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Life Is Too Short To Drink Bad Wine: 20 - Woody

“I liked the way he looked. He was tall and dark haired and had nice eyes and hands. He was interested in me too and liked the way I looked…’’ Gayle Woodward writes of her first magical encounter with Woody.

Marian asked me away camping with her family again to the Muriwai Camping ground before we went to Onetangi later in January. I was eager to go this time and full of confidence. It would be fun to meet with the same guys from the surf club the next year round, another year older and much more experienced, I thought. I was fifteen.

I got dumped in the surf that year. In waist deep water and not being able to dive through a wave, I had many of them break over the top of me, forcing me down to the sand and leaving me dazed and gasping when I finally struggled to the surface. I had no problem with the regular and gentle surf at Onetangi and used rubber lilos to body surf with the waves but there you could jump over the waves. Here they were unpredictable, large and fierce. I have never bathed in the west coast seawater again.

One afternoon, Marian and I decided to walk to the beach shop to buy a milk shake. Sitting outside alone at a table was a dark haired, lean young man with black horn-rimmed glasses. The first thing I noticed were his glasses as I had admired that kind since seeing James Garner wear some in a movie with my all time favourite, Doris Day. I decided to talk to him.

“Can I have some money for a chocolate milk shake?” I brazenly asked. This was completely out of character for me. To my amazement, he agreed.

We sat and talked as I sipped my milkshake. Marian melted away back to the camp. He told me his name was Woody and that he was eighteen. I was surprised with the name but thought it pretty cool, as it had connotations of surfer’s woody cars and surfing and beach babes, which I rather thought I was.

I had no idea of the importance of this meeting, although Marian told me later that she realised we were taken with each other, and told this young man that my name was Barbara and that I was sixteen. I liked the way he looked. He was tall and dark haired and had nice eyes and hands. He was interested in me too and liked the way I looked.

We went out that night and walked around the camp and beach and over the hill to Maori Bay, hand in hand, talking. I felt as if I had come home, that he was safety. I was puzzled as I fell off to sleep that night, thinking of him. He was not a surfer, was not tanned and boisterously fun as the other guys were, but I hoped he would be there in the morning.

He was and came looking for me. That day, I was to return home with the Macdonalds. Woody asked if he could drive me home as he had a car. I very anxiously asked Mrs Macdonald if that would be okay and she affirmed that she thought Woody looked a nice young man and as long as my parents knew, it would be alright. We never phoned them to ask as I knew the answer would be a definitive ‘no’. So I said goodbye to Marian, not knowing then that this would be the end of that great ten year friendship, but she had been usurped in my mind by this new best friend.

On the drive home, I slyly looked sideways at him. I liked what I saw. I loved his profile. The car was rickety but I felt very comfortable sitting beside him. I knew that this was important to me and was rather anxious about the reception I would get from the parents when we arrived at my house. However, it had to be faced.

We found the parents outside in the back yard. We walked around the side path and I announced with false gaiety, “This is Woody, a crazy guy from Muriwai!” Mum was taken aback but Dad greeted him warmly. I felt that I had beaten my mother at her own game – she could not give me myriad reasons, not to come home in a car with a strange man, because I had just done it, and safely.

Immediately we became involved with long whispered phone calls and dates to the movies although the Onetangi holiday kept us apart for two weeks. We both had to admit that we had lied about ages (and names in my case). I was fifteen and he was sixteen, having just left school after an unsuccessful School Certificate exam and was in the early months of an electrical apprenticeship. Woody was a nickname based on his surname.

His name was Lance Woodward. He was also a junior member of the Takapuna Fire Brigade. He lived in Takapuna, about as far away from Glendowie as you could get, but worked as an electrical apprentice at the Trotting Club in Green Lane on my side of the Harbour Bridge and his boss lived in Kohimarama, only a few suburbs away.

My father instantly liked him, (apart from the cigarettes he smoked) as they shared an interest in things electrical, in fire engines and the chasing of them and in fishing. Mum reserved her opinion. She had had very little to do with young men and was a bit unsure and I thought shy. However, she made an attempt to ease his entry to our family by baking Dozen Cakes and other goodies, which he eagerly devoured.

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