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Life Is Too Short To Drink Bad Wine: 15 - Fishing And Feasting

“Memories, memories. Finding fun in simple pleasures, a love of nature, respect for the ocean and the beach and a love of the sights and sounds of the beach. These are the things that I learned during the golden summers of my youth…’’ Gayle Woodward tells of more idyllic days at Pie Melon Bay.

Many years later, when I was able to have my boyfriend join us for our beach holidays, Pie Melon Bay would provide another long remembered experience. Woody, who later became my husband, and my father, shared a great love of fire engine chasing and fishing. Dad was really pleased to have a fishing partner and they had much success over the years at Onetangi.

The legend of the Brute, a huge old snapper caught with cunning and special gold fishhooks ‘blessed by the Maoris with which a bite was never taken’, is still retold over dinner tables thirty years on. On the perfect day in question, while the two men went out at dawn to fish, the women - my mother, my sister and I, walked the long trek to Pie Melon Bay, cooking utensils in a bag.

When we reached the bay and the men had landed sufficient fish for our breakfast, they came ashore at Pie Melon and cleaned and filleted their catch, which was duly cooked over an open fire for our breakfast. We still marvel at the certainty that fish would be caught – on demand as it were. The Hauraki Gulf in the 1960’s was a fisherman’s paradise. It could provide a bounty for the knowledgeable.

Certainly, fish catching and eating was a favourite pastime during the Onetangi years. There were plentiful supplies of tuatuas to be collected in buckets at low tide. These would be steamed open in big aluminium pots and eaten with bread for lunch. I am sure they were soaked in salt water for a long time “to spit out the sand”, but never did all of these tuatuas do that. Grit in the lunchtime sandwich was as much a part of summer as was swimming in the sea.

The usual fish dish was pan-fried snapper, which had been lightly dipped in flour, and always the fish would be meticulously cleaned and filleted by my father. I, who was fondly called, “the princess who could feel the pea under all the mattresses”, could not bear to have any bones or scales left on my fish. Dad was a very good fish cook. It took a tender touch to cook fish only hours out from the sea, and he had learnt this art from his own father, a great fisherman.

The other delicacy on our holidays was ice cream. There was homemade ice cream at home, sometimes coloured pink or green and I liked this better than the cardboard wrapped ice cream we could buy at Onetangi. I could taste the cardboard. Oh, that fussy princess with the pea! Home desserts or pudding were more than likely to be milk based. At the beach, we still desired our pudding and it was great fun to have tins of peaches or pears with some of this bought ice cream on top. The trick, of course, was to get to the shops and back as quickly as possible before the ice cream melted. No fridge in the bach meant it had to be all eaten at one sitting.

At one time, probably over several summers, the bach next door was rented, or perhaps owned, by the minister of our Presbyterian church in Glendowie. The Reverend Walsh presided over the very church attended by my parents and the Sunday School that my sister and I attended. I thought he looked a bit like Santa Claus being rather pink and white and jovial looking and often wondered if perhaps he was Santa without all the trappings and on holiday. Religion and imagination were rather close in my mind.

Anyway, it was interesting to see him without his ecumenical collar, in shorts and short-sleeved shirt. He looked most ordinary and happy and very friendly, always with a cheery word for us and would joke with my Nana even though she attended the Anglican Church in St Heliers. I did think that this was odd. Why would he be so nice to someone who didn’t even go to his church? I don’t know quite what I expected of him as far as behaviour on holidays but it always delighted me to see him doing ordinary things like swimming and eating ice creams.

When my sister and I were teenagers and my boyfriend was with us, minor disasters occurred in the Prendergasts' bach. There was the time we girls demanded that our beloved cat, Tammy, be allowed to come on holiday with us. What a silly idea that was, for the cat, scared out of her wits, took off straight up the tallest tree. The tree had to be climbed fairly precariously in order to rescue her.

Another day, when Woody was sitting on the windowsill of the open front window, I crept up to him and shouted, “Just saved you!” He reacted with a startled, involuntary rising of the arms. One of his elbows crashed through the glass of the window. No one was hurt but it caused a huge ruckus as we scrambled outside to pick up all the glass off the lawn. Then, because no tools were available, a new sheet of glass had to be procured and fitted.

One night, in a silly mood, my father was pretending to march with a Hup-Two- Three -Four call across the main room of the bach. As his foot came down the third time, it went straight through the floorboards splitting the lino and leaving a jagged gap in the floor. That caused great hilarity as we saw the irony of this disaster being caused by the very person who always had to be fixing up other peoples’ mistakes. A difficult crawl under the bach by the men yielded some wood suitable as floorboards and the floor was soon mended, with the lino somehow fixed back in place.

Memories, memories. Finding fun in simple pleasures, a love of nature, respect for the ocean and the beach and a love of the sights and sounds of the beach. These are the things that I learned during the golden summers of my youth. Now, when I find my simplest pleasure is to sit in the shade beside a beach and watch the tide come in and the tide go out, I know this love of mine for the beach was imprinted in my mind during those wonderful years.


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