October 21, 2008 – Napier, New Zealand
Tropical heat is behind us. Today we had weather more familiar to a lot of us on the cruise – mostly overcast, chilly, even a bit of rain. Napier is in the warmer North Island of New Zealand, but “warm” is a relative term.
A shuttle took us from the container port to Napier’s visitor centre. Our first priority was to find a telephone and call California. This time I got through. It still doesn’t seem real, that my brother Eric is dead. He’s been sick off and on for many years, but he’s such a fighter I figured he might very well outlive me.
Losing him brings back my mother’s voice. A few months before she died, she told me she wanted to go home. She was the last survivor of eleven children, nine of whom lived to adulthood. She didn’t like being alone in the world. That was hard to hear since I figured she should be content to have children and grandchildren. But she was missing the company of people who shared her childhood experiences.
Now the family of three – mother, son, daughter – that was my childhood context is down to one. I’m fortunate to have re-connected with my half-brother Jerry some twenty-odd years ago and, more recently, with my half-sister Peggy.
Still, I don’t have Eric’s memory. Losing him, I lose so many stories. To me, those memories are distant and vague while he relived them each time we got together. His death makes me feel more alone in the world.
One thing he wanted to do with Carla, the love of his life, was travel. Though I knew the likelihood was slim, I harbored a hope that one day Robin and I would greet them in Australia.
So today as Robin and I wandered the art-deco streets of Napier, as we had coffee with Derrick and Bobbie, two lovely new friends from this cruise, I thought of Eric and Carla and how much they would have relished this adventure we are on.
Not that wandering the streets of Napier was particularly adventuresome, but it was a distraction after the shock of Eric’s death. The town was destroyed in the early 1930s, when an earthquake that reached 7.9 on the Richter scale toppled nearly every building.
The town rebuilt in the style of the time. Since then, they’ve been able to make the art deco streets into a draw for visitors.
If there was a greeting for the ship, we missed it, but townsfolk did turn out to bid us farewell. Pacific Islands have their Royal Police Bands and traditional dancers. Napier has its classic car club and Dixieland band. They’re more in keeping with local culture and no less appreciated by us tourists.
Tonight was our last on-board dinner, and we hit it lucky. We reached the Rotterdam dining room just as a group of new friends arrived for dinner. Adrian and Tom, Richard and Irene are Canadians. Pierre is Swiss. (His wife Ella is, alas, in Auckland, recovering from a virus.) We could not have asked for better company to celebrate our last night on the ship.