By Stan Stewart
Coromandel’s recent terrible weather reminds me of storms I have lived through.
In the 90’s we lived in the Karangahake Gorge, opposite the Tea Rooms and across the road from the Rest Area on the banks of the Ohinemuri River. In January 1997 the tail end of cyclone Drena, caused the river to flood and closed State Highway Two. The highway in front of our house was above the water, but flooding had covered both ends of the highway in the Gorge. We were safe but marooned. Frankly I didn’t mind it. We had food in the fridge and missing out on a couple of meetings was a real pleasure. But then something unsettling happened.
The length of highway in front of our house that was above water extended for about 400 meters in both directions. A car was driving frantically up and down this stretch of road. It made no sense, as there was no possible way to get out at either end. As evening was closing in, I made the decision to talk to the driver of this mystery vehicle. He had a rough appearance and was wild eyed. I noticed he had many tools in his car. I explained that there was no way he could get out of the Gorge that night. With my wife’s agreement, I suggested he stay the night with us. He grumpily accepted the offer. In fact, the storm continued, and he stayed with us for two nights. What I know now is that he was autistic. He lived on his own in a nearby town and generated some income by doing yard work. In the time he was with us, he said very little and kept to himself.
Those two nights were tough for us and our youngest boy. In the 80’s, Stanley Kubrick produced a terrifying movie, ‘The Shining’. We hadn’t seen the movie, but the unforgettable poster promotion put in our mind that we were possibly accommodating an axe murderer. We slept lightly with our dog sleeping across the bedroom door and I had a golf club by the bed. Well, guess what! When the road opened, he immediately left, and we have never seen him since.
That memory brought to mind another kind of dangerous storm I weathered. This was a threatening emotional storm. On reflection I think my impulse to accommodate a man in need was planted by what happened to me 27 years earlier. It was the week before Christmas and my marriage suddenly broke up. It was entirely my fault, and I was left in an empty house stripped of Christmas decorations to suffer alone. Amazingly, out of the blue I was rescued by Paul. My contact with Paul was minuscule. We were both passionate about black gospel music from USA – both current and going back to the 20’s. I had talked to him twice on the phone and met him once. But it was enough. Our love of this music bonded us. Out of the blue, in the middle of my pre-Christmas agony he rang me. I told him of my predicament. “Come and live at my house for a while,” he said. “You need people.” He was talking about his home in another city where he lived with his parents. I knew I had to get out of the empty house where I felt surrounded by pain. I was immediately interested. “What will your parents say?” I asked. “My folks welcome everyone I bring home,” he replied.
My view of Paul before this was that he was a bit weird - eccentric. He certainly was a non-conformist to the fashions and trends in the youth culture of those days. But he was happy in his own skin and didn’t care what others thought. His parents were just as he said, accepting and non-questioning. I stayed at his house for a couple of months. I did some painting work in lieu of rent. This time out may have saved my life! It certainly re-enforced my interest in and acceptance of people who wear the label ‘unusual’. Since I left his home, I have only contacted Paul a couple of times. What I am sure of is that we were good for each other.
There are all kinds of storms. I feel sorry for the Coromandel and all those folks whose holiday plans have been upset by wet and stormy weather. However, sometimes upsets can lead to unexpected people with unexpected outcomes – some of them good. I am glad we acted the way we did with the strange man in the Gorge. And what about my quirky friend Paul? I don’t think he ever thought things out. He just went with his heart. Way to go Paul!
And to close I can do no better than to remind myself and those who read this of a quote from Anne Frank. “Despite everything, [despite the Nazis and the holocaust], I believe that people are really good at heart.”