After 126 days in lockdown, there is still no real sign of when a sense of normality will return. I know that life as we knew it before COVID-19 will never be the same, but still, having the freedom to do some of the things we used to, would be nice. Anyhow, I’m not going to rant. It just sets me off into a downward spiral.Continue reading
( 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!
Yes, you read right. I did not have a dyslexic moment. The major portion of this post is going to be about my friends’ pets, and how furry, feathered, and scaled companions have made lockdown easier for many, including myself.
For those of you that are inclined to have Seriously-Sensitive-Susan moments, a great deal of this post is written tongue-in-cheek. The idea is not to offend, but to bring humour, and hope. Please read (and accept) it in that way.Continue reading
Yay! Cake for days…
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!
Last night I was reading The Brain Bleacher, the final short story in the second Sticky Fingers anthology by JT Lawrence, with whom I was at school with for a short time before moving to Mossel Bay.
I was chatting with Charlie after I’d finished the book, and said to him that one day I will write like that – as in short stories, because while I know I have a writing gift, I do not possess the mad skills to weave a tale in a limited amount of words that grabs you from the word go. JTL just has it.
One quote in the story above really resonated with me: “While a memory is a mental snapshot of a moment, it carries with it layers of emotion and texture and scent.”
It reminded me of quite a few mental snapshots and something my colleague, Carla and I discussed when we spent a girls’ night away at a local lodge about three years ago one November weekend. She said when she looks back in time, she doesn’t necessary remember the things that were around her at a time, but she does remember the smell of the air, or the warmth of the sun on her skin, or the song in the breeze; most importantly she remembers how she felt in that moment. Thinking about that outing, I remember being stretched out on a long wooden deck chair, with a book listening to the trickle of the stream nearby. While I don’t remember the title of the book, I remember the feel of the parchment between my fingers and the smell of the ink. I remember feeling completely content, even if only for a few fleeting moments.
Another memory that popped into my mind was our visits to Mossel Bay when I was a child. The Bean and I would catch the train from Johannesburg and travel to visit my matriarchal grandparents and all the aunts, uncles and cousins. The one olfactory memory I have of these journeys is pulling into the station and smelling the oceanic saltiness in the air – a world removed from the Johannesburg smog that enveloped us during our time in that concrete jungle. I remember loving the feel of the sea sand between my toes and being bribed out of the freezing cold water with what was probably an even colder ice-cream cone.
I recalled other memories too – and with focus on the emotions, texture and scent, I was transported back to those moments in time, and it felt as if I was there again.
In one, I felt the gooseflesh rise at the receipt of a gentle touch in a tender moment, even though my heart was racing with uncertainty and angst and flaming desire at the same time.
In another, I felt the dread and horrific realization induced by the smell of burnt chicken (I won’t live it down either, I promise!)
In another I was warmed by the soft heat of a gas heater with the fairy-tale lights of a Cape Town Waterfront Christmas display to illuminate my friend, Andrew’s face as we caught up five years’ worth of news over a chocolate-berry-spiced red wine and lekker South African fare. I also remember the indigestion that followed shortly after seeing the bill.
In another I remember sitting against the trunk of a tree, after a particularly trying parkrun. My hair was plastered to my forehead with glue-au-de-perspiration and my breathing was laboured, so much so I’m sure I could have given The Big Bad Wolf a run for his money (bacon, anyone?). A woman approached me asking about Herbalife (yes, I was branded for the walk – not my finest advertising moment) and we got chatting. Eighteen months later, that woman, Harriet, is one of my closest friends. I haven’t been able to do our routed parkrun since though because of my bum knee.
I could reminisce like this for hours, and I think each day I shall get in my time machine and take myself back to at least one happy (or funny) memory – where I can relieve the sensation, feel the grain, and inhale the fragrance of times gone by. And sure, sometimes it’s necessary to revisit the sad and bad memories, to remind oneself how far you’ve come, but for the most part, I want to simply revisit the happy times, filled with laughter, hope, friendship, family and most importantly the love that surrounds all those things.
So, here’s to joyous recollections, all inspired by a single line, from an incredible book.
Cheers to you JTL! I aspire to be an author like you. You are a creative genius and an absolute legend.