I wanted to share with you a story about your book, Straight Off The Tussock. [Fraser Books, 2005]
I thought you might like to know that, over the last few weeks, this book has had an extraordinary impact on an elderly man and his wife in the last stages of their lives.
An elderly man that I knew, Mr L, had been a member of the crew of a ship in Wellington harbour in 1968, on the day of the great storm which caused the Wahine to go down. He, along with the rest of the crew, had seen it all happen from their ship – powerless, of course, to do anything to help.
Very sadly, a few months ago, Mr L was diagnosed with a terminal illness, and his elderly wife was also diagnosed with a terminal illness at the same time. They both became very ill very quickly. They were so unwell that they couldn’t read themselves, so I asked them if they would like me to read to them each afternoon when I came to visit, which they said they would like. So, I picked up my copy of Straight Off The Tussock and started to read it to them, starting (of course) with Chapter 8, The Wahine, as by this stage they really were very unwell and I feared we did not have enough time for start from Chapter 1.
The reason that I wanted to write this email is to tell you that Chapter 8 of your book brought a great amount of pleasure to Mr L and his wife in the last stages of their lives. I read just two or three pages, sometimes four, each day to them, as they were both so tired, but they would both often laugh and smile and chuckle, combined with sadness and shock at other parts of the story, at the way that Jack had told the story to you, and at the way that you had managed to retell the story in Jack’s inimitable way. They couldn’t control their laughter at the part where Jack described having to help the 18-stone woman with the enormous bosom and backside, the “great heap of femininity”, through the door onto the deck of the ship, with Jack telling her that it was “like shoeing a bloody great, fat, draught horse”. They were still giggling at that particular line for several days afterwards…
Mr L was amazed to hear the story, as told by someone who was involved in the disaster, after having seen it all happen from his own ship. He couldn’t believe it when Jack described the lack of help on land from the emergency services. It really gave him a whole new insight into the disaster. Both Mr L and his wife said several times that Jack must have been “quite a man” to be able to tell the story, of what can only have been an immensely traumatic experience, with such humour.
I wanted to tell you that Chapter 8 of Straight Off The Tussock had such a huge impact on two very unwell people in the last days of their lives. They really loved the story being read to them, and couldn’t wait to hear the next instalment each afternoon.