Another Bright Beautiful Spirit

 Moawhango memorial chapel

The chapel at Oi’s home

A life – another instalment of my autobiography before I revert to my normal blogs

My friend Oi (pronounced O-ee) had ideas so advanced that even Quaker Meeting – that most liberal and open- minded Christian group – threw her out.

With no family around us, friends of all ages were always important and she mattered to us as much as Philippa. Edith Oiroa was born in 1900- called Edith by conventional people but Oi by kindred spirits. She was the youngest of ten, born to a father who was sixty years old, and she died when she was a hundred and two – so the two life-times covered a hundred and sixty- two years, and went back to 1840. Her father had been a cabin boy on a ship that was wrecked on the NZ coast in 1856.

Local Maoris formed a human chain to rescue him, and he stayed with them for some time, becoming very close to the chief. After returning to England, he came back with a seventeen-year-old bride, and the Maori chief gave him land with which to start his life here.

Robert Batley, Oi’s father, established a huge sheep farm, built a big beautiful house, cottages for his shepherds, barns, wool-sheds and an exquisite little chapel, where Oi and her nine brothers and sisters played the organ and helped hand out prayer books to the shepherds and their families as they entered. As each child was born, the generous chief had given them some Maori land.

He ceremonially adopted Oi, and gave her the Maori name Oiroa, which roughly translated, means: ‘compassion for those in need’. Though it was shortened to Oi, she lived up to her name always, and when I met her was beloved by many people for very good reasons.

She married a distinguished Auckland architect – William Gummer – who worked with the famous Edwin Lutyens in England, and is sometimes known as NZ’s Frank Lloyd Wright. He created many of Auckland’s great buildings, and beautiful private homes including some famous ones in the Hawkes Bay. Oi herself was very musical, and played the piano, and was so deeply involved in the musical life of her adopted city, that in the early thirties she and another musical aficionado, started the first orchestra in the city, whose descendant is still thriving.

She was beautiful – and open-hearted and sweet-natured. She was also unhappily married to a much older controlling, jealous and angry man. Other men loved her, and I picked up hints over the years of tempestuous scenes and dramatic confrontations, one in which her loyal cleaning lady divested a desperate suitor of his shotgun at the front door. Oi received and declined her last proposal in her eighties.

Her zest for life never diminished, in spite of a son’s suicide, a difficult life, and much loneliness. Neither did her kindness fail, or her energy, for that matter. I was sure her inner life kept her young. She was often busy driving “old ladies” shopping until well into her nineties. She obviously didn’t feel she qualified for that label – yet! Her spontaneity and authenticity, happiness and serenity, endeared her to all ages.

I met her at Quaker meeting, where we were both what is called attenders, as opposed to members. On occasion when the beautiful and mystical silence was gently broken by a deeply felt message, if it was Oi, as she was known for short, it would be a profoundly mystical and eminently practical thought.

Throughout her life she was drawn to mysticism, a branch of the spiritual life which has always been mistrusted by organised religion, as its devotees seek union with the Source, whatever it is called, thus bypassing the need for priests, mullahs, rabbis, gurus or whatever. Whether these mystics were Muslim, as in the case of Rumi and the Sufis, or Christians like Master Eckhart, Mother Julian or St John of the Cross, they often came to a sticky end at the hands of their respective religions.

Luckily in the twentieth century, this fate is not so common, and Oi escaped lightly by just being blackballed by Quakers! She explored most branches of both Western and Eastern mysticism, and in her thirties, became a lover of Ramakrishna’s teachings, keeping a photo of him by her bed-side always. He practised several religions, including Hindu, Islam and Christianity, and taught that in spite of the differences, all religions are valid and true, and they lead to the same ultimate goal- God.

After Oi introduced herself to me, and invited me to her beautiful house (I had not been long in NZ then), we became close, and she became my mentor. My two small children looked on her as a grandparent and we loved going to her serene and peaceful home.

Though it was in the city, it sat among mature trees and a rambling, flowery garden with a stream. Her architect son had designed it for her. Music, in her mid-seventies, was still her passion. Sometimes I would arrive at the garden entrance, and hear the glorious sounds of a trio or a quartet streaming out of the windows, and I’d stand silently outside under the persimmon tree, listening to Mozart or Mahler.

When the children and I were there, we‘d often end up singing round the piano with the student who boarded with her, and was a brilliant pianist and lovely tenor. We’d all sing favourites as diverse as Handel’s, ‘Where e’er you walk”, to: “Feed the birds,” from Mary Poppins. My other musical friend, Phillipa, whose unbearable life was slightly improved by taking clarinet lessons, and who longed to play in an orchestra, needed practice playing with others.

Hearing about her, typically, Oi offered to play with her, and through music-making, they learned to love each other too. I was spending the day with Oi when I learned that the ship Phillipa was sailing on had caught fire, and she and the children, plus her six-month-old baby, were adrift in a lifeboat in a violent storm. I spent all day praying and  imagining her anguish and exhaustion trying to keep the children warm in an open boat, never realising that they were already dead.

Oi’s unorthodox thinking, which of course, was not confined to spiritual practises, but spread into all areas of her life, alienated her family who were very religious and ultra- conservative. She rarely saw them, so she began spending Christmas with us until one son who disapproved of us too, was shamed into inviting her for Christmas after many years.

Their loss was our gain, and in some ways Oi became a  part of our family. She gave me many of the books which had sustained her and influenced her thinking, and which had helped her find her path to expanded consciousness and freedom. One of the joys of reading them was that she’d underlined or marked the passages which sang to her.

Not only did I find this a wonderful aid to a deeper understanding, both of the texts and of Oi, but it also taught me the pleasure of marking and making my books my own, which I had never dared to do before.

I’d grown up learning that books should be treated as sacred, and never marked, turned down, or in any way treated as familiar friends. I do it all the time now, knowing that others who eventually find their way to them will – or might – enjoy the same pleasures of insight and intimacy as I have done.

Oi’s words still remain in my mind, and often come back to me. When there was a problem she would close her eyes, and focus for a minute, then open them and say firmly: “You cannot know the solution.  You can only pray that the situation evolves for the highest good of you, and everyone else involved. And know that this will happen, and let it go.”

She’d quote T.S. Eliot: “It is not our business what others may think of us,” or: “God wastes nothing”. She’d say: “Let go and let God.” – and, “Happiness is like water in the palm of your hand. If you gently hold your palm open, it will stay. But if you clutch it and try to hang onto it, you lose it.” She died at over a hundred, fourteen years ago, but her loving wisdom sustains me still.

When my life began taking some strange turns, becoming involved with an innocent man accused of a double murder, our phone being tapped, death threats, drug lords, and other frightening developments, Oi was always there encouraging us and supporting us.

To be continued

 Food for Threadbare Gourmets

 I love puddings – hot, cold, chocolate, lemon, fruit, baked, steamed, chilled – you name it. I haven’t made clafoutis for ages, but decided, it being winter, we could do with a hot pudding, and dug out this old recipe from my clippings. It has more eggs in it than some clafoutis recipes, but when I was worried about the children getting enough protein when we were vegetarian, this was one of the dishes that stilled my anxieties.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Butter a pie dish or oven proof dish. In a large bowl, whisk together six eggs, eight tablespoons of sugar, a teasp of vanilla, until the sugar is dissolved. Add twelve tablespoons of flour and whisk until smooth. Pour the batter into the pie dish.

Now add two and a half cups of pitted cherries, fresh or frozen if you have them – or any other berries. If using frozen don’t melt them, but toss them in frozen. You can also use plums, or tinned peaches. Sprinkle some sugar over the top and bake until the clafoutis is beautifully puffed and golden, 35–40 minutes. Serve immediately – with cream or even good ice-cream.

Food for Thought

 Lovers of God do not belong to any caste.

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa



Filed under colonial life, cookery/recipes, culture, human potential, life/style, love, philosophy, The Sound of Water, uncategorised, Uncategorized

29 responses to “Another Bright Beautiful Spirit

  1. Dearest Valerie,

    Oi sounds like a dear person. And what a fascinating background. I’m sure she appreciated you as much as you appreciated her. Your vivid and lovingly written remembrances of her endear her to your reader. I can imagine her through your words.
    As always, you leave me anticipating the next chapter as you ended with a bit of a cliff hanger.
    Much love to you and himself. I hope the bookcases are coming along or have been completed. Tell him I’m still in need of new ones myself. 😉 Meanwhile I’m having a lovely visit with my brother and sister in law in North Carolina, close to the ocean.

    Shalom and hugs,



  2. What remarkable people have blessed your life. I decided to google William Gummer and discovered he designed the Bridge of Remembrance, in Christchurch. Unfortunately, his wife is barely mentioned in the Google article. 😦 No surprises there. As for clafoutis, I have never met a clafouti I didn’t like.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jane Sturgeon

    My lovely friend, your unique light has drawn into your life such wonderful souls. Oi comes alive in your words and memories and this was a joy to read. Her calm balance is part of her heritage isn’t it? Wrapping you in much love always. ❤ xXx

    Liked by 1 person

  4. My grandmother came from a Quaker background. I love that verse from Isaiah 41:13. For I am the Lord, Your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, do not fear; I will help you.” What is interesting to me it that God brings people into our lives at the right time. I am grateful to all of those who have added joy and hope to my life. In our fast-paced world, we must be intentional with our kindness because it is so easy to be absorbed by the immediate rather than strategic with acts that sustain. I think of Saint Teresa of Avila: “Accustom yourself continually to make many acts of love, for they engined and melts the soul.” Hugs coming your way…

    Liked by 2 people

    • Dearest Rebecca, what a wonderful comment – so many threads and thoughts -, and how I love that quote from Isaiah… though I have to admit, I love the words of the King James Bible when push comes to shove !!!

      I so agree about the timing of the wonderful people who come into our lives – like you- as well as the enduring friendships that follow us through our life-times…
      and YEs, to Saint Teresa !!!
      Much love, Valerie

      Liked by 1 person

  5. “You cannot know the solution. You can only pray that the situation evolves for the highest good of you, and everyone else involved. And know that this will happen, and let it go.” This has been my sustaining belief for many years now. Oi sounds like the most special person. Very much enjoyed her story, thank you.


    • Dear Ardys, so love it that you resonated to Oi’s words… that response to living takes all the angst out of events that might bother us, doesn’t it…
      So glad you enjoyed Oi’s story… special people like her never leave our hearts and lives, it seems…

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Angela

    Once again reading of Oi in Heaven is a place…was a joy & inspiration …what a warm & peaceful soul …..she’s my model to follow as I too walk down the path of ‘old ladiness’ !!!
    Much love

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Angela, my faithful reader, and kind friend, lovely to read your words about darling Oi…I bet you will walk down that path joyfully and peacefully yourself – much love, Valerie


  7. I am always so thankful to the Universe, which brings into our lives the perfect thing, person or event to make our lives much richer. The quotes you have written in the post are perfect and lovely and Devine. For it is true…we are all striving to reach Heaven and to see God…no matter which steps we follow to get there.
    Love you, my dear and wonderful friend.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dearest Linda, thank you for your lovely words … loving friends, like both you and Oi do make our lives so rich…
      And yes, I do believe that we are ‘all striving to reach heaven’, consciously or unconsciously… and so none of us can know the inner meaning of another life or the actions of another person……

      Liked by 1 person

  8. You’ve been friends with some wonderful women Valerie – just one of these two women would have been a pleasure to know, let alone both Philippa and Oi.


  9. What a lovely person. How strange that somebody like her is not appreciated by close relations because of their constipated religious ideas! The chapel is a delight, and the thought of that music resounding in such surroundings lovely to think upon.
    I can’t wait to hear about those strange turns — quite remarkable ones, in fact.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dear Lesley, love your comment… I think the thing about families, in my own experience too, is that the moment a person stops doing what they are expected to do, and fulfllls their own destiny, rather than satisfying the expectations of others, they absolutely stop being appreciated by their family! The fate of Oi …and she also enjoyed the compensation of knowing she had been true to herself…and that she had not wasted the opportunities to live this life with courage and imagination…

      Liked by 1 person

  10. So much inspiration from your post and from your friend Oi. One of the reasons I love second-hand books is because they feel like a connecting thread between me and another I will never meet but who enjoyed reading and studying the same words on the exact same page.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Love your comment – yes, Oi was an inspiration… above all that she had the courage to be herself, rather than the person her family wanted her to be!
      And yes, that’s how I feel about second-hand books too…best wishes, Valerie

      Liked by 1 person

  11. What a wonderful woman, Oi sounds – what a lasting influence she must have had on you, and like you say, she became a valuable mentor to you. A case of ‘What would Oi say or make of this? when you are puzzled by something.

    About writing notes in books and making them your own – i remember when my husband found me writing in a book in this manner, he was so shocked. Like there is this rule we have to follow due to some kind of hallowed respect for the printed word. The books I mark are the ones I keep as a little library of spiritual inspiration, they are very important to me indeed. I also marked textbooks when i was studying to follow my own understanding. For engagement like this, the marking is indeed a pleasure!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Lovely to hear from you Lynne… yes, Oi never seems to have left my life… she was an inspiration… above all that she had the courage to be herself, rather than the person her family wanted her to be!
    Yes, I thought you would understand about marking books – what we were taught was so shocking when I was a child seems a delight now… and I turn down pages too, which was also a no- no !
    “The books I mark are the ones I keep as a little library of spiritual inspiration, they are very important to me indeed.” you’ve expressed what both Oi and I have done and still do… and when she handed on those books to me, they were full of wonderful insights and comments too…
    Love, Valerie

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I’m horrible, Valerie: I jumped to your recipe!
    And since I’m a huge fan of clafoutis (hard not to be for a French-born girl) I copied your recipe. Mine use less eggs and I make some with blueberries and even strawberries. I also sometimes use almond milk when I have dairy allegy friends over. Clafoutis are very versatile, even though the cherry-based ones are still the best. In the original French recipe you’re supposed to leave the pit, which brings some extra flavor. But with kids I tended to use pitted too. Safer.
    Thank you for this new recipe!


  14. Juliet

    Your character portraits are always so beautiful, Valerie. I feel that I know Oi as if I’ve met her in person.


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