What a launch. 95 people turned up mostly in 1930s dress to celebrate Oscar’s story. My daughter Natalya stole the show with this speech! A slight edit of course!!

Reading and writing have always been an important part of my life with Mum. She taught my brother and to do both before we started preschool. She has continued to edit my written work to the present day. There have been instances when she’s even edited letters and emails I sent her! Returning them with comments in red pen and underlining grammatical errors.

We shared a house during my final year at uni – I had my very own in-house editor. There was one big assignment Mum was desperate to get her hands on. But I refused. It was still in the incubation period and not ready for feedback. After a day of attending lectures I returned home to continue working on the assignment. I was surprised to read how good it was. Hang on … it had changed. Mum had logged onto my computer (the days before password protection) and edited it behind my back!

I’ve had my turn as well. I’ve offered feedback, edited manuscripts and more recently journeyed alongside Mum as she has brought Sundowner to life. When I began reading the first draft a year and a half ago, I couldn’t put it down. I was camping and had downloaded it onto my tablet. With no way tor recharge the device I was frantic to finish before my battery run out. When I told Mum how good it was, she did not believe me. She thought I was being kind because she was my Mum. From then until now I’ve had to constantly reassure her that the story is important and that she is worthy as a writer. I knew Sundowner would eventually be published.

I’m so thrilled that Mum kept plugging away and eventually found it a home. Her determination and “true grit” are definitely Garden genes which I have seen passed down through the bloodline and visible in my young children today. I discovered reading the book that writing is evident throughout the Garden history. Robert Garden Snr, my gr great grandfather, had limited education but went on to become “Orkney and north Scotland’s biggest merchant of the day” and as an avid traveller he wrote regular reports that were published in the Orcadian newspaper and later published in a book “Old Cities and Old Countries”. Mum has one of the very rare leather-bound copies.

Oscar also had articles that were published. But he did little in the way of sharing insights into these experiences with his family. As a child I had known he had flown from England to Australia but none of the details of the trip. I wondered why no one knew about him and why he was not famous. I only met him a handful of times and my memory of him is that he was a very grumpy man. When he died, I helped Mum and Grandma Helen clear out his possessions.

We collected two large garbage bags full of expired medications (a testament to his hypochondriac tendencies outlined in the book). We also had a garbage bag full of green knitted jumpers. I claimed a few for myself and wore them for a brief time because it was cool to wear vintage and I felt nostalgic being close to my grandfather I had hardly known. To this day I thought that green was the Scottish family colour but Mum had never heard of this.

On our way home security at Auckland airport pulled us up. In mum’s hand luggage she had stowed Oscar’s wireless transistor radio. As a 15-year-old I almost died from embarrassment as Mum argued the importance of the artefact to aviation history. She explained how her father had been Chief Pilot and Operations Manager of Taman Empire Airways the forerunner of Air New Zealand. The customs officer was about to get out a screwdriver to see if there was any contraband inside but eventually changed his mind and we were able to bring the radio home.

Mum, you have pulled together so many threads into this story. Pieces of history unearthed from research and fragments from memory based on your own childhood. So evident is the legacy of intergenerational turmoil, and suffering – it moves me deeply to read these accounts. As does the uncovering of the man we knew so little of: young, charming, reckless and adventurous.

My mother writes: “whenever I hear a small plane droning overhead, I think of my father. Sometimes I imagine him sitting up there, perched in the cockpit. It has been like this for as long as I can remember.”

Throughout my life whenever a plane goes overhead, I also think of Oscar. Now when my own children point to planes in the sky, I will be able to elaborate on the tale of their amazing great grandfather.

Oh, and one last thing: Azia wanted me to tell you Granmarie that she loves the story.

Mary GardenComment