Myra Hoogwerf will soon be 97 years old. She is a winning Bridge player in Hehei’s Contract Bridge Club. With the help of a younger friend of Myra’s, (also a Hahei Contract Bridge player), Robyn Hogg, I was able to visit Myra to interview her about her life and her love of Bridge. Myra checked with me that this story is only about the game of Bridge and not her. She was very alert and thinks of herself as a very unremarkable person. I tell Myra that I can’t write one story without the other. Her response, a low-tone chuckle and we begin. I have used her words almost exactly as she spoke - short to-the-point statements.
Pauline Stewart - Editor
Myra has lived in Hahei for 10 years. She came to be near her daughter who lives at Hot Water Beach. Myra’s husband had died many years ago, she was well used to living by herself but she
had been coming down to Whitianga for a long time and sensed it was a good time to go to familiar territory and also be near her daughter.
“I have been playing bridge for about the last 70 years. “I learned Bridge in Auckland, she says, My friend, Honey, taught me to play. Some people at The Remuera Golf Club had said they would like to play Bridge, but didn’t know how to play. This was in the 50’s. There was quite a few of us who met on a Thursday night at the Golf Club and learned to play Bridge from Honey.”
Coming to Hahei
“When I came down here, I didn’t know anybody. I played golf with a couple of people who were close by. I found out there was a Bridge Club here. I had always enjoyed the game in Auckland and it’s a good way to meet people. I contacted Bill and Annette Cummings (they have since both died), and they took me on a Tuesday. Then, I used to walk to Bridge and now I’m a bit lazy or a bit doddery, so I drive.
I really love the game. I like the challenge and I like the people who come to Bridge. It is only once a week, but I would like to play more. Until recently I was playing at Tairua on a Monday, and Whitianga on a Wednesday. So it was three days in a row - my social life. During Covid, we ended up by having games at home. We would play eight people - you didn’t come if you felt unsafe. We kept in touch that way. It was good to do that. There is really nobody around my house now that I know. There are people who have recently moved in, but I’m deaf and it puts me off meeting new people.”
Myra lives in a two storey house. She has a wood burner and gets the wood from a pile in her back yard. Her vegetable garden is extensive and well-kept. “I have lived by myself for so long, I don’t think I could live with anybody else. My daughter at Hot Water Beach is a teacher, so, during Covid, she could not come to visit, being with children all the time.” At this point, Myra offers me a cookie from a batch she has made herself. Myra often produces cookies and at Bridge on a Tuesday, she is in the kitchen packing the dishwasher.
“I cook for myself and I go to Whitianga nice a week and do my own shopping. I’m finding it a bit of a drag lately. I still love driving despite everything. Her low voice chuckles again (she had a bit of an incident with her car).
Te Kuiti and childhood
“I grew up in the King country - beyond Te Kuiti - in the wild. We were not on a farm. We had a great life. The house is still there. I was the youngest of five - probably spoilt.
My Dad was an immigrant from Scotland and he was a watchmaker and jeweller. My husband learned the trade from my father. When a train was going through, they would fill up the engine with water in Te Kuiti, and that’s how the town started. My father and his friend rode on horseback from Stratford through to Te Kuiti and he started a jeweller and watchmaker’s shop. That shop in Te Kuiti was still under our family’s name until it was sold recently - Fenton Watchmakers and Jewellers.
Hard Times and playing cards
“I remember when we had nothing. It was the years of the Great Depression - a watchmaker and jeweller and five kids. No one was coming for watch repairs. We had our own cows and made butter; we had a big garden. At one stage, Dad rented the shop out to a hairdresser. My mother worked, which was very unusual in those days. She started a tea room with two other women who were good cooks. Mum was working, so Grandma was living with us and looked after us. My older siblings were at boarding school. We played cards always. Mum and Dad used to play Auction Bridge. It’s a wee bit different from Contract Bridge. You can play Auction Bridge around the kitchen table. Bridge has to be a foursome, and they played with their neighbours.
The Great Depression was about independence and self-sufficiency. They had all been away to the First World War and the Spanish Flu had only just left us. I was very young, but I remember we didn’t have hardly anything, but yet we were living almost better than many others.
I learned to have that independence and self-sufficiency, and I learned that it’s not good to ‘sit on the fence’.”
My life these days
“About 40 of us play Bridge here at Hahei. When you are playing Bridge, you cannot think about anything else. It is good for my memory. You have to remember all the cards that have been played. A game of Bridge takes three and a half hours. Anybody can learn Bridge. But it’s not a game that you pick up in five minutes. I am sorry when people say, ‘It’s too hard’. It makes such a difference when you begin to understand the game, but to think you can understand it in five minutes, then you are mistaken and short-changing Bridge.
Bridge is my life these days. It helps my mental ability and it is the friendships. It is not like meeting someone at a café to have a cup of coffee. When you play Bridge, you are forming a close relationship; you have to trust your partner. It’s more than socialising.”
Pictured : Myra Hoogwerf