The Te Karaka social hall was jam-packed with people, and nearly everyone was up on their feet dancing. The big event was the wedding reception for Whatu Ward and Ora Mackenzie.
Whatu had hired his friend Willie Rutene’s band, The Glasses, to play at the reception, and they were doing a pretty fair job on one of the Monkee’s latest hits, Daydream Believer. The crowd really was going wild, even despite the stifling, muggy, heat.
Te Karaka, a small, rural town on the North Island of New Zealand, had been held in the grips of a heat wave for most of the last month – not unusual just a few weeks before Christmas. But now, the NZBC weather people were saying that 1967 might just go down as one of the hottest summers ever.
Weather notwithstanding, the wedding had been a much-anticipated event in Te Karaka. Whatu was very popular and had many friends – he owned a big sheep station over near Mangatu, and had played on the Te Karaka rugby team for years.
Practically everyone in Te Karaka, young and old, had come to the reception, and it was widely regarded as probably the biggest event Te Karaka had seen all year long. People had come from as far away as Napier and Tolaga Bay – even Whakatane and Opotiki.
Of course the fact that Whatu had laid on a tremendous amount of food and booze hadn’t helped to persuade anyone to attend, either.
The week before the wedding, Star Rutene had gone hunting in the bush at Waioeka Gorge and had shot a wild boar, which he donated to the wedding party. That and some venison donated by Wayne Morris, reportedly along with some Weka birds (which were protected and quite illegal to eat) as well as a ton of other food had ended up in a huge hangi, which was served to the guests after cooking all afternoon.
The wedding had taken place late in the afternoon at the local Anglican Church over on Balfour Road, and then after the ceremony, everyone had driven to the social hall for the reception. As soon as all the people had arrived, the cooks uncovered the hangi and began serving dinner. Then, a couple hours later when everyone was feeling very mellow (there had been a bottle of wine at each place setting), the music started.
Daydream Believer gave way to a Doors song, Light My Fire, with Willie’s brother Toots singing lead.
On the edge of the crowded dance floor, two teenagers, Roz and Mike rushed quickly out through the doors of the social hall, hoping that no one had seen them leave. The loud music blared out in back of them and then chopped off abruptly as the doors swung closed.
Roz stepped quickly to the side of the door and peered cautiously through the window back into the crowded hall. “Gosh, I hope my mum didn’t notice,” she said.
Roz had come to the wedding with her parents, and she’d arranged for Mike to show up at the reception hoping they’d be able to spend some time together – outside the prying eyes of her parents. After the obligatory meeting with her parents, making small talk with them for a few minutes, Mike and Roz had joined the throng of people dancing in the hot, sweaty hall. They plotted their departure as they danced, and after only about twenty minutes, they’d decided it was time to try and give Roz’s parents the slip.
“I don’t think they saw us leave,” said Roz, staring intently into the hall.
People milled around about them on the crowded veranda. Oblivious, Roz still peered through the window.
Mike put his hand on Roz’s shoulder, and gently pulled her back from the window. “It’s okay. Let’s go.”
Another quick glance through the window, and Roz turned to Mike. She shook her head. “I dunno,” she said. “What if they saw us leave?”
“Aw, c’mon. She’ll be right. They didn’t see us. Your mum won’t even notice we’ve gone,” Mike said, looking into her beautiful brown eyes. He shook his head and then shrugged. “Look, what’s it matter, anyway? We’re both thirteen, and that’s old enough to do what we want. C’mon.” He tugged on her hand.
She gently pushed him away and then almost in a whisper, said, “What’s it matter, you stupid Yank bastard? I don’t want to bloody get killed, that’s what!”
She looked back into the hall one last time. Her parents weren’t visible. She looked back at Mike and shrugged. ”Okay, I guess it’s alright. I just wanted to make sure. Let’s go, then.” Grinning, her eyes widened and then she grabbed his hand and started down the stairs.
Mike trailing after her, they walked down the steps towards a group of Maori kids who were milling about, sneaking drinks of beer when they thought no one was looking.
“’Ere now!” called out one of the kids as they passed, “And just where do you two think you’re off to?” It was Rangi Tamanui. He stood to their side, swaying slightly, grinning.
Smiling as they walked towards them, Mike waved and said, “Hey Rangi, whyn’t ya get stuffed, you nosy bastard! Does your father know you nicked his Waikato? Reckon maybe you oughta give me a bottle, huh?”
Rangi smiled, staggering a little. “Sure thing, mate. Trade ya for the sheila, eh?”
Roz stopped, and facing him, said sweetly, “Hmm, I see Makere let you out tonight. She’s going to be so pleased when she hears how her boyfriend was behaving like a drunken lout. But anyway, I would think I’m worth at least three bottles of beer and that’s probably two more bottles than you’ve got – right?”
The Maoris all laughed, and one of them slapped Rangi on the back of his head.
Roz shook her head and smiled at them, and then pulled on Mike’s hand, tugging him along, out into the night.
The moon was full, which made it easy to weave through the cars parked on the grass in front of the social hall, and soon they were crossing the macadam road.
“So where are we going to go?” she asked, squeezing his hand. “They shouldn’t notice we’re gone as long as the band keeps playing.”
Mike held her hand for a moment, thinking, and then said, “How about that haystack off the end of the football field? There’s a place we can sit and talk.”
She nodded. “Okay.”
They reached the five-bar metal gate leading into the town’s rugby field – which in the off-season during the week, occasionally doubled as a sheep paddock.
“Can you open the gate? I can’t climb over it. Not dressed like this.” She pulled at the hem of her dress.
“Sure.” He stepped in front of her and opened the gate wide, and then as soon as she entered, he closed it behind them.
“So how’s your mum?” she asked as they walked.
Mike shrugged. “She’s okay. It’s just a cold.”
“We missed her, Friday. They had Mr. Lennane substitute for her, and it was horrible. They couldn’t find anyone else. I don’t think he knows any maths. Just had us read from our books for the whole lesson.”
“She’ll be back on Monday.
“Good.” She was silent for a few seconds as they walked, and then asked, “Is it hard having your parents as your teachers?”
Mike shrugged. “I dunno. I guess it was at first, but now maybe I’m getting used to it.”
“They didn’t teach when you lived back home in the States?”
“Nope. Waikohu College is the first teaching job for them both.”
Roz was silent again for a few moments, and then asked, “Do you miss the States?”
Mike shook his head. “No. I guess maybe I did at first, but it’s been over a year, now. It’s much more fun living here in Te Karaka.”
He nodded his head. “You betcha.”
She squeezed his hand, and said, “Gosh I love your accent. It’s still really strong, you know? Still as strong as that first day when you came here. Sounds like you’re in a movie on the telly.”
Mike laughed, squeezing her hand back. “When I got here, you all had really strong accents, too. But you know now, now I don’t even really notice it. It’s weird.”
She mimicked him, “…you all,” she said, drawing out the words.
The large haystack, about fifty feet long and ten feet high, dominated the end of the field. Its top covered with a blue tarp, the haystack was back off about twenty feet directly behind the goal posts. The smell of the hay was sweet and strong, perfuming the air – almost overpowering.
They stopped at the side of the stack. The music from the social hall was just audible in the distance.
“Here, let me make us a seat,” said Mike.
Mike reached up just under the bottom of the tarp and after straining for a few moments, he pulled a bale off from the side of the stack. Several other bales tumbled down almost on top of him, and he jumped out of the way.
“Well done,” said Roz, giggling and stepping back. “You’re going to pull it all down, are you? Damn good seat that’ll make us.”
Mike shrugged. “Hey, I just might.” He began pushing the bales back towards the stack, so they formed a seat. “That cheap bastard never did pay us for stacking this. We picked up his whole damned crop and then stacked it here for him, all nice like. I have half a mind to set the whole bloody thing on fire. What d’ya reckon? Should I?” Smiling at her, he pulled out a lighter and lit the flame. After holding it up for a few moments, he shook his head and then lit a cigarette.
“You want a ciggie?” he asked, blowing out a plume of smoke.
She shook her head. “No, thank you.” She sat down primly on the bale of hay, knees together, hands folded in her lap.
He sat down next to her, blowing out another long stream of smoke. “I should burn the whole thing up, you know. That guy was going to pay us all a quid apiece. We worked all day for two days. Jesus it was hot. Me, Leon Heemi, Richard Tautau, Wayne Clayden and Dice Tuapawa. I never got nothing. None of us did. I talked to Mr. Clayden. He said he was going to see the guy tomorrow and try to get it for us.”
“I do hope he gets it for you,” she said.
Mike took another puff off the cigarette, and then blowing out the smoke, said, “If Mr. Clayden doesn’t get it for us, I reckon there’s going to be a race to see who can set fire to this first. Dice is really brassed-off about it. Richard, too.”
She smiled and took his hand. “Please don’t do anything stupid. You know Constable Thurgood already has it in for you.” She squeezed his hand.
He smiled back at her. “Only because I’m an American. Hey look, if this haystack burns up, I’ll be in Gisborne at the Zambezi Club when it happens. Guaranteed.”
She smiled, staring at him silently, then after a few moments, asked, “So, how’s Marj?”
“Beats me.” He looked blankly at her.
She studied his face in the bright moonlight. She looked away for a second, and then turning back, said, “Mihi Ruru said she saw you and Marj over at Aitken’s Shop.”
He looked into her eyes. “Marj and I are done. I told you that. It’s over.” He squeezed her hand.
She returned his stare, looking closely at him. “Really?” she asked.
He nodded. “Really. You’re the only one, Roz.” He flicked his cigarette off towards the goal posts. He turned and put his arm around her shoulders, and settled back against the hay.
She snuggled against him and then after a few moments, asked, “So what about Taru Kingi?”
He stiffened momentarily, and then said, “What about Taru?”
She drew away a little, and looking him in the eyes, said, “After hockey practice yesterday, I was changing and heard two of the girls talking – I think it was Zandra Fenton and Helen Clayden – they didn’t know I was there, listening.” She shifted slightly and then went on, “They were talking about different boys and who they were going with, and Helen was going on about her and Christopher Robertson – you heard they were together?”
Mike nodded his head.
Roz continued, “Chris told Helen that he’d seen Taru in your backyard by the tank last night after tea, and seen you two talking. Said you argued and argued about something, but Chris couldn’t hear exactly what. Helen said she figured you and Taru must be going together, the way you were getting along. Taru and the Yank are going together now, she said.” She stared at him, watching carefully.
Mike frowned, and then after a few moments, said, “Yeah, Taru was there and we talked. But it was just about Willie Rutene.” He smiled, and then went on, “She’s in love with Willie – not me. She was trying to get me to go talk to him for her.”
He pulled Roz closer to him, and said, “You know you’re the one I’m in love with. The only one.”
Smiling, she drew back a little.
“What’s the matter?” he asked.
She shook her head. “Nothing.” She looked away.
“Nothing.” She shook her head.
“Kiss me,” he whispered.
She stiffened and quickly said,“Now just hang on a bloody moment.” She sighed, and then went on, “God you’re such a cheeky bastard,” she said, almost under her breath. There was a faint smile on her face as she slowly shook her head, staring into his eyes.
“Huh?” he said innocently.
“You want me to kiss you?” she asked.
He shrugged. “Sure.”
“Why should I kiss you?”
Mike stared back at her, eyes narrowed, then quickly answered, “Because we’re in love.”
“Are we, now?” she asked suspiciously, meeting his gaze.
Looking deep into her eyes, he said, “You know I love you. I do. And last week, you said you loved me in that note. Do you?”
She stared at him for several seconds, and then answered softly, “Yes, I do. Very much.”
He turned towards her till their faces were just inches apart.
“Show me how much,” he whispered, gazing into her eyes.
She drew back a bit. “I don’t know if I should,” she said. “I’ve never kissed a boy before,” she added.
Eyes wide, Mike edged closer, again hovering with his face inches from hers. “You’re thirteen years old and you’ve never kissed a boy before?”
She shook her head. “Nope.”
She shrugged. “I dunno. I reckon I never wanted to.”
“You never wanted to?”
He cupped his left hand in back of her neck, and holding her, asked, “Haven’t you ever wondered what it’s like?”
She shrugged, returning his gaze intently, and said, “Sure. Angela says it’s a lot of fun. Carmen said the same thing. Know what?”
“Carmen said I should kiss you.”
“Yup. That’s what she said.”
“But… I just don’t know if I should.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Well, what if you’re not the right one? What if you go back to Marj? Or what if you tell all your friends that I kissed you?”
“You know I wouldn’t do any of that. Marjory Grace and I are done. Period. Finished. She’s going out with Moana Milner now. Haven’t you heard?” He shifted so he could see into her eyes better, her face lit brightly by the light of the full moon. He went on, “And I don’t tell my friends anything. Nothing at all. I don’t kiss and tell.”
Wide-eyed, she asked, “Moana and Marj?”
“Since last week.” He paused for a few moments, staring at her, and then whispered softly, “I love you, Roz. You and only you.” He moved his face closer, his lips hovering near hers.
She tilted her head upwards, and then closing her eyes, leaned towards him.
Their lips touched.
Hearts racing, their breaths mingled as they kissed. Fireworks…
After a minute, they parted.
Breathing heavily, Roz said lightly, “Now that was quite nice, wasn’t it?”
Dizzy, Mike leaned back against the hay breathing hard. He answered, “Not too shabby. Not too shabby at all.” He drew a deep breath, and then excited, he went on in a low voice, “You stuck your tongue in my mouth!”
She molded herself to him. “Wasn’t I supposed to? Carmen said that’s the way to do it. ‘French’ kissing, she called it. The French are supposed to be the best lovers, you know. Haven’t you ever done it that way before?”
His breathing back under control, he exhaled a big breath and then answered, “No, I haven’t. It was kinda fun though.”
She kissed his neck gently. “You liked it?”
He nodded. “I did like it.”
“Wanna do it again?” She asked casually.
He nodded, and lowered his head, closing his eyes.
She moved to him and their lips met again.
A minute later they broke the kiss, and breathing heavily, Roz gasped, “Oh, gosh!”
Chest heaving, Mike lay back against the hay. “Oh, lord,” he moaned.
She hit him on the chest. “You put your tongue into my mouth!” she wailed, laughing.
He took a deep breath and letting it out, replied, “Well, you started it. Didn’t you like it?”
Nuzzling his neck, she giggled, “Oh yeah, I loved it!”
Their breathing back under control, he drew back and looked into her eyes. In a very formal tone, he said, “I love you, and I will always love you. For ever and ever and ever.”
“And I love you, you Yank bastard.”
They gazed into each other’s eyes, about to kiss again.
Wide-eyed, Roz suddenly gasped and jolted upright. “The music! It’s stopped!”
Oblivious, Mike leaned closer to her, muttering, “Huh?”
“The music’s stopped! Oh, bloody hell! They’ll be looking for me! We’ve got to get back, right now! C’mon!”
She stood up quickly, brushing the hay from her dress. She turned around. “Do I have any bits of hay sticking to me? Have a good look now, will you please?”
He looked and didn’t see any. “I think you’re okay. We’ve really got to go?”
She nodded. “Right now,” she said urgently.
He stood up. He looked at her, and then after hesitating, said, “That was really great, you know. Really.”
She smiled up at him. “Thanks.”
“And we’ve got to do it again, and I mean soon!”
“We will. C’mon.” She took his hand and began walking quickly towards the gate. “Make sure you get all the hay off you.”
“And you’re sure I don’t have any hay on me?”
“None that I can see.”
“Good. Now, when we get there, I’ll go in first. You wait a couple minutes by the gate, and then you come in. Okay?”
As they approached the gate, Roz asked, “Did you really like it?”
Mike nodded. “I did. It was fab.”
She looked up at him. “Truly?”
“Very much so.”
They came to the gate, and as Mike opened it, Roz said, “Now you wait here like I said. After a couple minutes, you can come in.”
She turned to him. “Yes?”
“I love you.”
She wrapped her arms around his neck and standing on tiptoes, kissed him hard.
Releasing him, she smiled, and said, “And I love you, madly!”
She stared into his eyes for a couple seconds, then turned and ran laughing, off into the night, down the dark macadam road towards the lights of the social hall.
Smiling, Mike shook his head as he watched her run. After she disappeared from sight, he stood, thoughts churning, staring at the bright lights of the social hall, way off down the road.
In the far distance, a dog howled, and the sounds of passing cars carried over from the main highway. A fat possum trailed by four babies waddled across the road in front of him, without even looking at him once. The wind changed direction and he was engulfed in the pleasant perfume of a nearby cabbage tree. Then the music started again at the social hall, the band playing what sounded like a Beatles song.
Mike tipped an imaginary hat at the possum family, and then finally, he turned and closed the gate, and started slowly walking back down the macadam road back towards the hall, very excited, wondering what was to come.
37 long, lonely years later, after searching for countless decades all over the world, he finally tracked down his Kiwi love and wrote this account of their first kiss.
Happy 40th birthday dear – I’m looking forward to our next kiss!
November 12, 2003