in tight control, Mum switched off the ignition and took a few deep breaths. In the rear of the van, big sister, Jude was trying to calm younger sister, Cath. I was shivering. Anything we can do to help, Dad? He fixed us with a grave expression. "Afraid not. Now listen carefully. I want you boys to follow that track, over there, until you find Uncle Jummie's house. Explain what's happened. He'll know what to do. We both nodded. I've no idea how far it is. It'll be dark soon, so don't muck about. "We won't, we'll run all the way." Right. Off you go then! For a couple of young townies, growing up on Auckland's north shore, this was highly adventurous stuff. Dan and I raced off up the track, a mission to fulfill and not knowing where it would lead us. Ten minutes later, the track petered out altogether, near a fenced paddock. We clambered over a gate, pausing to catch our breath. "Which way now? Dan wanted to know. I shrugged, beats me, lets hope there's a gate on the far side, come on. Aware of darkness closing in, we trudged on, focusing on a clump of trees midway across the field and, had almost reached them when an alarming sound stopped us dead in our tracks. "What the heck was that?" Dan, grabbed me by the shoulder. "I dun no" the uncertainty in my voice, betraying a sense of panic. "Probably some dumb cow," I said with false bravado. "We'd better keep moving," I added, pushing on ahead. A few paces forward, and a massive bull came snorting out from behind the trees. Dan and I collided with each other, stood open-mouthed, unable to move. The animal tossed it's head and pawed at the ground, obviously peeved that we had encroached on it's territory. "Run!" I screamed, and set off as fast as my trembling legs would carry me, back towards the gate with Dan right at my heels. I don't know exactly how high that gate was, perhaps four or five feet, but I swear to this day that I cleared it in one desperate leap. Dan, on the other hand, dived headlong between two strands of fence wire just seconds before the bull thundered into it. Adrenaline charged, and with the safety of the fence between us, we called that bull every name we could think of while pelting it with clods of dirt. The animal gave a snort of disinterest and began munching grass, ignoring us completely. Needless to say, we decided against another attempt at crossing the paddock. Following instead, the fence line in the hope that somewhere along the way, we'd pick up the track again. A decision that cost us an extra twenty minutes, forcing us to fight our way through a patch of blackberry in the pitch dark. Finally, a second gate. Exhausted, we leaned against it, tried to get our bearings. Now both in a bit of a panic, knowing our parents were counting on us, helpless to help themselves. Hey! Isn't that a light over there, Terry ? Where? I said, peering in the direction of Dan's pointing finger. You're right! Must be the house, come on. Rounding the side of a hill, we followed a graded clay track, and the echoing hum of an engine. A tumbledown implement shed and hay-barn came into view, illuminated by the porch-light of a ramshackle, old farmhouse. Our arrival announced by the excited yelping of a black and tan cattle dog. It ran to meet us, brought up short by it's chain attached to the front bumper of an old model A Ford truck, which, judging by the vehicle's appearance, had not moved from its present position for several years. Giving the dog a wide berth, we mounted the steps to the verandah; grateful for the light which revealed several rotting boards. All of a sudden, the front door snapped open and a man's voice quickly hushed the barking dog. Uncle Jummie? I inquired hesitantly. Neither I, nor Dan had ever met our father's cousin or members of his family up here. Taken by surprise, he stepped out into the light and gave us the once over. "You George's boys?" he asked. We both nodded. Well, where is he? We were expecting you all hours ago. We came to get help, I blurted. Mum's got the van stuck in the river. One wheel slid into this hole and it won't move. St ruth! Wait there, I'll be right out. Inside the house, we could here him shouting orders. Moments later, a boy about my age, brushed past us with a curious glance. An older boy followed. They ran off into the darkness, behind the barn. Uncle Jummie reappeared with a brightly-lit hurricane lamp held high in one hand. "I'll go on ahead, my boys are getting the horses. You two wait for them," he ordered ... and then he was gone. Approaching the verandah, the boys each led a horse, fitted with collars and chains. Here! Said the old boy, addressing me, "grab hold of the mane and I'll give you a leg up." The look I gave him, suggested he must be mad. Me get on a horse? The closest I'd ever been to a horse was on the merry-go-round at the Easter Show. You've gotta be kidding! I replied. Hurry up, we're wasting time, just grab a hold and give me your foot, he ordered while cupping his hands. Scared or not, I forced myself forward and firmly entwined my fingers in the horse's mane, half expecting the beast to object by giving me a good nip with it's big yellowish teeth. When it didn't even acknowledge my presence, aside from a flick of the ears, I gained confidence and placed my bare foot in his willing hands. With a quick heave, I was sitting astride the horse and grinning down at Dan, to show him how easy it all was. The grin disguising my trepidation. Dan, followed my lead without the slightest hesitation, and our two new cousie bro's swung up behind us. What's your names? asked the older boy. Eh? Oh, Terry and that's my Brother Dan ... I replied. What's yours? Kia ora, I'm Hemi, my brother's Ben. We rode on in silence, none of us knowing what to say next. Besides, I was concentrating hard on how to stop myself sliding down the horse's neck, as we approached a steep bank. "Clamp your knees hard and hang on," Hemi suggested with a laugh. You ever ridden a horse before? Nah! Never ... I admitted, rather reluctantly. Nothing' to it, you'll soon get the hang of it. "Your mad bull gave us the chase," I said, as we approached a gate. Hemi laughed. Why do you think we keep him in the front paddock? Uninvited visitors think twice when they run into Brutus. He won't bother us none, he's used to the horses. As predicted, the bull hardly acknowledged us as we trotted past, and caught up with Uncle Jummie near the edge of the river. He waved us to a halt. I'll need you to hold the lantern while I hitch up this tow, he told Hemi. I took hold of the rope as uncle Jummie Looked on at me. "You okay, boy?" "You bet!" I replied, gripping the horse's mane as if my life depended on it. With Hemi leading the way with the lantern we splashed into the river, just as Mum gave a very welcoming toot toot on the horn. Clinging to the neck of a frightened horse, I was thinking, not a good move, Mum! Especially when Uncle then had to calm the animal to get it back under control. A brief warmly shared welcome with my parents and, uncle went into action. Disappearing under the front of the old van to attach the chains, he soon had the two horses pulling the vehicle free of the river and up the far side bank. But, the engine refused to start, while the battery quickly wound down. Your distributor cap must've gotten damp, uncle Jummie said, sagely. Not to worry ... the horses can tow you up to the house. I'll take a look at it in the morning." As mentioned before, this was highly adventurous stuff. Chains reattached, Hemi swung up behind me again with uncle leading the way on foot, lantern glowing and horses plodding after him, seeming quite at ease; the weight of the van, little or no hindrance whatsoever. Half an hour on though, as our cavalcade reached the top of the steep track where the farmhouse was in sight they were blowing hard. Then, instead of unhooking the van near the house, as we'd expected, Uncle Jummie led us right past through a gate and across another paddock. The light from his lantern fell on an even more dilapidated cottage. "Is this it?" There was a note of concern in my father's voice. That's right, George. I know it don't look much, but once settled in you'll be snug as a bug …there ain't no power of course! I'm sure we'll manage, anything would be an improvement after being cooped up in this van all day, that's for sure, Dad conceded. While they'd been talking, Hemi and Ben had unhitched the horses. Dan and I slid off their sweaty backs and watched fondly as they were led away. My first real live contact with a horse and, an experience I have never forgotten to this day. The smell of the animal, and the awe I felt at the raw power between my trembling legs. We were soon brought back to earth once Dad was seated inside when he began issuing new orders to unpack the van. The interior of the old cottage had been swept and scrubbed in time for our visit and once Uncle had lit a couple of kerosene lamps and got a fire going in the wood-stove, everything took on a decidedly cosy atmosphere. Mum quickly set about preparing a much needed hot meal and left it simmering on the stove for us while she and the girls made up the beds. Meanwhile, Dan and I helped Uncle Jummie bring in armfuls of firewood to stack in the fire hearth boxes. I'll leave you all to it soon folks, no doubt you'll be wanting an early night after all you've been through, Uncle said sheepishly. It wasn't your fault, cous', thanks for hauling us out of there and making us feel at home too. Hey, no problem George! Oh yeah, one thing I forgot to mention… the roof … It leaks a bit here and there. I shouldn't worry though, we've hardly had a drop of rain in more than a month now, but I've left a couple of buckets on the porch, just in case. Thanks Jummie, I'm sure we'll manage fine! Mum assured him with a stoic smile … the earlier mishap at the river crossing rated fairly high in our holiday mishaps and, abit of dripping rain water after that shouldn't matter too much now, she said. .. Uncle, said his goodbyes and left us to it. About three in the morning, I was wakened from a sound sleep by a tremendous clap of thunder and the machine-gun like din of heavy rain against the iron roof! A real hum dinger of a storm, I rolled over to peer out of the window at a spectacular show of lightening, and discovered I was lying directly beneath a steady drip from the ceiling above. I roused Dan and we moved our shared mattress to a dry part of the floor before checking the other rooms for leaks. We found Mum holding a kerosene lamp aloft in one hand, and a large pot in the other, protecting Dad from a leak directly above their bed. Quick boys! Find me something else to use, this pot will be overflowing any minute, she wailed. While retrieving the buckets I discovered several leaks in the open plan living quarters too, so for the next two hours or more the four of us children were kept busy exchanging and emptying a succession of pots, pans, buckets and anything else we could find that would hold water, we all managed to get wet, but it was also a heck of a lot of fun for some of us. Typical of summer storms that one burst and passed over almost as sudden as it had begun. The morning skies cleared and the sun shone as brightly as ever. Dan and I gave a hand to hang out the damp bedding. We hurried our breakfast, in anticipation of exploring the farm in daylight, anxious to meet up with Hemi and Ben, who struck us as being as different as chalk and cheese, from the boys we normally hung out with. Dad, I said around a mouthful of toast, if Uncle Jummie is your cousin, and Hemi and Ben are our cousins, or somethin', then how come they look like real Maoris and we don't much? Don't talk with your mouth full, Dad replied. Quick swallow, sorry … but how come? Dad replied, Jummie's father, your Granddad's brother, married a Maori woman, where as, your Granddad married a full Scottish Pakeha woman. Also, Ben and Hemi's mother is mostly Maori, it's as simple as that. You'll get to meet more relatives as the day goes on other visitors are expected today. I was kicking Dan under the table; a reminder to hurry up, when Uncle arrived with a billy full of fresh cows' milk. Morning all, had a spot of rain, he grinningly said. Where's Hemi and Ben? I asked. They're giving the horses a rub down before turning them out into the paddock. Can we go watch or help? Sure you can boys! "Can we Dad?" I pleaded, Off you go, he chuckled and, mind you boys stay out of trouble, y'hear. We will, thanks!. Come on, Dan, I said impatiently. I'll take a look at that distributor, I heard Uncle say as we raced outside. Ben and Hemi were about to turn the horses loose. They seemed pleased to see us. Hi guys! Hemi said with a broad grin. You fellas get wet last night? "Yeah, we did a bit," I laughed. That was a choice storm. "I reckon!" Ben agreed. Aw, we've had lots worse than that, Hemi declared. That was nothing. I looked over to the horses near-by. How about another ride? You think you can handle it? Hemi chuckled. His look, skeptical. What d'you reckon, Dan, Game enough? Dan seemed keen. I am, if you are brother. Okay, I replied with false bravado. Then, go get them and, I'll give you a leg up, offered Hemi, with a grin! Well, that made us determined to catch these animals and we surprisingly (even to our-selves) soon roped them in. Taking a firm grip of the horse's mane, Hemi took hold of my bare foot and swung me across the animal's bare back. With only a single rope hackamore to hold onto, I immediately wished I'd kept my big mouth shut. As Dan struggled onto the second horse. You guys ready? Hemi asked with a smirk. Yeah, I guess so … I spluttered, as Hemi and Ben led our mounts into a larger paddock. "Go on then. Give them a kick in the guts!" Hemi yelled. I dug my heels into the horse's side and clicked my tongue. Moving a few paces, lowering it's head, the horse began to munch at the grass. Without warning, Hemi ran up behind and slapped it hard on the rump. The horse responded instantly, rearing it's head, leaping forward to land stiff-legged. As I tumbled over one shoulder, lay sprawled face down in the dirt, the animal took off at a gallop across the far side of the paddock. With Hemi and Ben's laughter ringing in my ears. Nursing a grazed elbow. What the hell did you do that for? Dan, demanded, rounding on the two boys who were doubled over with laughter. Their joviality became infectious, and realizing how funny it must have looked, watching a townie eat dirt, Dan got down he too got the giggles, with all four of us then rolling on the ground clutching our sides. "Hey, you boys!" Uncle jummie called from the barn. Don't forget the stuff for the hangi. I want it done before lunch. Hemi turned to me and Dan. You fellas want to give us a hand? Sure, I shrugged. What do we do?" Follow along, and we'll show you. Been to a hangi before? "Course," said Dan. "Well, a few times. We tagged along behind our new cousins, saw Hemi place two fingers in his mouth and whistle. Watched in awe when a massive dun-colored horse responded by trotting up to the gate. "Jeez! That's some horse…" I blurted. "That's Hercules," Ben informed us. He's half draught-horse. We use him to tow the sled." Hemi swung open the gate then climbed atop of it, and as Hercules moved through, he clambered onto the animal's broad back; no hackamore, or nothing. Dan and I were really impressed. And even more so, when Ben hitched up a heavy wooden sled and climbed aboard. With a click of his tongue, Hemi had Hercules moving again and beckoned us to jump on. Ben stood with ease, but we found it almost impossible keeping our balance. Rather than take another fall, we knelt down and held on to the sides, and for the next twenty minutes, enjoyed the exhilarating ride on the sled that screeched over stones, slid sideways on the steep bits, until we came to a patch of partly cleared scrub. Felled ti-tree had been left to dry in the hot sun ready for an autumn burn-off. "That's it, guys. Load up the biggest ones you can carry," said Hemi. That grin again. Following the other boys' example, Dan and I teamed up. Taking one end each, we hefted the heavy ti-tree, struggled to carry each successive length back to the sled. But with Hemi and Ben loading two lengths to our one, the sled was soon stacked high. The load was lashed down, and we all sat on top for the return journey. The farmhouse porch overflowed with visitors. Distant relatives, we didn't know from a bar of soap. Between the barn and the house, Uncle Jummie and a few helpers were almost finished digging a pit for the hangi. Plenty of light banter, and a couple of flagons doing the rounds between them, we were given a hand to unload the sled as Dan and I were warmly introduced to our extended whanau. Then it was back down to the river to load up with stones to heat the hangi; a task we were not allowed to join in, because according to Hemi, the stones had to have been under water and be a certain shape and weight. We weren't bothered too much. Tuckered out from the last task, we stretched out on the bank and watched. "That's the swimming hole over there," Ben pointed downstream to a spot where the river was joined by a stream from higher up the hills and flowed, twelve feet to the river, via a narrow waterfall. Dan and I squinted into the sun. "Yeah. Choice!" "If those beggars don't keep us working all afternoon, we might get the chance to take a dip, later on," Hemi remarked. "Humph! All the cousies will be wanting to jump the waterfall too, I'll bet," said Ben in disgust. "Heh, I don't mind. So long as Salina jumps in in the nick, like she did the last time they were here," Hemi said with a lewd chuckle. "Hey, yeah! I forgot she's coming. Wonder how much bigger she's grown," Ben straightened into a pose, his chest puffed out. "Know what I mean?" "Bigger than Hine's, I'll bet." Hemi laughed. "Who's Hine?" Dan wanted to know. "Aw, she's just our kid sister," Ben waved away the interest. "A right pain in the back-side too." "Yeah. Know what you mean," I replied, "wait 'till you meet our two sisters." "I saw them getting out of the van last night," Hemi drawled. "The big one didn't look too bad. Good sized boobs. Eh… you mean, Jude? Nah! They aren't so big. Are they brother? Dan shook his head. No bigger than a coupla boiled eggs. "She ever go swimming in the nick?" asked Hemi. Only, when we stay with the ralies in Rotorua, Dan informed him, but, that's no big deal. Everybody does it there. It's the local norm, of the Arawa communities in their hot pools. Even the old grannies. "Yuk" was heard, from behind me as I added, Uncle Dick Park's own private pool is best, us younger ones use that when we can on our own. The brothers laughed. That's Aunt Cath's place! "Yeah. Talk about embarrassing." We've been there, heaps of times, Hemi bragged. It was choice, once you got used to the sulfur pong. Everyone laughed. The sled loaded up with river stones, Hercules plodded back up the hill. At the hangi site, we unloaded and left the sled at the back of the barn. Hercules was returned to his paddock and we all dashed off to our respective cottages for a late lunch. Mum saw the plateful of corned-beef sandwiches vanish before her eyes. "You boys have been busy." Dan and I nodded, our mouths too full to speak. Why couldn't I have a ride on the sled? Our younger sister Cath, complained. "Boys have all the fun." Because you are my baby, Dad, at the far end of the table gave a wink. You're too young and might get hurt. I don't care! It isn't fair. Now, babe. Your sister isn't complaining, Dad consoled. Jude looked up from her book. That's because I'm not interested in riding on some old sled. And, because I'm even less interested in hanging around with those other boys; relatives or not, she stated snootily. That's a shame, I suggested, "because they told me to invite you girls swimming with us, down at the waterhole." This was news to Dan, and the look he gave me said so. "Ah, well," I continued, can't say you weren't invited. Jude looked interested. Will Hine be going swimming? she asked. Yeah, I think so, and some of the other cousins. In that case, I'll come. Can we Dad, I promise to look after Cath. You're a decent enough swimmer. But it wouldn't be fair on either you or your sister, if I was to let her go too. S' pose she got into trouble and you couldn't help her, you'd never forgive yourself. And I'd never forgive myself for letting her go? Aw, Dad. I'll be alright, Cath pleaded. And it's so hot. It wouldn't be fair if I can't have a swim too. I'm sorry young lady, but you will have to stay here with me and your mother. If you're that hot, Mum can fill that old bathtub outside, and you can have a soak in that. See! Everybody else has fun, except me. I hate being the youngest. And I hate being a girl! Cath got down from the table and flounced off into the bedroom. "Oh boy!" Dad said helplessly. Mum smiled gently. Give her some time to herself. She'll be okay. As it turned out, we did not get to go swimming that day. Lunch over with, Dan and I were put to work, as Dad sat on the rickety verandah in supervising. Hurriedly, we transferred armloads of firewood from a rusted out iron water-tank, to the kitchen hearth, both anxious to meet up with Hemi and Ben. We had almost finished, when Uncle jummie came by. He introduced the three men that accompanied him. Barney, a cousin, Monty, his brother, and brother-in-law, Hohepa. Hohepa appeared to be in charge of four savage looking dogs of varied description, and of course, tagging along were Hemi and Ben. Uncle explained they were all about to set off to a neighboring valley to hunt down a wild pig. A necessary ingredient for the hangi, being planned for the following day. They were wondering if the two townie kids wanted to tag along with the hunting party. Our father looked doubtful. "Oh" I don't know, Jummie… Please! Dad. Can we? I begged. He ummed and ahhed, when given every assurance that we would be made to stay well away from the action when it came. Finally, he relented. Permission granted. I tell you, we were ecstatic! Dan and I, on a fair dink um wild pig hunt. Boy, none of the guys back at our school would believe us. All four men wore well-worn leather boots, black bush singlets and shorts. Us 'young' men managed with shorts and bare feet. Except Hemi and Ben had sheathed knives on their belts. Dan and I had imagined the valley in question would be just over the next rise. Wrong. More than two miles away, it took almost two hours hot slog before we climbed the last barbed-wire fence, to enter an area of hundreds of acres of regenerating bush. We collapsed onto the ground when Uncle called a halt at a nearby stream. He pulled from a haversack, a brown paper parcel. Unwrapping it, he offered us some thin strips of dried beef. Despite the chewy texture, it was a lot tastier than it looked. Besides, we were famished. Everyone snacked, took turns to lie belly down and drink from the clear water stream, and it was time to make a move. Dan was limping. Neither of us had worn shoes on a regular basis. Not until we started intermediate school, and both thought our feet were pretty tough. Mine were killing me. Glanced across at the other boys. Wondered how theirs were holding out. If they did have sore feet, they sure as hell weren't letting on. Ahead, Uncle stopped, wiped his brow. Okay boys, now comes the fun part. Ben, you stick with your cousins, and for heaven's sake, don't go gettin' lost. Keep up if you can, but if you hear the dogs have bailed one up, stay well clear. You understand me, son! Sure, Pop," Ben said confidently. "I know what to do." The dogs had been rearing to go since we had come within half a mile of the bush-line. Repeated cursing from Hohepa had kept them from cutting loose. The eager animals ran in circles, sniffed at the air and whined in anticipation. Once the order was given, they took off at a run, and we soon lost sight of them in the dense fern and undergrowth. Regardless of aching feet, I was soon caught up in the thrill of the chase. Close on the heels of the dogs, Hemi followed the men who were crashing through the scrub, sensing the dogs change of direction, by instinct, and subtle changes in yelping sounds when hard on the scent of a pig. Then, a terrified squeal from their quarry. As light and agile as we were, Dan and I were hard pressed in keeping sight of the others. And as the chase wore on, we had fallen further behind, much to Ben's annoyance. Come on guys! Hear that? The dogs have got the bugger bailed up. Don't you fellas want to be there for the kill? Drawn on by the sounds of battle in what was likely to be the pig's last stand, and not wanting to disappoint Ben, we redoubled our efforts. As it turned out, we arrived on the scene only moments after the men, and I will never forget the sight that greeted us. This was my first encounter with a real live pig. It was huge; a tusker with stiff black hairs covering its body, and small, hate-filled, bloodshot eyes. I could tell right away that the animal knew it was going to die.. but not without a fight. Uncle Jummie yelled at us to stay where we were. Not needing to be told twice, we stood motionless, open-mouthed and looked on in trepidation. The boar had chosen the limited protection offered by the large trunk of a fallen Puriri to make his stand. The noises it made whenever one or more of the dogs felt brave enough to dash in and try to get a hold on him, were horrible to hear. One of the dogs, perhaps lacking in experience, or over exuberant, came too close to those vicious-looking tusks, and with one flick of it's thick neck, the pig tossed the unfortunate dog high in the air. Mouthing a curse, Hohepa exhorted the three remaining dogs to greater effort then ran in to drag the injured dog out of the boar's reach. Sadly, the dog died in his arms, it's entrails dangling from a bloodied wound in it's stomach. His face grim, Hohepa laid the dog down in the fern. Turning to face the perpetrator, he drew his knife, just as the largest of the remaining dogs charged in to latch on to the pigs tail. The boar screamed, trying to break free. But the dog bravely held on, despite receiving a deep gash in it's side. Encouraged, another dog managed to get a hold of one of the pig's ears, while the remaining dog followed suit and sunk it's teeth into the other ear. Even then, with the combined weight of the three dogs pinning it down, the enraged boar spun round and round trying to dislodge the hounds by crushing them against the tree trunk. With a grin of satisfaction, Hohepa stepped forward, intent on finishing off the tormented animal. Suddenly, Uncle Jummie grabbed his arm. "No. Not this one, Hoppie. This one's Hemi's; I promised him." Okay, Jummie, if you're sure he can do it. He's a big bugger. Hohepa said doubtfully. Well son! What do you say, can you handle him? Sure I can, Hemi replied, with all the confidence in the world. I've watched you enough, haven't I? Uncle clapped him on the shoulder. In you go then, son. Remember, deep and clean. The dogs were called off. And I am in two minds over what happened next. Sure, I felt a deep admiration for the bravery and agility displayed by Hemi. He chose his moment to leap astride the back of the struggling pig and plunged his knife deep, severing the jugular. At the same time, I also felt an acute sense of sorrow that such a splendid animal, equally as strong and brave, was made to suffer such an ignominious death. One of the men was in the process of cutting down and trimming a stout length of manuka with a machete, while the others moved in to assist Hemi. Still thrashing in the throws of death, the pig's feet were bound together. It was done. On the long trek back to the farm, the boar became so heavy that we were forced to make several stops, so the two men shouldering the pole with the pig slung underneath, could hand over to somebody else. Even Ben and Hemi took their turn. But us townie kids weren't allowed. Our offer of help only drew shrieks of laughter. It was just as well though, as Dan and I were having enough trouble putting one foot in front of the other. That night, everybody, including the new-comers who had set up camp in a paddock behind uncle's place, gathered around the cottage for a good old fashioned booze up and sing along. What a great night that was. Although our parents were never too comfortable when the beer was flowing, they, like all the other relatives it seemed, had great voices, and both of them joined in with a will. Mum produced her ukulele, while Dad showed us all how accomplished he was on the harmonica. And with Barney strumming on a hot guitar, the old place was really jumping. Hemi strutted around the entire evening like a prize peacock, lapping up all the praise for the expertise he had exhibited whilst dispatching the poor wild pig. When Uncle got him up to sing, once again, I couldn't help but be impressed by his total lack of self consciousness, and by an excellent rendition of Buddy Holly's 'Rave On'. Glancing around, I noticed that every girl in the audience; including both of my sisters, were staring up at Hemi with rapt attention. I have to admit I was envious. Especially when the girl, Salina, whom I'd been trying to impress since our introduction, looked my way with a challenge in her eyes which said; beat that, punk. I wasn't sure where to look after that, and feeling somewhat inadequate, I moved to sit on the edge of the verandah and stared up at the stars. "What's up with you?" Dan asked, thrusting a hidden bottle of beer in my hand. Eh? Oh, nothin'. Hey where'd you get this? Ben nicked it off the table. Go on, I've already drunk half of it." "Yeah! Well don't let Mum catch you," I warned, took a long swallow. It wasn't the first beer I'd ever drunk, but it sure tasted good. What's Ben up to now? Dan chuckled. You know that girl, Mary? Well, he took her behind that tree over there. Can't you hear them giggling? "Mary" eh? She's a bit old for him, isn't she? Let's sneak over and spy on them." Dan nodded eagerly. Keeping a low profile, we circled the big macrocapa tree. It was dark so we didn't get to see much, but could hear enough to imagine that there was plenty of kissing and groping going on. "Lucky beggar," Dan whispered. Come on, Terry, what say we go and swipe another bottle. "Okay." The following morning, Dan and I managed to get out of preparing vegetables for the hangi by telling Mum we had to help with the fire. It was supposed to be lit by nine o'clock, and it was already half past. At the hangi site, only Uncle and the two boys had shown up. Uncle Jumie sat nursing a sore head, while Hemi and Ben set the stack of Ti-tree alight. "Morning boys" Uncle said sheepishly. How's your Mum and Dad today? Hope we didn't keep them up too late. "Nah" they're fine. I reckon they really enjoyed themselves, I replied. So.. where is everybody? Hungh! Same as the old man, hangovers, Hemi grinned. Uncle ignored his son's dig. Tell your Mum we'll be over shortly, to clean up our mess and help with the vegies. No need, said Dan. We've already cleaned up. Right then! You boys keep an eye on the fire. I've got other things to organize." Ben waited until his father was out of earshot before he spoke. "Choice party, eh.." You seemed to be having a good time, anyway, Dan joshed. We saw you sneak off with Mary. What were you two doin' behind that tree? "Aw" nothin' much, she's a choice kisser though, that's for real! Hemi nudged the boy. I could've told you that, little brother and, that's all you're gonna get from her. Yeah! Well that's all you know. So what are you telling us? Hemi scoffed. You trying to make us believe that you made out with her? Ben shrugged. Nah, course not. But I'm working on it. Well take it from me, you're wasting your time, little bro'. Who cares. Anyway, I noticed you weren't doin' so good with Salina either. What's the matter, you losin' your touch? Ben said scornfully. Doubt it! She's just playing hard to get. Plenty of time. She'll be around for five more weeks. I've got heaps of time. I wanted to join in the boys talk. I reckon our sister has got the hot's for you, Hemi. "Who" Jude, you reckon? Uh uh! You should've seen her when you were singing, I told him. Couldn't take her eyes off you. Isn't that right, Dan? Yeah, I saw her. She's hot for you alright. Ben jostled with his brother. Well at least if Salina dumps you, you'll still have an admirer. Hah! That'll never happen. Girls don't dump me, bro', I dump them. You oughtta know that! When Hohepa and Barney finally showed up to cut up the pig in readiness for the hangi, we made ourselves scarce. It had been bad enough watching the animal being slaughtered, watching it being cut into little pieces would be even worse. Dan had already sworn he would not eat any of the pork when the time came, and I didn't think that I could bring myself to eat any either. The hangi went down at eleven. Two hours late, it wasn't due to be opened up again until late afternoon, which would leave plenty of time to take a swim in the river. When Dan, Jude and I slid down the bank by the swimming hole, most of the other cousins were already larking about in the water. What took you so long? Hemi called. "We had to wait for our sister," I explained, dropping my towel and removing my shirt. You swimming in those? Ben said, pointing to my boxer shorts. I looked down and nodded. You won't need them. We all swim in the nick around here; didn't we tell you? Jude was aghast! Well in that case you can count me out! She said heatedly. "You needn't think I'm going swimming with nothing on." What's the big deal? We're going in anyway, please yourself what you do, I told her, not really fussed if she stayed or went. It was when Jude turned to go that Hemi called out to her. Hey, it's okay! You can wear what you want. Ben was only joking. She stopped. Hesitated. Well Are you coming or not? I demanded. To my way of thinking, it was too damned hot to be standing around arguing with your own sister. With a satisfied smirk on her face, Jude flung off her towel and slipped her sun-frock over her head; revealing a black one-piece bathing costume that accentuated her blossoming figure. But she blushed crimson when Hemi let out a shrill wolf-whistle. Salina slapped Hemi across the shoulders, her eyes focusing on Jude. "Well look at you," she said enviously. Did Santa bring you a new swimsuit? "Watch your mouth, Selina," said Hemi, leaping to Jude's defense. "You're only jealous." Huh! Salina scoffed. She made some peevish remark, I couldn't quite catch, then dived under water and swam to the far side of the waterhole to join Mary, Ben and Hine who were playing with some of the younger children. Every so often, turning to glower in Hemi's direction. Stripped to our shorts, Dan and I dashed down the bank and slipped into the water. It was freezing! Jude followed, but more sedately and with an exaggerated roll of her hips, for someone who tried to make out she wasn't interested in boys, I couldn't help thinking she was sure using every trick she knew to make an impression and, what's more, it was working. At fourteen, she and Salina were about the same age, give or take a few months, but there the similarity ended. Salina had long black hair, brown skin, a nice enough figure for her age; perhaps overdeveloped in the bust compared to the rest of her body, and only average in looks. Jude, on the other hand had fair hair, cut shoulder length, a sun-tanned well-proportioned figure, gray-green eyes, and though I'd never let anyone here me say it, a reasonably pretty face. Pretty or not, as far as Dan and I were concerned, she would always be just an older, bossy sister and an all around pain in the backside at-times! Obviously Hemi saw her in a different light, because from the moment she dropped her towel, he only had eyes for her. I'd ducked beneath the water to get my body used to the change in temperature, and surfaced alongside Jude. She gasped! "What's wrong now?" I asked, following her astonished gaze. There was Hemi, standing at the top of the waterfall. He then jumped! Drawing his knees up and hit the water below with a mighty splash. "Hey, that looks like fun," I exclaimed, dismissing Jude. "I'm gonna have a go," I added enthusiastically. "Me too," said Dan. We dog-paddled across to follow Hemi as he climbed the bank to have another go. It had looked so easy, watching Hemi from the waterhole, but standing at the top of the waterfall it didn't look so easy at all, in fact it looked downright dangerous. Whoa! I didn't think it was this high. Is it dangerous? I asked Hemi. Nah! We Jump off here all the time. Even the little kids. All you gotta remember is to keep your knees up so's you don't hit the bottom. Like this … said Hemi, as he jumped again. His demonstration looked easy enough, so I prepared to follow him. "Well" here goes! I said to Dan. I jumped with my hands firmly clasping my knees and sent up a fountain of spray as I hit the water. The height of the fall drove me under. I had a moments panic before fighting my way back to the surface and gulped in some air. It was exhilarating, and I immediately wanted to try it again. Dan, jumped next, letting out a loud whoop on the way down. By this time, I had to join a queue. Everyone, except for Jude of course, had decided to join in. Following my second jump, I swam to the bank and, who should be climbing right there in front of me.. Salina! Imagine my shock, and delight. Delighted, because she was only wearing a thin cotton blouse and skimpy panties; and wet as they were, she may as well have been nude. As I said.. I was shocked. I tried not to stare, of course, but it wasn't easy. She must have sensed that I was right behind her, or perhaps heard the sharp intake of breath; anyhow, she looked down at me with a mocking grin. I felt my face redden with embarrassment. I guess I felt guilty; caught in the act so to speak. Reaching the top, I waited in line for my turn to jump, all the while aware of the shapely Salina. Couldn't take my eyes off her, my hands covering the tell-tale signs of my growing interest. And when she turned to giggle at me, her breasts, the size of two ripe nectarines, jiggled up and down. I was smitten. "What?" She said with a mocking laugh. Haven't you seen a pair of tits before? "Yeah" 'Course I have, I replied guiltily. She faced me now. Inches away. I remember thinking, it had been a deliberate act on her part to embarrass me further. Or was she flirting with me? I guess I was too young and inexperienced to tell the difference. Hurry up! Ben prodded me impatiently from behind. You go first, Salina said, still giggling. No! After you, I protested. She took a hold of my arm, jerking my hands away from my crotch, leaving me exposed. Laughing at my embarrassment, she pulled me forward. We'll both jump together, then." We jumped, and as I was paddling towards the bank, I saw that Hemi and Jude were splashing each other, and heard their laughter. It seemed my prudish sister wasn't quite so prudish after all. Observing them from the edge of the waterhole, I wondered where Salina had got to. Then I felt her long hair brush against my back as she surfaced behind me. She stood up, and her grinning smile twisted into savage rage as she glanced in Hemi's direction. Bloody show off! Who's he trying to impress? she hissed. I turned just as Hemi dived under and came back up with Jude sitting precariously astride his broad shoulders, squealing like a stuck pig. "Aw" they're just having some fun, I said awkwardly. In reply, Salina wrapped her arms around my waist and tried to wrestle me underwater. Okay, I thought, you wanna play rough, that's fine by me. For the next ten minutes or so, we pulled, pushed, lifted and dunked each other until we'd both run out of steam. Whilst there was nothing overly sexual in our play, we could not help the fact that our bodies came into frequent contact. If this was Salina's idea of flirting, or as was more likely, just getting her own back on Hemi, I had enjoyed every moment of it. The younger kids swam over to join us. Salina swam off, beckoning for me to follow her. Leaving the water, I followed her up the bank. Together we toweled ourselves off and lay stretched out on our stomachs to let the sun warm our chilled bodies. Laying there side by side, my senses were in a whirl. I wanted to reach out, encircle her tiny waist to draw her closer. I didn't of course. I was too chicken to do anything so bold. Instead, I wriggled closer until our legs touched. One by one, the others left their frolicking and joined us. There we all were, a neat row of damp bodies, all shapes, sizes and color. It was holiday time, and we hadn't a care in the world. The mood was broken when one of the youngsters sat up and began to dress. "I'm hungry," she complained. Hemi rolled over and opened his eyes. Yeah, so am I. The hangi should be about ready to come out by now. Last one dressed and up to the house, gets to fill in the hole afterwards. With plenty of giggling and good-natured banter, I joined in the mad rush to dress and run back up the hill. As it happened, Dan was the last one to arrive at the hangi site, but only because he had unselfishly stopped to give one of the little kids a piggy-back after she had lagged behind. Hemi, Ben and I agreed to help him fill in the hole. Standing between Dan and Jude, we watched the men open up the hangi and lift the steaming baskets laden with food, I kept having sympathetic flashbacks to the events of the previous day, when the brave tusker had met his untimely end. The food baskets were placed on a long makeshift table that had been knocked together out of wooden planks, and despite the hunger pangs in my belly, and the delicious aroma emanating from those baskets, I silently reinforced my earlier pledge; not to eat any of the meat. I'm ashamed to say, I broke my pledge ten minutes later, as did Dan, when the sight and smell of the wild pork became so overwhelmingly tempting. Neither of us could help ourselves. It was absolutely one of the finest meals I have ever tasted. Even sitting here now, years later, I can still taste it. Everyone went back for seconds, and in some cases, a third helping. When finally, everyone had had their fill, one by one the adults and younger children drifted off to find a comfortable spot to take an afternoon nap. After helping fill in the hangi hole, those of us who then remained sat in the shade of the big old Macrocarpa tree and pondered on what we should do next. I was feeling a mite deflated by this stage. Alas, it appeared that Salina's early flirtations had indeed been for Hemi's benefit after all. She and Jude sat either side of Hemi, staring daggers at each other. Totally ignoring me and my badly dented ego. How's about another ride on the horses? I asked Hemi, searching for any excuse which would allow me a dignified out rather than sneaking off with my tail between my legs. Aw, I dun no. I'm too full of kai to go chasing horses right now, Hemi replied drowsily. Tell you what though, you and Dan can ride if you want, but there's one snag! You have to catch a horse yourselves, just like Ben and I had to when we learnt to ride … he added with a challenging grin. "Okay then," I said. The words blurting out before I'd fully digested the complications associated with catching a horse who most likely did not want to be caught in the first place. And besides, there was no way I was going to back off from a challenge in front of Salina. What do we use? And which horses do we catch? I asked off-hand. Hemi chuckled. Go get the hackamore, Ben. I reckon they'll only need the one, and then they'll be bloody lucky. Ben nodded and ran off towards the barn. I didn't dare look in Dan's direction, but I could imagine him muttering 'silly bugger' under his breath. Good old Dan, I was always getting him into situations not of his choosing, but I knew, now that the challenge was out, he would not back down either. Ben returned and handed me the rope hackamore. Just slip this bit over the horses nose, and slide this bit over his ears, he explained. I nodded. Which paddock are the horses in? Second one over, Hemi replied, as he indicated the direction with a nod of his head. There are seven or eight of them altogether. Take your pick, he added with a barely suppressed laugh. "Come on Des," I said, tightlipped. Heading off in the direction of the indicated paddock. Dan caught up with me. What d' you think you're doing? Have you forgotten what happened the last time we tried it? You heard Hemi. There are at least seven of the bloody things. Even you and I shouldn't have much trouble catching one of them," I said defiantly. Dan was right. Our 1st attempts to corner even one of the horses proved hopeless, and after chasing the spooked animals round and round the paddock without even laying a hand on them, let alone securing the rope, I was resigned to giving up the chase and accept the ridicule which was bound to follow. "That's it!" I gasped for breath. "I've about had enough," dropping to my knees exhausted. We'll give it one more go if you like.." Dan offered. Obviously he did not relish the thought of returning empty-handed any more than I did. We almost had that brown beggar with the white nose. Wasn't that one of the horses they used to tow the van? I nodded. Yeah, I think so. But it's no use, we'll never catch one now, they're far too cunning. Dan was staring at the neighboring paddock. Hey! I've got an idea. I'll bet we can catch him without too much trouble, Hercules! But he's a bloody draft horse! He's still a damned horse, isn't he? And he's only half draft, according to Ben. I couldn't argue with that. Dan, was right. He was still a horse, no two ways about that and, nobody told us that a draft-horse didn't count.. had they. You're right, brother, I said, getting to my feet, but we've still gotta catch the beggar, I reminded him. Still, there's no harm in havin' a go. So, let's do it! We climbed the fence and slowly approached Hercules who was munching grass, seemingly unconcerned about fifty meters away. This is going to be easy, I thought to myself. However, once again, I was about to be proved wrong. A dumb half-draft horse he may have been, but whenever we got to within five or six meters, Hercules gave a toss of his head and trotted off to a safe distance. We changed tactics and tried charging the last few meters before he had time to get away. That didn't work either. He was still too quick for us. "Aw, to hell with this," Dan said irritably. "We may as well give up." I was about to agree with him, when I suddenly recalled how Hemi had stood at the gate and whistled, and how Hercules had immediately stopped eating and trotted over to him. Hang on! Remember when Hemi whistled and the old Herc' came to him? Yeah, that's right, he did too. Can you remember how that whistle sounded? I asked hopefully. Dan shrugged. A whistle's a whistle isn't it? Maybe .. I'll give it a try, eh? Placing two fingers in my mouth, I attempted to imitate Hemi's whistle, but the sound produced had no effect on Hercules whatsoever, other than a momentary prick of the ears. I gave it another try, pitching the sound higher and louder. Hercules stopped eating and turned his head inquisitively in my direction. "Come on boy!" I encouraged him. To my surprise he ambled over and stood placidly in front of me. I reached out a hand and gently rubbed his nose. Hercules let out a loud snort, but didn't pull away. Encouraged, I carefully reached up with the rope and slipped one end over his lowered neck, caught the free end and gripped both ends of the rope firmly. Having got this far, I wasn't going to let go without a fight. Good on yer, Terry. It worked!" Dan said excitedly. Now what do we do with him? He's too high to climb onto. If we can walk him over to the fence, we can climb onto a post and then jump across. Come on fella, be a good boy and follow us, eh?" I gave a light tug on the rope and Hercules responded. So far so good. We made it to the nearest fence without any trouble, and after I'd fitted the hackamore, just as Ben had instructed, I handed the rope to Dan to hold while I climbed onto a fence-post. He then led Hercules alongside, and I clambered onto his broad back. Dan followed suit and swung up behind me. We grinned proudly at each other. We'd done it! There were a tricky few moments when we got to the gate and found it impossible to open and close the thing without one of us dismounting. Dan slid off and steered Hercules through. He then closed the gate, climbed onto it, grabbed a hold of my arm and jumped across. I will never forget the reception we received when we came in sight of the Macracarpa tree. Hemi and Ben took one look at us, clinging hard to Hercules and burst into hysterical laughter and, it didn't take long for the others to join in. "What're you all laughing at?" I demanded. Is that the best you guys can do? Hemi asked, tears streaming down his cheeks. It's a horse, isn't it! You said we could take our pick, so we chose Hercules. What's so funny about that? I think he meant a real horse, Ben laughed, "not that old nag." Well we like him and he is a real horse, I declared defensively. Hemi held up his hands for silence. "Okay fellas. You win." I want a ride ... Jude piped up. Well you cant! There's only room for us, I told her. Dan could get down and give me a turn, she argued belligerently. No way! If you want a ride, you can catch your own horse," Dan replied firmly. If you want a ride that bad, Jude, I'll catch a horse for you, Hemi told her. Ooh, would you? Jude asked in a sickly sweet voice which almost made us two want to throw up. Boy! Did these females know how to get what they want, or what! "Ooh, would you.." mimicked Salina. Shut up! Salina. Jude doesn't get the chance to ride like you do. And there's nothing stopping you from coming along if you wanna catch your own, Hemi said with a mocking grin. All right then. I will! Hemi looked up at us. We'll meet up with you fellas down by the ford then, okay? The speed old Herc' gets along at, we'll probably beat you there anyway," he chuckled. "Don't bet on it!" Dan bridled. I dug my heels in and Hercules moved off at a slow canter, which was just as well because we were having enough trouble just to keep from falling off. We passed the old cottage where our parents sat in the shade of the verandah chatting with a few relatives. "Hi Mum, hi Dad," I yelled and gave them a casual wave. Dad looked up in surprise. "What are you boys doing on that horse?" he demanded. "I hope you thought to ask permission.." "Course we did. Hemi said it would be okay," I replied. "Well that's alright then. I didn't even know you boys could ride a horse by yourselves. Still, Hemi chose a good one for you to learn on. Mind you don't go trying anything too fancy, all the same. Any horse can be dangerous, even that one," he warned. "We won't," I assured him. At that moment, I really felt for Dad sitting there, when only months before, Dan and I had been avid listeners when he had recounted in detail how he and his brothers had taken to breaking in wild horses and then sold them as a way of helping the family through the depression. No doubt, he would have given a great deal to be sitting up there astride a horse, even one of indeterminate parentage such as Hercules. Be careful," called Mum, as we gave a proud final wave and ambled past. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Cath tearfully stamping her feet because she wasn't allowed to go with us. I remember thinking how lucky we were, that neither of us boys had been born last, even if she was a little snitch and tried her best to get us into trouble for the slightest reason at-times. Ben ran past chasing Mary. Both giggling, they disappeared inside the hay barn. "Humph! Bet I know what they're up to," muttered Dan,. Yeah, right. Lucky sod, I said with a tinge of jealousy. Lucky … I reckon it's more fun riding a horse, Dan responded cheerfully. Obviously my younger brother still had abit to learn, I guess I did too to be honest. A whole lot more, as it turned out. In fact, when it comes to the fairer sex, I'm still learning, even at my age. Hercules carried us on past the farmhouse and the beginning of the sheep track, which wound it's way down to the river flats and the ford beyond. Everything went fine, until we came to the steepest section. Dan started to panic when we both began to slide forward onto the horse's neck. I clenched my knees together as hard as I could and let the hackamore go slack so I could take a firm two-handed grip of his mane. It was no use. Either our legs weren't long enough to get a decent grip, or more likely because of Hercules' expanded girth. So, first I, then Dan slid sideways over the animal's shoulder and tumbled onto the ground. Both of us feeling a might foolish, and relatively unhurt, we quickly regained our feet. It was clear we still had plenty to learn about the horse riding lark. Old Herc' just stood there with a 'no comment' in his eye, waiting for us to remount; an impossibility without the aid of a fence or gate. We had no option but to lead the horse down to the bottom of the track, and had almost reached the gate when we heard from behind us the pounding of hooves. With yells of derision, Hemi swept past at a gallop with Jude clinging tightly to his waist, her face pasty white. They were followed closely by Salina on a second mount. Hemi pulled his horse up in a cloud of dust. Grinning from ear to ear he asked, "What happened to you guys.. you fall off?" Salina circled us, giggling hilariously. I shook my head. "Nah," I lied. "We thought Herc' was getting tired, so we hopped off to give him a rest." "You wha.." Hemi began in disbelief, "he doesn't need a bloody rest. Heck, he could walk around all day with you two guys on his back and hardly notice you." "Well, we didn't know that, did we." Dan backed me up. "We were only thinking of him." Okay, that's cool. Do you want a hand up, or what? We'll manage, I said casually. We'll just climb up on the gate. Hemi gave a nod and went ahead to open it. Finally remounted on our trusty steed, we fell in line with the others, followed at a stately pace through the paddock of Brutus the bull, having been reassured by Hemi that he would not attack us. Obviously, someone forgot to remind Brutus of this!. He appeared up ahead, then came charging out of the stand of trees, snorting fiercely. Jude screamed, causing Hemi's horse to rear in fright. But Hemi soon had the horse under control and we heard him trying to calm our sister. Meanwhile, Salina circled the confused bull, whooping and hollering at the top of her voice; her long hair black streaming out behind her, controlling her mount with an expertise which left me flabbergasted, steering the horse at full gallop with one hand lightly holding the rope, deft little dogs at her heels. She was stunning to watch. I immediately forgot the way she had ignored me earlier and fell in love with her all over again; the second time in one day. It appeared that Brutus was just as stunned as I was. He stopped dead in his tracks and hung his head as if offering an apology for his bad behavior. With a little extra encouragement from Salina, he turned tail and wandered off, back to the safety of the trees. Catching up with the others, we all had a good laugh and Salina lapped up the praise we lavished on her for such supreme horsemanship. At the river ford we paused to let the horses have a drink. Hemi helped Jude to the ground and she quickly disappeared into the bush. We always said she had a Woolworth's bladder, especially following a bit of excitement. What'll we do now? I asked Hemi. Any ideas? You guys follow me. We'll go back a different way, around the big hill, replied Hemi, pointing it out. But you'll have to go a bit faster if you want to get there before dark, he added with his usual snigger. I'll swap horses if you like, Terry, Salina offered with an amused smile. Thanks, but no thank you. There's nothing wrong with Hercules. "Yeah" Dan agreed, Herc's the best, even if he is a bit slow. She shrugged. Suit yourselves. Later that night, as I drifted off to sleep, my mind was full of jumbled images of Salina. Judging by her antics earlier in the day, she had made it quite plain that her flirtations were nothing more than a blatant attempt to make Hemi jealous, and I had fully expected her to gallop on ahead with Hemi on the way home, leaving us to plod along at our own pace, and in her show-of manner, she did race ahead on several occasions, only to wheel her horse around to come galloping back again and keep pace with Hercules for a spell, until her restless energy spurred her into action once more. She sure knew how to handle a horse, more than once, I heard her challenge Hemi to a race. Only he laughingly declined. No doubt because Jude had pleaded with him not to. I was disappointed. It would have been real interesting to see who won. I dreamed I was riding double with Salina, my arms wrapped tightly around her waist, my face buried in her hair. She turned her face towards me and brushed my lips with hers. The kiss was so light and so quick, I barely felt it. I imagined myself as a monarch butterfly sampling the sweet nectar from an open flower. Briefly. Then suddenly, she was at the top of the waterfall, looking down. Laughing at me. I woke at sunrise covered in sweat. What was happening to me? How can a dumb girl cause such restless confusion, I wondered. There was no point in trying to sleep, so instead I got a fire lit in the old range ready for Mum to cook breakfast. "You're up early, Terry," she remarked when she entered the kitchen almost an hour later. I could tell straight away, she knew something was up with me. There was no hiding anything from her. Mum could read us like a book. You've not been smitten by one of the girl cousins, have you son? Don't be daft, Mum. At breakfast, Dan and I exchanged glances in between mouthfuls, both anxious to get outside and meet up with the others, we hurried through our toast and cereal then asked to be excused. We promised to meet Ben and Hemi. So … Dad.. can we go now please? They can't go yet, Cath interjected, It's their turn to do the dishes. I dried them the last two mornings, remember? She's right. It is your turn, Dad agreed. You can play with your friends later. Dan aimed a kick at Cath under the table, but she was ready for it and jumped up to hide behind Dad's chair. Where she fixed us with a spiteful grin. And, you can leave your sister alone, the pair of you, unless you want me to find you another job as well! He added. Mumbling threats under our breath, we washed and dried the dishes as quickly as we could then tore out of the front door before Cath could get us into any more trouble. It was a glorious summers day, with the odd cotton-wool puff of cloud far off the western horizon; the only blemish in an egg-shell blue sky. Towels tucked beneath our arms, we ran all the way down the hill to the waterhole where we had arranged to meet the others. Where's Jude? was Hemi's greeting. She'll be along shortly, I replied, anxiously searching the faces bobbing about in the water. Jude is pouncing around in front of the mirror as usual, I added. A few of the younger children swam about while Ben, Mary and Hine were industriously attempting to dam up the overflow from the pool at the foot of the waterhole. "Where's Salina?" I asked, trying to sound not too concerned. Dan dashed past and splashed into the water. Eeee! I knew you had the hot's for her, Hemi said with a knowing grin. Nah! Bull-dust. We're just friends, that's all, I said defensively, as I felt my cheeks burning bright red. But you like her, right? Sure.. she's okay, I guess. Nice figure anyhow, I conceded. Yeah, I thought you'd noticed, said Hemi. He picked up a stone and skimmed it across the water, creating ripples across the surface. Hey, did Jude say anything about me last night? I laughed. "Course" Couldn't shut her up. Hemi this, Hemi that. Silly tart almost put her foot in it when she said something about the young kids swimming in the nick. Lucky Dad didn't hear. I had to warn her to watch what she was saying, else she wouldn't be allowed to come swimming. Is that right? So you think she really likes me then? Huh, wadda you think, I chuckled. Watch out, here she comes. So! What about Salina, will she turn up, or not? Don't panic! She'll be here, after she's given Mum a hand getting the washing on the line, Hemi said, his mind already focused on other things. "Hi Jude" I've been waiting for you to show up. Hi, yourself … Jude replied coyly. Well are we going swimming, or what? Sure we are. I was just telling your brothers, we're going eeling later on, You can come too if you want. I stared blankly at Hemi … first I'd heard of it. Jude screwed up her nose. Eels! Yuck! I hate eels, they're all slimy. You don't have to tag along if you don't want to, I interrupted, leaping from the bank and entering the water with a great splash! Hemi followed, pulling Jude after him. I'll come with you, she offered, but, only if you promise you'll keep those horrible things right away from me? Hemi shrugged. "Sure" I promise. Salina arrived shortly afterwards, and slipping out of her frock she slid into the water, her brown skin glistening in the mid-morning sunlight. I found it difficult not to stare. Even Hemi was compelled to turn and glance in her direction when she stood up. Shaking the hair out of her eyes, her wet blouse slid off one shoulder, exposing one of her breasts. Laughing, she splashed water in his face as she passed by. Hemi couldn't resist splashing her back, which made Jude's face twitch with jealousy. Ha! Boys! All the same, with only one thing on your minds," she said in disgust. At least I've got something worth looking at, Selina spat, not in any hurry to cover up. Which is more than I can say for you! Then she added with a provocative giggle … you look flat as a board! "Uh oh" I thought to myself. Knowing my sister, I knew she would not leave it there. She wasn't about to be shown up by no brown-skinned cousie hussy, and I was right! Even so, I could not believe what I was seeing when she suddenly slipped the shoulder strap of her bathing suit down and gave a quick flash of one of her own breasts. Salina and Hemi's mouths dropped wide open in shocked disbelief. Well … what do you call that then? she exclaimed proudly, her pale breast (larger than I'd remembered) completely exposed. I was greatly relieved when she suddenly realized what she had done and quickly covered up again! For a moment she didn't seem to know where to look. Salina laughed and swam off, chasing me to the far end of the pool. "Hey" Terry, she said, a mischievous gleam in her eye, you wanna jump off the waterfall again? Okay, after you. She was soon scrambling up the bank, with me in close attendance. Like the pied piper. Salina drew attention, whatever Salina did, the younger ones always wanted to join in. Before long, everybody (except for Jude, who evidently felt too embarrassed to leave the protection of the water) was lined up waiting to jump. And so it was with me, unable to break free of Salina's irresistible charm, I hadn't noticed how chummy brother Dan and Hine had become, until I saw how they now flirted with each other, laughing and jostling like they'd known each other all their lives. That Dan was a sly one! Not a word had he mentioned about Hine, in all the time we had been here. Catching me glancing in their direction, Dan gave me a wry grin. I pretended I hadn't noticed. For the next hour or so, Salina and I jumped, swam, wrestled, and … having overcome my initial shyness, I was a more than willing participant when she took it upon herself to educate me in some of the practices associated with the age-old art of flirting. Sure, Salina was not the first girl I had ever flirted with, but she will always be fondly remembered as the girl who taught me to kiss underwater. Bah! I hear you say. What's the big deal about an underwater kiss or two! For a young lad bordering on teen-hood, it was a very big deal. It was the heady excitement of activities that had not been previously experienced. Suffice to say, I soon realized why Hemi had been looking forward to Salina's arrival and, needless to say, I was grateful that his attentions had subsequently been diverted by Jude. We lay on the riverbank basking in the sunshine. Are you coming eeling with us later on? I asked. Salina. "I dun no," she muttered sleepily. Do you want me to go? Yeah … 'course I do, I urged, knowing that this day would be the last we would spend in each others company. Mum had already started packing for our early departure next morning and if I had one wish, it was that we spent every moment we could together. I'll think about it, was her answer, this not what I'd anticipated. Thought I'd go riding this afternoon, she added. …we can still go riding, can't we? I suppose you want to ride that old draft-horse again, Salina said, with a mocking laugh! Perhaps my wounded pride was all too visible. Her laughter died away as she raised herself on one elbow. Or would you rather ride with me on a proper horse? she offered. Only the day before I would have immediately leaped to Hercules defense, however the opportunity to fulfill at least a part of my previous night's dream, could not be ignored. I'd rather ride with you! I quickly assured her. Salina gave a cat-like grin. You got any girlfriends back home in Auckland City? "Eh..me?" Nah, not really. How about you? I'll bet you have plenty of admirers, including Hemi. he nodded. Yeah, some. But none as good kissing as you! "Aw" come off it … I'll bet you say that to all the boys, I replied. A tad embarrassed. Salina frowned and adopted a serious air. I mean it. You're different. How do you mean? You're.. well, gentle … not like those other rough buggers. Her words were spoken with genuine feeling. Who! You mean, Hemi? Hemi's Hemi, he's okay too, I guess. We've sorta grown up together, y'know. I'm not saying he's anywhere near as bad as the others, but he's getting to be more like them all the time. Uncles, cousins, boys at school … all they want to do is grab, squeeze and poke and, the rougher they are the more satisfaction they get out of it. You have no idea what it's like to be treated like that. No … guess not, I mumbled. Salina had a softness about her, I hadn't noticed before. Even when I was only eight or nine years old, she continued, they were all trying to feel me, touch me.. know what I mean? But you're different, Terry, you don't make me feel like trash.. dirty, somehow," she concluded, reaching out and stroking my face. We gazed into each others eyes a moment, and I saw all the hurt and past memories fade into the background when our lips met. Filled with the innocence of youth, at that moment I would have willingly given my life to protect her from harm. The afternoon heat turned into a scorcher. Armed with spears made from tea-tree stakes with wickedly barbed tips fashioned from number eight fencing wire, filed to a sharp point and bound to the shafts with thin copper wire, Hemi, Jude, Ben, Mary, Dan, Hine, Salina and I, mounted our horses, made our way down the steep face of a hill towards a mile long drainage ditch which had been dug down in the middle of a swampy area, dotted with cabbage trees and flax bushes. There's the drain I was telling you about! Hemi yelled, waving ahead. There're eels in there as thick as Mary's legs, he quipped. "Isn't that right, little brother? Just about, Ben agreed with a loud snigger … and probably better looking as well. In her good-natured way, Mary laughed while giving Ben a back-handed swipe with her free hand. What are you going to do with them if you catch any? Jude wanted to know. We'll take them home for Dad and Uncle Monty to smoke, then everyone will get a feed, said Hemi. You don't mean you're going to eat them! Ooh yuck! I couldn't think of anything more revolting. Wait 'till you smell them after they've been smoked over tea-tree, Salina shouted across her and, the taste ... choice! I don't care what they smell like, I'd rather starve than eat one of them slimy things, Jude shivered, at the thought. And don't you dare come near me after touching them neither, she warned Hemi. Hemi just laughed, leaned back over his shoulder to kiss her cheek before she could pull away. Spread out,eh! You fellas head up that way, said Hemi, pointing. Me and Jude will carry on further down and, try not to fall in ok, 'course I won't be there to save you, he added with a grin. Follow me guys, said Ben. I'll show you where to catch them. Salina called, You go on ahead, look after that lot. I'll take care of Terry. Okay, we'll head on up this way then. Salina tied her mount to a convenient cabbage tree and we set off together. Ankle deep in mud, we trudged alongside a deep irrigation drain, our attention focused on the sluggish-flowing murky water, only two to three feet deep, alert for the faintest sign of one of the monster eels which were purported to lurk in the deeper holes, or where the flow of water had undercut the bank. Suddenly, Salina stopped me with a wave of her hand and slid on her bottom to a ledge of weed covered clay, just above water level. Digging into the pocket of her shorts, she produced a crust of bread, broke off a piece and tossed it in the water. Silently, I leaned forward to see what had drawn her attention but saw nothing that looked even remotely like an eel. . Quick! Pass me the spear, she whispered excitedly. "What is it?" I asked, handing her the spear. I don't see nothing. Ignoring me, Salina tore off another piece of crust and threw it upstream. I watched as it slowly floated back down toward her. Just then, there was a swirl of water and a thick gray-brown body darted out from beneath the bank at Salina's feet … the jaws of the eel clamped shut on the bait. With a shout of triumph, Salina thrust at it with the spear. The water came alive as the eel fought to free itself from the deadly barbs. "Wow" what a monster! I cried, scrambling down beside her, anxious that the eel might yet struggle free. Can I do anything? I asked breathlessly. No! I've got him. She thrust down on the shaft of her weapon with all her weight, driving the point of the spear clean through the leathery body. Stooping now, she shifted her stance and with one well-timed heave, she threw the spear, eel and all, over the lip of the drain onto the grass. Quick! Grab it before it wriggles back into the drain, she commanded, breathing heavily. Scrambling back up out of the drain, I threw myself forward and got a firm grip on the spear. The eel increased it's struggle, whipping a sinuous tail back and forth, huge jaws opening and snapping shut in a threatening manner. "Don't let it get away" Salina yelled, as she ran to the horse to fetch a sack. Within seconds she was back, thrusting the open sack at me. "Okay" throw the brute in. Lifting the spear, I tipped the thrashing eel into the sack. Salina stamped her bare foot on the struggling catch and jerked upward on the spear with all her strength, but she lost her grip and fell over headfirst backwards! As I went to her aid, the laughter erupted. First Salina, then both of us cackling out of control, slipping and sliding until eventually I managed to haul her up and back on her feet. Alright, Terry, now it's your turn, Salina grinned, handing me the spear. Eh? But I thought with the size of that one! Come on, we'll try up this way. Slinging the sack over her shoulder, she led off in search of another likely spot. "This will do." Salina lowered her voice. See that deep hole? Watch closely, she tossed in some bread. I was pleased in a way when that hole turned out to be unproductive, but Salina insisted that we try further upstream, and it wasn't until half an hour later that I got lucky. Stabbing downwards on what I mistook to be a stick floating by, I was amazed to discover that it was in actual fact an eel … not a very large eel, nowhere near as big as Salina's, but an eel nevertheless. I whipped it up and out of there in a trice and danced around it in a circle whooping like a madman. Dan and the others came running to see what all the fuss was about. Smoked eel, fed the whole camp that night, except for Jude of course! She kept a fair distance between her, and Hemi's fishy breath and hands, though … she watched him well from afar! It turned out that Salina's catch was the biggest of all, even Hemi had to concede defeat and showed how impressed he was by moving to sit next to her … to take my place when we were ordered (by Dad) back to the cottage to get some shut eyes for the early start of a long drive home to Bayswater on Auckland's … North-shore. Once more, It poured down with heavy rain and the buckets and pots did there alternative jobs again! In-between flood control I slept some dreaming of a return visit up here with Salina and, going by Dan's delight of his day, Hine was being visited in his dreams too. The following morning the rain had stopped, uncle Jummie arrived early. George! He said, I'm afraid there's some good news and, some bad news. The good news is you're all welcome to stay longer, every-one had enjoyed our visit. The bad news is … you have to! The river has swollen from all the overnight rain coming down from the forested hillsides and sheep stations. The river is now running so high your van would be swept away during any crossing attempt before tomorrow at the earliest! Well, Dan and Jude looked as happy as I felt. Another night or two with the country cousins was no problem to us in any-way! And we made the most of it while we could. The river was low enough by late the following morning to cross safely so after warm farewells we departed for for the long trip home. Safely arriving by dusk, an early night was sort by all. Salina stayed in my dreams that night and, for a long time it was as close as she would ever come again. Summer holidays came and went and somehow there was always a different place to pitch the family tent or more extended family to visit. But there were few as adventurous as that summer in Mangamuka. Though! there was Wi Cowell's big Tangi ... at Kawhia, or those stimulating holidays at aunt Cath's, bathing naked with our (Arawa) waka-blond cousies. I reckon, we were never so clean as then, twice a day too ...when Dan and I could get away with it! But, that's another story. Our parents desire for us to understand in-depth our colorful New Zealand whakapapa ... our heritage on both sides took us to many places that most other North-shore City kids of our 1950s baby-boomers era, never even knew existed! And, so close to there own backyard. I looked out the window at the shifting clouds; rearranging … changing into various shapes of dirty gray, allowing only a glimpse of checkered sunlight to penetrate and, I ask myself. Was the weather really this unpredictable when I was a youngster. Like the weather, sometimes it seems, everything was far more serene back then ... or, was it?
Terrence & Daniel Howe
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