Mr and Mrs Eck lived in Kingston, on land stretching down the southside of Kent Street. Now it is a subdivision. When it’s covered in houses will anyone remember that this was once a farm?
My family will remember. And, I’ll always regret not taking photos of Mr and Mrs Eck. Because now I’ve only got memories of an extraordinary couple.
We first met Tom Ek early in the 1990s. He rang us out of the blue, late one cold winter wanting to buy bags of grain for his deer.
Terry wasn’t keen. Bagging up grain is much harder than sending it off in bulk. Still, he said yes. One order led to another, and suddenly, there we were, the official grain suppliers for Mr Ek’s farmlet. By then, we didn’t mind one bit.
Tom was Dutch, I think, and getting on in years by then. Like many, he’d emigrated to New Zealand in his younger days. He travelled awhile and ended up in Invercargill, head honcho of the Queens Park Gardens. I’d never met anyone who knew so much about growing things.
Mr Ek was into organics, bokashi and permaculture long before we knew about climate change. Some people thought he was batty, but I learned a lot.
Deer farmers came back year after year to buy his animals because they were so healthy and quiet. His deer were never stressed. And they didn’t need to be drenched or vaccinated. They lived a good life with Mr Ek.
The Eks came to Kingston when they retired. It had been their dream to have a piece of land. When we delivered the grain, Mr Ek showed us his old barn. It was the usual drafty, wooden shed, chock-a-block with grain, a tiny old tractor and farming bits and bobs. You’ll find such sheds on many a farm around here.
I couldn’t believe it when Tom told us how they’d lived in it for a year while he built their house from a kit-set. At age 65!
Mrs Ek told me that they kept healthy during the winter by eating garlic every day. They chopped it up and put it on their porridge. I said I’d rather have my garlic in a tasteless pill.
“It’s better for you raw, my dear,” she told me. “And besides, we grow it ourselves.”
They grew everything themselves, in fact. Their grocery bill must have been tiny.
Mr Ek’s vegetable garden was out of this world. He grew vegetables you’d expect to see in Southland and many that you wouldn’t as well.
And oh, the tomatoes! Even with the masses of bottling and freezing they did each year, their greenhouse was still overflowing.
“Here, have a bag of tomatoes,” they always insisted. “And these carrots…and a cabbage. What about some lettuce?” They were still harvesting vegetables long after my garden had given up the ghost.
With our young family and stretched budget, Mr and Mrs Ek’s generosity was a godsend at times.
The home gardens were up by the house, but there were also two huge, dilapidated greenhouses on the farm. Here, Mr Ek grew his grapes.
Yes, long before Gibbston was covered in vineyards, Mr Ek knew wine would be amazing down here. His grapevines were massive. In his 60’s and 70’s he made wine every year, but, sadly, he’d let that slide by the time we met.
Mr Ek’s chickens loved our grain as much as his deer did. So of course, they got their fair share. Once again, he built the chicken coop himself. It sure put mine to shame.
My hens lived in a perfectly acceptable run; his lived in a mansion. The perches fitted exactly where hens would love to sit, and behind them were secluded laying boxes.
Chooks are messy creatures. I put off shovelling out my henhouse as long as I could, cos it wasn’t a pleasant task. But Mr Ek’s chicken mansion was spotless because it was super easy to clean. Underneath the perches was a huge tray. Every couple of days he slid the tray out to empty it. Of course, all that rich manure went straight into his gardens. He had a separate storage room for hen food too, and everything was boxed up in metal bins. Mice and rats didn’t stand a show of getting into those hens’ tucker.
The last time we went to visit the Eks, Tom was very excited. He couldn’t wait to show us his newest venture. He’d set up a still in his garage and was immersed in making gin. Pipes ran everywhere and bottles lined the shelves. Terry and I stood over the bubbling still while Tom explained the science behind it all. Fascinating! He was getting frail by then but his enthusiasm for a new project shone brightly.
The house was Mrs Ek’s domain. When they first came to Kingston she was fine, but by the 1990s arthritis curled her fingers and she could hardly see. So by the time we met she rarely ventured out.
She still liked to cook their meals though. The first time I went inside she took me on a tour of the house, explaining how they turned a bedroom into the kitchen. It was sunny, but tiny and suited Mrs Ek just fine.
It also gave the house a massive living room. And there was method in this apparent madness.
Mr and Mrs Ek were weavers and they had huge looms set up there, with half-finished rugs still on the frames. The looms towered over me and took up half the room. Mrs Ek explained how they worked but, sadly, their weaving days were over. I never got to see them in action.
Mrs Ek loved kids. They didn’t have children of their own, but there were nieces and nephews in New Zealand and they were very fond of them. She loved it when our youngsters came to visit. Steph, Debbie and Jenny entertained her with stories, songs and games. Chris toddled around and pulled over the baskets of old wool.
Mrs Ek, in turn, told us stories of her youth. I distinctly remember her saying that she remembered the Titanic sinking. I couldn’t believe it — 1912!
This was in the mid-1990s. and it brought home to me just how old Mr and Mrs Ek actually were.
There are no retirement homes in Kingston. One or two local home helpers kept Mr and Mrs Ek going for a long time. But, eventually, they had to leave and move into a nursing home further up the country.
A year or two later we heard that they’d both passed away.
I wish I had taken their photos.
Does anyone in Kingston still remember the Eks?