Category Archives: Family & Such Creatures

Summer Holiday Nostalgia

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As children we were fortunate to have a house at the seaside*. A shack, really, that to me was a palace beyond palaces. It was four rooms. Five, if you counted the bathroom that sat in the garden, a scary-when-you’re-9-years-old five metres away, out of the back door and through the dark. The front door opened into the lounge which opened into my sister and my room which opened into the kitchen, off which my parents’ room was. It was the perfect holiday house.

It was a palace beyond palaces to me, to us, because it was at the seaside. Not on the sea, with views across the ocean, not one of those rambling fake-Spanish monstrosities that started popping up along Beach Road, in the late 80’s, guzzling the aromatic bush, all glass and soulless, no. But it was at the seaside.

Set in the cluster of houses next to town in Port Alfred, where the river bent, we could walk to the beach, or the river, and the air was salty and slightly clammy and, in the house, when we first opened it up on arrival, it smelt like grass mats and damp wood and holiday.

And it was at the seaside which, for us who lived in dusty gold-mining towns over a thousand kilometres from the sea for the other 46 months of the year, was heavenly. And it made that shack a palace in our eyes. And it was. We were extraordinarily privileged to have it, to have those blissful, barefoot summer holidays.

Every year, when schools closed, our parents would pick my sister and me up, the car packed so tightly with tiny bags (summer: we needed only our costumes, a couple of t-shirts and shorts, one light jersey for ‘in case’ and a pair of flip flops to protect our feet from the duiweltjies that would’ve run riot in the garden all year), my mother’s sewing machine, boxes of plums and peaches from our garden on the mine, and the dog. My sister and I would exchange our school uniforms for t-shirts and shorts on the back seat, stuffing them under the car seats not to be seen or thought of for the next six weeks.

We’d eat digestive biscuits with triangles of Melrose cheese squashed on them as we drove over the dam wall, leaving the Free State behind us and entering the Eastern Cape. We’d stop to stretch our legs and walk across the dam wall, leaning over the edge as the water thundered and our hair flew above our heads.

The Eastern Cape has held my heart since those early days. Perhaps it was genetically passed down to me, from my parents who had loved it from their varsity days, and my grandparents before them. I didn’t realise then that I, too, would go to varsity there, and the Eastern Cape would entwine itself around-and-in-and-through my heart more than I thought possible.

Then, though, in my childhood days, that little house was a palace, the place of sandy feet and salty skin; the Treats Drawer (second from the left) that smelt like Christmas fruit cake and chocolate bars; our iron beds made with a sheet and a brown storm blanket that squeaked and squawked and gave us the best sleeps ever; morning swims on Kelly’s Beach, us the only ones there so early; sundowners and picnic suppers on the jetty at the end of the road; the friendly librarians at the library with its puzzle on the huge table always on the go; the smell of the Christmas tree; the sound of my Mother sewing ‘secrets’ late at night, a shaft of light thrown into our room from the kitchen; my Dad collecting mussels at Riet River; of walking behind him on the beach, stretching my legs so that my footsteps could match his 6 foot, four ones.

It was a palace filled with delight.

*Seeing everyone’s gorgeous holiday pictures, I got all reminiscent (and I’m working the night shift tonight, so it’s a good time for some writing.)

Back To School

School Shoes

My Delicious Nephews start school today. Grade One. It feels like yesterday when I received the excited phone call to say that my sister was in labour. That night, and into the early hours of the 14th of July, 2009, the Siamese Princess and I watched a very long American History saga on TV, as I received message after message: ‘All fine, foetal heart monitors on’; ‘They’ve called the doctor, they’re going to Caesar her now’; ‘The doctor’s here. She’s going in’ and then that pic, the one that swelled my heart to bursting, of those two tiny, beautiful, boys.

And now they’re tall (and just as beautiful) and have lost their baby curls, replaced by little boy – school – haircuts. In the blink of an eye. It’s breath-taking, and I’m just the aunt! It made me think of my school career which was, as school careers go, a relatively painless sojourn. I was lucky. Let’s not kid – it wasn’t my favourite time of my life by any means, but it was survivable. For lots of people, it wasn’t, and that made me get all preachy (in my head) and soppy and want to write a letter.

Dearest Deliciouses,

As you head into the school system, I have some Aunt-ly advice. You probably don’t need it, because you’ve been (are being) brought up so brilliantly, and you’re more than ready for school, but indulge your old aunt, won’t you? You’re bright and beautiful and enquiring and interested. Don’t let the system change that, okay?

Do things. All the things. Try everything, at least once, with enthusiasm. Run, swim, debate, play chess, sing, dance, do high jump, learn to play an instrument, throw a shotput, try ballet, paint, count, do karate, learn how to type, grow things, do acrobatics, cook, join the drama society, learn trigonometry, play cricket, knit. Try it all, so that you can pick what your favourites are. And in between it all, read, fiction and non-fiction and everything between. And write.

There’ll be kids (and maybe even some teachers) who are nasty to you. Don’t let it get to you. You’re bigger and better than that. Beat nastiness with niceness (and I don’t mean the smarmy kind). Leave nastiness behind, read those books, look up into the trees. Sometimes people will be nasty to other kids. Be kind to those kids, they need you. And the kids who’re nasty? They need you too.

Share your sandwiches. And your swimming towel. And your books. And your love. That purple dinosaur from when you were little-little wasn’t wrong. Sharing really is caring. And if you get sad or scared, we’re all here, always.  You’re going to learn so many things and do so many things – it’s very, very exciting! The world is totally your oyster at this point and we’re behind you.

Most important of all, have fun, delicious boys, and don’t forget to play. School can get terribly serious sometimes and playing is as important. In fact, it’s even more important. And cake. That’s important too.

You are so very loved,
Aunty Briony xxx

The Holly And The Ivy

I adored my grandfather – my Mum’s dad – in that way that only grandchildren can love their grandparents. An exuberance of love. He shaved with a real razor and used a shaving brush, which he’d tap us on the nose with, as we watched him shave. He smelt of shaving cream and, Grandpa. His favourite Christmas song was ‘The Holly And The Ivy’. When it came onto the radio when we visited my grandparents in Plett at Christmas time, he’d turn it up to blaring levels.

My great grandfather – that grandpa’s father-in-law – was the Professor of Music at Wits many, many years ago. He wrote an opera called ‘The Willow Pattern’, amongst other things, and he conducted orchestras. My mother played the flute, my sister the clarinet. There is music in my genes.

I learnt to play the recorder when I was five. Very badly at first, but by the time I was twelve, I was – let’s be kind – an okay player. After that, I admitted defeat, and listened, instead, to other people play. I’d like to blame my lack of talent on my teachers – first a bitterly strict and really-rather-nasty nun and then an equally strict and still really-rather-nasty German woman. It would be unfair to blame them, though… I fear that the musical genes just do not run that thickly in my veins.

This, however, did not stop me, aged eight, from practicing and practicing ‘The Holly And The Ivy’. The year I learnt it, I couldn’t wait to go to the seaside, to my Granny and Grandpa, my recorder carefully packed in my suitcase. Let’s be honest, I could never wait to go to the seaside, but that year even more so.

Our grandparents lived on a plot outside Plett, in a magical house with a fireplace and a garden that led to wild bush with a forest and a river and lots of pincushion proteas and Christmas trees. Each year that we were all there for Christmas we’d traipse out with Grandpa – all five cousins and the dogs – and pick one to bring inside and decorate.

That year, though, the first thing I did was settle at Grandpa’s feet and play him his favourite Christmas song, that I’d spent so long learning, and which I’m pretty sure I played really badly. He loved it and I loved him even more for loving it.

I watch my Delicious Nephews with my Dad now – their Grandpa – and see just that same adoration.

We are so lucky to have family.

Happy Christmas y’all.

Granny Blankets

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I’ve spent a lot of time in bed over the last three weeks. I was downed by a Dreaded Lurgy that left me snot-filled and coughing, coughing, coughing. I’ll spare you the sputum tales and get to my point.

On my bed is a colourful crocheted blanket that I have had forever. The one up there, in the photo. I had a lot of time to contemplate it while I was being sickly.

There are actually two of them. My sister’s, and mine. Mine is 40, like me, and my sister’s is 44, like her. We have had them since we were born. My granny, Yvonne, crocheted them for us. My Dad’s mom, who lived in Harare, and who we adored. We didn’t get to see her enough.

Those beautiful, bright, crocheted pieces, perfectly put together, are woven with love. The blankets have moved with us, from small childhood beds to boarding school to messy varsity beds in different towns to our respective adult homes, and then back to the little beds in my house used by the Delicious Nephews when they visit, granny’s great grandsons. She’d have adored them and they, her.

As we grew longer and filled more space in the world, the blankets came along for the ride, a constant comforting reminder of being loved. Our homes changed, our lives changed, we laughed, we sobbed (often on the blankets), our stories weaving themselves into the spaces between the wool.

Amongst those still bright colours, in those spaces between, the ones that let the light through if you use the blanket to make a blanket fort, those gaps are filled with dried tears, contented sighs, whispers and secrets, gorgeous giggles…

Sometimes it’s just good to spend some time contemplating Granny-made crochet blankets threaded through with love and life.

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Good Neighbours

“I have such good memories of living next door to you,” Emily said to my parents. She was seven when they moved in. She’s 22 now. The youngest of three.

I’ve lived in my house, one block to the left of theirs, and then seven straight down, another to the right, for nearly twenty years. Close enough to walk. Even in the dark. I realise how lucky I am to say that. It has meant that Sunday lunches at their house – my Mum makes roast potatoes like no other – and a mid-week meet-up at one or other of the restaurants between us, have just been how it is. They walked from their side, we walked from ours.

Tonight we had our last one. Just the last one that they’ll be able to walk to. The retirement village is not one block to the left, and then seven straight down, another to the right. Tomorrow they move. It’ll be halfway between my lovely sister and family, and me. This is a good thing.

Tonight we dinnered, halfway between us, with their neighbours of the last fourteen years and their youngest daughter. She’s the one who’s 22.

My parents have a pool at their house. The one they’re leaving tomorrow. The neighbours don’t. When they moved in, the girls next door were 7, 9 and 11. They were welcomed to swim. At first, they’d use a bin on their side, to jump over. Then they just put a gate in.

I remember the first time I saw them, three little mites in swimming costumes, jumping and playing, as I sat in the kitchen chatting to my Mum as she creamed the spinach and my Dad carved the chicken.

“There are children in your pool,” I said, concerned.

“Oh, that’s just Jessica, Sarah and Em,” my Mum said as she stirred vigorously, “We’ve put a gate in.”

At that point I’d known my parents for 25 years, this wasn’t surprising, they’ve always been like that.

What was surprising, though, tonight, as we toasted Daisy, the sweet, gentle dog, who left us today, and my parents, who move tomorrow, was that Emily was there, with her parents. She’s 22, in her final year at university, with friends and a boyfriend, and her own digs in another suburb, and I’m sure has a dozen more interesting things to do, but she was there, tonight, with us, toasting.

“You don’t get neighbours like these,” she said. “It just doesn’t happen in the city, in the suburbs. Who’ll make us roast potatoes now?”

“You’ll have to come over to our new house, and Glen will show you,” said my Dad.

And that’s my parents, the ultimate example of good neighbours, and good people. Their new neighbours don’t have any idea – yet – of how good they’re getting it. I’m going to miss them being so close, though, and their lovely neighbours will too. The world would be a better place if we were all as good neighbours as they are.

Little Cat

Little Cat

 

At 1:55 (give or take) am this morning Little Cat came in through the bathroom window from his nightly gallivanting. Little Cat was little when he came through my window two years’ ago, around about now, and declared himself at home. He is no longer little, but that’s his name. His claiming my house as his home stuck. So did his name. My other – extremely old – cat is called BabyCat. Go figure.

I heard him come in because I was awake and he’s not the most graceful feline known to man. Despite the bathroom window being left open, always the same width, with all knock-overable objects removed, he still manages to enter with a bump-plonk-galumph noise, landing on the stone bathroom floor.

From there, he padded (read: walked loudly) into the kitchen to replace the nutrients he’d used up gallivanting. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Then back to my room, his twenty little cat claws like twenty tiny high heels on the wooden floor, and up onto my bed. I pulled the blankets that’d he heavily pulled off my shoulders back over me as he settled.

At 2:00 (again, give or take) am this morning Little Cat began to give himself a head-to-toe wash with his little raspy tongue. I could hear him cleaning carefully from between each of his twenty toes/high heels, all the way to the tips of his ears. He then – presumably in post-cleanliness exhaustion – fell into a deep sleep, complete with contented snores.

This morning I woke. He semi-woke. Just enough to move from where he was curled in the bend of my knees to the other side of the bed. To where my getting up would not bother him. He promptly went back to sleep, his early-early-morning nap.

When I got up, he did too, lazily stretching and looking at me with his green eyes. He ambled through to the kitchen to replace the nutrients he’d used up having his early-early-morning nap, returning to hop back up onto the bed and snuggle in the tangle of bedding, his paws tucked neatly beneath him, watching me as I did my face next to the dressing table. I realised that, perhaps, he was judging me slightly for using a petal (those round cotton wool things) with toner, as opposed to my tongue and paw. Luckily the judging tired him out and he fell asleep. His early morning nap.

At this point I had to go out into the cool, still dark, winter morning. This did not bother him even slightly as he continued his early morning nap.

Despite my not being there, I can tell you what he’s been doing. He may not be all that graceful, but he’s predictable. He will have moved from my bed to the lounge window (inside) on my desk, where there’s a patch of sun, for his mid-morning nap (possibly with a snack on the way). If the sun had been shining brightly, he would’ve taken his mid-morning nap on the table in the garden. In the sun. His afternoon nap(s) are back on my bed. In the winter afternoon sun patch there.

Don’t get me wrong, he doesn’t only sleep and eat. Sometimes he gets up and hangs out in the garden under the birdfeeder looking up and having large hunting imaginations. I hope they will stay imaginary. Other times he gallops wildly up and down the passage, scaring the bejaysus out of anyone coming down said passage and the poor old lady of the house, BabyCat.

Occasionally, he’ll have a stare-off through the bars of the garden gate with Monty, the ginger cat who lives down the road and is partial to our house’s cat’s food. Little Cat is, however, not partial to his liking the food. Then there’s the sitting on the edge of the toilet for hours, looking at the water in the bowl, watching his shadow, and sometimes extending his paw to see what’ll happen. I’m not going to say anything more on that, though. He may not like it.

I will not be bitter about this lazy day experienced by my cat. I will just be glad that I have a cat that has such good hygeine and sound sleeping habits. I will also be very glad (as should he) that he is so terribly cute. If he weren’t, I think we may feel differently about his wildly decadent lifestyle.