Blog: Big windfall and the big smoke
The big city beckons for a Kaitaia local, but sometimes the hitting the jackpot comes with a price.
Somewhere north of Auckland on the road to home, travellers pass through an invisible field that would be of big interest to temporal physicists.
While it’s hard to put a finger on exactly where the zone lies, after this point everything slows. The official speed limit doesn’t alter, but cars that were zipping along at 110km/h seem content to cruise at 80. The staccato-stepped pace of feet drumming city pavements gives way to leisurely shufflings as locals shod in gumboots or jandals dawdle through rural towns.
Hawks circle lazily over paddocks where the fastest action is from the green Kikuyu grass growing. Traffic stops as dairy cows plod to and from milking sheds and stops again to give way at one-lane bridges.
Motorists passing on quiet country roads, wave at strangers and brake to exchange pleasantries with friends. The silence settles as thickly as the roadside dust when they leave.
Conversations up here are considered. A lengthy pause between talkers isn’t a sign of things wrapping up; rather the people are thinking of what to say next. There is time.
Asking, ‘how are you?’ in these parts is an invitation, not a superficial courtesy.
You don’t leave the car engine running when you nip into a store for something to buy.
So when I entered a Kaitaia shop last Friday and the normally cheerful lady behind the counter only smiled with her mouth, not her eyes; I asked how she was and settled into a comfortable position.
‘We’ve become rich,’ she told me with a heavy sigh. Her partner’s father had unexpectedly died in his sleep.
‘He owned three houses. Down in Auckland. We never even knew about them. One’s in Takapuna. Another one’s right on the beach at Red Beach. His instructions were to sell them and take the money. Aue.’ She shook her head as she sighed again. ‘Suddenly we’re rich.’
For the most part, Kaitaia is poor. Payday in this rural town is when many folk receive their unemployment benefit. There is a lengthy waiting list for jobs at the only supermarket. Some kids wear blankets instead of coats on cold days. Charity shops are well picked over and businesses which go under join all the other dead-shop spaces boarded up with graffitied ply.
‘You’re rich!’ I echoed the shop lady. ‘What are you going to do?’
‘He wants to leave,’ she told me. ‘He said let’s get the kids out of here. But where do we go? What will we do?’
She almost didn’t want it – this sudden pole-vault into millionaire status. In the blink of an eye, the walls of her life had dropped away, and she seemed to be shrinking before the sudden glare of financial freedom.
Even though she worked two jobs and was a mother to three boy rascals, she had always come across as a very contented woman; gentle, warm and quick to share a laugh. In the four years, I’ve known her; this was the first time I had ever seen her troubled.
It got me thinking about wealth as I followed winding roads back to home. Money might not buy happiness, but judging by the nation’s charge to buy Lotto tickets during super-rich draws, most people believe receiving a fortune wouldn’t make life any worse.
But what if you were better off without getting hit by a windfall? Or what if you’d used your lack of finances as an excuse not to follow dreams that felt too big or ambitious? What if new-found wealth meant you had to make fundamental shifts in your very identity? And what if you got addicted to your large cash injection and suddenly found there was never enough?
To be honest, James and I feel we could make great use of a generous dollop of financial fertiliser. We’d install our dream hydro-electric system and hire a couple of capable workers to help finish building our house. Used wisely, the extra money could help us grow certain potentials.
Owing to our sometimes scant resources, we’ve been building our house in very slow-motion. Yet while limited funds have meant restrictions on material gratifications, James and I have been careful never to blame any patch of unhappiness on financial lackings. Nor have we used money as an excuse not to follow our dreams. If we’d waited to win Lotto before embarking on our off-grid existence, chances are we’d still be killing time in the city, because however languidly time may move in the Far North, the jackpot seems to be even slower in arriving.