As we left Mother Mary today – at the Retirement Village, not the old-aged home, says Dad; He used to call them old aged homes and be very anti but now suddenly they’re OK and they’re retirement villages cos he has just made an offer on a cottage there, deciding at age 96 that it might be time before too long that he may, perhaps, have to move in there one day – we were energetically flagged down by an old blue-rinse biddy sitting in a smart white sedan outside the frail care section.
“Oy! Are you ignoring me?” she shouts, waving her hand in Dad’s direction. He, of course, doesn’t hear her, so I look in the open driver’s window across at her in the front passenger seat and she waves me aside. No, not you, she indicates with a dismissive wave, the bald gentleman; Well, the bald gentleman with the white hair; OK, the bald gentleman with the white hair and the walking stick.
Oh. So she doesn’t mean me.
He sticks his head in the window. “Were you going to walk right by me?” she asks. Hello! He smiles, switching straight into charm mode; Who are you? Ooh, she thinks, some doubt creeps in. “Aren’t you . .” she starts and hits a geriatric blank. Staring at him, knowing she knows him but has just lost his name right now. It’s on the tip of her tongue. “Um, aren’t you . .” she repeats. Who are you? he repeats.
They reach out to shake hands – instinctive, cos if you’ve been to Maritzburg College and St Annes or Epworth and lived through a world war that’s what you do. So they’re now holding hands both being furiously pleasant and both trying to figure out who the hell this other person is.
She changes tack: “I bet you I’m older than you,” she says.
YUSSIS! That MAKES his day! He’s had a bit of a rough day with his idiot son who doesn’t know when to shut up and just nod him yes, so this – THIS – is a godsend. He jumps up in the air, clicks his heels and leans right in to the car. The click might have been his teeth.
I’ll bet you you’re not! he challenges. “I bet you I am,” she repeats confidently. I’ll bet you . . how much you wanna bet? he says. They’re still holding hands and staring into each others eyes. It’s getting ‘Yes I am; No you’re not!’ stuck, so I chip in. How about one Rand? I suggest. “Well, I only have ten Rand,” she fibs. I’ll take you on, he says, How old are you? She leans back and puffs out her bosom and announces triumphantly “Nearly ninety ONE.”
WELL! Victory is his! He wriggles with glee and says I’m . . no. This is my son Koos. Koos, you tell her how old I am! The old goat is 96 in the shade, I say. She deflates, he puffs up. He smoked her! Blew her doors off! Left her in his dust! They’re still holding hands. He rubs it in: I prefer to say I’ve got four years to go to a hundred.
I walk off, leaving them to their embarrassment and awkward ending. Well, nice to have met you, he says. “Yes, indeed,” she says, even though neither cagey old codger has divulged their name yet. The only name we have out of this joyful meeting of long-lost strangers so far is “Koos.”
As the old man leaves she outs when he’s ten metres down the drive with “So sorry to have mistaken you; Sorry to be a bother.” That St Annes politeness training is deeply embedded. Of course he didn’t hear it. Ten metres is way out of range. Anyway, his face was wreathed in such a wide smile his ears were probably blocked by the wrinkles. This avenged the stinging loss he’d suffered at the College reunion.
The inmates in Azania – I mean Azalea Gardens – look forward now to new arrival Mary Methodist’s preprandial concerts. While we were chatting the guy next door stuck his head in and asked anxiously from his wheelchair, “When are you coming?” so we all hastened over to the lounge / dining room so Mom could do her thing.
In the background the ole man is paging through some old Farmers Weeklys. The piano music plays havoc with his hearing aids, so he has switched them off.
Ooh, says Mom, I’m not at my best today! True, says I, You were better when you were eighty. She hosed herself at that. She also played Angeline and Chatanooga Choo Choo and two others I forget the names. A round of applause from the tables announced OK, enough now, the grub has arrived. Mary immediately got up and joined them for roast chicken, roast spuds and creamed spinach; then pud.
edit: The old codger in the wheelchair was one of her biggest fans. We heard a couple of weeks after this day that he’d shuffled off, moved on; Natural causes after a good innings, nothing to do with Mom’s playing.
Mom was on furlough from the home – Azalea Gardens. Sheila fetched her and Barbara, Linda, Tholo and the two terrors Mary-Kate and Dawie and I joined them at 16 Ivy Road in Lincoln Meade, Pietermaritzburg.
What a lovely day – a great lunch, fun with the kids and ending with a surprise: ancient movies from our youth taken in the sixties with Dad’s 8mm movie camera. Sheila had arranged and paid for hours of old footage to be put on a memory stick! Dad says he had a small Canon movie camera first; I only remember his Eumig camera.
As we were leaving Tholo spotted a birds nest right above the car door with two little chicks begging, and showed Mary-Kate.
After everyone left I waited till I could spot the mother: a Cape White Eye.
See the top pic: When the old man moved out of earshot – which means six inches away – Linda murmured to me sotto voce, ‘Here’s the man always telling others to get dressed early mornings: still in his jarmies at noon.’
Giving advice he’s good at.
When we grew up outside Harrismith ca 1959 we couldn’t use the lounge. The lounge was filled edge-to-edge by an upside-down speedboat. The old man built his first speedboat in this lounge, shown below many decades later:
Younger sis Sheila, in the picture with Mom & Dad, says he also built that fireplace.
Then, after we’d left home and Mom & Dad had retired, he developed another urge to build a boat. Luckily this time in a boatyard with the help of boat builders.
On a cold winter’s day ca1990 we took it, shiny new, for a spin on Sterkfontein Dam outside Harrismith: Me, Dad, two Eskimos and a semi-eskimo.
We zoomed over the spot where Mom estimated her old farmhouse was – on Nuwejaarsvlei, where she grew up.
The old man has good news about a great discovery for people who can’t sleep.
He can’t sleep: “I only fall asleep around 2am and then sleep for a few hours” he complains.
I visited overnight recently and urged him to take the sleeping tablets he had. Mom gave one to him and he carried it around. No, he’d take it later, not now.
We all went to bed.
At 3am I’m woken by Mom: The ole man is wandering around the house wide awake and shouting at the people out on the lawn who are carrying away his furniture! He’s hallucinating. “Peter there’s no-one there” says Mom patiently. “Well then who do you think I’m talking to?” he replies belligerently, shining his torch out the window and shouting to the imaginary chair thieves; “Speak up! I can’t hear you!”
So that didn’t work.
Now he has a potion. “It’s made from two flowers. One flower is from Europe. It’s herbal, so it should be mild.” Ja, I think, cyanide is herbal, Dad. “It’s homeopathic I think,” he says. Ja, I think.
So now he phones me to give me the amazing news about his new discovery: It works!
“I took them and nothing happened. But the pharmacist said they’d take time to work. And then wragtig, they did work last night! I fell asleep around 2am and then slept for a few hours.”
Then he said “I hear you owe me some money?”
Ja? I say.
“I hear I gave you quite a show the night you slept here.”
Ja, I say.
“Don’t you think you should pay for such a good show?”
The cheque is in the post, I say.
wragtig – true’s bob
Ten Feet and Two Shoes – Gogo Memmy with her four Great-Grandies:
pic by Sheila at Umvoti Villa