RIP Earth Angel

There are days when you wake up with an outlook to tackle the day; other times you’d rather pull the blankets over your head, wishing (or praying, depending on your beliefs) for tomorrow to come. In both instances there are times you simply take for granted that you’ve been given another day to begin with.

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Centenarian Legend

( I always try not to use real names in my blog, but for this entry, I must. It pays homage to a Grand Old Dame, one who will live on in the hearts of many people. I cannot write from a perspective of knowing many of the other family members, so the fact that I reference only a few is simply because they are who I know.)

There are legends, and then there are legends. I’m not talking about people like dead presidents, imaginary superheroes that stop the world imploding, or people that started some kind of revolution that brought about a type of good in the world.

I’m talking about regular people that have more life experience than many of us could ever hope to have. One such person is Sylvia Palmer aka Shelagh-Rose’s Granny. I also called her Granny. Aunty Sylvia always sounded wrong to me. She passed away in the early hours of this morning at the ripe old age of 100 years, 8 months and 12 days. How many people to you know are even close to that age?

Shelagh-Rose and I have been friends for thirty-one years already, and through it all, Granny had always been there, guiding her. The bond they had was a close one; something incredibly special and in today’s day and age, extremely hard to find.

What never struck me growing up, is that my maternal side of the family knew the Palmers, so my friendship with Shelagh-Rose is more deep-rooted than I knew. I like to think destined.

My Aunty Cathy would often regale the tale of how she, my cousin, Lorna, Douglas (Shelagh-Rose’s uncle), and their friend David took a bike ride down Park Side West. David was in the saddle, Douglas on the carrier, Lorna (Cathy’s niece, my cousin, Douglas’s girlfriend) on his shoulders and Cathy on the handlebars. Yes – four children on one bicycle. It sounds like a circus act! As if that’s not enough to give any one a mild panic attack, the bike had no brakes! David scuffed his shoes to try and stop the bike, which shot across the Marsh/Church Street intersection, finally losing momentum at the dry cleaners close to The Point. I wondered this morning when I heard the news of Granny’s final breath if she every knew of this specific adventure.

The Bean told me a story about how her interactions with both Sylvia and her husband, Ray. They had a shop in town called Palmers. Every day Mrs. Gogerty (who was The Bean’s senior at the Scheltema offices) would send her to Palmers to buy a packet of biscuits for the office and Granny would write it up – back in the day when people were still honest enough to buy on the book.

There are many stories that I’ve heard from Elizabeth about her mother. All of them depict Granny to be a woman of incredible poise, wisdom, and everlasting love for her late husband. The two were married for only ten days before Ray was called up to train for combat in the Second World War. All through it Granny never doubted that The Love of Her Life, her Beloved Ray would one day return to her.

During the war, just before his return home, his platoon drew straws to be flown home, or sent by ship. Ray drew the short straw, which meant a longer journey home, but a journey home indeed. His fellow brothers in arms weren’t so fortunate; their plane was shot down and there were no survivors.

I was in primary (elementary) school when tragedy struck Granny. She was attacked in her home and sexually assaulted by a young criminal. Despite the horror what no woman ever hopes will ever befall her, Granny survived, exuded more grace, and was resolute in her decision to stay in her home of countless years. Elizabeth had a wedding photo taken on the steps of that very house, and years later so did Shelagh-Rose.

Elizabeth, Shelagh-Rose and Granny on the steps on Shelagh-Rose’s wedding day.

Granny lived on her own until the age of ninety-seven, when a nasty fall resulted in her hurting her hip. Strong as an ox she lay in agony for a few days before finally calling Elizabeth for help. As expected, she needed a hip replacement and the shock of major surgery began to take its toll.

Granny got dementia. There were days when her mind was still sharp, and there were others when she didn’t know her own children. She adamantly fought with Shelagh-Rose one day for having a child, but not being married.  This while Schalk, Shelagh-Rose’s husband, was in the room with them.

Granny with Suzelle, her great grandaughter (Shelagh-Rose’s & Schalk’s daughter).
Photo by https://www.lynellepienaar.com/
Four generations of Palmer women. FLTR: Shelagh-Rose, Suzelle, Granny, & Elizabeth.
Photo by https://www.lynellepienaar.com/

She knew I cared deeply for a friend that works on the cruise ships and kept asking me if we’d got married. I eventually told her we had, that it was the most beautiful wedding and that he was set to be away for a year. She never asked again. I don’t know if she forgot about my phantom nuptials, or if my answer satisfied her enough not to ask again. Either way, I appreciated that until I gave her an answer, she always asked.

One afternoon while she was still staying on the farm with Elizabeth, before her move to the ACVV home where she was well looked after, she told me a story about a woman in the district who would come to fetch her to take her to town to have her hair done. She also told me about the nurse who would visit. Both these people turned out to be Elizabeth. Some much change in such a short time was tough on Granny.

During her stay at the farm, Granny had a need to unpack and repack her cupboards every day. Try as she might, Elizabeth couldn’t convince her mom to stop doing it. Maybe in Granny’s addled mind it brought order, although to Elizabeth it brought some chaos. As short as Granny was, she also always managed to get stuff off the high shelves, but she had to get Schalk to put things back. These things seemed silly and frustrating at the time, but now they won’t ever happen again.

Even though I never visited the home where Granny spent the last few years of her life, and even though I’m not family, I feel incredible gratitude to the staff. From what I’ve heard from Elizabeth and Shelagh-Rose, they cared for Granny with compassion and patience – two characteristics that are often difficult to maintain when working with anyone, particularly an elderly person who for so long was independent, and towards the end was almost as fragile as a newborn baby.

I was privileged to be at Granny’s centenary birthday celebrations last October. I got the job of capturing the moments, not that I’m much good with the camera, but Elizabeth and Shelagh-Rose seemed pleased with the results, so all’s well that ends well. It was a momentous occasion, with Granny as the guest of honour (completely unaware of the celebration). All her family and friends that could be there, were in attendance, including her brother, Robert, who himself is in his seventies. Granny was lucid that day – something which I think her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren were happy about. For many, including myself, that is how I will remember her.

In one blow, Granny extinguished her 100 candle.

On the walls at the party, there were photos of Granny’s life – from the age of knee-high to a grasshopper, to her wedding, and so on. When she saw her wedding photo, she cried. Oh how, she missed her Beloved Ray. It was such a poignant moment. How many of us ever find love, especially a true, everlasting love that not even death can overcome?

Sylvia Palmer, you’ve run a great race. You’ve been a beacon of hope, a shining light, and a pillar of strength to those around you. The wait is over… you are now with Your Beloved Ray. We mourn your departure, but we celebrate your incredible life. Rest in Peace – you’ve earned it!

Goodbye, Mr Doeps…

I heard of the passing of a retired, former colleague this morning.  Just last night, as I was about to turn over, I said to myself I wonder how he’s doing.  He had been ill for quite a while, following a heart attack, after which a myriad of treatment-related issues followed.  It was inevitable that he would never be the jovial man he had been before the cardiac arrest, but the news has still left me feeling awfully sad.

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Friends: They Leave Imprints on your Heart

I rant when I’m particularly irritated or feel that there is injustice happening to those I care about – many of you who have been following my blog for a long time will know this. I feel the urge to rant, because I am tired of the same shit repeatedly, but realize that it isn’t going to solve anything; it is only going to steal my joy.

On the subject of joy, I’m going to share its opposite with you for a paragraph or two and then end off on a happy note, because while it’s normal to experience negative emotions, it’s not okay to allow them to take root in our minds – after all, our thoughts become our actions, not so?

Yesterday was an extremely busy day at the office, so when I got the news that a good friend of mine, Frances, had left this world for the next, I felt a pang of shock (although she’d been ill for a long while), but I couldn’t really think about it.  We hadn’t seen each other in a very long time, but for the last nine months or so, we’d reconnected online.  I often chatted to her about alternative things, and she always gave me her honest take –  No holds barred.  Even when she was at her worst, she always gave her best.  She listened without judgement and never hesitated to tell me the truth, even when it was hard to hear.  Now she’s gone, and part of me feels lost.  It’s odd really, because we were close for a short time, then so far removed from one another for over two decades and then close again.  A kind of ‘concertina friendship’ if you will.  She leaves behind an ex-husband, who despite the divorce, I know she loved ‘til her dying breath, and two children, who I’ve not met.  I’m devastatingly sad at her departure.  I’ve lost close people – even family – before, but with her it’s different.  I can’t articulate it, because I don’t know what it is.  The world is emptier without her.  One thing that is a relief, despite the heartache, is that she is finally pain free.

I said to Charlie yesterday that I think I have only a single photo of Frances and I together, and that if I do, it is in a dusty album in storage somewhere. I hope one day I’ll find it and be able to have a proper reminisce over it. Until then though, I’ll remember her for the amazing person she was: mother, fighter, friend.

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Onto a less sad subject, Saskia, who “adopted” me as her big, but thin sister (we met in the gym…) is tying the knot in November and asked Yours Truly a while ago if I would be a bridesmaid. I was like, “is a duck’s arse damp?” followed by unexpected tears, of both joy, and surprise – because she has so many friends, and well, in comparison to them, I’m old.  She and her beau too live far away, but they are here for a few days, and she, her best friend of the past eighteen years (and Maid of Honour), another bridesmaid and I are getting together for dinner this evening to talk about the shindig.  I’m counting the hours because I just know we’re going to have a great time.

As I type this post, thinking about these two incredibly special ladies, I am reminded that making memories is important.  The digital era in which we live affords us the ability to capture those memories at the click of a smartphone button.  Sure, it’s amazing, but we need to caution against being lost in that action, as opposed to being lost in the people we’re with – so tonight, while I know the young ‘uns will be doing their millennial selfie thing, I’m not going to even take my phone with me. This evening, I’m going to imprint memories of this jubilant occasion in my mind’s eye.

Here’s to a night of uproarious fun, hysterical laughter, and most of all, the love of friends!

 

Let Us Never Forget…

I remember exactly where I was when I got the news that there was a terrorist attack taking place in the United States of America.

It was just after midday here in South Africa when I got a call from my boss, telling me to put on the little fuzzy Black and White TV in his office. “A plane has just flown into one of the twin towers in New York.” I thought I’d heard wrong, but curiosity got the better of me.  There, right before my eyes, on the snowy, staticky TV were images of a plane crashing into a tall building.  I was still considering that the hype was possibly unnecessary when I saw the second plane.  I was stunned.  I continued to listen to the TV, and for good measure switched the radio on too.  I even phoned Mom, telling her to check the satellite channels on and let me know what else was being said.

A while after the telephone rang and it was Mom telling me that I plane had flown into the Pentagon.  Now, my US geography is really not good, but I did know that the Pentagon is in Washington DC, and that was where one of my best friends from school, Nerina, was au-pairing.  I also knew that Nerina travelled quite a bit with her host family.  Soon my mind was racing – was she safe?  What if she’d been on one of those planes?  I emailed, tried to phone, but with no success.  I suspected the worst, not for one minute thinking that as a result of this terrible situation, telephone lines would be jammed.

About a week later I heard from her – she was safe.  She’d actually been outside playing with the kids when she’d heard the plane fly over.  I got chills.

Eleven years has passed, but let us never forget.  The Americans that died that day were regular people, just like you and me.  They had regular jobs, they had families, pets, mortgages.  Let us instead honour their memory by being silent for a moment.  America, I salute you!  Your resolve is inspiring!  Your bravery and remembrance give me hope.

 

Goodbye Steph…

…I received word from Elizabeth that our close friend, Lisa’s mum, Stephanie, passed away at 04:20 this morning after battling various illnesses.  Even more tragic is that today would have been her sixtieth birthday, if Rachel is correct.

I remember chatting to Elizabeth’s mum about Steph, not having met her yet.  Elizabeth’s mum summed her up as flamboyant.  When I eventually did have the honour of meeting Steph, she was flamboyant…and caring…and funny…and loving…and gracious…and inspiring…and the list goes on.

People often say when one no longer walks a road with someone to “remember the good times” – and I do.  I have searched the deepest recesses of my mind for a tainted memory of some sort and nothing comes up.  I distinctly remember the last time we had a get-together at Lisa’s flat (behind her parents’ house).  The lights of the main house were off, so I just popped into the flat – moments later Lisa’s phone rang.  Steph was on the line wanting to know why I had not popped in to say hello.

I went in to say hello and we ended up chatting for almost an hour!  She was always positive about everything, despite her troubling health.  I remember telling her how much the farm takes out of me and that I know it is not something I see myself doing long-term and she would encourage me to do what would make me happy; to never stop dreaming.

She also had a strange, yet fond fascination with my hair.  Whenever she saw me she would compliment me on it, or run her fingers through it.  She was also always interested in potential romances; she would tease Rachel often about all her “boyfriends”.

My heart is aching terribly today – not only for Steph’s departure; for Lisa and her father and Steph’s mum left behind, but because it brought me to a terrible realization that Steph was younger than both my parents.  It made me realize just how fortunate I am to still have them with me.  Seems as I get older, Death makes me a little more aware of my mortality.

Steph – You were loved by many, and you will be sorely missed.  Rest now, in the arms of the angels.