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Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 – Advanced)
Topic: Australia or New Zealand (01/15/09)

TITLE: The Seats
By Joy Faire Stewart
01/21/09


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The dark, early-morning heavens were ablaze with sheets of lightning more brilliant than any thunderstorm the villagers had ever witnessed. But instead of cooling drops of rain, the sky and earth were filled with ash, rocks and mud so hot it melted everything in its path—including flesh.

The violence of the volcanic eruption was heard more than 500 kilometers away as a series of deep rumblings and earthquakes raged. Buildings rattled, sending villagers racing from their beds. Homes were flattened, crushing the helpless occupants with debris and the deadly weight of their own dwelling.

The small wooden church established by missionaries Seymour Spencer and his wife, Ellen, was reduced to rubble. Bridges were covered in steaming mud to their top railings. The flour mill collapsed in splinters.

The grand, two-story hotel appeared as if a giant hand had wielded a machete, ripping half the building from its foundation. Rooms collapsed under the bombardment. Centuries-old trees, yanked from the ground, catapulted like battering rams through the sludge. The schoolhouse and blacksmith’s workshop—buried.

The breathtaking Pink and White Terraces, with their azure-blue pools and delicate, opalescent beauty, were blown out of existence. New Zealand and the world had lost two of their natural wonders.

Four hours after Mount Tarawera spewed its fiery entrails across the peaceful village of Te Wairoa and two smaller villages, there came an eerie silence.

Days after the eruption, the mountain continued to expel its fury, belching steam, ash and grit onto the devastation.

When the earth cooled, survivors and rescuers began the heartbreaking task of searching for neighbors and loved ones. Miraculously, a few survivors were pulled from the mire.

More than 150 lives were lost that infamous night—June 10, 1886—when more than 5,000 square miles of scenic countryside, forests and farms were buried beneath hot ash and mud during New Zealand’s greatest natural disaster.

***

“Where would you like to go for our anniversary?” Landon asked, as he closed the sports section and dropped it on the floor beside his recliner. “Sammie’s Shrimp Shack? Top Dog Steakhouse? You choose, hon.”

“Landon, don’t you think, for our 25th wedding anniversary, we should go some place extra special?”

“But I thought you liked the all-you-can-eat steamed shrimp and cheese sticks at Sammie’s.”

Seeing that I wasn’t getting my point across, I just blurted out. “I’ve always wanted to go to New Zealand!”

As a child, more captivating to my imagination than fairy tales, talking animals or magical brick roads, were the stories of my great-great-grandparents, Seymour and Ellen Spencer. In 1848, they took the Word of God to New Zealand and established a church in a region that had never heard the plan of Salvation. The village that grew around the church became known as Te Wairoa. Thirty-eight years later, Te Wairoa was buried by a volcanic eruption. I yearned to set foot on the land where my ancestors proclaimed the Gospel.

My husband’s eyebrows shot skyward.

“Honey, I know how much a trip like that would mean to you. But with money being tight right now . . . I promise, we’ll go one day.”

Silence.

A slow grin began to crinkle his blue-green eyes and tug at the left corner of his mouth. He removed two slips of paper from his shirt pocket.

“I wasn’t going to tell you ‘til later, but I was able to get two Bruce Springsteen concert tickets. I stood in line for three hours!”

I put on my best faux smile. “That’s very sweet.”

“We’ll have the best seats in the house—15th row, midsection!”

He placed the tickets in my lap.

Halfheartedly, I picked up the tickets and then melted into tears.

“Really great seats, huh?” he grinned.

“Really great seats,” I whispered, clutching the two round-trip plane tickets to New Zealand.


_____________________________________________________________________________
Author’s note: At the time of the volcanic eruption, Seymour and Ellen Spencer had moved on to other mission fields. And the church in Te Wairoa was being led by Rev. Fairbrother, who wasn’t in the village at the time of the eruption, but returned to help with rescue and relief efforts.


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This article has been read 625 times
Member Comments
Member Date
Esther Gellert01/23/09
What a beautiful, romantic story this is.
Karlene Jacobsen 01/23/09
What a beautiful gift. I enjoyed the history lesson as well.
Jan Ackerson 01/25/09
Good multigenerational story--I was especially riveted by the first half.

I think a title more deserving of this excellent writing would fit better.

I enjoyed this one!
Chely Roach01/25/09
You painted incredibly vivid images of the volcano's aftermath...very well written.
Catrina Bradley 01/25/09
Great writing! The first half was powerful - wonderful descriptions of the eruptions and devastation.

The second half was nice surprise - like a "bonus track" on a cd after you think you've reached the end. :) It made the narrative personal. Good job bringing it all together and ending your entry.

Two thumbs up.
Beth LaBuff 01/25/09
Oh, love this. I thought she would have to be content with the Springsteen tickets… I loved the ending. Is this a true story? Did you go to New Zealand..? How cool. (I hope it's true!)
Betty Castleberry01/25/09
This was a good read, and well written, too. Loved the surprise ending.
Leah Nichols 01/26/09
Great entry! I wondered where the story was going when you made the shift to the present, but you brought it around quite nicely.
I would suggest to take out the one sentence that starts with "Days after the eruption...." as it breaks the emotional flow of the piece when it is placed right after the words "eerie silence".
Nice work! Have you gone on the trip yet or are you going? :)
Dee Yoder 01/26/09
Wow, the first half of this story is riveting in the details of what happened to the island, and the second half gives a great fast-forward to the generation that longs to see the land told about for so long.
Verna Cole Mitchell 01/27/09
You have wonderful imagery for the terrible event. I loved your husband's surprise.
LauraLee Shaw01/28/09
Your opening paragraph hooked me, and I was biting my nails to see how it would end. Great way to approach the topic, and very well-written.
Bryan Ridenour01/28/09
Excellent story-telling. Thanks for sharing your talent!
Joanne Sher 01/28/09
Enjoyed this very much. The dynamics between the characters is portrayed expertly. I really enjoyed this read.
Kellie Henningsen01/28/09
I enjoyed reading this so much as I wrote about the eruption of this volcano as well -- only in the Beginner's level. I recognized much of what you spoke of from the research I did. You did a great job describing the devastation and ruin caused by this volcano and then to add in a story to it as well at the end. Very nice.
Joshua Janoski01/28/09
The first half of the story really gripped me and didn't let me go. I was not aware that an event like this took place. I'm learning a lot of new stuff about Australia and New Zealand this week. Thanks for sharing this!