It was the first time that Michael cried after an immunisation. Really cried. He was six weeks old and he was quite cranky from the redly swollen bumps on his little upper legs. He was lying on my lap in the back seat of the car while we waited for my husband, Deon, and parents to finish their tour of the last house on our estate agent’s itinerary for that day. We sort of decided that we would make a bid on the previous utterly boring house we saw, although there had literally been nothing but grass in the garden and it only had one garage. The house didn’t make me excited at all, because it was dull and unimaginatively designed. But it did have nice wooden kitchen cupboards. There hadn’t even been weeds! With a crying baby on my lap, I was waiting eagerly for them to return, so that we could go home to bath Michael and get him to bed. I wasn’t much interested in looking at another house when we already made up our minds.
Michael kept crying. And Deon and my parents stayed away. I was getting panicky, because I haven’t experienced this side of our baby boy so far. My father threatened to take him to the doctor to test his lungs because he was sure that he wasn’t able to cry. Where was he now?!
After what felt like a lifetime they came out of the house and Deon announced unceremoniously that we are buying the house. I ran inside for a quick peek, but didn’t really look at anything, because my mind was back in the car with our crying baby.
A week later Deon took me the house again, seeing that he bought it on both our behalves – something he never did before and something he would probably never do again. We normally take all decisions together after talking for too long about it and weighing too many options. I have learned during our 22 years of marriage that Deon usually takes a loooooong time to make decisions. He is never hurried into anything. I also learned to trust his long way of decision making, because the few times I tried to rush him, things didn’t work out so well. So nowadays I wait patiently (making my own plans in my head so long) until he is ready to make a decision and then I reveal my plans too. This way works for us. And I have learned A LOT about patience in the process – a lesson I needed to learn.
My parents moved into the house in the first week of November and we followed shortly. It was a rather different thing to live with parents in the house, but at least Michael enjoyed it later on, having his Oupa Wynie around. He would have him around for only another three years before he died in May 2000.
It was quite weird to move into a 300m² house from a 71m² simplex. It felt like walking kilometres through the hall to get from our bedroom to the kitchen, given that our previous little nest didn’t even had a hallway at all. I caught myself doing it just for the fun. It had been ten years, after all (of living in school and army dormitories and then in the small simplex), since I was lived in a proper house with space again. And I loooooved it! In the sitting room I thought we needed a loudhailer to speak to each other. But we got used to that very quickly.
I was so happy, because both Deon and I grew up in small towns with large enough houses where we had enough space to live and play in. We wanted a house where our son could have grass and would be able to run around the garden and have a place where he could build mud houses and towns for his cars. He did all of that. I have scores of pictures of him over the years playing cars with friends in the mud. There are quite a few of his toys accidentally buried around the garden. Another few was eaten by our dogs over the years as we sometimes found the evidence when picking up poo! There is even a mosaic piece hanging in the garage now made of a broken little army figurine that we found after the dogs played with it.
Our house was a normal three bedroom house, with an open sitting and living area, a kitchen, two bathrooms and a study. There is also an outside room with a toilet. I made lots of plans to convert that into a granny flat over the years, but it never realised. Our house was quite full with my parents living with us, because we now had two of almost everything – two fridges, two microwaves, two tumble driers etc. My parents didn’t really understand the concept of letting their extra things go. It’s hard to stuff two households’ belongings into one house. So, in the end, we got rid of most of our things and they kept theirs. At least that would make our moving out easier one day we thought at the time…
8 September 2013
Michael turned 17 two days ago and it had been almost so many years since me have moved into our house. The reason for me writing this is because we are getting ready to move out. We always thought that we would stay here until Deon retires and we move to the Cape, but he accepted a position abroad for four years and if everything goes to plan, we will be moving within the next two months.
Looking back now, our house had fulfilled its purpose. We wanted a place where our son could grow up and have enough space to play and that happened. He was almost grown up now, standing 1,94m in his number 12 shoes and since his three little friends relocated to Mauritius nine months ago, he doesn’t play with cars in the mud anymore. That was replaced by virtual car games on his computer.
In the last few years we started feeling itchy. We were ready for a change. And now, it seems to have come. Although we are ready, we are also a little bit scared and sad to go, because this house was our home for so long. It had been the only place Michael had known as ‘home’ his whole life. We brought him here as a two month old baby and everything he learned and experienced was from the safety of this piece of earth. Here, he started talking and walking. Here he lost his teeth and waited for them to grow back – something which took seven years, since we had to get his front teeth pulled at age one. Here he brought his friends to play, had a lot of joys and also a few heart aches. Here he had his seventeen birthdays as a child.
This house became part of so many experiences over the years. Our gates changed from heavy manuals, to machine operated and so had the garage doors. We broke a door into our sitting room from the garage to make our coming in late at night safer in our crime ridden city. The furniture hadn’t change much over the years, but their arrangement did s-e-v-e-r-a-l times.
In our sitting room, we had wonderful times kuiering (spending time) with friends and family – in summer with the doors wide open and in winter in front of the fireplace. We watched TV and movies together and Michael played with his Playstation and wooden building blocks and Lego’s on the rug. The rug is a silent witness to life happening accidentally – from stains left by milk from baby bottles to coffee, cold drink, wine, mud feet from children and dogs and other spots that found their way there without us even remembering how.
In our dining room we had family meals and many, many wonderful Sabbath meals with friend on Friday evenings, enjoying the most delightful dishes and even better conversation and fellowship. We exchanged stories and listened to joyful and heart breaking stories. We laughed and sang and cried and prayed and laughed even more.
The study is adjacent to the dining room and the first room when you enter our house through the front door. My mother used it as a storage space for most of the time, until we ‘won’ back the territory a few years back when Deon was attending a course and needed working space. After that, Michael and I moved in to do our schooling there. (He is home-schooled since he was in Grade 5.) It wasn’t a place where we spent much time before that, but since we started to work there, we had quite a few hundred hours of hard work and some good conversations and much laughter there. It is also the coldest place in the house in winter – just a hair breadth after Michael’s room.
Our really, really ugly, brownish kitchen were transformed into a beautiful, inviting place some years back. In there I cooked meals just for us every day and on Fridays for our guests with a light and happy heart. It is there where Deon and I had kissed many more times than I can count and where Michael and I danced our silly, for-our-eyes-only steps to the music on the radio. It was also there where I taught him to dance before his cousin Karien’s wedding last September. I loved the view from the kitchen’s window on our garden’s gazillion colours of green and I loved to watch the birds sipping water and nibbling on the seeds we put out for them. Sometimes doves mistakenly crashed into the window and left their whole body print in a beautiful, fine silvery powder on the glass. The view from the kitchen window will be one of the things I will miss most.
One almost never tend to think about a hall as a room or part of the house, but in some instances it is the most important space of the house, because without it, there would be no way to reach the private inner parts of a home. Our hall was lined with family photos, reminding us of our loved ones when we pass by, sometimes without really acknowledging them. It was maybe the most used part of the house, seeing that we all had to move up and down through it to get in and out many times a day. So, even of our hallway I have fond, and some not so fond memories.
A good memory is one of Michael racing up and down on his little black kick scooter which made a huuuuge noice! He had to be very careful not to bump into the wall at the end of the hallway or into the little table in the corner, on which my favourite vase, which Deon brought from Malawi, stood. But he was a skilled little racer and the dangers at the end of the hall only honed his skills. One night my sister came to baby sit him and his little girl friend, Nini, and her brother and sister, while we and their parents went out to attend a function together. The two of them raced on their scooters again and Nini crashed into the little table, sending the vase flying over Michael’s head behind her – according to my sister’s very colourful account of the incident. It must certainly have been something to see.
Unfortunately, my most vivid memory of the hallway, is one I wish never was. It was on a seemingly uneventful, sunny November Monday afternoon in 2002, when I had to tell my mother, unexpectedly coming out of her bathroom into the hall, that her firstborn son was killed by an accidental explosion that morning. I will never forget the disbelief in her face and her hysterical voice. Neither the disgust in her eyes towards the messenger…
Even the guest bathroom, which served as my parents’ and later only my mother’s bathroom, was responsible for some memories. The tricky door knob, temporarily jailed friends and family until we learned to recite the “Pull, don’t turn!”-warning to every visitor for seventeen years! Why we didn’t ever think of changing the door knob, no one knows.
My parents occupied the first bedroom in the hallway, just opposite the kitchen. When I think of my dad, I always remember him where he was working on some project in the garage or in his little Wendy house or lying on their bed, either reading from his Bible, or asleep with the still-open Bible on his chest. The bedroom’s furnishings changed after he died when my mother bought a smaller bed and moved her sewing machine and a series of other furniture in and out regularly.
Next to theirs, was Michael’s bedroom. We painted his room in joyful blue and green colours after we moved in. It stayed that way until he became too tall for his bunk beds last year. Then we renovated the room in a hint of broken white with one half-wall painted red, where he hung the paintings he made in the past two years. His Bob the Builder-bedding was replaced by a black duvet with all the colours of the rainbow-strips. Being on a tight budget, we couldn’t afford new furniture, so he saw off the feet-end of his bed and used the bed he doesn’t sleep on as a couch in his room, covering it with a very jolly blanket of colourful blocks and lots of colourful cushions.
Through the years toys indicating his age, filled the room. First there were over-sized plastic cars, soft toys and Duplo blocks. Those were eventually replaced by toy boxes choc-n-block full of smaller cars and hundreds of Lego block pieces. He collected a whole series of little army figurines and armoured cars, a tent, a helicopter etc. The collection of model planes hanging from the ceiling expanded through the years. Since the room makeover last year, all that remained visibly were the hanging planes, books – he became an avid reader in the mean time – and his Playstation games, along with Japsnoet, his favourite soft toy dog who had been with him on all our international trips, lying on the coach between the cushions. The other toys had found their way into his cupboard, waiting behind closed doors to be dispatched to other tiny hands to play with them. Maybe it will be the little hands of Michael’s children one day… (This paragraph sounds pretty much like the plot of Toy Story 3… J)
Our room had always been our sanctuary. Because my parents lived with us in the house, privacy had always been limited. As a baby and little boy, Michael slept with us in bed regularly – something we enjoyed and encouraged, since the inner-workings of a one-child family is much different from than that of a family with more children. A king-size bed comes in very handy in such circumstances and we enjoyed and treasured the intimacy of our small family.
Later on Michael practically moved in with us, arriving every night with his mattress and linen dragged behind him from his room and being placed next to his daddy’s side of the bed. When he was sick, he however joined us in bed again. One morning, at age 11 and a half, he and his mattress left our room, not to return again. He had become a big boy and we only lured him back to our room a few times after that when he was sick and coughing. Then the warmth of our bodies seemed to drive away the coughing and we could all get some much needed sleep. But not anymore. He stays on his own room now when he gets sick. Mamzi still has to go and give the meds and rubs in the Vicks on his chest though…
Our room’s looks also changed much during the years. When Michael was still small, I had a desk in the room and sometimes I wrote there, looking up more than necessary, just to stare at the sun lighting the garden outside.
Deon and I have many wonderful memories of our room. But we also had times of sadness due to family matters and illness. I spent boring, boring weeks at a time in bed after recovering from two major operations and had to nurse many migraines in there – something I am thankfully been cured of now, which I can only thank our heavenly Father for.
When we moved into our house, our garden had the second most beautiful lawn in the neighbourhood. Only Piet, three houses to our left, had a better looking lawn. That’s probably because he fed it well and mowed it twice a week and kept mowing it during the winter too. He still does. There were also lots of bushes and trees in the garden. Eventually we built a lapa (a shed-like wooden structure) in the back garden. The floor was finished just in time for Michael’s second birthday. Everyone visiting, pitched in and hammered at least one nail into a plank or saw a piece of wood. We made little wooden squares and whenever people came to visit they wrote their names and a message on it and nailed it to a beam. Years later we got people to put on a new roof and they didn’t mind the squares. Three of them came off, of which we found two. The one that was missing was that of my late brother…
In the last few years we built a new flat braai in front of the lapa, but it is on the road’s side and sometimes it didn’t feel so safe to sit there late at night. We built another fire pit in the garden at the kitchen’s side. Deon put in some lanterns in the tree and now we have a wonderful, cosy place to braai and spend time with friends with. Unfortunately, the trees in our garden grew so large that the shadow killed most of the grass. The rest of it was trampled by our three large Labradors! We planted grass again a summer ago, but it didn’t make it either. So now we have our own little desert in our back yard.
I try to take mental pictures of our house and our garden – of the many greens I see through the kitchen windows, of the bougainvillea crawling over the lapa’s roof and of Sherlock, Sasha and Sheva, our little dog family, who – like our small family – does everything together and who would be lost without their Alpha dog, Sherlock, as we would be without our Alpha ‘dog’, Deon. And of Simson, our little Maltese poodle, who is the apple of our eyes.
Our garage had been a place where Michael was taught to fix things. My father fixed broken things, rather than doing away with them to get new ones. Together they fixed a lot of stuff, before Oupa left for heaven in 2000. At age fourteen, Michael started playing around with the tools and helped with quite a few building and restoration projects. He loves ‘playing’ in the garage and I find him them on many occasions, making a new sword or a kierie or something. I also spent a lot of time there, working on my father’s home made work bench, sometimes just hanging around there, remembering him.
We are going to miss our house – our home for seventeen years. It is the longest that Deon, Michael or I had ever stayed in one place – alone or together. For Michael it is the only house he had ever known. For us it was a place of struggle and sometimes sadness, but overall it was a place of happiness and joy. So much had happened to us and around us and in the world while we lived here, but our house had always been our safe haven. We made so many good memories while living here – enough to take with us and carry around with us for the rest of our lives. We can only pray that the people coming after us will be as blessed and happy as we were and that they can call it home for as long as they need to. And that they will be good friends for the wonderful neighbours we leave behind and who we will miss greatly.
Our street became a wonderland of reds and yellows and oranges when summer changes into autumn. People drive by to see the leaves on the huge old trees change and to take pictures to capture the beauty. I hope my mind had captured the beauty of our street in autumn, because it is absolutely gorgeous.
The three of us changed much over the span of seventeen years. Baby Michael became a toddler, a boy, a young man. Deon and I grew older and even more in love with each other. He gained a few grey hairs and I a few pounds. We leave here wiser than when we moved in. We can only pray that we will be as safe and happy and blessed – or even more – where we are going as we were here. We know what the past held, but we don’t know what waits in the future. All we know is that a new season is dawning and as a family we are embarking on it together. And we will do it with our eyes and ears and hearts fixed our heavenly Father, because He knows our future and to Him there are no surprises.
Thank you, house, for the wonderful memories that we can take with us. We will always, always remember. May faith, hope, love, peace, happiness and safety always reside within you to give joy and refuge to those who dwell here after us.
© 2014 Riëtte de Kock
I am trying hard to be a Proverbs 31-woman – excellent wife, finest mom, greatest lover and successful entrepreneur and freelance writer all at the same time! I share a living space in Pretoria, South Africa with my husband, son, mother, four dogs and sometimes the neighbours’ cats – and my head with way too many ideas and multitudes of story characters.
Visit my website at www.thewritingclub.co.za and buy my children’s ebook, Yeovangya, on Amazon Kindle athttp://www.amazon.co.uk/Yeovangya-ebook/dp/B008CP2RQ0
My Afrikaans blog is available on my website – or just click on this link: http://www.thewritingclub.co.za/writingclub/index.php?option=com_lyftenbloggie&view=lyftenbloggie&category=bloggies&Itemid=66