Looking out the dusty car window, I notice familiar sights. A poster on the book store advertises a new young adult novel and the latest sci-fi thriller. Next door, the doors to the fish and chip shop open and the small neon sign flickers for a moment before displaying bright yellow lettering making up the word open. The train track parallel to the road we are driving along crosses a bridge, slightly rusty. Not much has changed around here.
We turn a corner and the sides of the road transition from shops and restaurants to rows of houses, all with wooden fences and large front yards. These are interrupted once by a supermarket. Everything is familiar.
We turn into a driveway and pull up, greeted by Grandad, sitting down on his favourite chair on his porch. He tucks away a cigarette as we pull up and he grins the grin of a child who has just won the jar of jellybeans at a carnival. I love that grin. It makes my cousins and I feel as if Grandad is still a boy, one of us, closer in age to us than our parents.
His weary face is tired and wrinkled but his smile pierces through all that. His thumbs and fingers are worn down, his fingerprints barely visible, from all the handiwork he has done. Back a couple of years ago he would be building a shed one day, the next he'd be riding a quad, tending to sheep and chopping up firewood.
Nowadays he mainly stays at home, having a beer whilst the rugby crackles on the radio or looking after my cousins, his grandkids.
I look around. Everything looks the way it did 2,3,4,5, and 6 years ago. It is comforting to know that some things never change. Grandad tells me to go get some orange juice from the fridge. I jump up the white concrete stairs between the porch outside and the kitchen inside. I glance for a minute at the cluttered bench which was a melting pot of letters, envelopes, papers, pens, drawings and paintings from grandkids, his letter-opener, the phone and his pocket knife, but the thing that catches my eye is the brass plane that balances on a tiny pin, counterweighted by a little ball on the other side. I would spin that plane around and watch in 7-year-old amazement as it managed to stay balanced on that fine pin.
I open the fridge door and take out the juice. He still has the Kaitaia fire hot sauce we bought him on our road trip up the north island, a lot emptier, but still there. I pour everyone a glass of orange juice and mum and dad start talking to grandad. How’s everything? Are you doing ok? Are you coming camping this year? All the usual stuff.
I glance around and see the lemon tree, the old lemon tree that has been there longer than I have. The old lemon tree, it’s branches longer in width than in height, it’s old lemons bumpy and starting to fall off. I reminisce to summers of selling Grandad’s lemons on the roadside. Those were the days. Next to the lemon tree is the shed. The rusty, rickety shed with a thousand boxes of different tools and odd items. A jack here, a jigsaw there. On a shelf is the spade that Grandad had used when he grew our garden with me. I remember me and him building a scarecrow for that garden. It didn't do much to scare away the birds but it did look funny, plus, it was fun building.
Hanging up on the wall at the immediate right are some fishing rods. They are proper glass fibre poles with hooks, lures, a floater and a reel. These rods were not the ones my Grandad, my cousin and I used when we went down to the creek to catch eels. We would use a short stick with a piece of nylon wrapped around the edge, and a hook at the end. One of the things I remember grandad saying to me was to never stick my finger in the mouth of the eels because their teeth are designed so that it will cut my finger off if I tried to pull it out again. I also remember cutting the head off one of the eels and leaving it for mum to find when she arrived home from school. I grin as I remember her shrieking.
Mum asks me what is so funny.
A week later, the whole Weir family is crowded in the Santa Claus infected living room of my aunt, uncle and cousins. There are smiles all over. What differentiates the kids and adults is the kids are happy because they have a new toy or gift voucher, whilst the adults are happy because they have a nice Merlot or Pinot Noir grasped in their hands.
Oliver and Nathan, two of the younger cousins, walk over to the adult table each brandishing a semi-automatic nerf gun, looking quite pleased with themselves. My Dad quietly leans over to Oliver.
"Psst...Ollie... Let me borrow the gun for a sec."
Oliver hesitantly hands the gun to Dad. As Grandad gets up for a second (or was it third?) helping, Dad points the gun at him and pulls the trigger. It hits him flat on the bum. Grandad rears up, chuckles to himself, and puts his plate back on the table. He takes Nathan’s gun and meticulously aims and pulls the trigger. The foam bullet hits Dad’s leg and bounces off into a flower pot. Soon it is a fully-fledged nerf war between my Dad and Grandad, not unlike ones I would have with my cousins not too long ago. I am reminded that some of us never really grow up, and I don’t think I ever truly will.