Habitual gardener

You can't supress a gardener forever..

Because our time in this house is limited, I have strongly resisted doing the many things I wanted to do in our garden.  So much so that lawn mowing has not been high on the agenda... but we're getting there.  (Amazing how many little creatures live among grass, wild flowers and the occasional weed if you leave them in peace)

Today was the first truly hot day of Spring though.  Not a day to stay indoors.

I had a bit of work to do first, but spent the latter part of the day sorting out the neglected pool, then throwing water at my heat-drooping plants.  Before I learnt we'd be moving, I invested in a couple of punnets of assorted yellow, purple and white violas, with a few lavendar dianthus on the side.  They joined some of my irises in the "yellow, purple, white" section of the yard.  They've gone nuts next to the bed of naturally-occurring nasturtiums, which also houses a scarce Erepsia lacera rescued from a high site, the root base of a shop-bought celery that has regrown, and a few snippings of assorted grape vine root from three different abandoned fields.  However, the violas were wilting and in desperate need of liquid nourishment!  Off I went with the hosepipe to liven them up.

From there I moved on to my "veggie garden".  When we arrived here, I threw around R300 worth of carefully-selected veggie seeds into a newly-cleared bed, companion-planted to ensure maximum yield.  And then we got busy with work.. and winter arrived... and the snails found a Yippee-Buffet... and the tree roots sprouted under my garden... and I discovered that the guys I had hired to clear the bed had only chopped out the visible bits of ivy that had covered everything - leaving the roots in the ground to pop up and overwhelm what they could.  Disaster, hey.  But you can't keep nature down.  I have a row of spinach.  I have a row of parsley.  I have 8 carrots that struggled bravely on and may make it to eating size.  I have a single marigold left.  I have one more root of shop-bought celery coming up in a bush of new growth.  And two of the bean plants came up - one has only 2 leaves, but one fully-formed bean pod!  All of which also needed watering.

Once I'd done my duty with the hosepipe, I did a bit more investigating and random weed-pulling, as it was just too nice a day to go back indoors.

Under the nasturtiums I discovered that the grape vine sticks I thought long dead, had not only started to grow leaves, but also something that may become grapes!


That got me looking further.  I had dumped another bit of grapevine root under the banana palms where the big spiders live until I decided where to put it - it too had sprouted against all odds!  I quickly cleared out a patch of nasturtiums and replanted it with its mates.  Added in another two bits of grapevine that were lurking in my "rooting pot" (20 litre paint container with water, rooting mix and an assortment of flora I have yet to plant out, repurposed from various gardens and roadsides), gave everything another good sprinkle.

Then I discovered the white mulberry cuttings in the rooting pot were also going nuts with berry production in spite of a lack of leaves and roots - so planted one out near the grapvines to take root.  If it doesn't there are more waiting in the wings.



With this whole moving thing hanging over my head, I have been trying not to garden - I really have.  But getting my hands into soil is not only habitual, it's one of my "happy places".  I love to grow things - especially useful, foody things that I can pluck and serve within minutes.  I love watching them bloom and produce and thrive.  And in spite of seeing my previous garden simply ripped out by the next occupants and paved over, there's still a part of me that insists on putting things in soil.  It's in my DNA.

I don't know what the next occupant here will do.  I don't know if he will fell the trees that feed at least 10 varieties of bird year round in rotation and provide housing for geckos, spiders, and chameleons.  I don't know if he will tear up the garden and pave it over.  I do know I will try to take as many of my plants with me as I can - wherever that may be (and it HAS to have a yard with real ground to put things in.  I will not survive without it).  I know that I'm trying to keep my garden portable for that very reason.  But I also know that plants do much better in soil than in pots.

Yup, I don't know what the future holds.  In the meantime there really is a great joy in these little discoveries, the smell of water on hot ground, and that feeling of earth between your hands.  Better than a therapist's couch and vial of drugs to cure what ails you anyday.

Easy Wholewheat Bread


After repeated cries for the recipe for this via Facebook, here goes!  This is no-knead, one-rise stuff, perfect to get on the go after work and bake before bedtime.

EASY WHOLEWHEAT BREAD

1kg wholewheat flour (eg NuttyWheat)
500ml (2 cups) digestive bran
15ml (3 tsp) yeast granules (1 to 1 1/2 sachet instant yeast)
1 litre (4 cups) warm water - 1 boiling to 3 cold
5ml (1 tsp) sugar
30-60ml (2-4 Tbs) sunflower oil
30ml (2Tbs) honey
10ml (2 tsp) salt
30ml (2Tbs) sesame & sunflower seeds - or to taste

Mix flour and bran in a large bowl.  Mix in salt.

Sprinkle the yeast over 250ml (1 cup) of the warm water, add sugar and leave until frothy (I do this even with the instant yeast sachets, as it blends better).

Add oil and honey to the flour mix, stir in yeast mix, then stir in the remaining warm water a little at a time, until the dough has a heavy dropping consistency (stop adding water when it reaches this).  For the loaves above, it took the entire 4 cups of water in total - and I mixed the final bit in with my hands to get all the flour worked through, which formed a sticky dough.

Divide the dough between 2 - 3 greased loaf pans (I used two pans, and turned each lump of dough over with wet hands a bit to smooth it).  Cover and leave to rise for about an hour until doubled in size (I stuck mine in a just-on oven, but in summer I pop them into the nearest car parked in the sun).

Preheat oven to 180C.  Sprinkle loaves with seeds (I did this before rising).  Bake for 35-45 minutes until loaves sound hollow when tapped.

Turn out onto a cooling rack and try not to scoff it all down hot.

NOTE:  this recipe calls for a lot less salt than your commercial loaves will use.  Don't be surprised at the difference in taste.  Also, don't leave out the honey - simply the smell while baking is worth it!!!  I'm sure you could throw in more seeds, a couple of raisins etc to this mix.  It's a simple recipe, open to experimentation.

After-effects

It may be age.  It may be exhaustion.  It may be the antibiotics talking.  Or...

For the past few years I've been working flat-out, every spare moment (nearly) going to two businesses both in the starting-up and getting-bigger phase, along with keeping a household ticking over.  You may think that once you go big, things calm down.  Nope.  Still at it day and night and weekends.  You just have to take a look at my lawn to tell I haven't really been "home" in a while.

And I think it's having an effect I hadn't even considered.

Lately it feels like I'm an idiot.  That my brain simply can't get itself around concepts and intelligent thoughts.  That all I am good for is hard physical manual "donkey-work" labour, that merely requires following instructions and plodding forward.  That I'm no longer capable of forming opinions, thinking out answers to complicated problems, learning new things, or doing any kind of creative forward-thinking. 

I think it's the work schedule, the way I have to keep pushing myself through day after day.  And here's why.

Many years ago I had time to sit and do nothing.  I had time not only to daydream, but to take a single thought and go with it from idea to completion, along with any side journeys that might come up.  I had time to imagine and create, time to indulge in flights of fancy and random acts of creativity.  I had a clear idea of who I was, what I thought, what my dreams and plans were.  I had reams of poetry and stories and sketches, and pages and pages of this blog to show for it. 

Although I've recently invested in a couple of paints and had Favourite Man come carrying canvasses in through the door for me, all but 2 are still blank.  I can't form anything in my head that will translate into art.  All my brain does, day after day, is mundane stuff that doesn't require much processing power.  It's gotten used to not being challenged.  It now no longer handles challenges.  Thoughts are scattered, incomplete, random.  And I feel like an idiot.  I simply can't think properly. 

In short, my brain is unfit.

And yes, age may be a factor.  I'm not remembering things as easily as I used to.  I'm not understanding things as easily as I used to.  I no longer consider myself on the upper side of reasonable intelligence, with a sharp mind.  Mostly it's just all a blur.  I've lost myself.

The scariest part?  I don't know if this is reversible....  This may just be the start of a long, downhill journey that leaves me a drooling vegetable at the end.  This, this feeling right now, while I can still come up with a few words to scribble here, may actually be the best I'll be from here on out.

Stuck

It's a feeling I know well - it's been a regular visitor to an optimistic day-dreamer like me over the years, egged on by the first full day in months that I've been able to spend at home.

I sit here with a head full of things I want to do, places I want to go, goodies I want to craft or photograph or make or create, things I want to try, to experience.  Simply dreams - dreams not unreachable for the human I am, with all my limitations.

And yet.

Yet life gets in the way.  Our daily grind, our daily bread, the routine and the rushing around to make ends meet, to keep the momentum, to catch up with tasks before the next ones slam into us.  I'm not rolling in the kind of wealth that will fund the dreams and allow me space and time to explore what my soul craves.  I'm not rich in unlimited free hours without the pressure of trying to squeeze out enough numbers to cover the bills looming on the month-end horizon.  I'm stuck in the mundane reality of what we slog through every day, day after day.

Days like today I tire of it all and just want to go do what my head is full of.

Then the realist in my cranium sets in, tells me that one day I will do it all, see it all, experience it all.  Just be patient.

And the pessimistic realist whispers "but will I still be young enough to enjoy it?"...

Impermanent

As mentioned in previous posts, on 1 April this year we moved to a new (to us) older home on a large plot of land in an established part of our little town.  It's a long and complicated story as to how we ended up giving our new landlord an offer to purchase, but we did.  And then I discovered that the self-employed do not qualify for a bank loan to purchase property, or even an appointment to discuss such matters with a bank...

The house was consequently put back onto the market and there seems to be a new owner in the works, although we have a lease in place for a year.

Which means that a year after moving in, we'll be moving out yet again.

I had high hopes for this garden space - the biggest I've yet had since we left Zimbabwe in my youth.  It's lined with trees, a wonderful habitat for birds and little garden creatures, which gives me immense pleasure.  When we arrived here, I immediately cleared out 2 x 5 ton trucks of garden waste, and planted a few hundred bucks worth of appropriate-to-the-season, companion-planted seeds in my new veggie garden.  Which the assorted birds, snails, mole etc promptly ate.  The only things left are masses of parsely, 3 straggling pea plants, some moth-eaten bok choy, and a tentative celery plant.  Two beans have recently popped up on one side of the yard - but not on the other.  Any day now the garden pests will discover them and they'll be gone. 

The thing is, knowing that I have to yet again shift locations a year after moving in, I haven't gone ape in the garden (literally or figuratively).  All the plants in pots that I've dragged from one small bricked-over yard to another for years, are still in pots - although their bases are hovering over soil.  I've simply completely lost interest in giving them a permanent home...  The few flowers I bought in those first weeks are struggling along without much attention (and the cold, wet weather with early darkness has not been conducive to outdoor activities, which doesn't help).  I haven't invested in that lemon tree, planted out the grape vines in the best spot for them, stocked up on roses for the front garden, or started religiously mowing the lawn to perfection.  I still have packets of seeds that are not going into the ground, as by the time they've grown up, we'll have moved out.

I had high hopes for the house too, plans for paint and guestrooms, renovations and additions, settling in to a place we could finally call home.

But I've also lost interest in making this a true home for the limited time we'll be here - and knowing that the new owner will be coming through like a whirlwind to change what he sees fit once I leave.  Beyond painting the kitchen wall white instead of mud brown to improve the light in there, and curtaining the essential windows, I've stalled on home creativity.  Half the curtains in the lounge have been taken up to the correct length - I'm simply not enthused to do the other side of the room at all, as it's likely they'll be the wrong length at the next place.  There are still a few boxes in the kitchen and the garage that have not been packed out - and are unlikely to be, as they would have to all be packed up again.

My headspace is locked into "transit" mode.

I truly hate this impermanent feeling - this being a nomad on someone else's property, biding time until the lease expires.  Just like my avo seedling and my gooseberry bush, I would love to put down roots in proper ground, long-term.  For now I'm treading water and waiting, waiting to see where next we'll go, preparing to deal with yet another uprooting.

Home

Yup, there's a rash of introspective pondering going on here, isn't there! :-)

But the previous two posts needed publishing in order to move on.  Literally.

You see, we've recently moved house, and started a whole new chapter. 

Since April 2007, we have been living in a security complex.  The first house I moved to ther was bigger than the one-bedroom flat I had left, but had a bricked up yard, and burglar bars everywhere.  To get to it, you went through a security gate, then through another security gate, then through your own gate.  It backed on to a busy main road through the area - a big change from the semi-rurual existance we'd previously had.  There was a lot of traffic noise day and night.  But when I moved in I loved it.  I no longer had neighbours upstairs whose every footfall I could hear.  It was reasonably modern compared to the ancient flat I'd left.  My son had his own room.  I had a lounge and a nice kitchen.  And it was secure.

After a few years our lease ended and we moved - just down the road.  Still in the greater security complex, still in a secondary security complex within it.  This time I had a tiny patch of soil to call my garden.  A small braai / entertainment area.  It didn't front onto a noisy road, and the residents of this complex were so much more quiet and civilized - no more police attending to a stabbing at the front gate, or random robberies by dodgy residents, or drunken teenage parties across on the communal lawn.  We had a bit of extra space too.  A garage, a seperate lounge and home office, and still two bedrooms left.  For the most part we lived quite happily there - other than the landlord threatening to sell every few months.

But now we've made a final big move for the forseeable future.  Away from the security complexes down near the highway.  To a place that more and more feels like home, although I've really only been here for a week.  It's an old house with an addition or two, so comes with its quirks and needs some love.  It has a kitchen twice as big as my previous garden.  Three bedrooms, a double garage, a strange little storage room, two and a half bathrooms, a lounge, a spacious braai / entertainment area, parking for everyone and everything, a total footprint of 1400 square metres of property line, and a pool!  Wow.

It's in a very quiet area.  Although there's a school a block or so away, we're surrounded by established trees that block sound (unless it's sports day, as it was this afternoon), in a road where you don't necessarily have to look for cars when pulling out, as there may only be three or four on any given day that aren't the neighbours.  We have the occasional lonely dog that howls, but no cats (finally!) nearby - and no need to pick up cat poo in my garden anymore.  Without cats, the wildlife is abundant.  The trees ringing my yard are constantly full of birds - weavers, sparrows, a flock of laughing doves, little sugarbirds in the hedge, starlings and hadedas dropping by, and the obligatory pair of pigeons.  At night there are Cape Eagle owls that sit in the road, and a family of stilts with two little babies that hang out under the streetlights.  There are two bunnies that come out to graze the sidewalks in the dark.  And the vegetation has shown up at least three large Huntsman-type spiders.  One of them hung out with eyes glowing in the light while the Kid was affixing trunking to the wall the other night...  There was a squirrel on the wall yesterday morning who will probably be back more regularly now the previous tennant's yappy dogs are gone.  By the way, the postman's also glad the yappy dogs are gone, as apparently they'd nip him through the fence when delivering.

Our main bedroom is upstairs.  We wake with a view of treetops and mountains and birds.  For folk like Favourite Man and I who grew up surrounded by nature in our youth, it's an absolute pleasure.

Back to the kitchen - for some reason it makes me simply want to cook good food.  Maybe it's the "farmhouse" feel, or the promise of a burgeoning kitchen garden one of these days.  Or just that I finally have space to breath and move.  As of yesterday I also have nesting doves right outside the window to watch, and it's become a place I enjoy being.

And yes, this house is going to make me fit.  We lose each other in it, and have quite a distance to walk to find each other again.  It takes me 5 steps from the kitchen sink to the cupboard where the plates are - and 5 back again.  From my home office to Favourite Man's is down a passage - any communication either involves our internal phone system, or - yes - more walking.  The swimming pool is going to see action in summer - and probably this weekend, now that we've sorted out the greenery in it and any floating crickets.  The garden is a work in progress that will keep me digging for years.  When we arrived it took two guys two days and a 4 ton truck-and-a-half to clear the initial garden cut-back.  I now get to plant out my garden-in-pots that has travelled with me from house to house, and maintain what remains.  Seriously good exercise.  There's a LOT of work needed on this garden.  Here's a bit of the "before".  We've since removed a lot of growth. And IVY (blerry everywhere).....






But all this is merely walls and yard.  It's not home, you say.

Home is a feeling.  Home is a place where you're glad to come back to, where you want to hang out and spend time, where you can simply be yourself and relax.

And after a mere week here, this is proving to be home.

Right - enough of the navel-gazing, back to regular programming.

DNA

(Draft post written long before "Legacy" below - but which somehow slots right in there)

The older I get, the more I understand my mother....


Mom succumbed to cancer at the end of 2005, after a battle of around 8 years.  Unlike many mothers and daughters, she and I did not get along very well.  The clash started in my teen years, and attempts to regain a closeness before she died simply didn't work.  By then it was too late and the gap of understanding each other was just too large.

But now, at age 42, I understand a lot of where she was coming from, why she did certain things, and what a very strong legacy of DNA-based behaviour the women in our family have.

From our falling-out, I disdained (usually not openly) what I saw as signs of weakness - and yet I see exactly those traits rearing their head in me now.  I could never understand why she didn't stand up for herself, and why my grandmother didn't either - both were silent in the face of opposition.  Yet I do the same thing, and now I understand why.  Us Burgoyne women do not fight well, we would rather shut up and walk away than throw a hissy-fit screaming match (well, all of us except one of my aunts, who clearly got my gramp's fighting streak).  That often leads to locking ourselves away - not physically, but simply closing off and putting up a wall.  I saw it in my mom, I see it in me - and I'm fighting it daily.

I didn't like how she'd dumped her dreams.  She had always wanted to be a nurse, my grandfather did not allow it and she became a teacher (the other "respectable" option for women in those days).  She was a good teacher at primary school level, she put her soul into the kids, but it wasn't her first choice.  I understand now how hard it was, but also that "dumping" her dreams had led her on a course that gave her pleasure.  I know what I've "dumped" in the past, and that it has led me right to where I need to be.  I think she would have been proud of what I've become - though some aspects of my life would probably not have met with her initial approval.

I was proud of having dark, luxurious eyelashes and unlined skin.  Her eyelashes were barely visible, her cheeks had started to sag.  I'm there now.

I understand why she hid her upper arms and wore what she wore.  Genetics means our female line is pear-shaped, with upper arms that are not firm, no matter what we do.

I understand why she had a hysterectomy.  The females in our family often experience extreme cramps each month.  She lived in the days before readily-available Myprodal or other strong pain killers, and eventually the only option was to remove the source of the debilitating, knock-you-down pain.  I'm convinced the sudden hormone change had something to do with her developing breast cancer when the stress of a trans-continental move kicked in - and I'm treating my hormones with respect as a result.

I get why she needed to talk to a professional when I fell pregnant at 20.  I get the self-blame she piled on that needed relief, telling herself it was her fault for not raising me better.  I do the whole self-blame thing to perfection myself in many different situations, not only as a parent, but also as a partner and businesswoman.

Would we have gotten along better had she still been alive?  Probably not.  We'd still be bumping heads.  But now I understand a lot of what I do and why I did it.  She did it first, and her mother did before her.  DNA can't be changed.

Legacy

That weekend away at my grandpa's farm in October 2013, mentioned in the post below, did me the world of good.  A few months later, the deeper effects have not faded.

There's something about connecting with where you come from, who you come from, and the values that are ingrained in generations that is profoundly grounding and settling.

Although making my way from Lenasia airport to Pretoria East was a whole new adventure (have never driven that road before, and the lack of mountains for orientation makes things difficult as a Capetonian! :-) ), as soon as I hit the dirt road off the N3 to the farm, it was a little bit like coming home.  I know the dips in the road, the hills and valleys.  I know who lives where and what they do/farm with.  I know where to find the huge eucalyptus tree where my dad proposed to my mom.  I know where to slow down and where to speed up to get over the worst of the corrugations.  I don't live there, and I haven't been there in years, but December holidays spent on the farm year on year have ingrained the place in my memory like the ridges of a fingerprint.



It was indeed a bittersweet homecoming though.  There is much on the farm that has fallen into ruin with my grandpa's age and health not what they used to be.  He's aware of it, and is working on what he can as his strength improves.  There's new stuff too - a new cottage being readied for renters, a new "cat palace" to keep the three felines happy behind a fence where big dogs are not allowed.  This after a rescued addition to the dog herd took to trying to eat them.



There are many tales to tell about those few days - things that my blog readers would not understand.  So I'll stick to the point of this post.

Legacy.

I spent a good deal of time with my grandpa, going over old family photo albums, hearing the stories behind each shot, and getting to know my family history as never before. I spent time with my aunt, who has kept the place going for years, who is a wise and intelligent woman with strong opinions and a career in the natural world.  And what I learnt was this.

First, we are people of the land.  My mother's family has always had a plot or a farm, land to raise beasts and plants.  Gran is of Irish descent - there they worked the land too.  They have built their own houses from scratch with their own hands - often with the stones on their property.  There has always been a kitchen garden, animals around, and strangely enough an aviary or two hundred.  Doesn't matter which branch of the family you go up on mom's side, you'll find the same thing.  And it's trickled down to me.  I struggle to live without a garden, a patch of soil to throw seeds into and watch them grow.  I'm into edible landscaping with a smattering of beauty thrown in.  I'm a dog and a bird person - dogs and birds love me. Recently, having breakfast outdoors by my newly hand-made bird feeder, I had the shyest of turtle doves settle down near me and doze off, completely secure in knowing I would do it no harm.  Dogs seem to sense the same thing - that I'm on their side.  Cats, well, not so much :-)




We value things that last, things that are useful, and we'll modify stuff to serve a completely different purpose if needed.   Take my grandpa's gate-weights for example.



All his life he has crafted things from metal.  These work on a simple pulley system to close the gate after you - and keep it closed.  They're pretty heavy.

This is the gate to the home acre he made years ago:




There's creativity in our blood.  Not only has he produced some fantastic metalwork in his lifetime, but my mother was very artistic with the drawing / painting side of things, my aunt writes musicals in her spare time, my uncle plays guitar and sings, and aunt #2 makes all sorts of amazing crafty and foody things.  Me - well I've let my creativity slip in favour of the to-do list, but it's still there.  Latest thing to be made by me was that new bird feeder.  Unfortunately my bird feeder visitors do not rival theirs!  I counted 15 different varieties in as many minutes once the food was put out.




We're tough, and we're stubborn.  If you'd met my grandmother before her passing, if you've met my gramps, if you've met my aunt, or my mother, you'd get it.  There's a Burgoyne jaw that juts out, and you know that's where we're digging in our heels.  And then there's the "defending the home" thing.  Gran once took out a shrike on the wing with a catty because it attacked one of her canaries.  Mom shot a snake in the aviaries one holiday because she heard it in there after the partridge eggs around midnight (needless to say, she frightened the hell out of the rest of us with the gunshot).  Gramps has taken aim at and winged one of those infamous human farm attackers who tried to get in one Friday night.  The verandah pole still bears the mark of the bullet headed the attacker's way.

We sometimes have fiery tempers - but they're usually well hidden.  There's a famous family story of the day gran threw a bowl of porridge at gramps, which broke against the wall, stuck to it with the contents, and slowly drifted down to floor level.....

We value hard physical work.  If there's a job to be done, we roll up the sleeves and wade in.  Gran and gramps built all their houses, all their outbuildings and roads with their own hands.  Gran used their car to hoist roof beams up on to the walls of this one while Gramps guided them in:




We're in tune with nature.  You need to know how to judge the weather, how to work with the plants, the animals, your surroundings when you live in the middle of it.  Gran could grow African Violets like nobody's business.  Prix has a fantastic kitchen garden and a huge collection of the succulents she has made a living knowing so well.  Gramps has the touch when it comes to grafting in plums and apricots to increase the edibles available.  I can smell rain coming 2 days before it arrives and have a weird sense of weather changes.  We understand instinctively what clouds bring which weather and what a turn of the wind means. 



We're green-fingered.  Gramps has rose bushes that his father planted, brought from property to property, doled out and replanted as needed.  Irises line the road in the home acre (safe behind a porcupine-proof fence).  And in the same line, we have a legacy of "liberating" plants.  I've discovered it's in my genes to snip off or uproot a tiny piece of someone else's stuff (usually with permission), and then make it flourish in my garden (my problem being that I was running out of place to put things! not a problem anymore at our new home though - yay).  Or to grow things passed down from generation to generation.  Years ago I was given a white mulberry seedling, dug out in the half-dark under the big mulberry tree as I was about to drive back to the Cape.  That is now a large tree at a previous address.  A few months ago I stopped there, stripped off 3 twigs, and rooted them out in my garden.  One of them started furiously bearing berries, with only 3 leaves on it. The others took off skywards. Gramps' garden contains a multitude of plants with a history - a chinese elm from a friend, loquats whose seedlings go to aunt #2's house when they come up, the roses that have been in the family forever.  Prix has things she's picked up on field trips, and those irises lining the fence were what a guy in Pretoria was throwing out to put in a pool.  She stopped next to the road, loaded up the little Fiat, and home they came.  Parts of them flew back to the Cape with me and are now in my garden too.



And we're soft-hearted.  We hurt easily, though we won't always voice it when we do.

We can be exceptionally melodramatic when needed.  I watched gramps go from still-strong, still-clear-headed, walking around on his own with only his right arm still giving him problems post-stroke, to becoming a weak old man who couldn't walk on his own at church, and who garnered much sympathy from the congregants :-)

Have I inherited some bad things too?  Yup.

That stubbornness.  Although it gets me places, it also has people irritated with me at times.

Silence.  I do not fight well, I simply shut up.  When I'm hurt I shut up.  When I'm angry I shut up.  And I very seldom let anyone see what I'm feeling, or thinking.  For my part I think it's because voicing an opinion on the past has had me lambasted for it - for the part of my gran and my mother, it's a simple wish to keep the peace instead of making things worse.  Or merely keeping one's self to one's self.  Years ago I inherited a set of porcelain dinosaurs from my Gran - the first items she bought to place in a new display cabinet when they could afford to start furnishing the house.  No-one ever found out why she bought them, what attracted her to them - and with her having passed on a good few years ago, now we never will.  

The women in our family are prone to terrible period pains - to the extent that my mom had a hysterectomy in her early 40s to put a stop to them.  Modern day us simply sluk down the Myprodal if it gets too bad.

That opinionated thing - yup, also has a flip side.  Just ask Favourite Man.

We come with family quirks, family traditions, family ways of seeing the world - things so ingrained in our legacy that we don't even give them a second thought.

And that weekend away emphasized just where my legacy is and grounded me more than I could have anticipated.  It's a legacy I love, one I cherish, one who has made me who I am today.  I may have a crazy, weird, sometimes plain strange family, but I love them.




Family Places


See this patch of earth?


It's not very big, but in our family, that's known as "The Farm".  Situated just to the east of Pretoria, it's a plot of land that has belonged to my mother's dad for decades.  He has bred birds there, a variety of animals, and done a bit of subsistance farming - nothing large-scale, just a home-life to his work-life as a Datsun mechanic in the city.  He has always had a plot of land out of town - this one has been in the family for the longest of them all.

That's the place we would trek to every December holidays from Zimbabwe when I was growing up.  It's the place where some of my fondest holiday memories reside.  This old tractor is (generally) still going strong - and that's me age 2 on it.

 When we were all much younger, gramps had an assortment of horses.  One of them, Rango, was a gentle old soul that we'd all ride at the first opportunity.


Unfortunately the beast occasionally got it into its head that it did not want to be ridden, and would scrape us off under the nearest thorn tree.  Inevitably holidays had their fair share of bumps and bruises, but that was all part of the fun for my brothers and I.


When Rango eventually kicked the bucket, he was buried under a tree on the farm, near where he loved to ditch us.  Later years saw the miniature horse tribe arrive, which gramps bred for a good few years and sold on.  This is my son on one of them.

There have always been cows, my grandpa's aviaries, and a few open fields to play in.

Or plough...  This pic below tells a bit of a story.  My brothers, who had never driven a tractor before, were stuck on this machine, and taken into the big field below the house to plough it under reasonably remote supervision.  Gramps put the thing in gear, showed them where the accelerator and steering wheel was, and let them at it.  Shortly after this pic was taken, the plough hit a large stone and got stuck.  Not knowing how to stop the tractor, the boys clung on desperately as the nose started heading skywards - until the nearest adult rushed over and killed it just before it tipped over and killed them!

That field saw traditional baseball games on New Year's Day for friends and family, year upon year.  As kids we spent many happy hours at the "big river" (Pienaars) that borders the lower bit of the farm, or the "little river" (a mere stream) that borders one side of it.  There are small waterfalls over slate beds, pools with catchable fish in, crabs to shoot with the pellet gun before they destroy the river banks completely, the occasional legevaan if you're lucky, birds of all varieties, and now and then a snake to spot.  Where the two rivers meet, there grew a gigantic tree that we often camped under at night.  There's a small earth dam near the house with the perfect clay for kleilat - an extremely dangerous family sport reserved for the day after Xmas.. :-)  My uncle Kelly knows how to wield a bendy stick and a ball of clay with perfect aim.

But now we're all grown up and scattered.  There are no more annual family holiday trips to the farm over December.  Us kids have our own lives and family groups, all involved in the day to day work of keeping going.  My parents moved to another continent in the 90s - my mom passed on, severing a direct connection.  My gran followed a few years ago, leaving only my gramps and an aunt on the farm.  Gramps is getting on in years, no longer able to keep up with energetic management of the property, which is rapidly falling to ruin.  He recently had stroke number 2, and has to use my gran's walking frame to get around.  My aunt, who has been keeping the place going for years financially, is at a point where she's not keen to do it for too much longer.  There's talk of them getting the place ready to either sell or rent out.  Pretoria's suburbs are rapidly marching across the fields and will one day swallow this property up with some security village or other tightly-packed housing development.  Every time we go to visit, the city lights are closer...  The jackals no longer howl in the hills at night.  The wildlife is harder to spot.  An era is rapidly drawing a close...

And so, in three weeks from now, I am doing something I have never done before.  I'm flying up to see the farm and the family, hiring a car at the airport, and making my solo way through the wilds of Gauteng to spend 3 days on our family patch of earth while it's still there, while my gramps is still there.

It's going to be a bittersweet trip for me.  My heart has roots in the 50 year old rose bushes, the white mulberry trees, the river-stone walls and the bushveld.  It knows where to find the SodaStream in the kitchen cupboards, it knows where the mongoose hangs out.  It remembers the flash of an emerald kingfisher on the washing line, the call of the loeries, the pack of farm dogs around your legs when you walk the familiar paths.  It twinges in the milkshed at memory of being stood on by a cow during milking, it knows the earthy smell of the feed bins, and crunch of metal filings under your feet around gramp's workbench, and the soft cooing of the doves from a hammock in the aviaries on a summer afternoon.

I plan to immerse myself in all of it, take photos and videos of everything I know and love, before it's too late.  To build what may be one last memory of a family home, to spend time with the people I love in a place as familiar as a fingerprint.  To sit down for a few more meals around the kitchen table, to take my gramps to church and hear him sing hymns, to bask in the sound of cicadas and the smell of dusty roads.

I'm both looking forward to it, and dreading driving away from it for what could be the very last time...