As a young child I would proudly tell people that my grandpa, as I called him, was a captain of a ship in the war. I don't think that is what I was told, but I'm sure it sounded adequately impressive. Yes, Ronald Stafford Martin was a sailor in WWII, but as a crewman on a supply ship. Retrospectively I'm glad he had a humble position on a non-combat vessel. I can't imagine my grandpa, a gentle giant, being able to raise a fist in anger, let alone kill another man. And evidently the war spared him, and he returned to marry his sweetheart, Rose Mary Gordon Forlong. From what I can gather sailors had a bad reputation in conservative Christian circles in the 1940s, but whatever doubts my grandmother, or her parents, had, soon proved very ill founded. They were married, and subsequently had five children. My father, Selwyn, was preceded by an older brother, Wesley, and followed by two younger brothers, Carey and Lincoln, and a sister, Sharon.
My grandparents raised their children, "not too rich, not too poor". Grandpa lay linoleum for a living, assuring the family of a reasonably steady though humble income. Any extravagance was out of the question,but from what I understand, there was always food aplenty for the family and all those who gravitated towards their welcoming home.
One of my earliest memories of him is his hands. Calloused, ingrained with years of lino glue, and immensely strong, they were "human nut crackers". We, that is my sister and I, would take great delight in collecting walnuts from under their neighbours tree. He would then crack them open with a squeeze of his hands. We only stopped this when, after his first stroke, his ensuing exertion was met by disapproving looks.
The vehicle I remember my Grandpa driving was a mustard-yellow Toyota station wagon. Quite fitting for him in hindsight: practical, understated, and ever so reliable. But it wasn't so much the car all his grandchildren remember well, but his driving. Approaching dangerously close to a fast walking speed, Grandpa would be upfront singing "My name is McNamara, I'm the leader of the band" whilst we gave long-suffering looks to the substantial queue of traffic behind us. But oddly enough, the older he got the faster he got. I remember catching a ride into church with him on Sunday evenings, and the short drive down Great South Road to the chapel in Newmarket was at times simply hair-raising. I still have flashbacks of one particularly wide turn into Ngaire Avenue, with hardly any use of the brakes. The only explanation we can give for his spotless, accident-free driving record is him having four angels permanently assigned to him, one for each corner of his car.
My grandfather took great delight in his grandchildren, and visiting him was always a treat, and never a chore. All of my cousins I suspect, share one particularly fond memory of both him, and Rose. In the summer months, on the hopelessly misplaced premise that we were there to "help", we would all climb into that mustard-yellow station wagon, and make the trip out to the Mangere strawberry fields. We would assist Grandpa and Grandma in their annual strawberry picking venture, but I'm sure not many of those sun-warmed bundles of sweetness actually made it into the basket. Grandpa, in fact, joked about the growers needing to weigh not only the baskets on arrival, but the children also. That way on our departure they could reweigh us, calculate the additional weight of the strawberries in our bulging stomachs, and charge us for those as well. Stuffed full, with juice-smeared faces, we would eventually pile back in for the trip home. Then, Rose and Ron would sit in the kitchen, preparing the berries to make jam. Ron would sit there, at the kitchen bar, shucking the strawberries, whilst some additional "product testing" further reduced the final number destined for the pot. He had a sweet tooth, and I inherited it.
Grandpa took his final years in the same manner he lived the rest of his life. Gently, without grumbling, deeply humble. His health failing him, my final memories were of him lying in his bed, dependant on others for his every need. I would call in, and when I timed it right it was my turn to do something for him - the man who spent his life so generously giving to others. I would spoon his evening meal into his mouth, the lukewarm custard slipping down easily into his now toothless mouth, and occasionally, if it spilt, down over his grey stubbly chin. Not much was said, but these final weeks I treasure as much as those sun-soaked days in the strawberry fields. Grandpa you were extraordinary.
In Memory of Ronald Stafford Martin
28th May 1922 - 1 January 2005