Trevor and Joan

Have you ever had a pen pal? I've had loads. A few I had for several years. I even remember a pen pal I had in 2nd grade. He was from Adelaide, Australia, and his name was Davinder Gill. I'm not sure I even spelled his name correctly; I think I only wrote to him about three times. Not because I didn't like him, (in fact I'm pretty sure I still have his picture in a scrapbook from elementary school...) but because back then, staying in touch with someone on the other side of the world was pretty difficult. No email, no Skype, no cheap 15-cents-a-minute international calling cards. Heck, even with those things, staying in touch with someone on the other side of the world is difficult, and I oughta know, considering.

So anyway, when I run across someone who has made one such friendship stick, if you will, I'm impressed. When that friendship started in 1954 and is still going strong through four generations, I'm astounded.

And with that I introduce you all to Mr. Trevor Berry and his lovely wife Joan, of Dunedin, New Zealand. Trevor wrote to my great-grandfather over 50 years ago, inquiring about his knowledge/use of a particular printing press (they were both in the newspaper business), and instead received a reply from my grandfather. Having many things in common (several of which we are only now discovering), the two struck up a long-distance friendship.

Their first letters were primarily introductory, satiating each others' curiosity about what things were like in their respective countries. As they shared more personal stories and struggles, they discovered that in addition to sharing a love of newspapers and the printed word, they had both had siblings affected by the polio epidemic, and they were both the parent of a child with a disability. Trevor and Joan's son had Down syndrome, and my grandfather's oldest child, my aunt Kathleen, was diagnosed at birth with cerebral palsy, leaving her severely mentally disabled.

Many years passed, and the friends continued to write. They continued to share bits and pieces about life in New Zealand and Texas, celebrated successes, swapped photos, and encouraged one another in their struggles.

My grandfather died nearly twenty years ago. When he did, my mother made a conscious decision to continue writing where he left off, and a new friendship with the next generation began. Christmas cards and hand-written letters turned into e-mails and attached family photographs. Soon I was also creating family newsletters and began including the Berrys on my e-mail list. The remarkable friendship my grandfather had fostered over so many years was just too precious to give up. And now, having met them, I am so glad we all kept writing!

As I said earlier, the Berrys live in Dunedin, on the southern island of New Zealand, and the second-largest city in the country. Dunedin is a college town, a beautiful mix of city and country nestled all around the fair Otago Harbour and Peninsula. When Kyler and I made the decision to go to Australia for Erin's wedding, I knew I had to make every effort to include New Zealand in our itinerary. After all, when would I have an opportunity like this again?

So as you know, after Erin's wedding we flew into Queenstown and then drove over to Dunedin. We spent an evening, a full day, and about another half day there, our primary purpose being to meet Trevor and Joan. And as I expected, they are a lovely couple! Not only did they meet us at our B&B at 8pm that night and take us out to a buffet dinner, this spritely young pair also set aside an entire day the next day (out of what I know now is an extremely busy schedule) to chauffeur us all around the countryside, complying with our every whim or request. As if that weren't enough, they had arranged for us to join them at their daughter Christine's house, where she and her partner Ray fixed us an incredible meal (shrimp, fresh steaks, potatoes, salad, veggies, desserts....) and provided us with hours of good conversation. It was without question an experience few tourists have the opportunity to enjoy, and we are so grateful.


And now, a few of the things we did:

We started the day with Skype. Thank you Lord, for Skype! Kyler and I had only spoken with the boys once since we'd left Texas twelve days prior, so we took advantage of the opportunity (and the free internet!) at our bed and breakfast to visit with everyone and let Mom and Dad meet Trevor and Joan "in person." Mom said the only piece missing from everything she knew about Trevor was hearing his Kiwi accent, and now she has that, too. Very cool.

Next was a small tour of the city, stopping at a famous architectural landmark: the Dunedin Railway Station. What a beauty!

Kyler was his usual charming self, of course.

We continued on our way, winding down some roads lined with farms: those of the animal variety, growing cattle, sheep, red deer and many others, and those of the hardwood variety, growing all manner of evergreens including firs and redwoods. 

Sheep and sheep and more sheep! They'll graze anywhere, we found.

We learned that many of the firs actually grow three times faster in New Zealand's volcanic soil.  
Three times faster!

We passed a highly controversial building site, that of a new rugby stadium in Dunedin.

It's aptly named, don't you think?

And we stopped for a quick snack. 
You haven't seen New Zealand unless you've been to The Wobbly Goat Cafe.
Cute little place!

Hot chocolate and grilled ciabatta. Mmmmm....

Coffee so beautiful I had to take a picture! I have no idea how well it tasted. But isn't it pretty?

Group picture, with Trevor in his newly-acquired baseball hat (with my father's business logo embroidered on the front).

After our little lunch stop, we headed back through Dunedin. Trevor drove us over to Baldwin Street, the steepest street in the world (more on that in the next post!), and up along Highcliff Road (which lives up to its name!) all the way to Taiaroa Head at the tip of the Otago Peninsula. Taiaroa Head is known as the only mainland breeding colony of the Northern Royal Albatross in the southern hemisphere.

Stewart Island Shag, a native bird that was nesting all along the cliffs.

Unfortunately, we didn't see any of the albatrosses on this trip. After Taiaroa Head, we drove about halfway back down the peninsula along Portobello Road (I know! haha!) to Christine and Ray's house, where we were treated to an incredible meal.

After dinner, we all returned to Trevor and Joan's house to have a look at some history. All these years, Trevor has kept a scrapbook of the letters my grandfather, mother, and now we have sent to him. In addition to that, he has included several pages in their family photo albums with pictures he received.

My favorite swing set. Ever.

My mom, in one of their favorite photos.

This is my grandfather and three (of four) grandchildren. I'm the one on his lap on the right, and I would just like to say, for the record: Is that Cameron's face, or what?!

I actually think Cameron resembles his maternal great-grandfather a lot. 
(Well, you know, minus the glasses and mustache.) 

I think we stayed at their house until nearly midnight, talking, looking at photos, and reading letters. (And installing Skype. They were so thrilled with our conversation with my folks that they had us install it on their home computer so they could chat with their daughter and her family in Australia!) 

Words just can't describe how special it was to sit and read letters my grandfather wrote over 50 years ago. He was a very dear man to me, and died when I was only 11, so to look back on his life now, as an adult with an adult perspective, and read his words was very moving. I am so unbelievably glad we arranged to visit Dunedin and meet Trevor and Joan. Thank you so much for your gracious hospitality, friends! And now that you have Skype, we'll look forward to chatting with you again soon.

And that, friends and readers, was the best of our time in Dunedin!

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