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Life Is Too Short To Drink Bad Wine: 49 - The Day The House Shook

“Suddenly there was an ominous rumble and the house began to shake. I snatched Karyn from the floor and clutched her tightly while Woody ran to the wall unit to stop the television set from falling. A macramé pot plant holder and plant were swinging violently from the ceiling.’’

Gayle Woodward and her family move to a new home in the Hutt Valley near Wellington, and there they experience their first earthquake.

Woody and I flew, with four months old Karyn, to Wellington at his company’s expense to find accommodation. We looked at a few houses for sale and some rental properties high on the steep hillside suburbs of the capital city.

It was a depressing time. We had come from a brand new, if unfinished, house and these places were old and musty with tiny backyards. I felt depressed about the whole exercise. Then a young man who would be a colleague of Woody’s in the new job told us he lived in Upper Hutt, a small town about half an hour’s drive into the Hutt Valley. He said he would drive us up there to see what we thought.

We came to a new city, sparkling in the spring sunshine with a river winding its way around the suburbs. I spied a new library and immediately gave the place ten points, and the shopping centre looked new too.

We called into a real estate office to ask about rental properties and were directed to the hillside subdivision of Sunnyview where there was a three bedroom almost- new house in Alleyne Court for rent. It was white brick and rather posh to look at, completely decorated inside although the back yard was a sea of mud, dried mud, on this sunny day.

We decided to take this place to rent. The estate agent assured us that the back yard would be landscaped very soon. Apparently, a young couple had built the house but had separated before the grounds had been finished. It was on a hillside and on a steep hill road but the section was completely flat, dug into the slope. I felt a tiny spark of excitement. Woody was so pleased that I had decided to follow him in his march for promotion that he was very attentive and anxious to please me.

We returned home to tell the boys that we had found their new house. We told Jeff there was a backyard to ride his bike around in and piles of mud for Mark to dig in. They were excited to hear that their new school and kindergarten was called Brown Owl.

Moving companies traipsed through our house checking items and preparing quotes and I visited school and kindy to get notes for the new teachers. We were to move in November of 1976 and promised to drive back up to Auckland for Christmas so the kids could see their grandparents. The company would pay all moving expenses and legal or real estate fees.

On moving day, I flew to Wellington with Mark and Karyn and Jeff drove the long eight-hour trip with his Dad. Woody left early in the morning to be able to collect us when we arrived at the airport.

It was a very excited Jeff who met us. “I like the new house!” he enthused. The huge furniture truck was at the house when we got there and I was able to direct placement of furniture and get baby Karyn to sleep in her cot in her new room. Bed making and kitchen organisation followed and we had fish and chips for dinner in our new house by seven o’clock that night. Exhausted, we all fell into bed.

Jeff was enrolled at Brown Owl Primary school, a short walk away and Mark was very happy to find out that at his new Kindy he would be attending five days a week for the whole morning.

We settled in. The back yard did not get finished and became so sticky with mud that after rain the boys could not play out there. We found also that after heavy rain (and we were close to bush and mountain ranges so that it rained heavily often), the basement would flood. The basement was a garage converted to a storage/playroom. We got used to putting our camping paraphernalia high up off the concrete floor and the boys’ bikes and toy trucks needed also to be up out of the water’s range.

We had strange people arriving at our door looking for the owner of the property and began to feel uneasy. The rental agent advised us to put our complaints in writing and said he would do all in his power to get our back yard habitable.

The lounge was split level up three stairs from the foyer. It was open plan with no doorway and although it was spring time and warm in Auckland, here it was still chilly. We would rig up a blanket across the opening from the hallway to the lounge to keep the warmth from our heater from escaping.

One Saturday afternoon, we were all sitting together in the lounge. Karyn was kicking on a rug on the floor while I watched her play; Jeff and Woody were watching television and Mark had wandered off to the kitchen area around the corner. He was a podgy little boy and had been advised by the Plunket nurse to avoid too many biscuits and cakes and to drink less milk.

Suddenly there was an ominous rumble and the house began to shake. I snatched Karyn from the floor and clutched her tightly while Woody ran to the wall unit to stop the television set from falling. A macramé pot plant holder and plant were swinging violently from the ceiling.

We looked outside and could see the ground rolling. A neighbour across the street was on the ground underneath his car repairing it while the ground reeled around him. He did not stop once.

We realised then that earthquakes would be very common in this part of the world as we were living right on top of the Hutt Valley fault line. The neighbour was as blasé about this as we were terrified.

It ceased and we all looked at each other. “Where is Mark?” I asked. “Here I am” said three year old Mark, with a beatific and ecstatic smile on his face. “Look what I found!” And there in his hands was a packet of biscuits. He had been standing in the pantry looking for food when the earthquake shook the packet from the top shelf and right into his hands.

It was impossible to be angry at Mark. His smile was infectious.

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