Life Celebration #8 Family and Friends

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Dad, Mom and my very special Aunty Pat.

Just a part of my very special family. It was so special to be with them for this family reunion.
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Last week we arrived home safely after spending a wonderful five-week holiday with family and friends. We were blessed from beginning to end with cars for travelling and places to stay. We didn’t stay a single night in a hotel and we didn’t hire a car! More than that though, we spent days chatting and catching up. We talked about our lives and about life in general. We heard about joys and sorrows and shared ours too.

Each family member or friend we stayed with became more precious and loved with the time we spent together, and we hope to maintain the closeness even though we are again thousands of miles apart and will not see each other until we are able to visit them again.

So today I’m celebrating family and friends. Who are the special people in your life? Love them, appreciate them and let them know how you feel about them. They are the precious places of refuge on our life’s road.

Lost

Moving to another country, especially one far from home and with a different language and culture, is never easy. There are so many things that change together with the change of address.  One of the first things I lost was my self confidence. I’ve always been an erudite person, ready to  chat and eager to get to know new people. At first, in my new home, I couldn’t converse comfortably. One on one conversations were challenging, but not too bad. Group conversations, however, were a nightmare. By the time I had formulated a response to a comment, the conversations had already moved on. If I did try to talk, people looked at me with a patient,  pitying look while waiting for me to finish stumbling along in my third grade style Italian. (Actually, third grade Italian would have been welcome at that stage!) I hated it! Fortunately, a local Italian course and many years later, I still make mistakes, but I no longer care as much. As a result, my confidence has increased again.

Some losses can become gains. Having grown up in South Africa, my sense of decorum and negative body image were far too well developed. I had never worn a bikini and would probably not have been seen dead in one. Two things happened when I got here – I lost weight and I saw my neighbours coping with the summer heat of 2003 (which was by all accounts an extremely hot summer) by walking around in their houses, on their balconies, and for some, even in their gardens, wearing only their bras and a pair of shorts or a skirt. I was quite shocked at first, but I began to realise that attitudes to nakedness are also cultural. I began to lose my shyness and fear of showing my body. I even started wearing a bikini. Somehow, I gained a healthier body image along the way.

There are losses that I feel deeply, however, and mourn within my heart. The loss of closeness to friends and family cuts deep into the heart, and relationships require more effort to bridge the distance. Some people keep in touch regularly, but others seem to forget to phone or write and it’s hard to be the one who always makes contact and asks questions. Some conversations turn into a “twenty questions session” and I’m left feeling sad and weary at the end of the call.

Perhaps the deepest loss for me has been the loss of opportunity to be a large part of my grand children’s lives. I made the choice to move here, so I have no real right to complain, but Oh! How I miss being able to cuddle them, read to them, babysit them, and just BE there while they grow! A short period together once every two years or so just isn’t enough to develop a relationship, and I’m afraid they will never really know us and love us with that special child-grandparent connection. It’s a huge loss for us, but also for them.

A very Lisa and Andrea wedding

We’ve been planning this wedding for at least a year. Wait, not I, my beautiful daughter and her now husband have been planning. I’ve just been along for the ride, giving my opinion when asked (and sometimes when not) and making that all important dress.

What a joy it was to have our son with us and to welcome my niece and her husband for the weekend. Being so far away from family, we were delighted to have a house full of people the night before the wedding. We girls painted our nails, giggling and chatting in the kitchen while the guys watched TV in the lounge. Finally, the house was shrouded in darkness and while some snored and dreamt, the poor bride spent a sleepless night. Thank goodness for covering make-up and a smile that never faltered!

The day dawned, grey and miserable as we had expected. The best we could hope for was a little sunshine to allow the ceremony to be outside. Lisa and I walked into the village just before 8am to have our hair done. By the time she returned just before 9, we had packed the car with our bags and clothes, the dress laid out on top in its special bag. The venue, Castello di Viale, was an hour and a half away by car, so there was no time to waste. The wedding was to be at 11.30, but we still had to get dressed and do our make-up.

How can I describe the tenderness a mother feels when helping her daughter to dress on her wedding day? She was so beautiful. And she radiated joy. First the petticoat with tulle ruffles, then the dress with its layers of tulle under the skirt and ruffles and bubble hem. Finally the silk jacket, and I had to tie the central rose three times to get it right. Perfect! She sat quietly while her best friend did her make-up. I watched and stored up the memories. My baby has turned into a lovely young woman.

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I love the flowers in her hair!
I love the flowers in her hair!

The sun came out and the chairs were set out quickly in front of the municipal office. If we were lucky, we would make it. Perhaps I should explain. Lisa and Andrea chose a civil wedding which, in Italy, is performed by the mayor. How convenient that the municipal offices in this little village are right next door to the wedding venue (actually, in the same building)! In true Italian style, we started a little late. My heart skipped a beat as Lisa walked out of the building and down the aisle with her dad. She looked so calm and happy! Even her dad looked happy. Best of all  – Andrea’s jaw dropped when he saw her.

Walking to the aisle.
Walking to the aisle.
the ceremony
The ceremony
Just married
Just married
Funny moment
Funny moment

So with the ceremony over and the happy couple whisked away for photos, the guests mingled and enjoyed aperitivi until it was time to have lunch in the dining room upstairs. The chef outdid himself and, in accordance with the couple’s request, laid out a spread of both vegan and traditional aperitivi, each one more delicious than the last. Outside the dining room, they had a seating board with the tables named after countries. They agonised over the seating arrangements and it was obvious because every table was soon chatting and vibrant and everyone was having a great time.

The wedding lunch was also a mix of traditional and vegan food, carrying on all afternoon and fuelled by good wine and a wonderful atmosphere. Unlike a traditional South African wedding, the couple decided to have no speeches and the happy atmosphere was carried along by their friends’ frequent cries of “Viva gli sposi!” and attempts to get the groom to drink as much as possible, along with much teasing and hilarity.

Two events stand out in my mind. One was the “sawing of the log”. This is traditional at Italian weddings and signifies the first job the couple have to do together. A very dry log is brought in and set up on the table. Then the couple are given a two-person saw and they have to cut the log while their friends shout comments and cheer when they finish. I had to smile when we complimented Lisa on how well they did and she said, “It was easy. I let Andrea do all the hard work. I just held on!” Here are some photos.

Sawing the log
Sawing the log
Success!
Success!

The second tradition is one which Andrea didn’t want his friends to do for obvious reasons, but they did it anyway. The best man walks up and cuts the groom’s tie. He knew this might happen, so he changed his tie after the ceremony. I wish you could have seen Lisa’s face when they walked around to her side with the scissors in hand! I don’t know what she thought they were going to do! Well, they started with the bride’s parents, and cut the tie in little bits which they “sold” to the guests. The money went to the bride and groom. I guess I wasn’t thinking when I gave 50 euros. I hope I didn’t encourage anyone give more than they wanted to. It would be easy to take offence to a tradition like this, but I think it’s a sweet way to help a young couple who are just starting out.

The rest of the day passed in a blur. Soon we were eating wedding cupcakes and being handed bonbonniere, gifts for the guests with sugared almonds attached. They had chosen bottles of a local wine which had a special label for their wedding. Wait for it – a skull and skeletons representing them with the quote “till death do us part” in both English and Italian.

wedding cupcakes. Note the lego bride and groom!
wedding cupcakes. Note the Lego bride and groom!
moment with guests
moment with guests

Well, that was our very Lisa and Andrea wedding. Have you been to a wedding lately? What wedding traditions do you know of?

I would like to thank my dear friend Ambelene of My Food Memories for the beautiful photos she took. They are precious memories.

Mr. and Mrs.
Mr. and Mrs.

Daily prompt: Is the glass half full or half empty?

So a month has flown by in the blink of an eye and I’ve been back home since Wednesday. This prompt gives me pause for thought as the things that have been happening in my father’s life are certainly not joyful, happy things and it would be easy to see the glass as half empty. He suffered horrible injuries to his leg a year ago and is still not fully mobile and able to walk easily. At the very least, he will always walk with difficulty and he will have constant pain in that leg. He may never be able to garden or work in his woodworking workshop again. How painful that thought must be for a man who was constantly busy making things, gardening and still working part-time at age 78! He seems to have lost so much – glass half empty.

But here’s a thought. Dad’s accident and the need to help has brought my brother and I much closer. Dad has drawn closer to my brother too, and they now have long conversations about the books they’re reading. My trip to care for them during Cynthia’s (my step-mom) hip replacement op and her convalescence has been a very special time for me. I got to spend a month in my father’s house. I cooked and I cared for him and for Cynthia. We chatted and reminisced. I sang all my favourite Broadway hits while he played the keyboard. I hugged him every day and I told him I love him. I may never have a time like this again, and I appreciated every moment. I made him laugh and I made him cry. He told me he was proud of me. Glass half full.

Does that mean I’m glad Dad had this accident? Of course not! But if you have to experience something so painful that it takes your breath away and steals the joy of every day, then you have to cling to whatever good and beauty may come from that deeply painful experience.

That’s ridiculous!

When you think of big brother watching you and forcing you to act in certain ways, what country do you think of? Communist Russia perhaps? Or a country governed along the lines of traditional patriarchal law? An African country? Let me describe the situation to you and see if you can guess the country. Then I’ll tell you.

My  niece and her family have been invited to my daughter’s wedding in May. She has two young children aged 5 and 3. The oldest, Kyle, already attends school. This is normal for that country. As they are South African, they organised a trip there in December to visit the children’s grandparents. In order to stretch the trip to three weeks, Kyle was kept out of school for a number of days (with the permission of the school).

In order to come to the wedding, they would have to fly here on the Friday and back on the Monday, so he would miss another two days of school. Apparently, one can keep a child out of school for non-medical reasons up to a maximum of five days per year. Kyle has been allowed more than that this year for the SA trip. So a request for a further two days was turned down flat by the school. They could simply decide to take the trip, but this action could result in a fine of up to 50 pounds per parent per child. (Are they serious!!)

So a sweet, sensitive child who has very little family around him has to miss the opportunity to get to know his great aunt and uncle and to meet his second cousin. Surely allowing him the opportunity would do far more for his confidence and sense of self than forcing him not to miss another day of school. He is not, after all, doing his GCSEs or any other important bench  mark exam. He is just a little boy starting school. With a little help, his mum could make sure he didn’t fall behind because of those two days. She was told that NO exceptions could be made. Surely a parent should be able to make decisions such as these without serious consequences from the state? Keep the heavy guns for serious offenders, but leave good, caring parents alone to run their lives as they see fit!

The country where these wonderful rules are followed to the letter? The United Kingdom! Would you ever have thought it possible? We are very sad, as we were looking forward to having them stay with us. Now, if their parents want to come, they have to organise for someone to look after the children for that period. It’s not FAIR!

To my Father, recovering from a life-changing accident

Dad and Cynthia, my second Mom and a very special lady.
Dad and Cynthia, my second Mom and a very special lady.

I never wanted this for you

The suffering and the pain

The sadness that remains

I never wanted this for you.

 

When I imagined your old age

I expected gentle days

Projects  and praise

For woodworking and garden you made.

 

When I left, you told me “go”

You blessed my going

And, visiting, blessed my new home.

Always here, always dear.

 

I call, and hear the tears

Reflecting the fears

That strangle your thoughts

And your courage.

 

And I’m not there

You fight a daily battle

And I’m not there.

I never wanted this for you.

Family history – better than a soap opera or a dynasty novel!

Prompted by my cousin, who has started a family album for her children and grandchildren, I’ve started to dabble in researching my family history. The results have made me realise that family history is anything but boring! As I’m a South African, my ancestors were immigrants to the country. Some of them dating back to the 1600s. They worked on or owned a wine farm in the Cape, and the story is told in the family of how my great, great, great grandmother’s life and her daughter’s life was saved by a servant who warned her that the natives were about to attack the farm. With his help, they hid and that night, helped by the servant and her daughter and while the farm was being ransacked and burnt, she gave birth to another child. Nothing more is known about the child or the mother.

My maternal grandmother’s story is interesting. Her mother died when she was born, and her grandmother, Granny Sangerhaus, took her and brought her up. It would seem, however, that she hid the child from her father, even moving away from the area. We don’t really know why, but we do know that her grandmother was of German origin, and her father was a British soldier with the surname Coe. Granny only met her father when she was an adult, apparently recognising his name in a newspaper advertisement.

At the age of about eighteen, she met my grandfather and the two of them decided to get married. Her grandmother didn’t approve of the liaison, however, so the lovers eloped and married without consent. Granny Sangerhaus had good reason for her disapproval – my grandfather was a widow with three children. Nevertheless, he and Granny had a long and relatively happy life together. Oupa loved cars, and Granny often told us how he used to cash in his pension money every year or so to buy a new car. Every time they went on holiday to the coast, they would travel at a snail’s pace because he would be running in a new car! She always laughed when she told us the story.

They also had their share of deep sadness. Their only son and a cousin were drowned when they went swimming in a river or a water hole one day. Many years later, their eldest daughter took her own life and those of her two little girls, when she felt trapped in an abusive marriage. Strangely, she did not take her son, who grew up with his father and later emigrated to Australia. These sad events might have crushed anyone’s spirit, but my Granny came to terms with them in her own way and remained a warm, loving person to the end.

Sadly, there was still greater hurt to come for my granny. Oupa was diagnosed with cancer, and in a state of deep depression, he took his own life. After his death, granny discovered that in an attempt to provide for her future, he had given the house to her daughter and son-in-law, and she lived with them until she moved to a retirement home many years later.

At that point in her life, Granny had never driven a car. She must have been at least in her late fifties or sixties. Oupa had recently bought a little volkswagen beetle. I remember that it was red. When someone said that they assumed she would sell the car, she replied that she wouldn’t – she would get her licence and use it. And use it, she did! For many years she would travel around the country visiting her children and grandchildren in her little red beetle. Picture her, a white-haired little old lady with her hair in a bun on top of her head, tootling along the highways and country roads in her little red beetle. I salute you, Granny!

So, what’s in your family history? Do you have a novel hidden in there? Tell us about your stories.

 

DP weekly challenge. A picture is worth a thousand words

Standing at the door of the house, his hand raised to knock , James looked at Terri, eyes grave and eyebrows questioning.

“Ready? Are you sure you want to be here?”

“Yes, yes of course!” Terri swallowed nervously, clutching the paper bag closer to her chest and hitching the strap of her handbag higher up her shoulder. He knocked softly at first, then two more loud raps that echoed through the house. He was surprised that the house had no high fences and security gates. It stood out along the road as the only unprotected house in a street of houses better protected than Fort Knox. Unusual in this day and age to see a house in a Johannesburg suburb without protection.

He hated Johannesburg, its overprotected houses, its streets where no-one looked you in the eye and everyone seemed to be on the take. He longed to be back on the farm in the Karoo, with its wide open spaces and people who understood how to eke out a living from its harsh climate. He’d agreed to come for Terri’s sake. Since Ma had died, she’d been on a mission. He didn’t think he felt the same, but he loved his sister and felt fiercely protective towards her. She’d already had so many disappointments , each one seeming to crush her spirit a little further into the ground. He was genuinely worried that she wouldn’t recover from another disappointment, and he’d lose his precious little sister for good. His brow furrowed as these thoughts rapidly went through his head while he waited for someone to open the door.

“No one home,” he rubbed Terri’s shoulders as they sagged. “Don’t worry sis, we can come back later, or tomorrow morning.” They turned to leave, Terri touching the red brick pillars as she stepped off the verandah. James, a little ahead of her, turned to look at her. A strange feeling flashed through him. Recognition? Impossible! He’d only been five at the time. The place would have changed. It must have been about thirty years ago. He shook his head to clear his thoughts and took Terri’s hand.

“Can I help you?” a voice floated across their thoughts. Turning, they saw an elderly woman with auburn hair streaked with grey and a wide smile. Blue eyes twinkled questioningly at them.

“I’m afraid it took me a while to answer the door as I was in the middle of baking.” As if in confirmation, the delicious fragrance of buttermilk rusks wafted across their path. “If you’re collecting for the Children’s home, I can only give you a few rands.”

Terri was the first to recover. “Actually, Mrs Durham, we need to ask for your help and it’s quite a long story. Can we come in? I’m Terri and this is my brother James.” She held out her hand.

Mrs Durham shook it while examining the face in front of her. Blue eyes mirrored hers, both anxious and hopeful. She noticed James’ protective arm around Terri’s shoulder and smiled. She liked his tanned, open face and warm, grey eyes.

“Well, you’d better come in and I’d better save those rusks,” she said. “Follow me into the kitchen. Oh, and please call me Emma.”

The rusks saved and a pot of tea made, the trio gathered in the lounge.  “Now, what’s this all about?” Emma Durham frowned at the pair in front of her, huddled like two naughty schoolchildren on her little sofa. For a moment she wanted to laugh, but the look in their eyes held her back.

James cleared his throat nervously. “We have to start by telling you something about us. It’ll help you to understand our question. We grew up on a farm in the Karoo. I’m three years older than Terri. Dad died when I was 15 and I took over running the farm as soon as I finished high school. That was twenty years ago. two years ago, Ma got cancer. Terri came home to help nurse her and she died a year ago.”

Terri took up the tale. ” Before she died, Ma told me to go up into the attic and fetch a box. I brought the box to her bed and we went through it together. She was sobbing, begging my forgiveness, and repeating that she didn’t know – hadn’t known until Pa died. In the box was a marriage certificate and these.” She opened the paper bag and drew out an old-fashioned suit for a little boy, a pink bonnet and a pink dress for a little girl from the same period.

Both Terri and James were watching Emma closely as her face blanched and her hands flew up to her mouth. A sharp intake of breath punctuated the silence. James flew to her side, taking her hand in his and rubbing it gently. “Emma! Are you ok?”  Her mouth worked silently and tears began to roll down her face. She nodded her head.

“Wait..” waving his hands away and rising to her feet. “Must show you…” She left the room. Terri and James looked at each other. Fear, hope, guilt written on their faces.

“Do you think..?” Terri sighed.

“I’m not sure, but we should have made sure she wasn’t alone,” he whispered to her.

“Not after the last one!” she retorted. “I don’t enjoy being chased out of someone’s house for making a legitimate enquiry.”

Emma came back into the room. She was a little more composed and held an old photograph in her hands.

“Perhaps I can finish your story,” she squeezed herself onto the little sofa between her guests.

“This is the last photo I took of my family.” Holding the photo close to her chest, she continued. “Ed was a travelling salesman. I suppose you meet all sorts of people when you travel all the time. He hated his job, but he said stuck to it for our sake. He always said he wanted to farm. On the day I took the photo, I’d persuaded him to take the children to the zoo. It was his first day home after a two-week trip and I wanted to spend some time out with my friends. I thought he was scowling because he didn’t want to look after the children. We weren’t very close anymore, and most of his time at home was filled with arguments and recriminations.”

She sighed. “Perhaps if I’d listened more and shouted less, he wouldn’t have done it.”

“What did he do?” Terri looked at the sad, lined face, her blue eyes sparkling with unshed tears.

“He never came back,” Emma sobbed quietly. “I waited and waited. I went to the police, but it was as if they had simply vanished. I refused to sell the house, or change it or remarry because I wanted to be here if they…you came back.” She held out the photo for them to see their father standing in front of the little house, holding their hands and scowling at the camera. They were wearing the clothes Terri held in her hands.

“Yes,” she said softly, “I think I AM your mother.”

Suddenly, tears were flowing freely and they were hugging and talking at the same time. Emma looked at the two of them through her tear-filled eyes and thought her heart would burst with joy. Into her mind popped a long-forgotten quotation: Weeping endures for a night, but joy comes with the morning. She knew her morning had finally come.

Letter to my Dad

It’s my father’s 79th birthday today, and I think it will probably be one of the hardest for him. He has a lot to be thankful for, but after being an active, busy, independent person all his life, a serious motorbike accident (through no fault of his own) has forced him to face the frustration of being dependant on others and unable (for now, we hope) to dabble in his favourite hobbies of gardening and woodworking, not to mention not being able to ride a motorbike again. Life is so unfair sometimes! And I’m too far away to give him the hugs I would if I were there. So this is my hug – a letter to my Dad.

Dearest Dad,  Today, on your special day, I want to celebrate your life and what you mean to me. I’m the person I am today, in great measure because of your loving discipline when I was a child and your loving support in my adulthood. There are moments I remember. Do you remember plaiting my hair when we went camping and mommy had to stay at home? I remember your loving kiss when you gave me away on the day of my wedding. At the time, our relationship may not have been the best, but your love was always there.

But most of all, I remember the example you’ve always set. You must be the most unprejudiced person I know. You and Mom accepted all kinds of people into your lives, seldom judging them for who or what they were. I’m striving to be the same. And you’re scrupulously honest – you would never break the law. Not even in any of the small ways most of us break the law daily. I’m not sure I can live up to your example, but I’m trying.

You taught me that happiness doesn’t come from what life sends us, but from within, and a degree of acceptance of adversity. As you face your adversity with dignity and learn to lean on all of us, I’m learning from your example, even today.

You taught me to be honest, to be kind, to treat others as I would want them to treat me, and to speak up for what is right. I’m still following your example.

Happy Birthday Dad. I pray that this coming year will bring you not only healing and strength, but also acceptance – particularly as you lean on family and friends more.

I love you, Margie