My Auckland: St Marys Bay

Celebrant Jan McCallum tells Elisabeth Easther what she loves about living in St Marys Bay. The friendly folk, abundant local parks and the wonderful Mercy Hospice where she volunteers are just a few of her favourite things

I've lived in and around St Marys Bay for about 10 years now. My daughter was living here, and she invited me to come and stay with her because she was on her own, and so was I. We get along very well.

I was in Mt Roskill before here - I lived there for 37 years. When I first moved there, there were paddocks and cows at the end of our street, and when I left there were houses on all our boundaries. St Marys Bay, in comparison, is filled with lots of old villas and is a beautiful place. It's actually very quiet even though it's right next to Ponsonby and not far from the city.

I love to walk, and one my favourite walks is going down Jacob's Ladder, the steps at the end of Waitemata St, to go over the bridge and over the motorway and straight down to Wynyard Wharf. It's so quick, really not much more than five minutes down to the wharf. It's slightly slower going up, but I tell myself it's good for me.

Every Saturday and Sunday I work from 7am to 3pm on reception at Mercy Hospice, and I adore being there. I started as a volunteer, picking up patients in my car to take them to the Opening Doors programme. Opening Doors is on a Tuesday or Wednesday and from 10.30 to 1.30 the patients are pampered and given lunch. They can have their nails done, and get a haircut or a massage.

At the moment they're learning to play the ukulele. Volunteers come and give their time, and patients are taught how to live, not to wait to die.

You don't have to do much to make someone feel cared for; you can tell how much people need. Sometimes simply saying to someone, "It's a tough journey" is enough to make them know you're aware they're going through a hard time.

That's what people learn when they come to Opening Doors. It prepares them for when they come in as a patient.

I also do volunteer work for the hospice shop in Ponsonby. They have good-quality product there: crockery, glasses and clothes. We get designer clothes and end-of-line clothes from manufacturers, so we're pretty lucky, and we do really well. It makes lots of money for Hospice, who have to raise about half of their funds. People are very generous, especially if they've had the experience of a loved one being in Hospice.

Six years before I left Mt Roskill, I lost a son, and that really changes your perspective, makes you realise that life is short. I also found a love of poetry through that experience. So, when a friend told me she was doing a celebrant's course, I said I'd come too, for moral support, although I'd never talked to more than about two people at one time. And now I'm a celebrant, and I do all sorts of ceremonies. I once conducted a wedding in the grounds of Hospice - one of the patients wanted to get married, it was very beautiful.

The things I also like include Marcello's Caffe down on College Hill - that's a lovely spot. They're very popular and Marcello is very friendly and smiley and nice. We have lots of nice little parks around us too, which is handy for when I have the grandchildren. There's one little park on Wood St, with swings and slides, and a tunnel thing. It's nice and handy, and we can walk there. And, of course, Victoria Park is wonderful. I often take the little ones there, that playground is lovely.

Another place I really like is The Women's Bookshop on Ponsonby Rd. They have everything and are so helpful.

St Marys Bay is handy to town; it's handy to everything and I can walk anywhere I want. The people are lovely and friendly, and many will stop for a chat, although that's pretty much the same as anywhere. Some people say it's a flash area, but I think the people here are very down-to-earth. They're just lovely.

I'm open as to where I live, but I've been drawn back to St Marys Bay a few times. I just keep coming back.

Weekend Herald (May 11, 2013)
Writer: Elisabeth Easther. Photo: Natalie Slade.

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