What is a legacy? I’d always assumed that it had something to do with rich people, wealth and material possessions, but it was only recently, while chatting to my neighbour, that I realized that it can be a lot more meaningful than that!
“Often when you think about legacy, it’s something that is left behind after a person has passed. Legacy is more about sharing what you have learned, not just what you have earned, and bequeathing values over valuables, as material wealth is only a small fraction of your legacy. A more holistic definition of legacy is when you are genuinely grounded in offering yourself and making a meaningful, lasting and energizing contribution to humanity by serving a cause greater than your own. The requirements of a legacy are that you embrace your uniqueness, passionately immersing your whole self into life so that your gift will be to all and that you take responsibility to ensure that it will have a life beyond that of you, its creator, outliving and outlasting your time on earth.” (source: Meridian Life Design)
While this blog post may seem like a rambling collection of memories to some, I hope it evokes some fond memories for my Dad, siblings, cousins and extended family (and possibly even family friends, too).
I have two younger siblings, and for us, school holidays were always spent with our grandparents. This not only gave our parents a chance to spend some much needed time together, without three kids constantly hanging around and demanding attention, (they probably needed to regain their sanity, too!) but also gave us a chance to get to know our grandmother and cousins, as well as build many lasting, happy memories. (Our grandfather passed away when I was 12, so I only have a few memories of him.)
During the shorter school holidays, it would often just be us three siblings staying over at Gran’s house, maybe with the whole extended family getting together for a meal, for example, lunch on Easter Sunday or dinner on Christmas Eve. I remember one Easter, all of the cousins were sitting outside on a grey blanket on the front lawn, near the birdbath under the pink Tibouchina tree, eating a lunch of roasted turkey and various salads, while eagerly eyeing the bags of Easter eggs next to us. The adults were seated on the front verandah, and we weren’t allowed to touch our easter eggs until we’d finished our lunch!
The traditional annual Easter Egg hunt had taken place earlier that morning, and our stash consisted of a mix of store bought marshmallow easter eggs, homemade moulded chocolates, and homemade easter eggs that had been made from dried eggshells dyed with food coloring, before being dried and stuffed. Some of these were left plain colours (pink, blue, green or yellow), while some were hand-painted with bee or ladybug designs, before being filled with Licorice Allsorts and topped off with a foil ‘cap’ before being hidden in the garden for us to find. These homemade “eggs” were always the favorites, and on the odd occasion there’d be one that was so well hidden that nobody could find it, or remember where it was hidden. We’d discover this egg many months, or even years later, still hidden in the garden, but only the shell and the foil remained. The ants always got there first and the sweets transported elsewhere, or else they had slowly disintegrated in the rain.
Longer school holidays often meant that cousins would come and stay for a few days or a week. On rare occasions, there were up to 7 grandkids all staying in Gran’s house at one time. How she managed with that many grandchildren all at once, we’ll never know. She must have been superwoman!
Most days, breakfast consisted of toast with homemade jam or marmalade, and either homemade yoghurt flavoured with an instant juice powder (Clifton brand), or if it was winter, hot mieliemeal porridge with butter, brown sugar and a splash of milk. Mmm, yummy! I really do miss proper mieliemeal porridge. Sometimes on the weekends we were treated to a full fried breakfast of bacon and eggs, maybe with fried bread.
We would help with simple daily chores and did these on a rotation basis, depending on how many of us were staying there. Going back to when I was really young, I remember looking for chicken eggs in a little blue and white corrugated hen house, or checking on baby chicks that were kept in a homemade incubator with a lamp. My siblings may not remember these, as Gran didn’t always have chickens, but I still remember the heat from that lamp and the smell that emanated from those baby chicks. Other tasks included preparing the next batch of homemade yoghurt so that it was ready to eat the next day, washing dishes, helping with vacuuming, mopping, sweeping, hanging laundry, or emptying the compost bucket or rubbish bin. These tasks were done before we headed out for a morning of fun and games, either playing in the large garden or riding our bicycles around the neighborhood for hours on end, just exploring where roads went and what we could find, even on chilly winter mornings.
Racing our bicycles down Morcom Road (a long, steep road in Pietermaritzburg) was always a hair-raising experience. We’d start near the top of the hill and freewheel down, often screeching with laughter, eyes streaming from the wind and our hands gripping the handlebars so tightly our knuckles would turn white. In winter, our fingers would be numb with cold! To this day, it amazes me that none of us ever fell off or got seriously injured, although in saying that, there were a few speed-wobbles and some very shaky moments, but somehow we always managed to stay on our bikes, with a good laugh afterwards.
After playing games or exploring for hours, we’d return ‘home’ for lunch or dinner, and would pair up again to wash and dry the dishes, taking turns to do this. Feeding the dogs and watering the garden would take place in the late afternoon, often with Gran armed with the hosepipe and us with watering cans, and we’d earn a small amount of “pocket money” from these chores to spend on sweets, boxes of jelly powder, or tubes of condensed milk when we went into “town” (the nearby mall or local supermarket).
Gran’s large garden was divided into sections: the front was a flower garden and small lawn, the middle section had a large grassy area with a few fruit trees, the perfect spot for playing games or resting in the shade, and right at the back was the vegetable garden. We’d often pick fresh fruit and veggies straight from the garden for meals, and were introduced to a variety of vegetables, some of which my friends had never heard of or had ever eaten, like amadumbi (African potato), cho-cho (Chayote), lima beans, Swiss Chard (silverbeet, very similar to spinach), makowe mushrooms, oyster mushrooms, tamarillos, custard apples, quince, the list goes on.
We’d eat fruit salad for dessert most days, until we were sick of it and didn’t want to see another pawpaw ever again! At the time, I don’t think we realised how lucky we were to be eating so much fresh “organic”, homegrown produce every day!
In summer, we’d go hunting for makowe mushrooms, usually the day after a large thunderstorm. These mushrooms would literally pop up overnight and would get as big as side plates. They were delicious fried in butter and eaten on toast, but we had to be quick about looking for them, as we weren’t the only ones who liked to eat them! If you saw one out on the sidewalk or in the local park and waited for it to get a little bigger before picking it, sometimes you missed out and someone else picked it first!
Back in the 1980’s there used to be a large round portapool in her back garden, with a step ladder that you had to use to climb into it. Gran had two of those old-fashioned kiddies swimming costumes with a tube sewn in around the middle, for kids who couldn’t swim properly yet. I’m very glad that those swimming costumes are no longer around, as they were horrid to get on and a health hazard if you happened to manage to tip yourself over or land head first in the water with your legs in the air! Unfortunately, the pool didn’t survive a bad hail storm and was removed, so on hot summer days we would walk across the road and ask to swim at a neighbors house, or spend time building sandcastles or digging holes in a sandpit under the cool, dark shade of two huge avocado trees. One of these avocado trees had the most divine avocados. They were very large with buttery soft flesh and were oh so tasty. How I miss those avos!
A special treat would be an iceblock of fresh-squeezed orange juice that had been frozen in one of those metal ice trays with the removable dividers. For some reason, we always ate these sticky, slushy ice blocks on saucers with a teaspoon, often under the shade of the plum tree, always being careful to check the grass before we sat down, just in case one of the chickens had left a ‘surprise’ in the spot we planned to sit on.
Another memory I have is when numerous azalea bushes in the garden were trimmed, and the cuttings were piled in the open patch of ground underneath these avocado trees. We would spend hours building forts and tunnels amongst the twigs, blissfully unaware that the resident mosquitos loved to hide in there, too! We’d emerge looking like we all had a mild case of chicken pox, only to be covered from head to foot in mosquito bites, yet somehow this didn’t deter us, and the next day we’d be back there again.
We’d spend hours digging up and collecting peach pips that were buried in the garden, around the spot where the old peach tree used to be. These pips would stored in old Frisco coffee cans (the brown ones with dancing ladies on them) and would be used at dusk as ‘ammunition’ in a slingshot to chase away the local hadedahs that flew in to roost in the avocado trees. We’d chase the birds for two reasons; firstly, they make an unsightly mess both on and under the tree, and then there’s the usual rowdiness in the early hours of the morning when one bird will make a noise , either from falling off it’s perch or from being disturbed, and then suddenly the whole neighbourhood is rudely awoken by the birds’ cacophanus calls of “haa-haa-haa-de-dah”!
Days were spent playing outdoor games like Hide ‘n Seek, Catchers or Stingers (sometimes with overripe fruit that had fallen off the trees, instead of a ball), Cowboys & Indians, Cops ‘n Robbers, as well as many games that we made up ourselves. We’d play cricket in the street, ride our bicycles around the neighbourhood, climb trees (and fall out of them), and swim in the neighbour’s pool. On cold, rainy days we were taught how to bake biscuits, cakes and rusks, often using recipes that had been passed down through the generations. We learned how to make jam, pickles and preserves, or homemade fruit juices. This was when I first learned what pectin was, and how to test to see if your jam was ready by placing a teaspoonful on a saucer and leaving it to cool. If it thickened to the right consistency and set when it cooled, it was ready. If we weren’t learning in the kitchen, we’d be learning a craft of some sort; making feather dusters from scraps of wool, which would then be sold at the local church fete, knitting or crocheting.
We’d spend hours playing card games and board games, with Rummy and Checkers being Gran’s favorites, and nine times out of ten, she’d beat you! In the evenings, we’d sit and knit or crochet while sitting in front of the TV. Often we’s knit rows of multicolored squares that would eventually be stitched together and made into blankets, or we’d crochet ‘granny squares’ for blankets and cushion covers, using up scraps of wool that had been stored in a very large, clear plastic bag. I remember I was 14-years old, sitting with Gran out on the back verandah, when she taught me how to embroider lazy daisy stitches. That was the day when my love of creating traditional hand-stitched embroidered items began.
I have so many more fond memories of things we did and things we learned, and these are only a few. Looking back over the years, I don’t think we ever realized at the time how lucky we were to spend our holidays with her, or how educational they turned out to be. Without spending holidays at Gran’s house, I doubt that we ever would have learned as many valuable life skills as we did.
These days, few people get to celebrate their 80th birthdays, never mind their 92nd! Sadly, we were forced to say ‘goodbye’ to this extraordinary woman on the 9th July 2017. Her time had come to leave this Earth, but she will be forever in our hearts, and will continue to live on through all the wonderful things that she has taught us.