Tag Archives: peach

Operation ROAR (# 2)

Credit: chepkadog.com

Credit: chepkadog.com

As we all know, Vrede isn’t your run-of-the-mill-usual-town-dog. He is, in canine culture, a man of distinction, a real big spender, good-looking and real refined. There are, of course, humans who believe dogs to be ignorant when it comes to romantic relationships – but Gertruida says (and we know she knows everything) that dogs form deep bonds that can only be ascribed to love. The human-dog association has proven this over the aeons of time and is the most obvious evidence of doggy-love. But a male dog can as easily lose his heart to a femme fatale lady-dog as he can be fond of his human.

It’s not strange then, that Vrede pricks his ears, sniffs the air and sits up suddenly when Daisy escorts Miss Smellie into Boggel’s Place.

“Grrr-aaarf.” Softly, with friendly undertones.

She, being a lady of class, ignores his greeting for a second before answering: “Yeolp, arf arf,” which  means “how do you do” in Labrador.

Good manners demands that certain rituals be observed, so Vrede swaggers over to do the obligatory sniffing routine. He does this with a certain restraint, just to show her he isn’t one of those wham-bam curs who doesn’t know the first thing of respect. And she? She allows him to perform his duties like a fine lady should, before reciprocating the nose-waltz – which Vrede must admit was done with exceptional aplomb.

“Arf aaarf arf-arf.”

Daisy does a little jump with her forefeet. Yes, she’d simply love it if Vrede wanted to take her on a conducted tour of the town

***

The impact Virginia Smellie has on the town is somewhat different to the dogs’ experience. Not only does she seem absolutely ancient; she also sports a wheezy cackle-laugh, and she has a way of hesitating after every third or fourth word when she says something. On the positive side: she absorbs alcohol like a sponge and Boggel has a hard time keeping up. In Rolbos, this ability  always commands a degree of respect.

“Sooo…, Miss Smellie, tell us a bit about yourself?” Despite everything, Gertruida’s curiosity drives her to ask the question.

“Is this part…of the…competition?

“Oh no! We are waiting for the Carte Blanche team to arrive: they’ll only be here tomorrow. The competition will be tomorrow night – so you can relax. Nothing you say tonight will be held against you.”

“I ran a hos-tel.”

The group at the bar crane forward to hear the rest; but Virginia just sits there, apparently satisfied that she has said enough.

“And…?”

“I stopped.”

“Is that all? Nothing else you can say about yourself?”

“Oh. My memory…you see? Well. I danced…when I was…younger.”

It takes forever to tell her story.

***

Virginia was born on a cold winter’s day in Kaokoland, now known as the Kunene Province of Namibia. The date was 28 July 1928, and she was one of the last births in the repatriation of the Thirstland Trekkers – those that survived to come home.

The Thirstland Trek consisted mainly of Afrikaners, but a smattering of Jews and Germans, as well as the Smellie family contributed skills, labour and guts to the trek, They all wanted to get away – as far as possible – from British Colonial rule and the looming Anglo-Boer war in the near future. It was a disastrous decision: many families died during the haphazard crossing of the dry Botswana desert.

392Her father had survived the almost-aimless trek from Transvaal to Angola, arriving at their final destination in 1879. As a baby, he was extremely lucky (and strong) to be alive, which is why he was christened ‘Samson’. Angola proved to be almost everything the trekkers hoped for, and the little community thrived. But, like Paradise and so many other dreams, it didn’t last. Politics changed, South Africa became a Union and in the 1920’s the Dorslandtrekkers were assisted by the Union’s government to trek all the way back to South Africa. It was during this return-trek that Virginia was born.

***

“I was brought up…according to strict…religious guidelines.” Virginia hesitates, not sure how to continue. But – maybe as a result of the Cactus or maybe because she can tell her story to a willing audience – she decides to go on.

***

Samson and his little family settled in Kakamas, on the banks of the Orange River, where he started farming with grapes and peaches. Little Virginia attended school here, where Mr A D Collins taught the children the basics of reading and writing. It was only natural for Mr Collins to ask Samson’s advice on a peach tree growing next to the river – and they both agreed that the fruit was unique and exceptional.

The Kakamas Peach, also called the Collin’s Peach, transformed the canned fruit industry in South Africa. Samson soon had his entire small-holding producing these peaches, ensuring a comfortable life for the Smellies. This relative affluence enabled Samson to build a house in town, buy one of the first Fords in the district…and made Virginia very popular with the children in town.

Her mother was a hard-working, plain woman who lived according to the Old Testament. Her dress, her hair and her house reflected the way she saw life. While Samson wanted to enjoy the fruits of his labour, his wife warned against the brazen flaunting of their wealth. Virginia, now a young teenager, observed their arguments and fights, becoming more confused as the years went by. Then World War II happened and Samson Smellie got sent to Egypt.

He never returned.

Just after her eighteenth birthday, Virginia left home for good. Her mother insisted that Samson’s death was a direct result of his pride and money – There is only one God, Virginia. Man has to choose between God and Mammon, and your father chose wrong… 

***

“I’m telling you these…things, because…that’ll help you…understand why…I’m here.” By now the patrons in the bar are getting used to  Virginia’s interrupted manner of speech.

“Go on…” Fanny prompts.

***

She arrived in Cape Town on a windy winter’s day, penniless and feeling a bit lost. First of all, she needed lodgings and a paying job. Both were hard to find.  Then she met Jake.

“He was…good to me.  Said he could…get me a job. And a place to…stay.”

Jake had a little theatre, not far from Green Market Square. As Virginia found out soon enough, the ‘shows’ involved dancing in skimpy clothes while Jake sold liquor on the side. In the conservative years after WW II, this was frowned upon by the church – but that didn’t stop the soldiers, sailors, tinkers and tailors from flocking to the popular venue.

“There was a…man. A friendly…sailor. We had…relations. You know?” She shakes her grey head sadly. “That’s why I’m…blind. My mother…was right. It’s the wages…of my sin.”

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Kleinpiet’s Tree

Settling a new relationship in an old house can be quite a challenge. Where once Kleinpiet ruled his own roost with the faded photographs against the walls and the threadbare curtains in front of the dusty windows, he now discovers the value (and the torture) af a new broom sweeping out the old junk.

“I’ve asked Sammie to order material for curtains, Kleinpiet. You’ll like it. It’s got flowers and clouds on – just the right thing to liven up the bedroom.” He suppressed a groan – there was nothing wrong with the brownish chintz his grandmother had hung there. “And I’m getting new cutlery. That stuff in the drawer is ancient. I’d be ashamed to use the rusted teaspoons if we get visitors.” Those too, were his grandmother’s, and they worked perfectly to stir sugar in your coffee. Kleinpiet bit his tongue and forced a smile. “The new carpet…” It seemed as if nothing was good enough anymore: Kleinpiet considered suggesting building a new house, but because he knew she’d jump at the idea, he didn’t.

***

Jock, the old sheep dog, is well aware of the renewal taking place. He got a new bowl and real dog food for meals; something he despises. After a lifetime of eating the leftovers from the stews Nkosasana made every day, he finds the nutritious pellets rather tasteless, dry and hard to swallow. He finds Kleinpiet sitting on the back porch and presents his left ear to be scratched.

“Ja, Jock. It used to be the two of us, hey? Now a new wind is blowing and we’ll just have to ajust.”

Jock grunts his satisfaction as the lazy fingers work on the spot behind his ear. Then he sets off to relieve himself against the old orange tree.

“You have to make a doggy toilet, Kleinpiet.” Precilla pauses as she weeps the dust from below the stove. “We can’t have dog pee all over our garden.”

Kleinpiet sighs. “Yes dear. But that old tree never blossoms, so I suppose we’ll be okay. And Jock never does that over the tomatoes or the spinach. But I’ll talk to him; he’s a very sensible dog – I’m sure he’ll understand.”

“Th tree never blossoms? What good is it then? Shouldn’t you plant something that bears fruit every year? Having a barren orange tree is like having a tractor that doesn’t run – it’s not of much use, is it?”

“That tree was planted by my grandfather. He said he got a twig from old Mister Collins – the guy that ‘discovered’ the Kakamas Peach on the banks of the Orange River in the early 30’s. It gave a good harvest of peaches every year, but when my mother died, it stopped. My father said it was the shock of her death that caused it. With nobody to stew and can the peaches, the tree didn’t want to yield fruit any more. You know how old people are – they have an explanation for everything.”

“So you’re going to dig it up and replace it with a new one? Please, Kleinpiet? It’ll be nice to have fruit on the farm.”

Kleinpiet sighs. “Yes dear.”

***

In human terms, the tree is extremely old. The bark is gnarled and warped into rough patterns while the more superficial roots coarse (half-submerged in the ground) across the yard in the search for moisture. From the humble, original shoot, it has grown into a shady tree with long branches. Next to the trunk, a rusted chair has provided rest for several generations of men who needed to escape the hardship of domestic life. Now, Kleinpiet sags down on the seat as he looks up at the wide-spreading branches.

“You’ll have to go,” he tells the tree, “just like the photos in the hall and the old chairs on the stoep. I’m sorry.”

The wind rustles the green leafs, causing the smaller branches to sway sadly. I’ve been here much longer than you have. I’ve celebrated births and grieved with funerals. Young people courted under me – old men and women reflected on their lives beneath my branches. And now, after a lifetime of providing shelter and comfort, you want to kill me?

“I don’t suppose you’ll understand. It’s Precilla, you see? She’s even talking about revamping the bathroom. I mean – what’s wrong with the bathroom, for goodness’ sakes! It’s got a jug, a basin and the old galvanised bath – and it’s not rusted half as bad as she says. As for the outhouse – it’s perfectly functional, if you ask me. But no. Suddenly everything must go. And who must do it? I’ll tell you: me! Kleinpiet do this. Kleinpiet do that. It’s like being in the army again.”

Listen. The tree has heard enough. This is the life you chose. You asked her to marry. You wanted her to come here. You should have known things would have to change. I’ve seen it all – when a man brings a woman to this place, things change. But me – I didn’t choose this place. I was brought here, made to grow here. Nobody asked me whether I liked it here. And when last did you prune or water me, anyway? You simply accepted me as part of the farm and left me to my own devices. Your grandfather…now that man was different. He cut away all the dead and unnecessary branches every year. He was also the last one to fertilise the ground around me…and he watered my roots regularly, Did you do it? No! You never cared as long as you had shade. You … neglected me.

“Life is funny, isn’t it?” Kleinpiet’s thoughts stray in all kinds of directions as he sits in the shade, completely oblivious of the tree. “You get used to stuff. I mean, I’ve lived in this house all my life, and never even noticed the carpets or the blankets or the curtains or whatever. They were there, and that was good enough. Now suddenly, everything looks old and worn. When did that happen? How does it happen?”

One day at a time, that’s how. You become conditioned to accept things the way they are. Over time, you lose perspective. I’ve seen it happen to children, to cars, to relationships. Humans don’t pay much attention to detail once they’ve become used to things.  Now we trees, well, we shed our leaves once a year, then we start all over again. Every season is a new season, and we have to adapt to those. Humans don’t do it. They get born and then they die. Two big seasons: life and death. And in between, you simply ignore changes. It’s sad. Then, when somebody dies, the rest of you wake up for a while, promising yourselves that you’d pay more attention to life. Of course, it never lasts.

“Now look at this tree.” Kleinpiet looks up at the branches. “Once upon a time it bore fruit. Then it stopped. Maybe love is like that as well. Young love blossoms and seems so pretty. After a while, the wonder stops. The branches are bare. Where there was once an abundance of fruit, nothing is left.”

Just like me. Nobody cared any more. My blossoms dried up. My fruit is gone.

“Kleinpiet! What are you doing out there, all by yourself?” Precilla crinkles her brow in mock anger. “Come in here, I’ve made you some coffee.”

He gets up obediently to shuffle his way to the kitchen.

There you go. Chastened into a new life of senselessness. You’ll stop feeling, get used to the new order, and accept that as the new definition of happiness. Then you’ll stop bearing fruit and then they chop you off. Happily ever after? Not if you go gently down the slope towards oblivion.

Kleinpiet stops to stare at the tree.  Why does he suddenly think of a forgotten poem – learnt in school – so many years ago? Dylan Thomas it was: Do not go gentle into the night… and Rage, rage against the dying of the light….

“Precilla, I’m not going to cut down that tree,” he says with sudden clarity. “I’ll plant others. We’ll have an orchard. But that tree stays.”

“But…”

“No. Some things are worth keeping.  I love you. But … that tree is part of who I am. I grew up under that tree. I played there. My mother rocked me to sleep under it. I cannot just axe it down. I’ll put a new bench under it and plant a few flowers – you’ll see: it’ll be lovely once more.”

***

They fix up the house within a week. The new curtains, carpets, furniture – it all makes the house look rather new and attractive. Kleinpiet has to admit that his wife brought in a breath of fresh air into the old home as they sip a well-deserved Cactus at the end of the day.

“You’ll never become used to me, will you, Kleinpiet? I mean, lose the fascination? It’ll be so sad if you do.” Precilla rests her head against his shoulder. Being married is great, but what if…? She remembers the heartbreaks of her youth, the break-ups, the loneliness. This time, she has decided, she’ll have to be much more aware, much more careful, in the relationship. She’s seen the way Kleinpiet sulks lately and she’s worried about it. “I do so much want to make you happy…”

Kleinpiet hugs her with a smile. “Love is enjoying the shade without expecting the fruit,” he says.”And … I found a few blossoms on the old peach tree today. I think it is trying to tell us something.”