The day my eldest son was born I felt a deep need to nurture, to love, to care and to guide.
He was perfect, a bush of black curls, round cheeks and oh so soft, so very soft. I use to sniff him and got giddy just by smelling him the whole day. I was in love ! and got lost in his bottomless black eyes…and I knew there and then, that I would never be able to make it without him. He is mine, the very first thing in my life that is me and mine. It took me twenty four hours, no pain relievers and not a peep from me, still very young myself and all alone I brought him into the world.
That was also the first day in my life that I felt very alone, unknown to me it was the first of many more lonely days I will encounter in years to come…
She never made me feel alone, her presence always around, protective, caring, loving and oh so wise. I used to hug her and plant a million kisses on her lips. My granny had the best lips ever, beautiful sculptured face, soft wispy hair, always coiffed to perfection, peppered with grey ..Her favorite spot was sitting in front of the “wireless” in the afternoon listening to her favorite soapies , Wolwe dans in die Skemer , and En soe maak mens! Both soapies presented by the infamous, late Esme Euvart and Jan Cronje. Both had very soothing and interesting voices with the world of information.
I would visualize her sitting there, me hopping in from school
” Middag mammie” and mwaaah, n klap soen! (‘good afternoon Mom and a kiss’) I used to plant a million of them, mwah mwah mwah….
” Shuuu nou, ek luister na my storie!” (‘Be quiet, I’m listening to my story’)
” Daar’s n sandwich innie oond, en jou koffie is op die tafel” (‘Your sandwich is in the oven’)
Those days the oven was today’s microwave. It always amazed me how she got the timing right. How she knew when to get my lunch ready and when to pour the water in my cup. And my coffee was always warm enough for me, she knew I didn’t like very hot coffee or tea. I suppose that is why I would get a scolding every time I was even a few minutes late.
Not only that, she used to say she would get worried that something happened to me. Now that I am a parent myself, I understand her angst.
Before I could head for the kitchen she would say
” Trek jou skool klere uit, en was jou hanne” (‘Take off your school clothes and wash your hands’)
I would reluctantly do as she instructed and at the same time grab my latest novel to read while I’m having my lunch. I had to sneak it in because I was not allowed to read and eat. So whilst she was in the lounge, I would have my lunch with a book next to me..
I had a routine in the afternoon, eat, undress into my jogger and t-shirt or vest, barefoot, cross legs on the couch with my latest novel and half listening to radio. Also because once her soapies were done, it would be time for “Two-thirty date”, the afternoon show where you can send in a dedication and request a song. It was the highlight for all the teenagers, and we would reminisce the next day of all the Lekker songs that were played.
I was so spoiled, whilst I sat curled up with my book she would get up and clean away the kitchen and make sure I hung up my clothes. Most days I didn’t and she would remind me every time how important it is for a girl to be tidy and when she takes a husband one day, that she will know how to keep her house clean…yada yada yada. I wasn’t interested, I was never going to get married.
Im going to grow up to be a teacher or Secretary and I’m buying a big house with a stoep so that my granny can sit there with her wireless and wait for me to come from work.
She would then say “gaan was jou hanne, ek gan nou supper skep” (‘go wash your hands, I am going to dish supper’)
It would definitely be a scrumptious stew -she loved making stews-, a sweet, cinnamony Tomato bredie! That was my favorite, and still is. I make a kickass tomato bredie, but it cannot beat her`s.
Anyway, back to then…
After the radio show, and putting the volume up and dancing to all the beats, I would then be allowed to go play outside for a while. My granny ready to start supper. I would always ask..” Wat soort kos gan mammie maak?” (‘what kind of food did you make mommy?’)
“Kos wat mense kan iet!” (‘Food people can eat!’) And she said that every time I asked her. I could never understand why she said that until she put it in context…
” Dus nie mooi om te vra, wat soort kos eet ons nie, wees dankbaar ons het kos want daar`s baie mense wat niks het om te eet nie…”
(‘Its not nice asking what kind of food we will be eating, be grateful that we have food!’)
Pfmuff, well obviously that explanation made no sense to me, life is here, now, me and her, my books, the lovely smells, her smell, her smile, me sandwiching her face with my hands and kissing her ten times, that was all that mattered to me…
“Karen, ek dink daai broekie is te klein vir jou, gaan trek n ander een aan, jou bene raak langer by die dag!” ( ‘I think that shorts is too small for you, your legs are getting longer by the day!’)
“Nie mammie, die`s my favorite shorts, is fine” (‘No mommy, this is my favourite shorts and its fine’) trying to pull my shorts down, kamma but all in vain..
Well I got away with it, always did..
I would hear her calling me, I would look out from around the corner..
” mammie, nog n five minutes `seblief?” (‘Another 5 minutes please?’) folding my hands in prayer position, scrunching up a plea face..
“Ok, maar dan moet jy in kom!” (‘Ok, but then you must come inside’)
After playing for another twenty minutes and another calling from her I would reluctantly go home
She would stand on the stairs, with an angry face waiting for me to come inside. I never liked it when she did that because that means I am going to get a hiding of some sort..
Bang! I would get two slaps on my bum..” het ek nie gese jy moet in kom nie!?” (‘Did I not say that you have to come in?!’)
“Ja mammie..” ( ‘Yes mommy’)
” Mammie spoil haar te veel, sy moet leer om skoon te maak en om te help met die kos, mammie raak nou oud!” (” Mommy is spoiling her too much, she has to learn to be more responsible and help you with the chores, you are getting old’)That’s what my cousin used to say, she was twelve years older than me and the two of us lived with my granny. She was always complaining how my granny spoiled me and how I would get away with lots of things..
The hiding long forgotten, my two nieces ( yes, I call them my nieces) bathed, faces shinny and powdered, smelling like babies – it was my job to wash them and get them settled- I would then still have to clean the kitchen. And that was a chore I hated doing, but what made it bearable was having a portable tape and being able to listen to all my favorite music..Whitney Houston, Teddy Pendagrass and The Carpenters were normally what I played at night.
Those cassettes were so thinly spun already, they would tear, I would fix them, they would start playing false, I would cut them and tie the two ends together again. And so it would go on and on. I would sing at the top of my lungs for as long as I was cleaning the kitchen and my granny would give a shout so every now and then for me to keep quiet but it would only last for a minute or so.
My granny was very religious and attended all the church services, the Sunday morning and evening service as well as the Wednesday evening service. This was of course before she became ill and could only attend the Sunday morning service, as she deteriorated, the priest would eventually come and give her holy communion in bed..
But I don’t want to talk about that yet, I’m not ready..
So I wasn’t allowed any of my antics, loudness on a Wednesday evening.
I never liked going to church, and I only did it for my granny. I found the ministry too pretentious and distant and lacking warmth and genuine empathy. So every Sunday morning my granny and I would go to church. I could never sit still in church. She would pack in sweets so that I have something to occupy me with. I always had a clean handkerchief and would play with this thing for as long as the service is on.
” Hou op vroetel, en sit stil!” ( ‘Stop fussing and sit still!’) She would urgently whisper
” Jy gaan n pak slae kry,…” (‘You are going to get a hiding’)
I would get so scared and would settle down for at least ten minutes.. I would then start fantasizing about what I’m going to be when I grow up. What my husband would look and be like. I would feel the sway of my head moving downwards and quickly try to straighten myself in an up-right position. I know she saw that and I will also be sure that I have a hiding waiting in the wings..The problem was that we sat right in front, in the first row facing the priests.
I was always dressed in my finest, two long ponytails curled to perfection with ironed out ribbons. They were flawlessly tied to my hair in matching, opposite positions. At times those were the things that made me very noticeable.
I remember all those hidings like it was yesterday…she would take off my Sunday dress, ribbons and pantyhose and shoes of course and give me a good spanking.
I had the best cries ever, everything would be wet, and I would be hiccuping and sobbing my heart out and she would eventually come and console me.
She would put me on her lap, wipe my face with a clean cloth and softly chastise me for not listening and that one should show respect for the house of God, and that you can’t sleep in church because that means the devil won. I felt so good at that moment against her chest, listening to her heart beat and never thought there would be silence or an end.. That was the love I had for her, and I knew she loved me with all her being..
Lately I am asking myself more frequently: What is love? ‘Love is when you can’t imagine your life without that person and that the mere thought of being without that person make you hyperventilate, make you double up as if in pain, make you sweat, make you cry so much that you’d hope you die too and a void so deep that no one are able to fill,…..love is here and now’
I remember she took me to the Cape Town Gardens on a regular basis. I was always dressed in Sunday’s best, no matter which day of the week it was, if we go out I was dressed up in the finest, and so was she. The snakeskin bag matched the patent leather court shoe, and the pencil cut black skirt matched the black stylish hat. With a frilly buttoned up white shirt. With matching pantyhose of course. I can still smell her Mum cream she used and how she would comb her wispy hair with two swipes to the back. I used to look at her in awe of her beauty, and always wished I’d turn out as beautiful as her. She had baby soft hands..And we were always, always holding hands.
Before we left the house to go anywhere we would stand in front of the mirror, heads bowed in prayer and she would ask God to keep us safe on our journey and to keep us on the path of righteousness and to protect us from harm. Those are the important things that I remember and it doesn’t matter what religion you are, the principles stays the same..
She’s sitting on the bench, starting a conversation with a stranger next to her. The stranger seeking the same we were in the gardens, the sounds of birds chirping, the warm afternoon sun, the squirrels, feeding the birds, but more importantly the absolute splendor of the gardens itself.
They would discuss the type of plants and flowers around us but quickly they’ll become long lost friends, talking about their kids, the current movies on the circuit, their hardships, where they grew up and finally realized that they could have been neighbors. I would stand in awe listening to them and always find it amazing how familiar they became in a short space of time. So trusting..
“Gaan speel met die duiwe, moenie kom tanne tel nie”! (‘Go play with the birds, don’t listen to our conversation!’)
Grownups were known for saying that, but the more she would say that, the more inquisitive I would get. Why can I not listen in on their conversation? I want to know who is going to have a baby, or who’s husband died, or who has created the latest scandal..
This was by far the saddest part of my journey..I stop and start..trying to decide where to start..
It was the beginning of the end. I was so glad she is coming home after convalescing at Jooste Memorial for three weeks. We got strict instructions on how to give her, her daily insulin injection. I knew I was inevitably going to be the one who will have to give it to her.
It became a daily routine. We would wash her, powder her and make her fresh for the day. I would then let her sit on her favorite spot by the window where she would see everyone coming and going. At first it was hard for me to see her dirtying herself and how she was unable to eat by herself but it was something else I had to come to terms with, and very quickly. The worse for me was when she couldn’t recognised me when I came home from school.
I used to stand there with tears running down my face and tell her that it’s me. Sometimes she would know who I was and other times she will say “Karen is nie hier nie, sy in die sondag skool..”
It took me a while to come to terms with the fact that I have lost my beloved granny long before she died. There were days that I was angry with the world and would sit by friends houses for hours, smoking cigarette after cigarette, hoping that by the time I get home, everything would be the same as before. Before when? Before her diabetes slowly ate away at her, before she went into the first coma, before she lost her eyesight, before I lost everything.
I was in standard nine and decided that I had to leave school, I needed to provide, I need to take care of her, I must find a job and then things will come right. I’ve passed the June exams with flying colors and my maths teacher begged me to rethink my decision. I’ve obviously made up my mind and nobody was going to change it for me.
I was becoming very reckless and made some wrong decisions. I’ve lived for partying. Going to church was no longer an option. I hated it when the priest would come around to do a house visit and try talking me into coming to church and that I was a child of God and that I should never turn my back on Him. Really? So where was He when I needed Him to heal her, why does He not make her better for me, surely He knows that I can’t be without her…?
That was the start of the Why’s in my life, and as I grew older I pray for forgiveness and realized that God will not give you something so big, that you cannot survive..
At that time of my life I’ve met my ex-husband and he was a pillar and brought some stability in my life, but there were days that not even that was enough for me. Clubbing was the in thing and I would be out until the next morning, drinking and trying to drown my sorrows. I was seeking something and I couldn’t find it. My conscience was always my worst enemy and I would feel so guilty for neglecting her, even for a night. The next day I would make sure I would bath her, comb her hair, talk to her and listen while she`s having conversations with people that I don’t know. She would be the young bride, she would talk to her fiancee and then finally about the war.
I saw how happy it made her and decided to play along and pretend I knew about everything and everyone she was talking about.
It was a Saturday morning, the 30th of August nineteen something. I remember we got a neighbor to help us with her. She bathed my granny and made her comfortable but suddenly I heard my granny started crying like a baby. I asked her what was wrong thinking she was going to tell me the neighbor hurt her( she would tell”stories” & we would entertain it, just to pacify her)
, but she told me her money is gone and that somebody stole her money.
I started sobbing and told her not to worry that I will find her money. She got so hysterical and I was frantically trying to think what to do when the neighbor gave me an idea. When I gave it to her, she was the happiest person. She quickly rattled off a shopping list and that I must bring back all her change…and to put it in her bag.. I only nodded and put my head in her lap and cried like I’ve never cried before. What made it worse, she told me not to worry…not to be sad and that we have enough money now, and that God is good. I looked at the square pieces of papers I had in my hand and nodded in agreement..
There were seven of us in a citi golf, driving around frantically looking for my granny. We went around to all of her children and wherever we came, no one had seen her and this created chaos and more anxiety! I was going half crazy and would rush everyone else to move onto the next house, just in case she’s there.. when we came to the last house, that of her daughter she told us that my uncle came to fetch my granny and that the neighbor who we have asked to look after her was given the message because I was at my weekend job and my cousin went to the shop, she never relayed the message.
Anyway I felt so much better knowing where she was but I wanted to make sure she was ok and anxiously rushed everybody to hurry up so that we can go fetch her. What happened next was a blur… Because it was weekend my extended family was known for partying on weekends, so everywhere we went, drinks were offered and everyone would drink, except for me. Eventually I piled everyone in the car like sardines and squeezed in at the front passenger side who already had somebody in the seat. With the help of one of my cousins, I was pressed inside.
No one but I saw the stationary, ten meter truck and it was too late for a warning because of the speed we were going at, there was absolutely no way that the driver could have avoided hitting the truck and being under the influence of alcohol didn’t help of course. He tried though but too late, because it still caught my side and crushed the car with me in it under the truck.
The blur is this… the red flashing lights of the truck and someone screaming was the last thing I remembered. Everything that I’m telling you now, is what I was told.. The citi golf was no longer and was only a flat piece of metal tightly tucked under the truck. The enormity of the accident only became apparent when everyone realized that I was still stuck in the car, under the truck and that there was no way that anyone could survive the impact. The surrounding family rushed to the scene anxiously waiting for the ambulance and jaws of life “people” to come to my aid. Suddenly someone shouted that there is an oil spill and that the car is going to burst into flames! Well they did it the coloured way, the only way they thought was best under the circumstances. A group of guys passing stopped and decided to pull me out of the wreck, not considering what damage was at stake. In fact, no one even gave it a second thought..Everyone was hysterical and wanted to get me out no matter what. Long before the paramedics arrived, I was pulled to safety, laying next to the side of the road, apparently barely conscious and kept me as comfortable as possible.
The short of the long is that I survived a horrific accident, with a broken ankle, a dislocated shoulder, the whole left side of my face covered with shards of glass-one piece a few millimeters away from my temple, my left hand with deep cuts and minor injury to my lower back. It could have been much worse had they not pulled me to safety..
I was apparently rushed to hospital as I lost consciousness and I couldn’t feel my legs. The worst was expected but by the grace of the Almighty the prognosis was not as bad as what was initially thought.
As I was wheeled into the trauma unit, my granny was wheeled in at the same time.l was obviously oblivious to this. As they fought for her life on one floor, paramedics was frantically trying to figure out what was the extent of my injuries on another floor, hoping it wasn’t paralysis.
I felt like a mummy covered in white bandages, cast on my left leg and my left arm in a sling. I was miraculously discharged from hospital as early as the next day. I was in so much pain and drifted in and out of oblivion. I was bathed and fed by my cousin and no one spoke about my granny until I asked. She suffered a stroke I was told, but that she is doing ok and could be coming home soon. That was the day my life changed forever, not the next day when we got the call that she died, but the day I felt so hopeless and knew that I will not see her again.
She died at eight pm on the 1st September, twenty seven years ago..I stopped crying, I never cried at her funeral, I never cried long after everyone left, I never cried the day after and the day after…
I cried on the first Xmas eve without her. I could see her preparing Xmas lunch, I could smell it and I cried, not only because she’s wasn’t there anymore but because I was about to become a mother myself and never thought I’d have to do it on my own, without her guidance..I would have a “xmas” breakdown for years to come, I would sob on my own for hours and wondered if the immense pain, void and loneliness will ever dissipate. I never thought it would until I had my daughter. It felt like God gave me, a me with my granny. This could be confusing to you, but it makes sense to me. I had my little button nose, cherub with curly black hair, I had the opportunity to give her the unconditional love and guidance that I have received and it made living without my gran easier to bear. According to most, she is the image of me. I can’t see it of course..
By now you know this story is about how much I loved my granny and how my whole world literally crumbled when she left this earth. I couldn’t cope without my mammie. She was my everything. How do I go on without her? How can she leave me at a time in my life when I needed her the most. I was in between worlds..am I a teenager going into adulthood, am I making the right decisions, how will I know this? Am I too rebellious, too reckless..,? And on the verge of becoming a mother myself, I had no answers to all these questions..my guidance no longer…