According to Mexican legend, there are three types of death: The first occurs when all bodily functions cease and the soul leaves the body; the second occurs when the body is interred, returning one’s physical shell to the earth; and the final, most definitive death, occurs when no one remembers you.
My grandfather’s first cousin – Hugh (Tui) Haswell – died 100 years ago today, along with 43 other ANZAC New Zealanders, in a battle for a railway line between Jaffa (now Tel Aviv) and Jerusalem in Palestine (now Israel). Two weeks earlier they had played an important role in the Battle of Beersheba, which was commemorated in Israel recently. The Allies won both battles, but at great cost.
Tui lives on in our family stories. When a cousin was recently visiting my parents, they started talking about him. Tui had learned to ride at the family farm, where my dad and my cousin grew up, and there is a memorial plaque to him still there.
Tui used to love to imitate his father, Henry Haswell, when he was in full flight complaining about his dinner table. To tell the story, my dad started putting on the accent of Henry Haswell and quoting him – who apparently had the Scottish accent common to the people in their part of New Zealand at the time (Henry’s parents were part of the great Nova Scotian migration to northern New Zealand in the 1850s).
So my father was imitating the voice of a man who died more than a hundred years ago, which had been passed on to him by his father, via Tui.
Dad finished up by saying that Tui had been such a part of family folklore around the family dinner table that he was astonished to find out in the 1950s that Tui was dead.
When I was in New Zealand in February, I looked him up on the walls of the Auckland War Memorial. When my parents were in Israel last year, they took a small stone from New Zealand with them to put on his grave, and now I am writing a small remembrance about him on the 100th anniversary of his death.
Tui must have been a remarkable man, to have lived so strongly in the collective memory.