Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 4, September 1965
He was elderly, but not exceedingly so, probably in his early 70's. I had been waiting a full ten minutes to meet a friend on the Post 0ffice Corner, and had noticed the solitary figure sitting quietly on the seat there. His withdrawn expression was typical of a stranger, yet at times he seemed to scan faces eagerly as if he half recognised them, but he made no attempt to speak to anyone. Something about him intrigued me, and I was tempted to sit down beside him. It was pleasant there in the sun but a lively autumn breeze was playing havoc with the leaves of the scarlet oaks in Mackay St., a sudden contrary gust bringing a bevy of them whirling towards us. As if by mutual consent our eyes met.
"Autumn in Paeroa" he said quietly. "How long have those trees been there?"
"Over forty years" I said, remembering that they had been planted in 1921 when Lord Jellicoe visited Paeroa, "Are you a stranger?"
"I suppose I am", he agreed, "but I was born here. Have been away 50 years, and am trying to find landmarks. I don't remember that lovely domain, but I recognise Primrose Hill and climbed it again this morning. It seemed a mountain when I was a boy attending the old School. That end of the town was so different then. When I came over the Criterion Bridge I was hunting for the Bank of N.Z. and the Post Office. But you've the makings of a fine Civic Centre here", he added.
"Yes, I expect you will see many changes. Would you be a First World War Veteran?"
"That was it. I left in 1915 after Paeroa had become a Borough and elected Wm. Towers as its first Mayor. He gave us a good send-off".
"But did you never come back till now? Fifty years is a long absence".
He smiled wryly. "When I returned to N.Z., my people had moved" he said, "and after a long sojourn in Hospital, fate took me in other directions. But I always promised myself I'd return some day. I haven't seen anyone I know yet. I'd dearly like to see Courtenay Kenny come along, or Wyn. Edwards".
There was a query in his voice, and sadly I had to tell him they had gone, while my own mind flooded with memories more recent than his. He was silent for a while, and then took a note book from his pocket.
"There must be someone left" he said. "I've jotted down a few names I've recognised, this morning - names that mean something to me - Dave McWatters, John Walls, C. Shortt, Brenan & Co., Maurice Beattie and Shorty Moore. Would there be any of those still here?"
"Yes, go across to Dave", I urged. "He will tell you the whole story". His face lit up. "I was afraid to go in" he said, "in case they were just using a trade name. Now that I'm here, it would be foolish not to make a few calls. But you know it doesn't really matter if one isn't recognised. Our past is part of us and no one can take it away, even when we're blown along like these leaves. New ones come, and that is right too. There must be progress."
Rising suddenly he murmured something about "yesterdays", that I didn't quite catch. With a word of thanks and a nostalgic smile he was setting off just a trifle haltingly, across the white lines. There was a dignity about him and a gameness in his step that spoke of many difficulties faced, many bridges crossed, and a life fully lived - a man savouring his autumn days, while yet remembering the rising of the sap of spring. It didn't seem to matter that I hadn't asked his name. He belonged here, with his roots in Paeroa, whilst the flowering and fruiting had taken place elsewhere; an unknown soldier, who had survived the rigours of the battle-field to complete his allotted span of years.