– London Street, Lyttelton, Canterbury, New Zealand

This is a transcript of an interview with Jenny Garing conducted shortly after the 22 February 2011 earthquake.

My name is Jenny Garing, I am 46 and I was inside my business [Ground Delicatessen, Lyttelton] at the time, serving at the counter. There were two of us behind the counter when it started and the shop was full of customers having lunch, because of the timing, some in our little area in the back, and some in the front. And when it first started shaking I think we all thought, ‘Oh, just another aftershock.’, but then realised it was more than that.

And I remember vividly seeing Flic, our chef, trying to walk away from where I was towards the kitchen, and the oven, a huge commercial oven, started flying off the counter and she tried to stop it – I don’t know what was going through her head. Other things were flying everywhere as well, luckily the oven missed her. And meanwhile Hannah and I, who were behind the counter, were being showered with glass jars just flying off the shelves, with all our spices, it smelled really nice, lots of spices breaking everywhere. Basically we couldn’t move. We tried, but we couldn’t.

We had some tourists in from a cruise ship, and they thought it best to stand under the door way. Unfortunately that was one of the really dangerous places where things were falling down and it stopped everyone else from leaving the building. So we very gently ushered them out. Meanwhile, out on our back area, Mary, our staff member, kept her cool, because actually the ceiling was falling in as well, and she calmly managed to get everyone out into the courtyard and out into the carpark that way. And one guy went back in to grab his lunch, which just had been delivered and he got back out again with it and sat out on the road and ate it. And we said ‘What were you thinking?’ and he said “It was too good to leave. ”

Having said that once we had everybody out, we took a deep breath and Kathy, one of our staff members and I, remembered that we had recently acquired a cat, a kitten, for the shop, our new shop cat, and that he was still in the office. And no-one had thought to grab him, so Kathy and I went back in to get him. And as we were walking back out that second big aftershock came, just as we were walking out of the front door, and then that part of the building fell over right around us. And I remember trying to look at Kathy, but I couldn’t see her, even though she was right beside me because there was lot of dust and… and we sort of moved out of there quite quickly and she was quite angry with me, because the first thing I said was “Is the cat OK?”, cause she was holding it in her hands and I couldn’t see it, because of all the dust,- we had dust in our hair for about a week after that.

Then we all stood around, trying to contact loved ones with varying degrees of success. All the staff just stayed together, a couple had to run off to check on kids but the rest, stayed together outside Ground, just trying to comfort each other really and take it all in. I was waiting for my partner Graeme, who works in Riccarton to come back. At least I had heard he was OK. He had his own little story coming over the Bridle Path. So I wanted to hang around there till he came back and then go home and see whether our house was still on the hill or not. I think we all just wanted to be with each other for a little while. Darryl from the Loons was also standing there, breathing deeply after he had a narrow escape with a falling wall. He went inside and got a bottle of wine and some glasses we sat outside on one of the seats and drank the wine.

A few weeks later we knew the building was going to come down, and we wanted to do something… The staff were all really quite close, and all felt quite an affinity to what was ‘Ground’, the ‘Ground Zero’ as we were calling it then. And I know its not just the building, but everything involved in creating that special place, but the building was a big part of it as well. So we all felt we wanted to do something special when it did come down.

So one of the other staff members and I went around to another staff member’s place where the mother is a potter, a ceramicist. She taught us how to throw a pot. So we made a pottery pot and a lid, it’s quite a Middle Eastern looking one, and we imprinted it with star anise and cloves, as a pattern on it, because star anise is our symbol. And then each staff member got a piece of clay and made a little tablet. They decorated it with a spice of their choice, and decorated it any way they wanted to. Some pressed in pepper corns and some turmeric, whatever they wanted and made patterns on it, love hearts or wrote Ground on it, and then we put those in the pot with the lid on it. And that was what was carried by one of the demolition guys, he carried it right into the middle of the building before they knocked it down. So it was like the final grinding of the spices, and the tablets and the pots were all smashed together and it would all go back into the ground if you like. It was tying it in with the name and the building.

We did have second thoughts once we had made the pot because it was a really lovely pot with all the nice things in it, and we thought ‘Oh, this is going to be destroyed, maybe we shouldn’t, maybe we should keep it.” But then it wasn’t made of anything from within the building, and we felt we would like to have a keepsake from the actual building. So then we made another thing, we made a pottery dish or plate, and put in this some more spices, some star anise, but also the key from the front door of that building, so we are keeping that.

Our own house is an old wooden character house, everything inside was trashed of course, cracks in the gib and everywhere, and doors didn’t shut that used to, and we didn’t notice for a few weeks, but the floor was quite wobbly and we were saying to each other “Well, at least we have a home to come home to, compared to other people and with my business gone.”

Then EQC came and measured everything up and said “It’s moved 8 cm, it’s severe damage and might not be salvagable. The only possibility is to jack the whole house up and repile everything, and put back down and then fix everything.” so now it’s up to the insurance company.

Again, it’s just a building, but it’s one of those things. When we moved here it was our ideal place. We had made a list when we moved to Lyttelton: we want a view of the sea, privacy, we want bush, native bush, but I also want some roses and fruit trees, and we want a character house, as much sunshine as we can possibly get and shelter from the wind. Well, we made the list and knew that it would be impossible, and that was the first house we went to, and it had everything on the list, absolutely everything. It’s on Cressy Terrace, around near Corsair Bay, up on a ridge. The only thing we didn’t write on our list, cause we didn’t think about it was drive-on access, and it hasn’t got that, you have to walk 80 steps up to the house. But great sun, great views, fantastic and I have always said to Graeme “The only way I will leave this house is if you carry me out in a box.” I just do not want to go, I love everything about it. Here’s hoping the house is fine, even though the business is gone.

It was very hard to keep going after the earthquake. A couple of weeks after the earthquake I decided, yes I will try something, for two reasons: I wanted to keep my staff employed, and a couple of them in particular were sitting at home after the earthquake and it was not healthy for them, they started to suffer. Getting busy again, trying to be normal again. I also wanted people in Lyttelton to have somewhere to go for coffee and food again. But it was really hard to get going again. I had to restock everything and get new suppliers, which was tricky and no insurance money has come through even now and so I am doing it with my own money to get it going till the insurance money comes through. So its been physically hard and emotionally hard, making the decisions was hard.

And subsequent to that, but connected, I am personally having trouble letting go of what was, what my business was, where it was and how it looked. And I know I have to adjust and seeing the building come down was the hardest bit. We had been at that building for four years and we were really looking forward to moving to the Empire, because we were going to do something different with our business yet again, and it was still going to have that nice atmosphere and character of the old building. But the Empire is down too, and we don’t know what’s going to happen there, they have insurance issues too, so maybe in one or two years we hope to find something suitable for our business again.

It hasn’t been all negative. The drawing closer of people in Lyttelton is positive. That first Saturday when we had the Grassy party, despite what had just happened, and the state that everybody was in, that was hugely positive and a turning point for me in terms of I was sitting there feeling ‘My life is over,’ to “No, no, I can do something else and move on.” So just seeing that community spirit, which I always knew was there, was incredibly positive, and people were so supportive and encouraging, it was incredible. We are all closer, we all understand each other better. I know a lot of people’s faces from the shop but not their names, or what they did and that sort of thing, but now, meeting people in different arenas and getting to know them better.

The community spirit is the main thing that sticks in my mind. In the weeks after to see how Lytteltonians care about each other, that’s the main thing. But the unfortunate thing that sticks in my mind is the destruction.

This transcript is from one of a series of interviews carried out by Bettina Evans of Project Lyttelton. We are very grateful to Bettina and the interviewees for allowing their interview transcripts to be posted on QuakeStories.

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