In My Grandmother’s House

A memory

I am in the sitting room of my Ouma’s house in Tarkastad,  

I am only seven years old and  spending a holiday with my Ouma and Oupa, reclining on a wooden bench in my stockinged feet, because Ouma is fastidious about cleanliness, therefore wearing shoes in the sitting room is strictly forbidden, (as we might leave dirt or scuff marks on the highly polished floor), my eyes travel around the room taking in and absorbing the contents of the room,  plastic roses in a brightly coloured vase, a  silver teapot and a tea set, each cup and saucer a different colour, red, pink, black and blue, arranged on a beautiful rose wood table.  I do not recall seeing any photographs or paintings hanging on the wall or in frames on tables or the dresser, light dances as it catches the dust bunnies.

I am aware of the sparseness, the cleanliness, the smell of furniture polish, candle wax and lavender and tobacco from Oupa’s pipe and the sound of my great uncle playing his mouth organ. And in that moment I feel at peace, loved and comfortable,

In the kitchen there is a table with four or five chairs, a wooden dresser, adorned with brightly coloured tin plates, bowls and mugs, an AGA stove, a pot of “moer” coffee “prtting” away on the stove top, three very large, co-joined storage tins, in which flour, sugar and other dry goods are stored.

The “buite kamer” (outside room) is the where the ironing gets done, sheets, pillow slips, shirts and trousers. As Oupa and Ouma do not have electricity, the cast iron “iron” is warmed on a primus stove, paraffin lanterns and candles provide light at night time.  I had such fun watching the candle light create interesting and scary images on the walls of my bedroom

My grandmother, we called her Ouma, liked to use snuff tobacco; she reckoned it was good for her health. When my father started courting and subsequently married my mother, Ouma decided that she had to stop. After all her new son-in-law was a Methodist Minister.  Her very good intentions did not last long, so, she decided to take up her snuff sniffing habit on the sly.  On one particular visit to Ouma, my dad said “Ouma! I know you use snuff so please do not hide it.”  “Yes Freddy” was her very coy and shy response!

As children we were fascinated by the whole procedure, a tiny round snuff tin with a tiny hole on the side, which could be opened by turning the top of the tin, was gently tapped on her hand between thumb and forefinger, Ouma would then carefully lift her left hand to her left nostril, and “snuif” and then to the right nostril, and “snuif” again.  This was followed by a huge sneezed.  We begged her to let us snuif  this fascinating stuff, but to no avail. 

 Ouma swore by Dr Lennon’s herbal medication, of any description, for any kind of ailment from low blood pressure, colds and flu, appetite stimulation and anaemia.  Oh my!  that stuff was thoroughly disgusting especially “Staal Druppels” for iron deficiency, Ouma, in her wisdom decided that I was anaemic and every morning I was encouraged to drink a small glass of this offensive stuff mixed in water……………uuuuuggggghhhh!

In the small front garden, there was a vegetable patch and a grape vine that sheltered the chicken run and from which the outside fridge was suspended.  Ah! The outside fridge or cooler box, made up of a wooden frame, the top and bottom being solid wood,  fine chicken mesh attached to the wooden frame made up three sides of the contraption and klinkers (burnt coal) from the railway station was placed in between the mesh creating porous walls to allow  the free flow of air,  The door of the cooler is a hessian sack.

Several times a day, cold water was poured over the cooler box to keep the contents cool and fresh. Boiled milk, eggs, wors and other cuts of meat like ribs were stored in this fascinating contraption.

Although my grandparent’s formal education was limited and while not being schooled in the traditional sense of the word, they were extremely wise, honest and principled. 

I guess I am remembering this through the eyes of a child, in child-like wonder, not looking for nuances or cracks, just seeing a little house, and two people whom I will always think of with love and gratitude for their wisdom and generosity of spirit.  I would like to think, that they, too, would be proud of us.

In memory of Piet, Louisa, Joe, Hendrik, Fiona, François, Coenie, as well as all our parents who live on through us, the good and the bad.

Dedicated to Hester, Vanessa, Le Roux, Annemarie, William, Lynette and Cheryl

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  • Hanlie De Klerk

    Awesome story Gail

    • Gail Charalambous

      Thank you Punni, I must admit that I am thoroughly enjoying blogging.
      Take care

  • Loved reading your blog. Quite a few familiar objects recalled- a walk down memory lane. We are a similar age ❤️

  • Ah! Gail thank you for sharing those special moments spent with your grandparents. Memories flooded back, growing up in Tarkastad. I think I shared with you that I was born in Tarkastad. Looking forward to next week’s blog

  • Samantha

    What a lovely clear memory. Thank you for sharing. Made me think of my own memories of times spent at my Grandparents house. x

  • Michelle

    What a lovely start to your blog Gail. I love reading it. It took me to a place I had never been to or experienced before. I am looking forward to your next post with much anticipation.

  • Beautiful and poignant memories, and this is how we keep them alive ❤️

  • Hi Gail.
    Thank you for the beautiful imagery.
    It reminds me of wonderful childhood memories, and memories of your father. A wise and compassionate man.
    Please worry about the cracks, tell it like it is!

  • Sanette Cavallari

    What a lovely read, I can smell the moerkoffie, and those plastic flowers 🙂

  • Sharon Blumberg

    So many memories came flooding back for me whilst reading your story. My Granny was also a snuff user and I remember those sneezes 😂.
    Looking forward to the next episode

    • Gail Charalambous

      Thank you Sharon. Snuff certainly was so fascinating.

  • So nice to take a trip down memory lane with you Gail. And the workings of the outside fridge are quite fascinating!

    Looking forward to the next one.

  • Michelle

    Beautiful Story Aunt Gail Bravo👏

  • All the memories came flooding back. Well done and wishing you much success and happiness on this journey of memories, experiences, wit and wisdom and all the story telling xx

    • Gail Charalambous

      Thank you so much Cheryl, I am so pleased you enjoyed your memories.

  • Masizole

    Ahhh Aunt ‘Gail such a lovely story about your grand parents and now attention was caught to Read more stories about Ouma and Oupa I am captivated by this story.. looking forward to next week’s story to come out.

    You’ve got this!

  • Carmen Morton

    This brings back so many memories of any ouma and oupa’s house, The moer koffie, the tea cups in different colours, The tabacco , Typical ouma & oupa’s home. I loved this Blog ! – everything is so realistic ! – Cannot wait for the next one !

  • Lovely Gail….can’t wait to hear more about your Ouma and Oupa. Such a special memory, it made me think of my own Grandparents and their home. Fond memories.