Vanish the Thought
One of the loveliest stories told during the mihi and whaikororeo was by Aunty June about Nama’s Pond’s Cream. The story of Ponds “began when Theron T. Pond, a pharmacist from Utica New York, introduced ‘Pond’s Golden Treasure’ in 1846, a witch-hazel based wonder product.
In 1886 it was relaunched as Pond’s Extract and in 1914 Pond’s Cold Cream and Vanishing Cream marked the brand’s evolution to a beauty icon. By the mid-1920s it was reflecting this positioning with endorsements by society beauties.” Nama (like so many of our women after her including my grandmother Elizabeth, whom we called Nanny Mum, many of my aunts and my own mother Reenie) used Pond’s Vanishing or Cold Cream.
I have to say, they aged beautifully those Heke women though whether we can attribute that to Pond’s is probably up for dispute. My mother often said that having a ‘square’ face was good, the skin hung like canvas on a ‘square’ face (and I suppose by implication didn’t sag quite so soon!). Whatever the case, I remember them all, my grandmother Elizabeth, my aunties, Tangi, Doreen, Miriam, Aniwaniwa and my own mother, all of whom have passed away now but whose complexions were beautiful.
The story as Aunty June tells it was that she used to sneak into Nama’s room and use her Pond’s Vanishing cream in the great hope (against all odds it turned out) that she would vanish. That’s right, as in Harry Potter vanish! It made a number among us chuckle, deep belly-chuckles because as I found out later, some of those who’d laughed had done exactly that same thing for exactly the same reason! Thankfully, beauty isn’t skin deep, right? There’s more to a person than that isn’t there? Of course.
Over dinner I spoke to one of the kaumatua (male Elders), his silver hair his own mark of aging beauty though his voice shone brightly with remembered youthful antics. I liked him alot this old kaumatua and over my unashamedly heaped plate of watercress cooked to within an inch of its boiled up life and lipsmacking good to boot he told me his story. Incidently, for those of you who haven’t had the pleasure yet, “watercress or Nasturtium officinale from the Family: N.O. Cruciferae is a hardy perennial found in abundance near springs and open running watercourses.
It has smooth, shiny, brownish-green, pinnatifid leaves and ovate, heart-shaped leaflets, the terminal one being larger than the rest. It has small white flowers and is particularly valuable for its anti- scorbutic qualities and has been used as such from the earliest times. As a salad it promotes appetite while they say that the leaves bruised or the juice will free the face from blotches, spots and blemishes, when applied as a lotion.” I’ve eaten food from right around the world but I’d forgo all of it for pork bones and watercress, absolutely!
The kaumatua told me he envied Aunty Queenie and her brothers (Nama’s children). I wondered why and as he went on I realised my great grandmother Moewaka (Nama as I’ve interchangeably refered to her here) was perhaps a woman ahead of her times. He related a story of how he used to walk across the paddocks at night to sit beneath the kitchen window at the old homestead (it was always open) even in winter, where he huddled against the external brick chimney for warmth and where he would sit in the dark for hours listening to Nama talk to and with her children.
He told me back in the old days, children were definitely not meant to be heard, let alone be seen. He said Nama always took the time to speak to and teach both children and adults alike, whether it was the old maori ways or telling the stories of her people, or feeding anyone who was hungry, she always had time. He said it was the talking to and with that always made him envious. It’s funny what we remember about a person isn’t it. Sometimes things we least expect to or at the time we gave no significance to yet on reflection they are the things that we store in our memory, as keep sakes.
She sounded very kind my great grandmother. Kind and generous, upright (by other accounts), strong hearted, a practical, no nonsense woman whom for some unknown reason I’ve liked the sound of from the very beginning. Looking around the crowded whare kai (dining room) I see among the women of this Heke heritage, in whom herstory is inherently resident a strength of character that is to be admired and I do.