Tag Archives: family

Happy Wind #8

Riemvasmaak Accommodation, Business & Tourism Portal‘Imagine the scene, guys.’ Gertruida closes her eyes to see the picture in her mind. ‘Oupa’s village was situated near a fountain, not too far from where Riemvasmaak is today. That area, like you know, had been home to the Khomani people for as long as they can remember. Of course, they preferred to be called Riemvasmakers, because of the history. Originally the group moved there from South West Africa, so in reality they weren’t necessarily San people, but more like the Damara lineage.’

***

Way back, in the early 1900’s, some of the people living near the fountain lived through a period of drought. The only way to feed the group, was to steal some cattle – which was exactly what they did. Unfortunately they were caught and, well, severely reprimanded. In the end they were tied to some rocks with rieme – strips of animal hide, like thongs. The next day, when the rest of the group came looking for the thieves, they only found the thongs. Ever since then, the group was known as the ‘people that were tied by thongs’ – Riemvasmakers.

***

of BechuanalandFor once, Gertruida wasn’t one hundred percent right. The Riemvasmakers were a diverse group – a minor rainbow nation, comprised of Khomani, Nama, Xhosa, Coloured and Herero people, as well as the Damaras. Although they called themselves Riemvasmakers as a collective term, the individual groups retained their cultures and oral histories. Oupa’s group was a minority. The Khomani once lived in scattered groups in the Northern Cape, South West Africa and Bechuanaland Protectorate. Quite a number of them settled in the Mier area, where their culture was preserved to some degree.

Oupa knew all this, of course. During little CJ’s sojourn amongst Oupa’s people, he heard the stories of the hardships the tribe had lived through. Their escape from German oppression in South West Africa to the Northern Cape was followed by more disruption when the Kalahari Gemsbokpark was established in 1935.

‘It’s the story of Africa,’ Geel translated. ‘People moved, settled, were displaced. Maybe it’s the story of the world, as well. The Vikings and the Romans and the Israelites – I cannot think of a single nation that wasn’t – at some stage or other – involved in a territorial dispute. My father says it was hard to move this way and that. For a while he was angry. But then he had to make a very important decision: was his life in the hands of the past, or of the future? If he chose to allow the past to dominate his future, his future was doomed. Because nobody can change the past, the past is cast in stone. The future, however, is yours to change at will – be it for good or evil’

CJ Jnr  listened and learned. The village took good care of him and took time to teach the boy about nature. Trips to a nearby waterhole became classrooms of the veld. Reading spoor, understanding the habits of birds and other animals and learning about the very delicate balance between nature and human behavior were only a few things CJ gained in the months he spent in the Kalahari.

It changed his life forever.

***

Meanwhile, Francina was forced to work as a gardener in the prison grounds. While her sentence included the dreaded term of ‘hard labour‘ then head of the prison, Konrad Geldenhuys, took pity on the kind-hearted prisoner. It was also known that CJ Snr was MIA in North Africa.

Francina also knew what had happened to her son. The bush telegraph of messengers, delivery men, cleaners and other workers associated with the prison and the warders, brought weekly updates about the boy in the Kalahari. Francina’s anger still burned white-hot, though. She would never forgive the government for the death of her husband.

When at last she received news that CJ Snr was alive and being treated in England, she was overcome by emotion. A few days later, a letter arrived at the prison. It broke her heart.

To be continued…

 

 

The Meeting

Robert-RedfordNobody can accuse Servaas of being a coward.

Not him.

Not the man whose solemn face speaks volumes of his faith and the steadfast belief that everything in Life has a purpose. If you looked at him now – sitting at the bar while nursing his beer – you’d say he is a man at peace with the world. His black Sunday suit has been pressed and the old shoes shined to a mirror-like finish. He took particular care of his hair today and even combed the bushy eyebrows. And…he’s surrounded by a cloud of Old Spice…

“What’s with the grooming, Oom Servaas? And the red tie? Wow, you look like  Robert Redford.” Kleinpiet just can’t keep his curiosity in check.

“It’s your fault.” Servaas glances at the younger man, the accusation in his words all too obvious. “You wrote that letter.”

The penny drops.

***

A few weeks ago, Servaas mentioned (in passing, just a side remark) that he was rather lonely at night.

“Look,” he said at the time, “when you get older, your mind tends to wander back into the past. In my case, I remember the laughter and fun…and then I wonder why I didn’t enjoy it more while it lasted.” He sighed as he looked down at his arthritic hands. “Especially at night – when I go to bed – that’s when I feel lonely. You know? Just to have somebody there. Someone to talk with. To pray with. To be with.”

Vetfaan was there that day, and he nudged Kleinpiet. “We’ve got to get him a girlfriend, Kleinpiet. When he starts talking like this, he’ll have us all in tears in no time. Buggers up the atmosphere every time he starts thinking about Siena.”  He kept his voice low, making sure Servaas didn’t hear.

Kleinpiet nodded. “But who?”

When they discussed the issue with Gertruida a while later, she remembered Hetty.

“She’s a niece thrice removed. Used to be a teacher, and now lives in Pretoria. She’s a lively one, I can tell you that. Nice sense of humour, too.” She smiled sweetly at Kleinpiet: “Come on, Cupid, why don’t you write her a letter? Maybe she’ll be interested in meeting Servaas?”

***

“She’s coming today? Today?” Kleinpiet almost chokes on his beer. “I thought…”

“You thought I’d say no, didn’t you? You thought I’d be embarrassed? That once I found out about your…your little plan…I’d chicken out? Well, think again, young man. Servaas is not a man to let a lady down.”

***

Rolbos is just too small for a secret to survive more than 24 hours. After Kleinpiet posted the letter, the group at the bar was discussing the possibilities when Servaas walked in on them. Boggel saw trouble looming on the horizon and started serving Cactus Jack with alarming regularity. After the fourth round, Servaas had the whole story.

“We only did it to help you, Oom.” Kleinpiet spread his arms wide in a gesture of innocence. “Didn’t mean no harm…”

“No?” Servaas knitted his brows together, snorted and slammed down his glass. “You wrote a letter to somebody you don’t know, asking her to come and visit me – because I’m a pathetic old lonely man?” Ha had to take a deep breath before going on in a whisper that everybody could hear. “Now, I’ll tell you what. You give me the name and address, and I’ll fix this. And then, my dear young friend, you keep your nose out of my business. Understand?”

***

At exactly eleven o’ clock, the rented car stops in front of Boggel’s Place. By now the story of the visit has spread and everybody has found an excuse to be in Boggel’s Place.

“A red tie? Red? I’ve never seen him wear anything but white before. And see how he’s dressed? This is so unlike Servaas, it’s scary.” Precilla actually thinks the old man looks rather handsome. She sees the car draw up and gasps. “Shhh…she’s here…”

Hetty is, indeed, somebody to gasp at. Dressed in a neat floral skirt and matching blouse, she hops from the car, closes the door, and then reaches through the open window to pick up a red rose from the back seat.

“Nice legs,” Vetfaan whispers.

“Go on, Servaas. Don’t let her stand there. Go introduce yourself.” Precilla pushes Servaas from the bar stool and aims him at the door. Strangely, the old man seems calm and not reluctant at all.

They all watch as Servaas marches out to meet Hetty. They embrace. He takes the rose with a little bow. Then he leads her into Boggel’s Place.

“Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce Hetty. Hetty: these are the cretins I have to put up with every day.” Seemingly pleased with his insult, he turns on his heel to guide Hetty back to the street.

The little group in the bar crowd the window to watch the two walk over to the bench in front of the church.

“What just happened here?” Vetfaan shakes his head to clear the racing thoughts. “This isn’t the Servaas I know? Did the aliens clone him during the night or something?”

A lively discussion follows. Precilla suggests that Oudok must have increased the old man’s antidepressants. Kleinpiet blames the Cactus. Fanny – with a Bambi-look in her eyes – tells everybody it must be love at first sight.

***

“Now tell me, Hetty, everything that’s happened in the meantime? I last saw you – oh, how many years ago – at the matric dance in Swartruggens…”

“Yes, isn’t it strange? When I got the first letter, I thought it was a prank. I’ve got…strange friends, you know? Always out to make fun of things. But then – then I got your letter, and I know only one Servaas who can be so indignant. Even after all these years, I still remember you well. That’s why I wrote back – I thought it’d be nice to meet you again. I can see I wasn’t wrong.”

“Ja…” Servaas smiles happily. “To think it’ssuch a coincidence! I was the head boy, you the prefect. And now, after all these years, we meet up like this?”

“Well, we’ve got a lot of catching up to do. Funny how we simply drifted apart back then. I suppose that’s life, not so? You left to study in Pretoria and I had another two years of school ahead of me. And then my parents moved and we lost touch.” Hetty gives a little giggle. “Shall we tell this lot everything?”

“…And spoil their fun? No, we’ll keep them guessing for a while. They need something to gossip about, anyway. Later – much later – we can tell them we’re family. Until then…”

***

“They’re holding hands!” Kleiniet is dumbstruck. “They’re actually holding hands…”

“Well, I never!” Gertruida fights down a little wave of jealousy. “That old man must be out of his mind. His heart won’t be up to it…”

For once, Gertruida doesn’t know how wrong she is.

Cathy’s Eyes (# 5)

article-new_ehow_images_a06_7b_2k_write-letter-appeal-800x800Sersant Dreyer wipes away an unwanted tear. After all these years the memories of Cathy still chokes him up with emotion. Surely he should have gotten over it by now?

But no. The letter reminded him that Cathy  – she of such purity and kindness, and so defiled by her fellow man –  will forever be The One. Funny, he thinks, that he should feel this way about a woman he never even once slept with. Their attraction never was a sexual one, he has to admit – it was so exhilarating, so exiting to explore her mind. He saw the beauty lurking inside that ravaged body, the tormented soul; and that attracted him is such a way that he’ll never be able to think of her purely as being female. She was so much more than just a woman.

Maybe, he thinks, the world has warped the whole concept of love. It shouldn’t be a primitive, grunting, emotion. It should be the ability to see the soul of somebody else; that significant person that resonates with such sheer joy in the deepest thoughts of the mind.

He sighs, gets up, and fetches the dishcloth from the little area that serves as a kitchen. Slowly, deliberately, he cleans the surface of the counter top. It’s been a long, long time since last he has done that. 

Then, with the gentlest of hands, he spreads the letter he got today on the shining surface.

Sergeant Dreyer

Rolbos.

Dear Sergeant,

…or should I call you Sersant, like the rest of the town does? Or simply Dreyer, like my half-sister did? That’s what the other officers at the station said, when I enquired there. Whichever you prefer, I hope you don’t mind me sending this letter.

Let me explain?

Cathy’s father was a man of integrity – until, of course, his wife developed cancer and ruined his businesses. I’m sure she told you they had been quite wealthy at a time. And, of course, you know the later part of her history.

But…when  he was younger (before he met Cathy’s mother) he was a bit different. Wild, maybe. iI suppose you can say he played the field. That’s when he met Lucia le Roux, my mother. It’s a long, complicated story, and maybe we’ll talk about it  – if ever we have the chance to do so. To get to the point: he was still seeing my mother after he got engaged to his future wife. And, as a last-gasp grab at freedom, he slept with her on the night of his bachelor’s party – a week before his wedding. Lucia said they shed a lot of tears that night – he was in love and in awe with his future bride, but he still had these strong feelings for Lucia. You may think this to be sordid, but it really happened.

After the wedding, my mother found out she was pregnant. Can you believe that? It was a catastrophe! Mom said there was another man in her life, and grabbed at the straw. She seduced him into a quick marriage to save the family the scandal. I was born – according to family legend – a few weeks premature. I checked. I weighed 3,25 kg at birth. You do the maths…

Of course, I never knew anything about this. I had a Mom and  Dad, and grew up in a stable, if rather loveless home. Dad was always good to me. He was a bit older than Mom, a businessman in his own right, when he had a drink in McGoo’s bar in Durban on June 14, 1986. I was just six years old when that bomb went off. I’m sure you know the history how the ANC bragged about killing those innocent civilians who had nothing to do with the politics of the time.

Anyway, Mom brought me up and gave me all I needed to become an independent woman in my own right. Today, with my degree in law, I make ends meet quite comfortably, thank you.

I wouldn’t be writing this letter if Mom hadn’t developed cirrhosis of the liver. This happened as the result of some virus she contracted after a blood transfusion. She had been involved in a car accident, and ruptured her spleen. In the haste to resuscitate her, she received blood of her rare type, without it being properly screened. Needless to say, she survived the trauma, but not the long-term results of that damn transfusion.

And it was on her deathbed she finally told me who my real father was. She said she could not die with a clear conscience, if she didn’t tell me the truth. I was shocked, naturally.

After her funeral, I started digging up as much as I could about this man. I found out he used to manage a few successful companies. At Home Affairs I got the names of his wife and Cathy – they also gave me the dates of their deaths. I was devastated – I had hoped to arrange a meeting with him.

With this dead end in my investigation, I wondered whether Cathy ever had a significant other in her life. My investigation led me to the hospital she was treated in.

I’m so glad we live in this computerised world. There, sure enough, I found the evidence of a man who arranged a voluntary discharge from the clinic where they tried to treat her AIDS. I also found out more about the murder of my father through the police archives. And in both cases, you featured rather prominently.

Now Dreyer, you might think me a bit strange. But I’m so desperate to know more about my family – my roots – that I write this letter in the hope that you’ll be kind enough to tell me more.

You’ll find my address and telephone number at the bottom of this letter. I’d appreciated hearing from you. 

Please try to understand?

Lucia van Wyk.

Dreyer sighs again as he refolds the letter. 

There’s only one way to deal with this.

He’ll have to talk to Gertruida. 

Stuffing the letter into his shirt pocket, he trudges over to Boggel’s Place, where the rest of the town is discussing this afternoon’s match between the Springboks and Samoa. Oh, what the hell, he’ll just tell them all! The more the merrier. And they’ll know about the letter soon enough, anyway.

Yes, let them help him in this. It is just too much to handle alone…

Mrs Remington’s Peace

(Following on Frans Viljee’s Smile)

Rose Remigton eyes the little red stoep with some uncertainty. Next door’s one bungalow has an orange veranda, the other one’s green. She stays in red, doesn’t she? She shrugs – it doesn’t really matter. If she walks into the wrong dwelling, the world isn’t going to end, is it?

Ever since that woman came to see her, she keeps on thinking about Martha Viljee and the baby she had. It must be about thirty years now, maybe more, but she somehow remembers that specific birth quite clearly. She should, given the circumstances.

Being the district’s midwife wasn’t easy. She had to travel from farm to farm, always at the last minute but never late. Often, these visits resulted in a stay of a few days, even a week, before she felt it was safe enough to leave the mother to take care of the new arrival. Society had a strange way of dealing with midwives: when you were needed, you were expected to respond with urgency. However, between deliveries, one got the impression that one was an embarrassment – just like the Gerickes were.

She had known Martha Viljee before she got married, of course. Although she was a good ten years older than Martha, the district was so sparsely inhabited that age didn’t necessarily impact on your choice of friends. Being young meant you were below forty and that implied a possible friendship. Old was a relative term in those days. Maybe the clearest distinction was whether you participated in the occasional dances that took place for various reasons. The wool cheque, New Year’s Eve and birthdays supplied enough excuses for the younger group to party – while the older generation used these occasions to sip peach brandy and complain about the way the children misbehaved on the dance floor.

Yes, and she remembers the way Martha used to look at him. Kobus Gericke. The clever one – whose father used to grade the gravel road between Upington and Grootdrink. The Gerickes were not amongst the Chosen Ones when one arranged seating at a wedding or at Communion; they were expected to (and they did so themselves, really) sit at the back, away from the important guests, as if they were left-over patches to be worked into the quilt of society. So Kobus rarely made it past the barn door at a dance; he was allowed to be there, to look on; but that’s where his participation was expected to stop. A child of such a lowly standing would surely feel out of place in the arms of a beautiful young lady? No, it was for his own good that society decreed his presense-at-a-distance. To protect him, you see? It’s not that they were snobs or anything like that. Why allow the boy to dream if it could only end in tragedy?

But Mrs Remington remembers the way he looked at Martha as well, just like a cat does when one opens the fridge door; or a dog would, if you eat biltong. There was a hunger in those eyes; a desire reflected in Martha’s as well. Rose Remington knew – just like with pregnancies – that life contains certain inevitabilities; and that nature will not be denied by stature, bank balances or social pressure. Kobus and Martha may have been separated by communal decree, but the pull of attraction would always be stronger than the forces that kept them apart.

The wedding of Frans Viljee and Martha was a disaster. The drought had taken its toll and both families were about to lose their farms – and with it, their social standing. In a last-ditch effort to impress their guests, the barn on the Viljee farm was converted into a concert hall – complete with electric loudspeakers and several long-playing records. To a community only used to the wind-up, His-Master’s-Voice type of gramophone, this was supposed to be the ultimate in entertainment. Martha’s father said it was even better than having Charles Jacobie there – the speakers were so clear  you could hear the rasping of the fingernails across the guitar strings.

The system needed electricity – another rather new idea in the district. That’s where Kobus Gericke came in. He and his father had to lug a generator all the way from Upington to Grootdrtink for the occasion.  As the grader had to do the route anyway (albeit slowly…), it was a logical choice. And when the old grader broke down, ten miles from Grootdrink, the only way to tell anybody about the catastrophe, was  for Kobus to run ahead with the news.

For the first time ever, Kobus had a legitimate reason to knock on the door of the hallowed family whose daughter was about to get married. Martha opened the door, eyes stretching wide in pleasant surprise. He told her. She cried. He comforted her. She invited him in. She found herself sobbing on his shoulder: about the wedding, about her unhappiness … and about her love for him.

Who can explain the thrust and power of such moments? Science will forever fail to clarify the energy created by a distraught maiden in the comforting arms of a lost love. Then again, one shouldn’t dwell on such issues, nor try and describe what happened next; as this is, like so many intimate moments, a very private affair. Suffice to say that Martha walked down the silent isle with considerably more inside her than just the remorse of what they had done.

Mrs Remington feels her face crack up with a rare smile. Yes, this is exactly what Martha told her, that night the baby was born. That someday, when life has smoothed the rough edges of anger and remorse and resentment, she would like to see father and son united again. That the circle would be completed. And how she prayed that she, Rose Remington, would be instrumental in helping that to happen!

Yes, she thinks, now at last the book can be closed.

There is something else she remembers. Kobus came to see her one evening. He wanted to know more about his son, and she was the only one he could trust. She told him about the quiet little boy who refused to cry.

“He’s going to be a lonely man, Kobus, but he’ll be strong. Now you, young man, must face up to reality. You can never go near Martha again. One scandal is enough. The only solution is to allow her to live her life without wondering what gossip is cruising through town. No, you must leave. Go to Cape Town, do some studying. Become somebody. And then, when the time is right, you may have another chance to fix all this. Not now…later…

“Mark my words: life is like a pregnancy – a mother can’t decide when to have a baby. Nature does. And so it will be with you. If you are patient enough, the delivery will be painless. However, if you try to force the issue, the baby and the mother may very well end up dead. That’s the way it is. Accept it.”

“But how, Aunty Rose? How?”

That’s when she started putting money in the Post Office savings account, pinching off as much as she could. Funny, now that she thinks of it, she never missed that money. And Kobus paid it all back eventually. Fancy: a midwife putting a young man through university? It must be said that he did his bit, too: his hard work was rewarded by a bursary that covered most expenses.

Yes, the circle is complete now. Kobus will look after Frans, like a father should. Frans will start anew. Just like a pregnancy. There’s no sense in rushing events in life – there is a time for everything.

The sun has moved along its course and she feels her legs warming in the afternoon’s glow. It’s been a good life, she thinks. Now she can face the last episode with peace. Rose Remington, born as Rosalie Gericke, can relax at last.

The smile on her face broadens. The Gerickes have always had a way of managing scandals. Why, she married an Englishman, for goodness’ sakes! And Kobus never married, but had a son. Lord only knows what poor Frans will get up to in the future…