I wrote this story seventeen years ago and dug it out today after reading a report entitled How a carrot found my diamonds at https://www.timeslive.co.za/news/world/2017-08-17-how-a-carrot-found-my-diamonds/
Life on the farm had always been difficult. Only six months after her wedding Mom lost her engagement ring while helping with the potato harvest in Land 4B. She never stopped looking for it. Even when the farm dam dried up and the drought threatened the maize crop, Mom wouldn’t entertain the thought of selling the farm. “We’re in this together David,” she would say. “The weather must change before long.” When her mouth set in that firm line we all knew there was no point arguing.
I spent a week at ‘The Cobb’ to celebrate Mom’s sixtieth birthday. It was a sombre week as Dad was in hospital with pneumonia. Steven, my brother, came down on his own, having left Norah to manage their small public relations business in Johannesburg. He had never wanted to farm. “Too much hard work for low returns”, he had often said to Dad’s great disappointment. Even when we were very young he hated what we called ‘The Struggle’ which passed for daily living on the farm: the tractor would break down or a fence would need fixing; a cow would have problems calving or the prize bull get bitten by a snake. Lack of rain seemed a perennial problem and we always had to be on the lookout for some pest or other which might attack the potatoes.
Mom and I reminisced about a lot of these and other things as we walked along the edge of Land 4B. Aubrey had taken the children back to school and I tried not to think about how they would all cope without me. I was using a week of my precious leave to be with Mom.
“It’s always the daughter,” Mom observed while we walked along the familiar path. The late afternoon sun highlighted the ripples of bright yellow flowers of the sun hemp in bloom. “You really don’t have to stay with me my dear. I’m quite capable of driving into the hospital and your own family needs you far more than I do.” Her blue eyes met mine under the shade of her wide-brimmed straw hat that was somewhat frayed at the edges.
“I want to stay,” I said, pulling a grass stem from its protective sheath and chewing the juicy sweet end of it. I suddenly realized I did want to stay; I wanted to really get to know Mom again without being concerned about Aubrey and the children or sharing my time equally with Dad.
In between our hospital visits, when we could reassure ourselves that Dad was definitely on the mend, Mom and I did so much together. We made bottles of tomato jam and planted out the cabbage seedlings she had bought from a vendor near the post office. I cut her hair and she massaged my back with her strong, gentle and oh so capable fingers. When I remarked on her hands she stopped manipulating my muscles and sat with them folded in her lap, her fingers caressing her wedding band. “I’m a silly old woman,” she said quietly, changing our carefree mood to a more sombre one. “I really do wish that I could find my engagement ring!”
Dad had given her a beautiful diamond-and-sapphire band for their silver wedding anniversary. I remembered how Mom had smiled sweetly at him, dabbed her eyes and resolutely placed it on her right hand. Nothing would take the place of the diamond-and-emerald engagement ring which had belonged to his grandmother. That same afternoon she was back, fine combing land 4B with our unenthusiastic assistance.
Mom’s eyes shone with unshed tears and I remembered a time when I was about fourteen. We had spent a weekend at a cousin’s farm, ‘Gold Hill’; not named after the gold mines Mpumalanga is well known for, but because a prominent hill on the boundary always catches the afternoon light and is a delight to watch at sunset, when the colours change from bright gold to a warm pink, softening to a deep grey before it is overtaken by the darkness.
Steven and I had climbed Gold Hill with my cousins before lunch on our last day there. Halfway back to the farmhouse I realized that my daisy bracelet was missing. I’d only had it for the four months since my birthday. Everyone was hot and irritable and Dad was particularly angry for the beautiful enamelled bracelet had a ‘cost a fortune’ he said. Mom reacted quite differently. She declined tea after lunch and patiently set off down the path I had followed. I remember the set look of determination on her face and was comforted by her gentle insistence that I show her exactly the route I had taken. We found my bracelet lying in the grass: it must have hooked on the barbed wire when we took a shortcut across the cattle camp.
I looked at my mother still staring quietly out of the window, wrapped in her own thoughts and bravely keeping her fears about Dad’s health to herself. I hugged her tightly. “Thank you, Mom.”
“Whatever for?” She smiled, startled out of her reverie.
“For finding my daisy bracelet. I’ve just been remembering how grateful I was but probably didn’t know how to show it.” We laughed and made tea before driving to the hospital. I felt a renewed determination to help Mom find her ring.
By 1992 my parents had celebrated their forty fourth wedding anniversary, my mother had turned sixty five and I was wondering whether life really did begin after forty. Christmas that year was very special, it being the first time for ages that the whole family was together. What made it even more memorable was that Ursula and Shane had brought their baby, Beryl, to meet her great grandmother for the first time. My own sons were fascinated by the baby, but weren’t very pleased when Terry brought his fiancée, Valerie, to meet the family on Christmas Day. Marriage was far from their teenage minds.
Mom loved having us all around her. So did Dad, yet I could see the noise and bustle had been tiring for them. We sent them off to rest after dinner, while Norah, Ursula, Valerie and I washed the dishes. Aubrey, Steven and Terry gathered the children together for what had become the traditional treasure hunt.
The story of a lost treasure was alluring and my sons, Robert and Sean, had always returned with an interesting haul consisting of broken china and pretty stones, including minute quartz crystals (“Are you sure those aren’t diamonds, Gran?”). Mom always rewarded them with an ice-cream or something from her cookie tin and carefully put away their treasures. She had usually enjoyed the opportunity to spend time with her grandchildren on these outings, which her own children seldom attended. This year she had decided to stay at home with Dad.
Land 4B was lying fallow that year so Terry and Steven laid a grid of string across a small section of it, while Aubrey placed large numbered pegs in each square. The countdown began as, armed with garden rakes, tins with holes in the bottom for sieves, bags and anything else we thought might be useful, we all set to work in groups on our squares.
When no-one appeared for tea and Christmas cake Mom came looking for us. The land was having a thorough ‘going through’. All of us were sweaty and dirty, but carried on our task with a will as the string squares limited the individual searches and helped to make them more thorough. Mom sat quietly under the umbrella where Beryl lay sleeping.
Soon after her arrival a blood curdling yell came from a square near the middle of the land. All work stopped immediately. A snake? A scorpion? A deathly hush followed. Sean was huddled over something in his square. I dashed across in time to see the clean rivers of silent tears coursing down his dust-covered cheeks. He found his voice. “Gran!” he shouted, his voice cracked with emotion and ending in a high-pitched squeak which would have embarrassed my thirteen year old at any other time.
Mom stumbled over the clods of earth and nearly tripped over the string lines half buried in the overturned soil. She knelt down next to Sean and gently prised open his tightly clenched fist. We crowded round in awed silence to watch. “Is this it?” Sean whispered hoarsely, still staring at the dirt-encrusted object in his hand.
Mom picked up the dirt encrusted ring and slipped it on her finger, forty-four years after she had lost it. She hugged Sean tightly. There were no words, no shouts of joy from anyone as we left them alone and retrieved the string and the tins, the rakes and everything else we’d brought with us. Only when Mom and Sean reached the edge of Land 4B did we cluster round, exclaim and wonder.
“Thank you all,” Mom said, wiping the happy tears from her lined face. “Thank you. My quest is over.” We watched her leaning on Sean as they slowly made their way to the farmhouse where we joined them for the best Christmas tea ever!