Saturday, February 5, 2011

Four Aunties and a Funeral

There are some members of my family that I have not seen for thirty years.

Thirty years!

Lately that number has been coming up a lot. I am forty eight, so thirty years ago I was just eighteen.

It was the end of school, the beginning of Rhodes.

It was 1981 and the state of emergency.

It was Detention without trial.

It was a time of hiding the Freedom Charter and pictures of Mandela.

It was a time of dancing to Ska till the security police came, kicking down doors and shouting in our young peachy faces.

It was a time of sitting cross legged, long haired and learning to roll our own.

And for me it was a time of turning away from Aunties and Uncles and family Christmas conversations about Blacks and Reds and Coloureds and Kaffirs and dying a red death in a dark bed.

As a smaller girl I had looked up to them all. They were a particularly raucous bunch of South Africans and 'Rhodesians' who descended to the beach for the summer holiday. They gathered in groups and braaied and drank and partied.

No New Years Eve ever has lived up to those. I remember bowls of upturned trifle on an Aunties head, green hose pipes spraying water through windows, everyone in the pool at midnight and hooting loudly whilst slurring the words of Auld Lang Syne.

I was in awe of the Aunties, smoking endless cigarettes, shrouded in a gray haze,with long painted fingernails, perms and streaks. The Uncles gathered in a different smokey cloud of braai burning, sunburnt bellies,and tall chilled glasses of beer. I avoided them, especially the one with a wandering hand which once crept up under the edge of my adolescent denim shorts!

By eighteen we had all had enough and our branch of the clan dropped off the family tree. The rest grew on, flowered in unattended weddings, blossomed at baby baptisms, and shivered with the winters of funerals. I was absent from all.

Until last month.

Most of the spouses of my mothers siblings have passed away, but it was only last month that her oldest sister, with a life of eighty odd years, well lived, passed away. The remaining family was gathering, not far down the road, in Port Elizabeth.

My mother, drugged up to her eyeballs (she has a fear of crying, flying, lifts, buses..) stumbled off the bus into my home. We completed the journey together, L and me and my parents...

Here in Sedge lives one of my oldest friends.We have thirty years of friendship under our belts. We have allowed our hair to go grey together and have given up smoking (a long time ago). Nowadays we spend time contemplating each others' children, because it all seems so sudden and so slow that so much has happened to us somehow.

So, grey haired and hanging onto my courageous L we swept into the church foyer. My mother, still drugged, was steaming ahead, keen to see, leaving my frail father concerned with keeping up, with a desire to comfort. I took him under my greying wing, and down the aisle we swept. My mother was lost, almost blindly feeling her way down the aisle, towards the coffin, covered and waiting.

So some turned, and their faces were hazy to me, like sketches rubbed out and drawn over with a deeper line. Some stood, and they met my eyes.

'Carol,' said some, to me - my mothers' name.

They realized their mistake almost immediately, as I gathered my mother in, propped her up,and propelled her towards them.

I was her, was the realisation that came to me. Thirty years ago, when she was forty eight.

So what does it all mean?

A slight crises.

Pilates classes and a decision to not go grey just yet.

A happy trip to the hairdresser.

Oh yes.

A decision to seize the day again, and again.

To not take one precious intake of breath for granted.

To treasure time.

To forgive everything.

To remember the good.

To love.

To live.

I guess its just another midlife crisis.

1 comment:

  1. Loved it! Laughed out loud especially in light of my mom visiting for 3 weeks in December!! Identify fully dear friend!!! Miss ya xxx