What Happens Between “Enchanté” and “Auf Wiedersehen”

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A longish note to everyone we met during our almost four and a half years stay in Egypt.

 

When we Afrikaners meet someone for the first time, we like to greet them with the words “Bly te kenne”. These words literally translate to ‘may we keep knowing each other’.

At that point, the person you meet is just another stranger about whom you know nothing, except his or her name – if you manage to catch, pronounce and remember it! But as time goes by and you meet again and again you learn to pronounce their names correctly, meet their families – either in person or by hearing about them. You eventually learn about the person’s passions, talents, joys and heartbreaks. And then suddenly they are unfamiliar no more.

During our five summers in Cairo we met quite a few people, who by sharing similar experiences, challenges, difficulties and fun, had transformed from strangers into dear friends. Fortunately, living in an ever-changing international community for a while, there are plenty of opportunities to say “Bly te kenne” or “Nice to meet you” or “Enchanté”. Unfortunately during this temporary expat life, another phrase is being used way too often too, because coming and going is a given in this type of lifestyle.

Saying goodbye is never easy and when you have to do it that often, it really “sucks”, to quote our American friends. At first there are goodbyes to family and friends when you first leave to go live in a foreign country in a foreign culture between foreign people. And then there are all the in-between goodbyes when you go home on holiday and return – just to leave your loved ones behind again. And again.  And again. And again…

But then, all of a sudden the day arrives when you have to say goodbye to the foreigners – the strangers whom you met at a reception or a coffee morning or a welcoming party or in the street or at work, and who, in a short period of time, became friends. People who made your stay in a foreign place less foreign. Who helped turn uncomfortable into comfortable. Whose unknown faces had become so familiar and loved that you can’t imagine saying goodbye to them to probably never see them ever again! And that thought is just unthinkable!

So, for that purpose we have another wonderful phrase in Afrikaans and in some other languages with which we try to ease the pain of saying goodbye. We say “Tot weersiens”, which means ‘until we see each other’ – much like the Hebrew l’hitra’ot or the French a bientôt or the German ‘auf wiedesehen’.

If we say “Until we meet again”, we all know that – even if the goodbye part is inevitable for the now – we keep the hope afloat to meet again, because who knows? It just might happen! It already happened when we went on holiday to Greece and met up with old Cairo friends there and when some of our American friends visited us at home while on holiday! So, anything is possible!

Saying goodbye is too final. It means it’s over and done with. Finished. It shuts the door on hope. Goodbyes are no good. They are hope killers and killing hope is not good for one’s soul.

So, after this long account, I’ll come to the point. This note is not a hope killer. This is not our goodbye to you. This is just to say thanks to you for all the laughs and cries we shared. For the many, many, many glasses of wine we had together – and for lamenting together over all those almost-full glasses we lost to over-eager Egyptian waiters! And for all the caipirinhas (“por favor” wink-wink) and all the times we danced to C’est La Vie at functions we were supposed to and at functions we were not supposed to!

Thank you for caring for Deon when Michael and I were not here and making him feel less alone in Cairo. Thank you for helping him when he was dean. And thank you for always asking about ‘our Michael’ and conversing with him and treating him as part of our community and giving him the experience of a lifetime! Thank you for every “How are you?” and every smile and every hug and every kiss and every “I will miss you” towards the end.

We will miss every one of you – those to whom we have already said goodbye to four, three and two years ago and last year and this year, and you who we leave behind now. Every one of you and your families had touched our hearts in one way or another. From now on when we hear English in a foreign accent it will be your voices and your accents we hear it and then we will miss you even more. We will miss your smiles. We will miss dancing with you. We will miss laughing will you. We will miss everything about you.

We wish that you and your families will be blessed in whatever you do wherever you go. Our family’s prayer for you comes from the Bible:

God bless you and guard you.

God make His face shine upon you and show favour to you.

God lift up His face upon you and give you peace.

 

We will always remember you, because between “Enchanté” and “Auf wiedersehen” we have made too many memories together to forget each other.

 

Until we meet again, our friends.

 

With love from Deon, Fielies & Michael De Kock

June 2018 – Cairo, Egypt

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An Awkward Love Letter

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My dearest husband,

This might just be the most awkward love letter I have written to you so far. Today is our wedding anniversary and I realised last night that today, I will be married for longer than I have been single. And that we know each other now for a quarter of a century already.

It made me think, because it feels only like a blink-of-an-eye away that I was woken by my sister with breakfast and sparkling wine in bed, excited that day big day had finally arrived! But, thinking about it a little bit more, I realised that quite a lot can happen in a ‘blink of an eye’. I remember (not necessarily in the correct order…)

  • Communism fell and so did the Berlin wall.
  • We watched the war in Iraq on the TV in the evenings after work.
  • You went on a course to Chile for four months and five days and while you were gone, the world seemed to turn asymmetrically around me.
  • Your youngest sister got married while you were away.
  • There was conflict in the Middle East.
  • You came back and the balance of my little world was restored.
  • We became engaged without you ever asking me to marry you.
  • We got married. In between these two undertakings, I don’t remember anything else happening.
  • When we got married it was trendy for anti-marriage campaigners to say that “marriage’s purpose had been served”.
  • The ANC had been unbanned and Nelson Mandela was released from prison.
  • There was conflict in the Middle East.
  • You travelled abroad for work.
  • Apartheid had fallen and we (South Africa) had our first real democratic elections.
  • Three new babies had been born into the family in the meantime.
  • Racism started to change its face – not just in South Africa, but all over the world.
  • You travelled abroad for work.
  • Political correctness entered our world subtly.
  • There was conflict in the Middle East.
  • South Africa had been allowed back into the sports world and the Springboks had won the Rugby World Cup.
  • We had misfortunes at getting pregnant.
  • I had a heart operation…
  • …during which I was pregnant and didn’t know (the hospital made a God-intervened mistake by not testing my urine before the operation)…
  • …and medical experts advised us to have our son aborted…
  • …which we refused…
  • …and he survived and was born healthy…
  • There was conflict in the Middle East.
  • I left my job after ten years.
  • I got another job.
  • There was conflict in the Middle East.
  • You travelled abroad for work.
  • Our son grew up to become a lively toddler and the love and centre of our lives.
  • I had another traumatic operation, but by God’s grace we go through that too.
  • My father died.
  • You and I travelled abroad together for the first time. We vowed never to travel without our son again. So far we haven’t.
  • Crime became profitable in SA.
  • There was conflict in the Middle East.
  • You went on a year-long course – fortunately close to home.
  • My beloved brother died.
  • India had a huge earthquake.
  • Our son went to school.
  • You travelled abroad for work.
  • One day planes started flying into buildings in the USA. More than 3000 people died.
  • This started new wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. We watch it on TV. Again.
  • Al Qaeda became World Enemy no. 1.
  • Crime became worse in SA.
  • There was conflict in the Middle East.
  • I quit my job.
  • I had another heart operation.
  • Pluto was downgraded to not being a planet anymore.
  • It became legal to murder your own child when he/she is still a foetus.
  • There was conflict in the Middle East.
  • Saddam Hussein vanished.
  • Saddam Hussein was found.
  • Saddam Hussein was executed.
  • The Springboks had won the Rugby World Cup again.
  • We travelled abroad for the first time as a family.
  • We decided that I would become a stay-at-home mom.
  • Iran had a huge earthquake.
  • Our son got it in his head to be home schooled.
  • There was conflict in the Middle East.
  • We started home schooling.
  • You travelled abroad for work.
  • We travelled abroad six times more.
  • Turkey had a huge earthquake.
  • The world learned about tsunami’s when more than 230 000 people died in South Asia.
  • During the course of the last seven years four family weddings and three births occurred.
  • You travelled abroad for work.
  • There were divorces and remarriages in our family.
  • Uncles and aunts died. The older generation was leaving this life. A younger generation was getting older.
  • There was conflict in the Middle East.
  • Marriages between men and men and women and women became legal. Marriage was suddenly popular again.
  • Your father died.
  • Arafat died.
  • South Africa had hosted the FIFA Soccer World Cup.
  • Crime had become an epidemic in SA.
  • One day a man in Tunisia burnt himself to death and started a revolution in his country and in Libya and in Egypt.
  • Syria became a blood bath.
  • Mubarak resigned, Gaddafi was murdered.
  • Our son turned 16.
  • Governments in North Africa changed.
  • Osama bin Laden, the alleged brain behind  the 9/11 tragedy was killed in his hide-out in Pakistan.
  • Governments in North Africa changed. Again.
  • Our son got his learner’s driver licence.
  • There was conflict in the Middle East.
  • We moved to Egypt.
  • A plane vanished in mid-air, not to be found.
  • A few months later, the same type of plane from the same airline was shot down over Ukraine.
  • Boko Haram in Nigeria kidnapped 200 girls and caused havoc in the country.
  • Ferries sank.
  • Planes crashed.
  • Volcanoes spewed.
  • A Muslim extremist group, who make Al Qaeda almost look polite, arose and wants to take over the world. They kill as far as they go.
  • Our son finished school.
  • Pluto may be promoted to become a planet again.
  • Our son turned 18.
  • (There will probably always be conflict in the Middle East.)

These were only a ‘few’ things that came to mind while I was pondering last night away. Through all these years we celebrated anniversaries and births and birthdays and cried at deaths. We have made the best of friends – which we still have – and we had family joys and tragedies. We laughed and we loved. And now we are 25 years older. In the blink of an eye.

One thing we know, and that is that change is constant and that everything changes. The world changes. People change. Ideas change. Trends change. Laws change. Life changes – in the mere blink of an eye.

Even love changes. My love for you changed. I love you more now than I loved you 25 years ago. Thank you for not asking me to marry you and then did it anyway 23 years ago.

You are the love of my life.

Always yours,

VrouQ

 

‘VrouQ’ can roughly be translated to the English non-word ‘wifey’ (from ‘wife’)

 

Linking Past and Present at a Grave

Memory Lane Chronicles: Finding a Grave at El Alamein – Part 1

I grew up collecting postcards. It started when I went on a school tour in Standard 7 (now Grade 9) when I bought a few postcards of birds at the Transvaal Museum in Pretoria and more when visiting the Kruger National Park. I already had one postcard in my collection – dated in 1970 when I was almost two years old and he was in the Air Force already. It had a painted picture on the front of a pretty boy and girl and my much older, beloved big brother’s handwriting on the back, telling me that he missed me and that he was looking forward to come visit, so that I could bake him some cookies.

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From that school tour on, I bought postcards whenever we went somewhere and even had people giving me their old ones they wanted to get rid of. I had an interesting collection of postcards written in my native language, Afrikaans, English and even German. The German postcards were from a dear older friend at work who frequently received post from her family back in her homeland. I so loved those pictures of the many different places I longingly looked at. My father once visited Germany, Venice and Italy and my eyes were treated to more beautiful places. It must have been where the dream to travel the world started. Later on friends were asked to send postcards when they visited far off places and my assemblage got bigger. But, as I grew older and busier, looking at my postcard collection was limited to moving them to different storage places in the house every five years or so. Recently, when we moved to Egypt, I decided to donate them to a more suitable collector – our friend, Adri, who had a wonderful collection herself and actually spending a lot more time appreciating it.

I did keep a few postcards though. I kept that one my ouboet sent me so many years back and also a 3D one he bought on a school tour to the planetarium in the late 1960s. I also kept two precious ones that I got from my mother. Both were of uncles who fought in WWII in Egypt. The one had a picture of the Nile on it with a photo of the one uncle inserted in the upper right corner. The other one was of my mother’s uncle Koos Coetzer, posing next to an empty chair as was the fashion back them for some reason. I always looked at them, wondering what their stories were and what happened to them being so far away from home. The man in the inserted picture I was told, came back home safely, but committed suicide. The other one didn’t come back. He died in a foreign country, fighting for foreign people against foreign people in a foreign war.

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When we heard that we were moving to Egypt, I took a picture of the two postcards and decided that I will try to find out more, once we are here. We are supposed to attend the commemoration of the Battles of El Alamein in October, but we were fortunate enough to visit the place on a work related trip much earlier than I thought.

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I did some initial research on the website to try and find my uncle’s information, but with no success. My mother got his detail from her cousin, but being a bit discouraged by my first unsuccessful attempt, I didn’t bother doing any research until two days before we went on the trip. I think I was delaying the search because I was afraid that I wouldn’t find anything. But in the end I got the information and searched. The reason I couldn’t find it initially it seemed, was because my mother had his names wrong, but she also got his service number and that did the trick. I found the inscription on page 71 of the records on the web page and with it his grave number. Something in me stirred. I didn’t know my uncle and I think I saw my aunt (his daughter) once before in my life, but somehow I felt connected to this young man who died fighting a fight that wasn’t his to fight and lost his life for it so long ago. I wondered if any of the family had ever been to his grave and I wondered how his death had influence his immediate family.

Although I was glad that I found the information, I was still a bit fearful that it might be difficult to find the actual grave when we get to El Alamein. Fortunately, my husband’s assistant and Mustafa, the man working at the cemetry knew the place very well and was very helpful. First, we looked up his name in the book and then Mustafa offered to show us where it was.

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At this point of the story I must mention that I have a fascination with burial places from a historical point of view. Whenever we visit small towns I always like going to see who is buried there. Graves tells history like very few other things in life. Pilgrim’s Rest, Haenertsburg, Sabie and those places have ‘treasures’ with regard to the past buried in their grave yards. On the other hand, I hate visiting family graves. I hated it when my mother wanted to visit her mother’s grave in our old family grave yard on the farm on Sundays. My father and I would walk behind her with the flowers and the water and my father used to whisper to me:  “Please don’t ever do this when I die.” (I don’t.)

The place was really well kept and easy enough to navigate. We walked through the rows of precisely planted grave stones, in awe about the precision of stones. Being the Commonwealth burial site, there were graves of fallen soldiers from the United Kingdom, New Zealand, Australia and other Commonwealth nations. Christians and Jews were buried alongside each other. The first tears found its way through my lashes when I recognised the little Springbok head on a group of grave stones, planted ‘shoulder to shoulder’. South Africans. My own people. In the hard, dry Egyptian desert sand. I wondered briefly if they died shoulder to shoulder also or what the reason was for them being placed so close to each other.

shoulderAt the fourth last row, I saw Mustafa, Muhamed and my husband, Deon, coming to a standstill. My heart raced. It was really there! I reached the grave and saw a name I have seen before on funeral letters back home of family members with the same surname. Blood of my blood. It was a strange feeling, standing there, looking at the grave of Jacobus Herculas Coetzer – knowing that he was buried there 73 years ago by strange hands. I wonder how his wife felt when she visited his grave in 1954. We were the only other family members as far as we know to have visited his grave. I wondered about his children, growing up without him, and his daughter, Isabel’s words from her WhatsApp message echoed in my head.  “…put a nice flower on his grave and tell him that’s from his little girl, now an old lady of 75. I was six months old when he left and two and a half when he died…

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I didn’t have a way to get flowers before we came, so I was posing behind the grave when suddenly Mustafa appeared, in a typical wanting-to-help-and-not-even-being-asked-to Egyptian way with a hand full of flowers…

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For someone who doesn’t like visiting graves of family, this will go down in my memory bank as a pretty wonderful experience. Who knows, maybe Isabel will still have the opportunity to visit her daddy’s grave before she meet him in person one day.

Koos Coetzer

Watch my picture journal of our visit to the El Alamein War cemetery on You Tube at http://youtu.be/yOotbqRM6gM

For more information visit the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website at http://www.cwgc.org/.

 

© 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! 

Visit my website at www.thewritingclub.co.za and buy my children’s ebook, Yeovangya, on Amazon Kindle at http://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

 

Memory Lane Chronicles – Memories of a House

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Us three and our Maltese, Simson – Dec 2013

October 1996

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.

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My father and mother moving in – Nov 1996

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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.

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The sitting room

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.

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The dining room

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.

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The study and our place of schooling

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.

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Kitchen activities

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.

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The hallway

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.

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Michael’s room

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)

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Our sanctuary

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.

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In the garden at the back of the house

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In the front garden

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Our beloved doggies

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.

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Michael working in the garage

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.

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Our Bakkie and our 21-year old beamer (read Michael’s blog about the beemer at http://www.michaeldekock.wordpress.com)

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.

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Autumn

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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.

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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.

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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.

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© 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

My Grandfather’s Shop

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Oupa Willie behind the ‘stationery’ counter

 

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My friend, Ansie De Villiers and I (I’m the one with the frown on the left) in front of Oupa Willie’s shop

 

Memory Lane Chronicles

My grandfather had a little shop in a small town called Delareyville in South Africa, named after Boer general De La Rey. It was about the size of a typical small Crazy store today, which included the front part of the shop, a store room in the middle and a small bathroom at the back. The bathroom and store room served as the living quarters for the storekeeper as was the custom in the early 1900s, but my grandparents chose to live somewhere else later on.

In the front part of the main shopping area, my grandfather had a stationery counter at the entrance with a cash register. In the middle of the shop was another counter dividing the gifts, greeting cards and toys sections. This was his way to neatly sidestep the apartheid laws of having separate ‘white’ and a ‘non-white’ counters. In the end anyone who came in to buy stationery (not only non-whites) used the ‘stationary’ counter and those buying gifts (mostly whites) used the ‘gift’ counter to pay. The black headmasters though, who came in to buy a year’s stationery for their schools were offered a high chair, next to my grandfather’s at the ‘gift’ counter. There they would have rooibos tea and chat while my step grandmother scuffled around to make up the order. I remembered watching them talking, but I didn’t know about what. I could just see on the faces of the various men that came in and my grandfather’s that they enjoyed themselves.

Once new stock arrive, which included a toy doll that could ‘walk’ if you held her by her one stiff arm. I absolutely loved that doll. So, for my birthday at the end of that year, imagine my ecstasy when she became mine! I named her Lizanne. Two decades later I handed her down to my brother’s daughter.

My grandparents were Oupa Willie and Ouma Ralie. Oupa and ouma are the Afrikaans words for grandfather and grandmother.  I ‘worked’ in their shop at the age of five, since my mother started working only two shops from there at the Boerewinkel (farmer’s shop). The Boerewinkel was a sort of supermarket and sold almost anything – from clothes to food to toys to appliances. It even had its own hair salon, which I think at a stage was the only one in town. It was a wonderful arrangement. I was close to my mother, but I could have fun with my grandfather the whole day!

Oupa Willie taught me to read and write numbers and let me help Ouma Ralie mark new stock. In those days the prices were written on a small sticker and attached to the back or front of a product – depending on what it was. Gifts were marked with those dainty little tags with a piece of string through a hole in the tag. Oupa Willie bragged with me regularly.

“She’s such a clever little one,” he used to say to a customer, although when he told me about all the things my little cousin, Rindie, living far away in Randfontein, could do, I didn’t feel so clever anymore. But I liked Rindie very much anyway. She looked like a little angel with her golden curly head of hair and when we saw each other – which weren’t often – I loved playing with her. I often wished that we lived closer together so that we could play all the time.

When I wasn’t ‘working’, I built puzzles. I didn’t have many puzzles, so to keep it challenging and to impress my oupa, I believe, I learned to build them with my eyes closed. Oupa Willie’s pride didn’t know its end! I would also ‘write’ stories in one of the ‘exercise’ books Ouma Ralie would give me from the stationery shelf. I loved stories. Sometimes she read me stories from the books in the shop. I even tried to read myself, but was frustrated because I couldn’t, so I kept asking everyone around me to read from a particular little story book and in doing so learnt the words by heart.  I would then take the book and ‘read’ it to anyone who wanted to listen – concentrating very hard to turn the pages at the right places… The little book still sits between my Bibles on my bedside table today.

Ouma Ralie was my mother’s stepmom and things weren’t always going so well between them, but to me she was a great grandmother. She was also the only one near us, because Ouma Grietjie, my father’s mom (and my favourite grandmother) was living in the same town that my cousin Rindie lived. I was always jealous of Rindie living so close to Ouma Grietjie – although she wasn’t even Rindie’s grandmother and they probably didn’t even know each other! I loved Ouma Ralie though. She read me stories and gave me rooibos tea and Rice Crispies in a Tupper bowl for breakfast. To me that equalled love. (Rooibos tea is a very tasteful herbal tea original to South Africa and is mostly grown in in the northern parts of the country.)

The few years in Oupa Willie’s shop is of the best early childhood memories I have had. Before my parents moved into town, we lived on a farm closer to our neighbouring town and we had to wait for our grandparents to visit us once a week to see them. On one of his annual visits, my big brother, Pieter – sixteen years older than me – and our youngest brother, Willa, who is nine years older than me, built us a tree house and Willa and I would go sit in it on the evenings we knew they would come to visit. Then we would shoot Oupa Willie’s car wheels with arrows from our little self-made bows, before we made our way down the rope ladder to receive sweets which he always magically retrieved from the pocket of his large pants. Heart problems made my father seek another job and we moved to the town Oupa Willie lived in. By that time it was already only me living with my parents, as Ouboet Piet was far away in Pietersburg (now Polokwane) and Willa and my sister, Marieta – twelve years older than me – stayed in the school hostel in our neighbouring town, Sannieshof, during the week.

The store room in the shop stockpiled fireworks, something which could be sold at almost any outlet in those days. Oupa Willie also rigged up his camera equipment in a corner of the store room, where he took identity document photographs and other portraits on request.

In my oupa’s shop I experience two things that I would love for the rest of my life – photography and writing.

I loved watching Oupa Willie fidgeting with the buttons on the boxy camera and then throw the black cloth over his head before he took a picture. And when he did, it was as if the world around him froze. Myself included, as the person whose picture was taken, had to remain motionless. And for several moments before and after Oupa Willie pressed the button, he also remained motionless. So, in honour of this almost holy process – or maybe it was just to participate in the action – I froze too. I didn’t breathe until he removed the cloth covering his head, with Oupa Willie sweating and sometimes breathing with difficulty as he had damaged lungs, injured through years of working in a mine. Then I couldn’t wait to see the picture. Unfortunately, I have absolutely no memory of the development process. I guess the technical detail of the mysterious process of developing photographs didn’t interest me enough back then. Perhaps I just thought that my Oupa Willie performed a miracle every time he pressed the button of his black picture-taking box and that was enough for me at that stage.

Oupa Willie also sold Helen Steiner Rice greeting cards in his shop. These cards fascinated and frustrated me at the same time. Unlike the other greeting cards these didn’t have big, colourful pictures on the front, but had a printed message, with lots of words. Somehow, they were just more beautiful to me than the other colourful cards. The only thing was – I couldn’t read them. So, sometimes when no one was in hearing distance, I would go to the greeting card stand, take one of the cards and concentrate very, very hard. I thought maybe, if I tried hard, the letters would reveal themselves to me and I would be able to recognise them, like I did with the numbers and I’ll be able to read the words and the sentences. But to no avail. I even tried to write them and filled Ouma Ralie’s exercise book with scribbles – trying to write real letters. But alas, I couldn’t read my scribbles and I’m absolutely, positively sure that no one else would either.

Unfortunately, in those days nobody cared to teach a pre-schooler the basics of the alphabet. My parents were too busy and as a late arrival in the family, my siblings weren’t home most of the time. And there wasn’t a crèche to go to. Or maybe there was already, but it wasn’t the norm. Most of us pre-schoolers hung out with our mothers or grandparents. (Thanks for that, because otherwise I would have missed all the adventures in Oupa Willie’s shop!) So, my frustration only ended when I went to school and learned to read and write more than just numbers.

The frustration didn’t go away entirely, because I had an appetite for words and stories and in school one didn’t get much opportunity to feed the always-hungry Word Monster. I did, however, decide then that I would one day find a way to write for a living – in spite of being told that it was such a difficult career to follow – especially in South Africa. But that didn’t stop me and although I can’t make a living on what I earn from writing today, I still write. But watch this space… And something great came out of this desire, because our Father in heaven gave me the idea of The Writing Club, a club I founded to help children get the willing and unwilling words in their heads onto paper. So, today I work very, very hard and earn very little money from it, but I’m doing it anyway, because I love writing and I love to help other people write. And to think that it all started in my grandfather’s tiny shop in a little South African town.

Thank you, Oupa Willie. I still think of you very often. And I miss you so very much – even after all these years. And now that I am older and not as clever as that five year old anymore, I sometimes wish that I could just spend one single day more with you in this life – to ask you many, many questions for which I’m sure you would have at least some answers for.

© 2013 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 at http://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