I never met my father’s mother – my paternal grandmother. She died in the 1950s before I was born. What little I know of her came from my father. Dad was a fighter pilot for the RNZAF in WWII and left New Zealand and his family in 1940. He returned briefly to get married in 1945, then moved to Australia where I was born and he lived there until he died in the late 1980s.

I don’t know why but Dad didn’t keep in touch with his two brothers, Peter and David, who remained in New Zealand. I met them both in the 1990s (for only the second brief moment in my life) and it wasn’t until I moved to New Zealand in 2010 that I began to wonder what Uncle Peter is like. David died in 2006 and I figured that Peter would now be well into his 80s.

After the February 22, 2011 quake in Christchurch, Uncle Peter rang me to check that all was well. But that’s been the extent of our contact until I decided to bite the bullet and go visit him in Levin, up in the North Island. In mid-February, I was chairing a conference in Wellington so I rang Uncle Peter and gingerly suggested I might visit him and his wife, Joyce. I wasn’t really expecting a yes on that but, to my surprise, he seemed keen to meet.

So I flew up to Welly the day before the conference, hopped on a bus to Levin and arrived around lunch time. My uncle and his wife, Joyce, met me at the bus stop and I recognised him straight away – a thinner and taller version of my father. Joyce had prepared sandwiches for lunch and we spent several hours catching-up.

I had feared that there would be nothing much to talk about. I knew very little about Peter or David. I knew next to nothing about his mother and father – my grandparents. But I discovered why I love horses – my grandmother was born in Sussex, England and her family had a farm. She had a number of horses and named one of them Janet. Uncle Peter told me that her family disapproved of her marrying my grandfather and basically disinherited her. He was born in the UK too.

I also found out that my love of photography is shared by Uncle Peter and my paternal grandfather (who died way before I was born). I was intrigued to find out that my grandparents had married in Brisbane before moving to Wellington and starting their family, which included a daughter, Beth, who later died during childbirth. I forgot to ask if the child survived but I think my uncle would have mentioned if so.

Before retiring, my uncle was a copywriter and had worked with my grandfather who had an advertising agency in Welly. I didn’t know that my father had also worked there before joining the Air Force. We shared a joke about my mother (who was a bit prim and proper). Apparently, she and Dad visited Peter and Joyce shortly before they married and the family dog greeted them at the door by placing its paws on my mother’s shoulders. Would love to have seen the look on her face because my mother wasn’t overly keen on dogs. She would have hyperventilated for sure!

After we’d caught up on the years, my uncle said he had some jewellery of my grandmother’s that he wanted me to have, including her engagement ring. Peter and Joyce have two adopted children who visit them regularly, so I thought it more appropriate that the ring be given to his daughter. But my uncle felt it should go to the biological grandchild and I’m sure I spotted a little tear in his eye as he gave it to me.

I can’t tell you how stunned I was at this and how very special this ring is to me. I have my maternal grandmother’s engagement ring, which I’ve had remodelled. My maternal grandmother was a huge part of my upbringing. You can read about her here. Her name was Ivy Elizabeth Hyams (née Gallichan).

My paternal grandmother’s name was Alice Ruth Jenkins (née Evans). Her maiden name follows through to my father who was James Evans Jenkins and to me since my two middle names are Victoria Evans.

I now wear her ring and, every time I look at it, I wonder what she was like. My uncle also gave me a photo of her posing with my father and my grandfather. This was the first time I’d ever seen her apart from a very blurry photo my Dad had. I sort of feel like wearing her ring is keeping her memory alive because both Peter and I are the last of the line – his children are adopted and I have no kids.

Uncle Peter then gave me the family Bible. I didn’t even know there was a family Bible. It’s huge, very heavy and was given to my grandmother’s brother, Alfred Edwin Evans, on his “coming of age” in 1870. It has the most beautiful tooled-leather cover and has become a treasured item.

I plan to visit Uncle Peter again with hubs as I now feel a connection. I did think I had no living relatives left but nope, that’s wrong. I have my Uncle Peter.

UPDATE: I’ve now found out my paternal grandparents married in 1916. Now the question is: did they intend to settle in Brisbane but didn’t like it and shot through to Wellington instead? Or did the ship they sailed on have a port of call in Brisbane before sailing onto Welly? And more questions: did they decide to leave England because my great-grandparents didn’t approve of the marriage? Was the engagement ring bought in the UK or in Brisbane?

The family Bible.

On the inside of the cover is an inscription that reads "To Alfred Edwin Evans. The gift of his parents on his Coming of Age. 1870".

One of the many beautiful illustrations in the Bible. Each one has been lovingly protected by a piece of tissue paper.

Not sure when my grandparents married but I guess it was around 1910-1920. The diamonds are a lot more sparkly than they appear in this dodgy iPhone shot!

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