It could be because I was thinking about my mother’s birthday. It could be that I am experimenting with the old-fashioned ingredients that Jane-Anne Hobbs predicted would be foodie trends this year, when she gave her talk at the Food & Wine Blogger Indaba.
It could simply be the memories that flood in when I prepare the dishes from my childhood, like oxtail stew, with the beautiful scent of cloves filling the air. It could simply be the changing of the season that has made me scurrying for old pieces of my writing; desperate to make sure I’ve documented them, saved them to bring out one day when the images in my mind are no longer crystal clear.
Orange ceramic bowl and green ceramic rice bowl from Art Of Hand, 305 Long Street, Cape Town. Made by Diana Ferreira.
I am always surprised anew by how most of my clearest memories are informed by food …
There were no children my age to play with; it was a brand new suburb; all red earth and building rubble. Both parties of most couples went out to work, walking together to catch busses. My mom and dad each had a car, which was quite unusual at the time. They misguidedly thought nursery school was a cruel business, an enclave for neglected children; only marginally less horrible than the orphanage they threatened to send me to if I didn’t eat my spinach.
There was, apart from the lovely, fat and funny Willemienah who cleaned and cooked; a nanny who’s sole purpose was to feed me, clean me and make sure that I didn’t engage in any activities that would lead to my needing stitches or the services of the Police Force. Her name was Martha and to this day I remember what it felt like when she wiped my face with a warm facecloth, sprinkled with 4711 cologne, after I cried because of a fall. I ate my meals with them, sitting on the concrete courtyard floor; tomato and onion gravy with stiff maize porridge. I’d have it for lunch any day, still. Only much later did it dawn that Sotho was not the only language on daytime radio.
I begged and pleaded for a brother and my parents kept telling me it was not the right time. I was six before I realised that I was lonely.
From time to time my paternal grandparents would come to take me to their farms, early on to Excelsior and later to Tweespruit. My Ganny Sue taught my to sew a neat stitch and my Gampy let me walk out with him after supper, ostensibly to make sure the cows were tucked in, but really to smoke his secret cigarettes. They allowed all the rules to be broken; I didn’t have to bath every day, especially not if I’d swum in the reservoir. We sometimes had stewed peaches and custard as our supper!
On returning from a long visit, I walked into our bathroom, where my mother was drying herself after a shower. She had become fat, something I hadn’t noticed during everyday contact and I told her so. My dad overheard and joined us in the bathroom, sitting on the edge of the tub and pulling me onto his lap. He told me that my mom was growing a surprise for me in her tummy and could I guess what it was? I said ‘a bike?’, but they laughed and said I’d have to wait and see.
Perhaps a fortnight or so later, I’d taken my skipping rope and gone up the road to visit with an old lady whom I’d befriended and who allowed me to pretend that we were grand ladies taking high tea on a cruise ship. Her kettle had just boiled when Martha puffed in and said I should come home at once. She hoiked me onto her back and trotted down the block.
My parents were sitting in the lounge, my mom holding a soft parcel. They beckoned me to join them and my mom opened the parcel so that I could see the scrunched up little person they were giving me. His name is Shawn and he is one of the best friends I have ever had; my little brother who grew to be bigger than me in every way conceivable.
I’m really quite fond of him, grumpy old codger. And so very proud.