An Auntlet of Memories…

There is some unwritten rule that says you’re not supposed to have favourites where family members are concerned. Well, if a former British Prime Minister could favour her one twin above the other, I can surely have a favourite aunt, and even though she traded her earthly shell for her angel wings this past Monday after a short battle with liver cancer, Aunty Cathy will always live on in my heart and memories.

I have so many memories of her, spanning over more than thirty years. It’s tough to select only a handful, because she was a remarkable lady. A gentle force who was loved by many and The Bean’s soul twin, despite the four year age gap between them.

I was round seven or eight when Aunty Cathy and Uncle Bobby came to visit The Bean and I in Johannesburg. They arrived with Allan and Louise, (in the green Ford Cortina bakkie if I recall correctly) and on the itinerary was a visit to Gold Reef City. That day we all piled into a taxi and eventually ended back up where we started because the driver had no idea where he was going and I piped up that it felt like we were on our way to the (then Orange) Free State. Another taxi got us there in just over ten minutes. Being young and carefree, the cousins rode on all the rides we were allowed to under Uncle Bobby’s watchful eye, while Aunty Cathy and The Bean went walk about. The Bean got knocked over by a Penny Farthing bicycle and in true Cummins fashion, Aunty Cathy laughed to a point of weak uselessness, leaving The Bean grazed and dusty in the middle of the street.

Shortly after this memory, The Bean and I fled Johannesburg. Aunty Cathy and Uncle Bobby took usin and saw to it that I got to school safely every day while The Bean went back to work out her notice. It was in this time that a weekly Thursday night card game took place at the table in Aunty Cathy’s beloved red kitchen in Upper Cross Street. Had it not been for those weekly card games and The Toppie’s charms, I would be without the father I so dearly love and the husband The Bean absolutely adores.

I remember the day I wanted to shave my legs and The Bean said no. I tried the but all the girls at school do it pitch, but it was Aunty Cathy that convinced The Bean with something in the lines of  “Oh, come on, Reunette, she’s almost in high school already!” Aunty Cathy even bought me my first razor. I cut my legs to ribbons and bled all over Aunty Cathy’s white towel, but she didn’t yell – she was happy that I had completed this small rite of passage.

Speaking of high school – The Toppie’s work moved us around a lot , so I spent a short part of my high school career at one of the top ten girls’ schools in the country, The High School for Girls, Potchefstroom. I never got mail, so skipped going to the day room when the post was being handed out. One of the other girls in my corridor brought me a package wrapped in brown paper; inside was a chunky royal blue jersey that Aunty Cathy had knitted for me to wear on the icy winter days. The note attached said that it my jersey to do with that I liked – if I wanted to sleep in it that was okay, if I wanted to stretch it over my knees that was fine too. The only stipulation was not to let The Bean have it. Aunty Cathy knew The Bean so well, because when she saw the jersey, she threw a broad hint that it would look good on her too. Even though I didn’t wear it much after my school career, I had it for a long time because it held sentimental value, but eventually had to let it go because it had become shabby and moth-eaten.

In November 1997, Little Brak River and the surrounds flooded. Aunty Cathy, Uncle Bobby, The Bean, The Toppie, Aunty Dot, all our pets piled into Aunty Rosie’s house after having our lives flash before our eyes. That night, after his shower, Uncle Bobby asked Aunty Cathy for a pair of dry socks. The conversation went something like this:

“Pies, give me a pair of dry socks.”

“I didn’t pack socks.”

“Well, what did you pack?”

“The You, an eraser, and a pencil so I can do the crossword…”

I don’t know what happened after that, but I imagine Uncle Bobby wasn’t too impressed.

The Toppie couldn’t be here for my Matric Farewell because he was offshore, so The Bean, Aunty Cathy and Uncle Bobby saw to it that I still got to have a special evening. I got dressed at their house, and Aunty Cathy gave me a pair of earrings that she and Uncle Bobby had chosen for the occasion. Uncle Bobby even chauffeured my partner and I to the Town Hall. As I write this, my eyes are misting up at the memory. Aunty Cathy was always as proud of me as The Toppie and The Bean were.

Then there was the New Year’s Eve that the donkey got knocked over in front of the church. It was like something out of a B-rated comedy. Pandemonium reigned and while the donkey-plot was unfolding, a vagrant appeared wanting orange bags and empty bottles. Aunty Cathy went to the fridge, took out a box, and gave it to the poor man. Who wouldn’t like some cake to ring in the New Year, right? He kept on saying that there was no cake in the box, but his cries fell on irritable ears. Hours later, once the chaos had died down, Aunty Cathy looked up and there on the kitchen counter, was the cake. For some reason, she had taken it out, and given the hobo the empty box. In true spirit and up for another adventure, Louise wanted to get in the car and go find the chap. That idea was vetoed and we all ate the cake instead.

In 2011 my parents, Unc and Auntlet (as I fondly referred to Aunty Cathy and Uncle Bobby) and I went on a cruise to Barra Lodge. While I didn’t spend all my time with the ‘oldies’, I have some amazing memories of that holiday. Aunty Cathy and The Bean spent many a time laughing and joking. At one stage a young man, about my age came over to the two of them and asked if they were twins, because his two grannies were arguing about it. The Bean set the record straight, but this moment once again shows that aside from looking like twins, Aunty Cathy and The Bean were connected on a level that is almost impossible to comprehend. The bond they shared, despite their differences sometimes, is unbreakable.

A year later, a friend of mine lost her mom shortly before Mother’s Day. With the husbands away The Bean and Auntlet decided we would take Liezel out with us to the Cango Wildlife Ranch. I found some of the photos. The outing may have been years ago, but it, like the cruise vacation, is something I can remember in vivid high definition colour. Aunty Cathy had a spontaneous side to her, visible by her wresting the ‘croc’. She even went sandboarding with Allan in her late sixties. She was fearless and fun.

One of The Bean and The Toppie’s fondest memories of Aunty Cathy is when the three of them went up to the West Coast to see the flowers. The Bean got out of the car, and on The Toppie’s instruction went to sit amongst the flowers so he could take photos. When it came to getting up, gravity had the upper hand, so Aunty Cathy went to help. Needless to say, both of them ended up rolling around the flowers in a crumpled heap, while many cars stopped to watch the silliness.

There were also countless camper trips which held memories of their own. From Buffel’s Bay to Beaufort West, to Cape Agulhas and places in between. There was also one common denominator – cards and breakfast around a small outdoor table.                                                                                                                                                                                                         

In 2016 we visited Greyton. Aunty Cathy and The Bean loved the quaint little village. Sadly, we didn’t have enough time to really soak up the atmosphere, but nevertheless, we had great fun.

In recent years, despite not seeing each other often, we did stay in touch on WhatsApp. Aunty Cathy had an incredible sense of humour and we would often share jokes. Just this morning I saw this, and thought of her – how she would have found it has funny as I did.

Sometimes The Bean and Aunty Cathy would be laughing at something, and even though none of us was in on the joke, we would be laughing too, just because they were, in her words, “laughing like a drain”.

Aunty Cathy was never stern to me, but she was stern for me – like the time Louise and I had to go to something at the Church Hall dressed as something from a castle. Louise was well prepared as a chambermaid. I was not, so I grabbed all sorts of mismatched clothes and shoes out of Aunty Cathy’s cupboard and went as the court jester. Louise and I both won a prize that day.

There was a time when I didn’t get on with The Bean. Show me any teenager who gets on with their parents all the time, and I’ll show you a liar. We’d had a huge argument and I stalked out, intent on walking until my legs fell off. Eventually I phoned Aunty Cathy, who came to fetch me. She let The Bean know I was safe, and even though The Bean was angry with both of us, Aunty Cathy stood by me, even when it meant knowing her sister was upset with her.

One of the things I loved the most about Aunty Cathy was that she accepted me as I am. She was easy-going, and unpretentious. She never tried to mould me into something she thought I should be. The day I shaved my head, both the Toppie and The Bean nearly had fits. When Aunty Cathy saw me, she said she didn’t like it, but it was my hair and that it would eventually grow back. If I went to visit and slouched on the couch for the day, Aunty Cathy wouldn’t admonish me to sit up straight. She always had a willing ear and would offer advice when I asked for it, regardless of the age I was. Like The Toppie and The Bean, she respected my decisions, even though she knew I might be making a mistake, and like my parents, she was often there to help pick up the pieces when I did inevitably screw up.

She leaves behind five blood sisters and brother, and The Toppie, who said on Monday night after receiving the devastating news that she had been like a sister to him too. That was just the way she was – a pure soul with a gentle force that you couldn’t help but gravitate towards. It’s difficult for me to comprehend losing a sibling because I don’t have any, but I can’t begin to imagine how tough it must be for all Aunty Cathy’s siblings to be left behind – after all, she was the youngest child. It goes against the stereotypical circle of life, but God in His infinite wisdom must have a plan with this.

To her siblings left behind, when things get a bit tough to bear, remember the good times and be grateful that you had such a wonderful sister for over 70 years.

To her immediate family, Uncle Bobby, Louise, Allan, their spouses and the grandchildren – she will not only live on through you, but within you. She will continue to be your guiding light, a bright beacon in a heaven filled with angels. To Flossie, your Humamama is watching down on you, and one day, when you cross over the Rainbow Bridge, she’ll be there waiting to share Heaven’s beach with you.

Aunty Cathy,  this niecelet of yours is going to miss sharing a joke with you, or a cup of tea on the stoep, but I am happy for you because I know you’re free of pain and suffering and you’re with Oupa, Granny, Uncle Ted, and Malcolm. Methinks the Guardian Angels may just have their hands full as you all celebrate your reunion openly. Rest in Peace, Auntlet – you deserve it!

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