Unbelievable! My family have volunteered me to drive Grampie from one end of New Zealand to the other. The fact that I’m eighteen and on summer break has something to do with it.
The dreaded day has arrived and I’m on a plane to Invercargill. Dorky Cousin Neville will pick me up in the car I’ll be using; a Nissan that’s seen better days but is reliable according to him. From there, we’ll go to the rest home to visit Grampie and make final plans for our trip.
Grampie has aged since I saw him at Great Granny’s funeral in June. His skin hangs off him in bags and creases and he looks frail. I felt a bit ashamed about my attitude as he was so grateful. “My dear Jessica, I can’t thank you enough.” he said. “I’m sure you’ve better things to do than drive an old man on a fool’s journey.”
We set off this morning after Grampie secured Great Granny’s ashes in the back seat of the car. I watched as knotted fingers struggled with the buckle; as his hands shook with the effort. He seemed exhausted as he slumped into the front seat. “We were married sixty-four years, you know. Travelled New Zealand many times.”
Last night was spent in Queenstown, a beautiful alpine town set around the shores of Lake Wakatipu. After dinner, Grampie asked me to help him down to a spot by the lake where clear waters lapped polished pebbles. Great Granny was in my back pack along with Grampie’s old black Bible. I stayed in the shadows as he sprinkled some ashes and read aloud. “I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth.”
We drove for hours today; through soaring cliffs and across deep gorges and surging rivers. Our destination was Franz Josef Glacier. “I won’t manage the walk, Jessica. Will you do it for me?” The glacier sat between two mountains, an incredible expanse of frozen ice glittering in the sun. I stopped a few metres away and opened the urn. I had never seen a person’s ashes before and wondered at the texture; at the chalky lumps and fine gray powder. Discreetly, I scattered a little into the water and waved to Grampie in the far distance.
Grampie and I are talking more each day. I thought we’d have nothing in common but I’ve realised he still has feelings, hopes and dreams. “I prayed God would make a way for me to do this trip.” he said as we scattered ashes among golden tussocks and fields of sheep. “Thank you, Jessica.” I felt the resentment in my heart beginning to dissolve.
We stopped at Arthurs Pass today, a village with fifty inhabitants, high in the Southern Alps. After a break for coffee, we sprinkled some ashes into the braided waters of the Waimakariri River. The streams intertwined with each other, the purest shades of turquoise stirred with milk. “You know the Bible talks about resurrecting us in the last days.” I said to Grampie. “How can God resurrect Great Granny if you’re spreading her across New Zealand?”
“No problem.” he replied. “God is God.”
This is the last night of our trip, and I must admit I feel sad. It’s been an amazing experience and Grampie has become very dear to me. Over the last week we’ve left Great Granny with glistening seals near Kaikoura. We caught the ferry from South Island to North and as we cruised through emerald hills that swelled from navy seas, Grampie scattered ashes into lacy ruffles behind us. We lunched by Lake Taupo and picked up pumice stone from the shores. In Rotorua we visited a thermal reserve but didn’t leave Great Granny there. Grampie pointed at the deep pits of bubbling mud and pools, yellow with sulphurous fumes. “Gives a whole new meaning to Hell, eh?”
I saw Grampie onto the plane in Auckland this morning. I couldn’t stop the tears flowing as he embraced me, tired muscles quivering. “I’ve one more thing to ask you, Jessica.”
“When I die, will you take my ashes across New Zealand? Scatter me like we did Great Granny?”
I clung to him for a long while before answering. “Of course, Grampie. It will be my privilege.”
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