I”m so busy…managing a job after retirement would have been impossible!” Well I also fell in that trap! Then I read the zen saying: “You should sit in nature for 20 minutes every day……unless you’re busy. Then you should sit for an hour!” Who am I to dispute the wise master. Now I go to the beach to relax and find peace. I watch the ocean turns from blue to green as the sun moves from east to west. The rhythmic breaking of the waves brings a feeling of continuation and renewal. I step over the smooth round pebbles shimmering in the sun as the water retracts. My bare feet gently massaged by the rough sand. Seabirds fly and dip into the water, soar up again and give their plaintive calls. Free. My waking mood, scratchy and dissatisfied with my situation slowly turns into wonder and the appreciation of the beauty of the area I live in. Retirement should bring the opportunity to do and enjoy life to the fullest. That is my goal for now!
As I drove around the circular driveway of the maternity hospital my eye caught the pink flag gently waving in the breeze. It celebrated the birth of a baby girl. Slowly memories came back of the day my daughter showed us an ultrasound scan and said, “Meet your grandchild!” I remember the day she was born. Her father placed the tiny bundle in my arms. A little red and wrinkled face with clear blue eyes peered at me. “Hello Lisa! Welcome to the world and to our family.”
Another vivid memory. My daughter, baby, and I were driving and Lisa suddenly turned blue and was unable to breathe. With hearts beating we hurried to the pediatrician’s surgery, in the local hospital. He grabbed my grandchild out of my arms while shouting to his assistant, “Phone the emergency room and ask them to get the oxygen ready for a nine-month old baby!” He ran past me with Lisa now turning a darker shade of blue! My daughter, who had parked the car while I ran to the surgery, came up the stairs, shaken and pale. An attendant showed us to a small waiting room and offered us tea. Not talking, we were holding our cups of tea as if they were life rafts. “We’ll call you as soon as she is stabilised,” the sister comforted us and hurried away.
Lisa pulled through and in the years to follow faced many other challenges. This beautiful girl is now a student and enjoying varsity life. Nineteen years later I still have a small pink flag in my workroom for all the girls like our Lisa!
When I was a child and lived on the farm we ate mostly red meat. Chicken was a special treat. We all knew when mom was making chicken pie. If you hadn’t see our Ovambo house-man grab an unsuspecting chicken in the coup early in the morning; you found out later in the day. The stove would be stoked with camel thorn wood to heat the adjacent oven. The smell of the baking pie, mingled with the aroma of smoky wood, would drift first through the kitchen and then through most of the house. The steaming, mouth-watering pie, its crispy brown pastry decorated with pastry-cut flowers, made crunching sounds as mother cut a slice for each person.
After I got married the memory and the nostalgia of the chicken pie meals haunted me. My mother wasn’t with us anymore and she hadn’t left a written recipe. Well, there are plenty of chefs demonstrating on telly, like Nigella, or Ramsey the fast talking, swearing, chef. Surely one of their recipes would work. I tried as many as I could lay my hands on. Not the same though. But I was determined. It became an obsession. My husband took smaller portions of the often served dish and later friends, invited for a chicken pie meal, made vague excuses of other appointments!
Rummaging through my mother’s old books I found her trusted recipe book, The Practical Cookery Book for South Africa by S.H. van Tulleken. (1942). Surely, the recipe she used must be in this book….but alas not. The pies still lacked that special, mouth-watering flavour. My aunt, also an ex-farmers wife, came to visit and I asked her about the secret of Mom’s chicken pie. She looked at me and smiled, “Dear,” she said, “no secret. Nothing wrong with the recipes, it’s the ingredients. The farm chickens were not the pale chickens raised in batteries. They were organic with a taste of field ingredients. The butter she used was rich yellow farm butter. The smoky camelthorn wood fire oven also gave a very special flavour to the pies. The basic ingredients may be the same but the taste, or quality if you like, is so different!”
The family and I have gone off chicken pie for the moment!
I love shopping at our farmer’s summer market. Not only for the fresh fruit and veggies, also for meeting people, stallholders, visitors, and for the ambience. The first greeting is from the young boy selling tomatoes just outside the venue:
“Lekka, lekka tomatoes Merrem!”
In his hand, he holds up two huge red tomatoes so I can see them properly.
“Just squeeze Merrem, ripe but firm. Nice for salad, jam, chakalaka! Just R20 for the box.”
“Thank you Jimmy, I’ll get a box when I go back to the car.”
“Right Merrem, I’ll put it aside for you.”
I hold my shopping basket like a battering ram in front of me as I venture down the narrow aisles of the market. My first stop is at May Jantjies’ stall. She sells green beans, broccoli and cabbage. Over the years she has told me about her husband, and of the daughter who is smoking tik and breaking her heart. She looks up for her stall, smiles, her cheeks like little round apples.
“Good morning May, one kilogram of green beans please.” She took a handful from the pile and passed me one.
“Just taste. Sweet and crisp.” I wipe a little sand off the bean and take a bite.
“Hmm, yes nice and fresh. But tell me, how is your husband? And your daughter, is she still in rehab?” She wipes her face with her floral apron.
“What can I say? Thank the Lord, my husband still has a job. Aii, but my daughter is using tik again. She thinks we don’t know. We smell the cursed stuff a mile away when she comes in the house.” Handing her the money I softly rub her hand.
“Maybe you should phone the lady at the rehab again and ask for her advice.” May looks down, this time wiping her eyes with her floral apron.
“Yes, I will do that.” She waves goodbye and furiously rearranges her red and green cabbages into neat pyramids.
My next stop is Uncle Joe’s stall. If you want to make crispy potato chips, his yellow potatoes are the best. His thin body and brown leathery skin remind me of a piece of well-seasoned biltong. I’ve never seen him in anything but khaki shorts, reaching below the knees. His faded shirt, slightly too big, is always ironed with knife-cutting edges on the sleeves. A big straw hat shades his smiling blue eyes.
“Same as usual?” he asked, after asking about my health, remarking about the weather and telling me about his aching tooth.
The basket is getting heavy. I am pleased there is only one more stop. Mamma Agnes sells the best fruit at the market. A wide smile displays her white teeth as she sees me.
“Usaphila Khozikazi?” She doesn’t wait for my reply but immediately scolds me.
“Look at you carrying that heavy basket. Hai, hai! Put it on this crate.” She turns a red plastic crate upside down and helps me balance the basket on top of it. Turning around, she picks up a bottle of pineapple juice and unscrews the top, all in one movement. With closed eyes I swallow the cold, tart but sweet juice.
“Usaphila Mamma Agnes?” I ask while she arranges two plastic crates for us to sit on.
“Jinne, the family in Transkei just ask for money all the time. I’m working so hard….but God is good. People like my fruit.” We exchange more family news and after a while I buy the fruit and say goodbye.
As I left the market I hear a call,
“Don’t forget the tomatoes Merrem!”
His name was Jacob. He sat on a tattered folding chair at the door of the local shop. He greeted all shoppers with a toothless smile, enquiring after the well-being of family and friends.
“Good morning ma’am. How is the master and the grandchild?”
He would immediately get up when we came out of the shop and pushed our trolley expertly through the gaps between the parked cars. Deftly he packed the bags of groceries in the boot, using the potatoes as a wedge to anchor the bottles at the back. The paw paws, bananas and tomatoes were carefully put on the side so as not to get bruised. Putting both gnarled hands out he’d bow his back to receive the tip. Often we brought him a bag of clothes or food from home. He would quickly put it in his worn, old canvas bag, looking around to see if anybody noticed. He told us his story without rancour or bitterness. His wife died years ago and his kind daughter in-law allowed him to sleep in their shack. He used to work in peoples’ gardens but now he is too old.
“Ma’am they want their big gardens to be cleaned from all weeds and turned over in a day. I don’t have the strength anymore. Arthritis Ma’am. Look at my hands. Now I get the pension from the government but I must help my son and his family. The children can’t go to school hungry. But I’m satisfied Ma’am. Life is treating me well.”
Today when we arrived at the store there was no Jacob, only the furrows of his folding chair.
I miss Jacob.
Today I’m anticipating a visit from a dear friend. She lives on a farm in the Karoo near Touwsriver.
Rosemary and her husband Angus, moved to the farm just after they got married. They worked hard to make this one of the most successful farms in the area. Angus diverted from farming with sheep only into creating a small game reserve. Rosemary had the outbuildings changed into comfortable but quirky accommodation for visitors.
Their two children, a son and a daughter, grew up in a loving and enterprising home.
Visitors enjoyed the game drives but were also invited to get involved in the daily activities of the farm. Taking out the eggs in the late afternoon and milking the two cows early morning became as popular as going into the veld and watching the game.
Then came the drought. First the grazing areas started to become smaller. The dams became dry and boreholes dried up. Angus sold the last of the game. The pitiful bleating of the sheep at the empty troughs tore at their hearts. Farmers from upcountry were now bringing bales of straw. For a short time there was a little relief. When their favourite cow Bessie died the children were devastated. Angus doubled his medication for depression.
Rosemary heard the gunshot early in the morning and thought Angus had put yet another animal out of his misery. She walked out the front door onto the stoep. Angus was sitting in his favourite chair, the blood slowly dripped down his cheek.
She never came to visit.
I celebrate and nurture my sisterhood group. When we arrived in Durbanville twenty years ago, we came from a network of close friends living in the then Zululand. Unable to retire there we looked for a rural place to stay, yet close to medical and other amenities in the Cape area. We found a townhouse across the road from a beautiful and historical wine farm. Up the road is a small nature reserve on the edge of a lush green race course for horses. Within walking distance to the farm on the edge of town we can appreciate zebra, ostriches and other game. Despite the well-appointed area I missed the fellowship and companionship of women of my ilk.
A new acquaintance invited me to a meeting on a Thursday morning to a lady’s group discussing a variety of subjects. A little apprehensive I attended the first meeting. What a surprise! The warmth, laughter and thought provoking subjects made me a permanent member. A wide variety of professions are represented in this group, an artist, social worker, medical doctor, a lecturer/teacher, drama teacher and more.
Wonderful, joyous moments in the lives of the girls are shared and celebrated. Belly laughter at embarrassing moments of an incident that happened to one of us is often experienced. Where the real character of this sisterhood comes through is when one of the members goes through a challenging time. We walked through cancer treatments, hospital dramas, divorce and children losing their way. My personal challenge was my husband suffering from dementia for eight years. The continued support of these special ladies made it possible for me to look after and later nurse him until three days before he passed away. Bravo for the Sisterhood!
Like staccato notes the first raindrops danced on the roof. Later it became a fully-fledged orchestra. Thunder, sounding like kettle drums, roared in the distance. Soon the water was rushing through the down pipes, overflowing in the catchment areas.
Pieces of paper, small branches and plastic bags surfed their way to the drain pipes. Cigarette butts from discarded motor car ashtrays bobbed down the stream. The potholes became small ponds. Like a corp de ballet the falling drops danced on the surface of the water pools. Leaves, hanging like limp hands from the branches, dripped with water. The wet bark of the tree trunks turned a shiny dark chocolate colour. Turtle doves, their feathers wet and bedraggled were huddled together on the branches of the oak tree. The fig tree offered the usually noisy hadedas some protection.
Motor cars still on the road, made their way home through the sheen of water on the tarred roads. The tyres swishing the water in shiny fans round and round. The wipers whizzing from side to side like the brushing drumsticks of the drummer.
With noses pressed against the windows, children watched the water now streaming down the gutters. They impatiently waited for the rain to ease. As soon as it died down they grabbed their coats and boots and ran outside. Shouting, laughing they made their splashing way down the road.
Their lungs were filled with the moist, clean air.
Auntie Ethel was in the kitchen, apron tied around an ample body, her electric whisk beating the pancake batter to its own music. As soon as the rain is down to a drizzle each neighbour will get one of her delicious pancakes. A symphony for the senses; an enticing aroma of the cinnamon mixed with the smell of wet earth and bruised vegetation.