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The Old Wooden Staccato House
by Jasti Victor
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“Kathy, why you want to buy that old wooden house?” asked Sandra. Even Daniel, Katherine’s husband was also against buying an old house, that too a wooden one. He said that as buying a house is a long term investment and that one need to take a hard headed decision and not be swayed by sentiment. “Buying a new brick and steel house is a wise choice. It will be an asset to our children. And tomorrow if we want to sell it, we could easily sell it. Whereas the eighty year old wooden house though put on sale for the last one year, could not find a single buyer. Even the elderly owners of the house have confessed that only those “old sentimental kind” would buy that house.”

Katherine and Daniel, both software engineers, have emigrated three years back from India and have made Christchurch their future home. As both of them are well settled in their respective jobs, they decided that they have to buy a house.

Seeking the help of their colleague and family friend, Cyrla George, they zeroed in on two, one in Riccarton and the other in Hornby. The Riccarton house was a three year old, built with brick, steel and glass with a small lawn in front. The one in Hornby is an eighty year old white wooden double storied house with a very big garden having Feijoa, grape and other ornamental trees. Though it has that old colonial look, it is very far away from the supermarket, mall, shops and restaurants.

Daniel was convinced that Katherine selected the house just because of the Feijoa trees, which she adores for those sweet and aromatic fruit. He laughed when Katherine told him that her idea of a dream house was to sit near the Feijoa tree, with a Mills & Boon novel, sipping coffee, and watch their two children play.

Katherine took it to the Lord in prayer, “Almighty God we thank you for bringing us to this wonderful country and have blessed us with every thing we have asked for. Help us in buying the right house. Let the house which we buy be an asset for us and a blessing to our children, I ask this in the Most Precious Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.”

It was just before the Christmas of 2007, when Herbert, the owner of the wooden house rang up. “We have changed our plans to buy a flat in Christchurch,” he announced.
Hearing this, Katherine missed a beat. Only when Mrs. Mary Herbert, explained that they are shifting to Texas, to join their son, did Katherine understood that they want to sell the house along with their two cars and furnishings.
“Katherine, earlier we quoted a higher rate because we wanted to buy a furnished apartment, but now that we are not going to stay here, we would like to sell the house at half the quoted rate.”

As they bought the house just before Christmas, Katherine decided to have a house warming party on Christmas Eve. Unfortunately as it was Christmas, the caterers were all busy and it would be too big a gathering for Katherine to handle alone. And when Sandra volunteered to bring a dish of baked fish, Katherine in her innocence told Cyrla George about it, who excitedly replied, “I will bring a dish of lamb roast.”

Thus was born the idea of having a “Pot luck party” and it became an annual Christmas Eve feature.

But the “barbecue” and “pot luck” dinner she planned on Friday, September 3, 2010 was for a different reason altogether. It was for the first time that she had the house painted after buying. The house set amidst the green lawns, shimmered in the dark night with the dazzling twinkling decorative lights, looked stunning; and seeing the house, Katherine, grateful to the Good Lord for giving her such a beautiful gift, gave thanks to Him.

With the large diverse gathering, the “dishes” each one brought was unique and very different, that Katherine’s Christmas Eve gathering looked minuscule compared to this day’s event. She was especially happy to welcome a very friendly neighbor, a young couple with a four year old boy, who have emigrated from Philippines. Mely, the young mother was so helpful, that for Katherine, she was a God send. They were in fact the last to leave at about 01.30 AM.

Dead tired, Katherine soon fell asleep as soon as she lay on her bed. She dreamt that she was being shaken violently, and it angered her that even her husband, Daniel joined in shaking her, in a very rough manner. Waking up with a start, she looked around to see that the window panes were shaking and the crockery in the distant kitchen making such a racket that she couldn’t understand what was happening. She starred at her husband, too tired to even keep her eyes open. It was only when he shouted, “Earthquake”, did she jump out of her bed.

The time was 04.35 AM and the day September 4, 2010.

Rushing out of the house Katherine was stunned to see a large crowd in the garden. There was no power in the whole neighborhood except in her house. With her heart pounding hard she found Mely and her husband Teodoro going around with cups of hot chocolate.

“We are continuing the “Pot Luck party,” said Mely smiling, “May be after sometime we may have to warm the other ‘Pot Luck’ dishes as long as we have the power on. The children will need hot food.”

Looking up, Katherine shook her head and whispered, “Oh God, thank you for Mely; thank you for the house, and thank you for the uninterrupted power.”

Only later she came to know that it was Mely who was up even before the first rumble and woke up the entire neighborhood. “I have this animal instinct to know that their will be an earthquake,” Mely said, “In Philippines we have one natural calamity after another, and I know it even before it strikes.”

Late in the afternoon, a structural engineer came and checked the house completely.
“These old wooden structures are the safest,” he explained sipping the hot chocolate in the living room, “This house, for instance can withstand a strong quake even upto 8.5. All the so called modern houses have been evacuated because of heavy damage, as they are all classified as unsafe. Ma’am you are sitting on a gold mine. This house is worth its weight in gold.”

Katherine hearing this turned towards Daniel, who winked, nodded and smiled.

Slowly one after another, all the families whose houses were destroyed moved out to safer locations, except for Mely, who stayed back as Katherine, felt safe having Mely around. It was only by Mely’s “animal” instinct, that Katherine was able to withstand Christchurch’s thousands of after shocks.

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