Life in the Garden Route of South Africa has its perks. There are quite a few gin distilleries close to my hometown. There is even a school in town where you can make and infuse your own bottle of gin as a keepsake to enjoy in the comfort of your favourite chair at home.
( I always try not to use real names in my blog, but for this entry, I must. It pays homage to a Grand Old Dame, one who will live on in the hearts of many people. I cannot write from a perspective of knowing many of the other family members, so the fact that I reference only a few is simply because they are who I know.)
There are legends, and then there are legends. I’m not talking about people like dead presidents, imaginary superheroes that stop the world imploding, or people that started some kind of revolution that brought about a type of good in the world.
I’m talking about regular people that have more life experience than many of us could ever hope to have. One such person is Sylvia Palmer aka Shelagh-Rose’s Granny. I also called her Granny. Aunty Sylvia always sounded wrong to me. She passed away in the early hours of this morning at the ripe old age of 100 years, 8 months and 12 days. How many people to you know are even close to that age?
Shelagh-Rose and I have been friends for thirty-one years already, and through it all, Granny had always been there, guiding her. The bond they had was a close one; something incredibly special and in today’s day and age, extremely hard to find.
What never struck me growing up, is that my maternal side of the family knew the Palmers, so my friendship with Shelagh-Rose is more deep-rooted than I knew. I like to think destined.
My Aunty Cathy would often regale the tale of how she, my cousin, Lorna, Douglas (Shelagh-Rose’s uncle), and their friend David took a bike ride down Park Side West. David was in the saddle, Douglas on the carrier, Lorna (Cathy’s niece, my cousin, Douglas’s girlfriend) on his shoulders and Cathy on the handlebars. Yes – four children on one bicycle. It sounds like a circus act! As if that’s not enough to give any one a mild panic attack, the bike had no brakes! David scuffed his shoes to try and stop the bike, which shot across the Marsh/Church Street intersection, finally losing momentum at the dry cleaners close to The Point. I wondered this morning when I heard the news of Granny’s final breath if she every knew of this specific adventure.
The Bean told me a story about how her interactions with both Sylvia and her husband, Ray. They had a shop in town called Palmers. Every day Mrs. Gogerty (who was The Bean’s senior at the Scheltema offices) would send her to Palmers to buy a packet of biscuits for the office and Granny would write it up – back in the day when people were still honest enough to buy on the book.
There are many stories that I’ve heard from Elizabeth about her mother. All of them depict Granny to be a woman of incredible poise, wisdom, and everlasting love for her late husband. The two were married for only ten days before Ray was called up to train for combat in the Second World War. All through it Granny never doubted that The Love of Her Life, her Beloved Ray would one day return to her.
During the war, just before his return home, his platoon drew straws to be flown home, or sent by ship. Ray drew the short straw, which meant a longer journey home, but a journey home indeed. His fellow brothers in arms weren’t so fortunate; their plane was shot down and there were no survivors.
I was in primary (elementary) school when tragedy struck Granny. She was attacked in her home and sexually assaulted by a young criminal. Despite the horror what no woman ever hopes will ever befall her, Granny survived, exuded more grace, and was resolute in her decision to stay in her home of countless years. Elizabeth had a wedding photo taken on the steps of that very house, and years later so did Shelagh-Rose.
Granny lived on her own until the age of ninety-seven, when a nasty fall resulted in her hurting her hip. Strong as an ox she lay in agony for a few days before finally calling Elizabeth for help. As expected, she needed a hip replacement and the shock of major surgery began to take its toll.
Granny got dementia. There were days when her mind was still sharp, and there were others when she didn’t know her own children. She adamantly fought with Shelagh-Rose one day for having a child, but not being married. This while Schalk, Shelagh-Rose’s husband, was in the room with them.
She knew I cared deeply for a friend that works on the cruise ships and kept asking me if we’d got married. I eventually told her we had, that it was the most beautiful wedding and that he was set to be away for a year. She never asked again. I don’t know if she forgot about my phantom nuptials, or if my answer satisfied her enough not to ask again. Either way, I appreciated that until I gave her an answer, she always asked.
One afternoon while she was still staying on the farm with Elizabeth, before her move to the ACVV home where she was well looked after, she told me a story about a woman in the district who would come to fetch her to take her to town to have her hair done. She also told me about the nurse who would visit. Both these people turned out to be Elizabeth. Some much change in such a short time was tough on Granny.
During her stay at the farm, Granny had a need to unpack and repack her cupboards every day. Try as she might, Elizabeth couldn’t convince her mom to stop doing it. Maybe in Granny’s addled mind it brought order, although to Elizabeth it brought some chaos. As short as Granny was, she also always managed to get stuff off the high shelves, but she had to get Schalk to put things back. These things seemed silly and frustrating at the time, but now they won’t ever happen again.
Even though I never visited the home where Granny spent the last few years of her life, and even though I’m not family, I feel incredible gratitude to the staff. From what I’ve heard from Elizabeth and Shelagh-Rose, they cared for Granny with compassion and patience – two characteristics that are often difficult to maintain when working with anyone, particularly an elderly person who for so long was independent, and towards the end was almost as fragile as a newborn baby.
I was privileged to be at Granny’s centenary birthday celebrations last October. I got the job of capturing the moments, not that I’m much good with the camera, but Elizabeth and Shelagh-Rose seemed pleased with the results, so all’s well that ends well. It was a momentous occasion, with Granny as the guest of honour (completely unaware of the celebration). All her family and friends that could be there, were in attendance, including her brother, Robert, who himself is in his seventies. Granny was lucid that day – something which I think her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren were happy about. For many, including myself, that is how I will remember her.
On the walls at the party, there were photos of Granny’s life – from the age of knee-high to a grasshopper, to her wedding, and so on. When she saw her wedding photo, she cried. Oh how, she missed her Beloved Ray. It was such a poignant moment. How many of us ever find love, especially a true, everlasting love that not even death can overcome?
Sylvia Palmer, you’ve run a great race. You’ve been a beacon of hope, a shining light, and a pillar of strength to those around you. The wait is over… you are now with Your Beloved Ray. We mourn your departure, but we celebrate your incredible life. Rest in Peace – you’ve earned it!
This is what Tina said when I sent her a picture of the FOURTH cake I’d had in as many days in celebration of my fortieth birthday this past weekend. It was the absolute best commemoration of my earth-joining ever. To say I’m all caked-out is an understatement, but knowing me, and my insatiable sweet-tooth, the feeling will pass soon.
On Sunday (my actual birthday) night, as I lay on the couch with a sore tummy (not from cake, but lots of laughter), I felt immense gratitude for my blessings – my parents, my friends and their love for me. I know I’m special to them, but somehow I was reminded of it, and extremely overwhelmed.
It all started on Friday evening. Eliza, Nathan and Carmen, along with their little ones hosted a surprise party for me. There was sushi, the most amazing quiches, milk tart (a South African confection) and a coconut cake. There was also bubbly…
We spent the evening on the couch under blankets watching Rocketman. I have newfound love for Elton John’s music. When I suffered my major depressive episode earlier this year, I would often play I’m Still Standing, singing along at the top of my lungs. Then I’d burst into tears afterwards.
The next morning I woke up at 06:15. For those of you a little slow on the uptake, it was Saturday. Who in their right mind wakes up so early? I’ll tell you: People that are (almost) forty. I made the best of it with a cappuccino as I watched the sunrise. This photo doesn’t do it justice.
The afternoon The Bean, some of my closest girl friends and Cousin Lara got together for a vintage high tea at Déjà vu Vintage House. The Bean and I even “bopped” on the stage and the pillbox hat I was wearing came right off.
We regaled stories and shared memories and Cousin Lara had us in stitches with some of her tales. Our host, Joan, baked a royal lemon and elderflower cake for the occasion and her husband, De Waal took many photographs for us.
The day was perfect. It ended with The Bean, The Toppie, Elizabeth and I staying over in Eliza and Nathan’s Airbnb, Eagle’s Rest.
Sunday morning, I woke up feeling different. I can’t pinpoint what exactly is different, but something is. It makes me excited and hopeful for the future. That morning, I did something that I’ve always loved: I crept into bed with my folks and had coffee with them. I realize more and more that these moments often taken for granted are going to be no more some time in the future, so I cherish them even more now. We had a lazy morning before heading off to The Cork & Plunger for lunch. As always, the food and service was en-point. This was also where we enjoyed cake number three, a Vegas-themed one, baked by one of my colleagues, Marjorie. The wording underneath the cards reads A Royal Start to a New Decade. After way too much food, everyone went their separate ways.
Yesterday I got to work and there was another cake, again baked by Marjorie.
I got a lovely card from my colleagues. Many of the messages inside touched me deeply, but one in particular brought tears to my eyes. It read “May you receive the abundant kindness you always give to everyone around you”. Even just thinking about it makes me emotional. I’ve always said that I want to be remembered for something. To be remembered for kindness is better than my name on a plaque. I’m blessed to know that I do reach people and that it is my heart that they see.
I’ve made a promise to myself – to be as kind to myself as I am to others. Cheers to forty!
So, after a break-up or trauma of some sort, most women tend to make a change. It’s usually a new hairstyle or colour, or a new look. I’ve done both – the hair y’all have seen and depending on my mood (and the weather), I now don summer scarves with a tailored jacket or rock skinny jeans with heels, as you’ll see later. I also bought myself a pair of ridiculously awesome Italian boots (a pair of genuine Italian shoes has been on my dream board for a decade or so already!) which arrived today.
I feel good about the person I’m becoming through therapy and recovery and I’m happy with the persona I’m putting forward to the world. As I said to Charlie earlier this week, apparently life begins at 40; I’m just getting a few months’ head start. What most women don’tdo after a disruption in their life, is buy a car, especially not on a whim. Or maybe they do?
On Monday last week, I sent a well-known car-dealer, Seesig Motors, in our dorp a message that I was in the market for a small car with aircon and power steering and readily available parts, and the budget I had in mind, but that we’d obviously need to check if any bank would be open to financing it. I wouldn’t be offering my current vehicle, a 2011 Ford Figo 1.4 Ambiente (aka Casper) for a trade-in either, because if I did qualify for the funding, I had a plan up my sleeve. Much to my surprise, I qualified for a car above the budget and the payment is still affordable enough for me to be able to keep both cars!
Gielie Slabbert, the owner (and a friend) shared the good news, telling me that if I was keen, he could offer me a 2011 Renault Sandero 1.4. I said I’d be happy to pop into the showroom for a test drive, and he said it wouldn’t be necessary because he would bring the car to me at work (which is a good twenty minutes’ drive one way) so I could take it through its paces. I was sold by the time I drove back in through the gates.
That same afternoon, I popped into the showroom (after regular business hours) where I was assisted by Elsabé van de Coolwyk. In a matter of fifteen minutes, we’d gone through the purchase agreement and signed all the paperwork. I got word from her the next day that the car would be ready for delivery on Friday.
I opted to collect on Saturday, because I decided to give The Toppie and The Bean the use of Casper (which I will continue to pay the repayments and insurance on). Casper is on loan to them and in the event of anything happening to either The Toppie or The Bean, Casper will be returned to me as per a written agreement between The Toppie and I, because I’ve seen too many people I know get screwed over by family, friends or even local employers.
The hardest part of the whole deal was for me to keep the new car (which will be known as Deadpool from hereon out) a secret. I eventually couldn’t bear the it anymore and I told Charlie, Chanté, Elizabeth and Eleanor, promising them all an excruciatingly painful death if they breathed a word to anyone.
Saturday morning, I was up early; like a kid on Christmas morning. Elizabeth’s brother, Patrick, gave me a lift to the showroom where I was greeted with a smile by Fanie, who explained where everything was on the car, which is a good thing, because otherwise, if I’d ever had a flat, I wouldn’t have known that the spare tyre is underneath the car.
I then went to have my nails done at a new salon that opened close to home called Front de Mer Beauté. I’m happy with the result, and I think the therapist, Angie, did well considering the size of shoes she had to fill. I miss Elena though, but we’re getting together in the last week of May just as we promised we would do once a month.
Finally, it was time to execute the surprise of the year. I got into Deadpool and took the drive out to my folks. I gave them each a package – The Bean hers first (seat covers) and then I gave The Toppie his (much smaller one), the key to Casper. For a moment, they were both somewhat confused, but once the penny dropped, there were tears of gratitude, surprise, shock, relief (because honestly, the car The Toppie has now is not the most reliable in the world).
The Toppie and The Bean left The Cave in Casper, and when The Toppie is ready, he can decide what to do with his car.
Gielie, Elsabé, Fanie and the team at Seesig Motors: Thank you seems so inadequate for the appreciation I have for everything you did in helping me to be able to help my parents too. I will refer everyone I know looking for a vehicle to you, because it’s clear that those entering the showroom may arrive as customers, but they leave as friends. Wishing you growth and success all the way!
I rant when I’m particularly irritated or feel that there is injustice happening to those I care about – many of you who have been following my blog for a long time will know this. I feel the urge to rant, because I am tired of the same shit repeatedly, but realize that it isn’t going to solve anything; it is only going to steal my joy.
On the subject of joy, I’m going to share its opposite with you for a paragraph or two and then end off on a happy note, because while it’s normal to experience negative emotions, it’s not okay to allow them to take root in our minds – after all, our thoughts become our actions, not so?
Yesterday was an extremely busy day at the office, so when I got the news that a good friend of mine, Frances, had left this world for the next, I felt a pang of shock (although she’d been ill for a long while), but I couldn’t really think about it. We hadn’t seen each other in a very long time, but for the last nine months or so, we’d reconnected online. I often chatted to her about alternative things, and she always gave me her honest take – No holds barred. Even when she was at her worst, she always gave her best. She listened without judgement and never hesitated to tell me the truth, even when it was hard to hear. Now she’s gone, and part of me feels lost. It’s odd really, because we were close for a short time, then so far removed from one another for over two decades and then close again. A kind of ‘concertina friendship’ if you will. She leaves behind an ex-husband, who despite the divorce, I know she loved ‘til her dying breath, and two children, who I’ve not met. I’m devastatingly sad at her departure. I’ve lost close people – even family – before, but with her it’s different. I can’t articulate it, because I don’t know what it is. The world is emptier without her. One thing that is a relief, despite the heartache, is that she is finally pain free.
I said to Charlie yesterday that I think I have only a single photo of Frances and I together, and that if I do, it is in a dusty album in storage somewhere. I hope one day I’ll find it and be able to have a proper reminisce over it. Until then though, I’ll remember her for the amazing person she was: mother, fighter, friend.
Onto a less sad subject, Saskia, who “adopted” me as her big, but thin sister (we met in the gym…) is tying the knot in November and asked Yours Truly a while ago if I would be a bridesmaid. I was like, “is a duck’s arse damp?” followed by unexpected tears, of both joy, and surprise – because she has so many friends, and well, in comparison to them, I’m old. She and her beau too live far away, but they are here for a few days, and she, her best friend of the past eighteen years (and Maid of Honour), another bridesmaid and I are getting together for dinner this evening to talk about the shindig. I’m counting the hours because I just know we’re going to have a great time.
As I type this post, thinking about these two incredibly special ladies, I am reminded that making memories is important. The digital era in which we live affords us the ability to capture those memories at the click of a smartphone button. Sure, it’s amazing, but we need to caution against being lost in that action, as opposed to being lost in the people we’re with – so tonight, while I know the young ‘uns will be doing their millennial selfie thing, I’m not going to even take my phone with me. This evening, I’m going to imprint memories of this jubilant occasion in my mind’s eye.
Here’s to a night of uproarious fun, hysterical laughter, and most of all, the love of friends!