Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Way Back When - New Zealand

Dad always told me that mom was born in a hammock at the base of a beautiful waterfall somewhere outside of Auckland, New Zealand. I don’t know if that was true or not, nor can I imagine my grandmother, Mummy Lita, going through hours of labor pains in the late 1930’s prior to WWII, residing or resting in a hammock instead of a hospital bed, but Dad has a way of making things poetic…and everything about mom was poetic.

It was the depression of the 1930’s. Roosevelt was in office, Adolf Hitler was Chancellor in Germany, and my Grandfather, Grandpa Dick, was United Kingdom/Canada’s Commonwealth Commissioner of Trade stationed in New Zealand. He and Mummy Lita married in Winnipeg in the late ‘20’s and moved to the Netherlands for diplomatic duty following their union. Being an ambassador’s wife came with many perks…there were social engagements with the who’s who of the world, and diplomatic passports to whisk them through any airport, seaport or sticky scenario. (or so the stories go...)

 L-R: Mummy Lita, Grandpa Dick and a Friend
at a Polo Match Abroad

Anyway, being a diplomat’s wife was quite a special life. Only downside, or upside depending on how you look at it, was there were never too many years in the same place.

Back then a lot of things weren’t talked about, marriages lasted lifetimes and hand written letters were the most common form of communication. In fact, if it wasn’t for these things, what happened next never would or could have happened.

Grandpa Dick couldn’t help but turn heads wherever he went. He was 6’5” with bright blue smiling eyes and something pertinent to say to anyone whether it be Crown Prince Akihito of Japan, (Hirohito’s son who Grandpa Dick taught how to play the net in tennis) or a waitress pouring coffee at a local diner. Surely his secretary Claire wasn’t blind to this – and Grandpa Dick charmed her to no end.

 Crown Prince Akihito
(net game was considered a tad aggressive by the Japanese at the time)

Claire was a native Kiwi, happily married to her childhood sweetheart with one exception: her childhood sweetheart was sterile. Claire’s doctor had given her a couple options – she could adopt a child or ‘go on holiday’. That didn’t mean go on a trip, drink Bloody Mary’s, relax and forget about it…it meant get pregnant by a man other than your husband.

Claire wanted a child more than anything, and telling her husband he was the reason for no children would have been devastating to him and their marriage. So Claire and Grandpa Dick ‘shared a holiday’ and Claire soon delivered a boy named Thomas.

Upon hearing Claire was finally pregnant, her husband was ecstatic. I can’t image how Claire felt…a combination of joy and relief coupled with guilt knowing the child was not from her husband, but from my grandfather. There was also the dilemma that Grandpa Dick and Claire truly loved each other in addition to loving their spouses.

Grandpa Dick and Mummy Lita moved to Australia following a reassignment shortly after Claire gave birth to Thomas. Life went on as normal in both families. But even through life's twists and turns, ups and downs, one thing remained constant: Claire and Grandpa Dick wrote letters to each other for almost half a century.

Fast forward forty-five years: Claire’s husband has passed and she doesn’t have long to live. Thomas is now 45, with children of his own, and after all these years, his mother finally shares her secret with him. 

Imagine finding out at 45 that dad is not your biological father!? Claire hands her son 45 years of love letters written by the name of a man whose name he’s never heard before…yet whose blood he shares.

Thomas boards a plane to Spain, which was where the most recent letter was postmarked, and sets out on a quest to meet his biological father.

When Thomas walked into Grandpa Dick’s room, there was no question as to who he was. They were spitting images of each other. Finally, after almost half a century, Grandpa Dick met the son he knew only by Claire’s decades of letters.  

As if by design, my Grandfather died soon after his first encounter with his son, perhaps feeling free to move onto another realm now that his life was complete. 

And now I have family in New Zealand.

-Life is Full of Surprises,


  1. Any pics of your Uncle Thomas??? Was your mother privy to the family secret??? Kinda feeling like I used to every Thursday night when Knots Landing left me hanging! ;)

    1. Oh the suspense of it all! I recall sitting in a Chinese restaurant on East 65th street meeting 'Uncle Thomas' and his children for the first time. Yes there are pictures...I will see if the NZ contingency is ok with posting...

  2. are you writing your book yet? think of the fun book tour!

    1. would be a fun tour - and maybe smuggle you in for the NZ part:)

  3. Please be sure aforementioned book has a family tree in it dating back far enough - and with locations lived by all of them. It's in your blood...xo

  4. Oh, Miss CK, how happy I am to read your posts again! You are such a wonderful storyteller, and I just can't seem to get enough. Keep up the good work, Bradley. :-)

    1. Well thats enough to inspire me to keep on going...thank you:)