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.
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.