A TALE OF TWO SOULS


WORDS Liam Stretch PHOTOS Cassandra Kovacs

It is not often that one comes across two people perfectly matched for each other – so complementary of each other’s beings that they are almost one person. I found this, in the love story of John and Maria Black.

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Maria, a wistful young woman from Ngaruawahia was 18 and looking for somewhere different to go. She found herself in Christchurch and in need of a job.

John, 25, a Scottish immigrant, had been in Christchurch for some 12 years and he hadn’t found the one yet.

It was amongst soles and shoe laces that their fates would align.

John and Maria Black met at O’Brien’s Footwear Company on Dundas Street, in 1970. John was a supervisor there. Maria found herself with a job there too.

Their first date was at the Shoreline Country Club in New Brighton. Three or four dates later and John knew he needed to reel Maria in. Come 1971, they were married.

They raised a family in New Brighton, where on the beach they found a home. Three kids lived a happy life with access to the water, and they all loved it there. They had neighbours that cared and the pair cared for them in turn.

Maria is always baking for someone. If it is not John eating it, it is someone else in the community.

In what seems a lifetime ago in February 2011, the life the Blacks had built came crashing down. Like so many others in our city, the quake completely overhauled the world that the Blacks had worked so hard to build.

Their kids and grandkids were just around the corner, but Maria and John’s home was wrecked. They lost their jobs – their lives were changed.

Not letting any of this stop them, John and Maria packed up their lives and moved west, getting a job cleaning together. The pair have been a team for seven years now.

“There is plenty of bickering, but at the end of the day we have a good laugh,” John says. “We don’t really have any challenges – Maria does one job, I do the other and we meet in the middle,” says John.

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This splendid metaphor finds its way into the Black marriage.

They are to be celebrating their forty-eighth wedding anniversary in September and are hoping to be in John’s ancestral homeland. They’ve learnt a lot about each other over the last half-century.

Their marriage has not gone without trial though, and they’ve experienced loss more than most.

“Everybody has their ups and downs, we’ve had a few,” says John.

With typical Scottish pragmatism John had a few things to say about the tough times of marriage.

“Speak up and say what you have to say. It is all over and done with then, and you can work from there,” says John.

They have some advice for young couples today. Maria believes that a couple must work together and she implores them not to bottle problems up.

“A happy marriage and a happy life is about thinking before you act, and looking after your family,” Maria says.

I leave the Black household having had a beautiful piece of strawberry shortcake, a jar of feijoa and apple chutney in hand, and sound advice for the future.

FeaturesJoshua Brosnahan