Chapter ONE - Where did her smile go?

by Rewa Nolan May 18, 2022

Chapter ONE - Where did her smile go?

Boil the kettle and stoke the fire, I have a story you might enjoy….

Chapter ONE

Did you ever get the chance to meet your Great Grandmother? I am probably one of the lucky ones. Although I have never actually met her in person she turns up to work with me every day.

Our story goes a little like this….

"Ah, fill the cup; what boots it to repeat
How time is slipping underneath our feet:
Unborn to-morrow and dead yesterday.
Why fret about then if to-day be sweet!"
These words are written in Jennifer's diary this day in 1922

“Who is she? And why is she so sad,” asked my daughter looking at the portrait of a woman with a straight smile and a pearl necklace.

“She is your Great Great Grandmother, and I think she is trying not to smile. When her photograph was taken it was made using a really long exposure and it’s really quite hard to hold an honest smile for more than a few seconds. “Let’s try it, “ Molly said, so we did. We couldn't hold a smile past the laughter that spurted from us. “It’s hard to be yourself when you can’t smile,'' said Molly.

Being herself was all Jennifer ever wanted. Jennifer was a writer for most of her life, in between collecting the warm eggs from the chook house or feeding the coal into the range to keep the stew simmering before supper. She wrote a column for The New Zealand Exporter called “Greener Pastures” about life on the dairy farm. She had more likes than a tik tok account and her words reached the far ends of New Zealand and abroad.

She used ink and paper and sat by the banks of the Mighty Clutha River to pen her words before she wound on the ribbon of her typewriter and danced over the keys with her fingertips before each page was folded inside an envelope, swum across the swift waters and then taken by horse and cart to Dunedin for publication.

Her manuscripts were handed down from generation to generation and now they have become my bedtime stories.

There is one story that I never knew the ending until now. A story called the Greater Love. It starts like this….

The day he posted the letter David began to build the house. 
A fine house it was to be, sod walls of course, only a but and ben, but instead of thatch it was actually to have a roof of iron. Board floors, too, white boards that Jean would love to keep scoured till they were like the “driven snaw.” It was to be grand and rather expensive, but then, could anything be too costly for Jean, his bonny Jean that had been waiting for him in far away Scotland for eight years.

Jennifer had three daughters, the only surviving daughter Joy, married Walter Ashford and together they built Ashford Handicrafts that continues today.

Their Daughter Gay (my mother) set up Ashford Australia back in 1984 out of a small garage in Sydney.  As a child I would help Mum sweep the water away from the pallets of spinning and weaving looms as the rain made its way in through the cracks in the floor.

My mother left New Zealand to marry my father and I was born in Singapore, I grew up in Hong Kong surrounded with high rise buildings and chinese laundries. Bamboo poles with clothes skewered like giant kebabs, it was fun to watch a pair of underpants wriggle loose and take flight in an afternoon breeze!

We visited New Zealand for family holidays and the thick green grass was always a welcome site. Riding on flying foxes in the Ashburton domain and sending messages up through the clouds on kite strings are fond memories of time spent with my grand parents Walter and Joy.

Mum & Dad moved from Hong Kong to the Snowy Mountains in Australia where together they set up Past Times a destination for the craft minded, an experience that took you back to the early pioneers,  weaving your way through the historic inn and craft centre you were left with an insatiable appetite for craft.

After my father recovered from an aneurysm in 2008 my parents moved from Past Times back to New Zealand to an idyllic setting on the side of a volcano, the harbourside town of Akaroa. Their new adventure, growing wine from the rich andosol soil of the Banks Peninsula. Every vintage of Meniscus wine, Reisling, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris awarded for its distinctive flavour and balance of craftsmanship and sunshine.

This transition saw the doors of Past Times close and reopen as Ashford Australia online for our customers across Australia to continue their textile experience from their home. Kitset Spinning Wheels and Weaving Looms making their way north, south, east and west across Australia - delivery of the entire Ashford product range to your doorstep.

Introducing Ashford Australia as Aunt Jenny in 2018we are now able to bring you an experience beyond textiles one I hope you might enjoy with me.

The ending of the Greater Love haunted me, my curiosity for Jennifer grew with every word I read and soon I had to follow her footsteps. Packing my warmest woolens I made my way to New Zealand, travelled south, crossed the mighty Clutha river on a punt and arrived at Inch. I had no idea what I was about to discover.

Pour yourself another cup of tea and I’ll continue the story….

Yours ‘til the kettle whistles!


Rewa Nolan
Rewa Nolan

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