GRAHAMSTOWN HISTORICAL CEMETERY

A large number of our principal citizens gathered in Church Square yesterday afternoon, with the many immediate friends of the bereaved family, in order to follow to the grave the funeral of this lady, whose decease was recorded by us on Monday last. The ceremony took place in the Wesleyan Cemetery, the neatness and beauty of which bear testimony to the kindly care of Mrs. FLETCHER, with whom (as well as with other members of her family since her illness) it has long been a labour of love to attend to the adornment of the last resting place of so many of our early colonists and their descendants.

Extract from The Grahamstown Journal Wednesday 5 April 1882.  [Bolding of words is mine].

The Wesleyan Cemetery forms a part of the larger cemetery in Grahamstown that is often referred to as the ‘old cemetery’ as the ‘new’ one is situated much further away. Look on in horror at what this historical cemetery looks like today:

This overgrown unkempt cemetery filled with historical graves that provide a capsule of the history of the town is not only scattered with litter, but has been vandalised and it is in fact unsafe to clamber through the weeds and bushes on one’s own. Ironically, a strong metal fence, fancy gates and a sturdy lock guard one roadside frontage, whilst the fence has been torn down elsewhere as people have made a path through it – a shortcut into town.

Most of the rusty metal railings surrounding graves have either been broken or removed – doubtless to sell as scrap metal. This is one of the few that has survived such an onslaught. For how long?

We had visited the cemetery with out of town friends who were looking for graves with a family connection – a very difficult task under the circumstances. Not many graves were still upright and in a fairly good condition like this one:

An astounding number of gravestones have been deliberately pushed over:

Given the climate and the age of the cemetery, it is probably natural that some of the sun-baked bricks would erode – although we felt that some were being deliberately gouged out:

Even the marble lion atop a memorial honouring men from various regiments who had died while serving during various Frontier Wars has had part of its face smashed:

Sadly, this is the fate of many cemeteries, especially those in rural towns.

ROADS OUT OF TOWN

Those of my readers more used to tarred highways, fast traffic and concrete bridges might like to pause a while to come on a journey with me to see some of our roads. We will start on the corner of the tarred road below my home (hidden behind the trees) where, having crossed over a bridge we are halted by part of the Urban Herd taking a rest from grazing pavements and any shrubs or flowers they find during their daily trawl through the suburbs.

If we were travelling during December, we might wish to stop in at the local supermarket to buy some refreshments. As we drive out of the parking area we would halt again to admire the street and pavement strewn with jacaranda flowers.

We would have to cross over a disused railway line that once carried good and passengers to Alicedale and on to Port Elizabeth.

You may prefer to eschew the highway and drive through some of the farming areas. We would be travelling along the dirt road, but you may wonder at some of the tracks, such as this one, on some of the farms we pass by.

Occasionally, on what you think of as a good tarred district road that will give us a clear run to our destination, you might be surprised at having to halt once more by this typical rural scene.

At last we reach the Addo Elephant National Park where we turn off some of the main tarred roads to explore the dirt roads – one of which will lead you to the well-known and much photographed waterhole known as Hapoor. The spectacle of hundreds of elephants milling about drinking, bathing, or enjoying each other’s company will cause us to halt again. They are so interesting to watch that more than an hour could easily pass before I could persuade you that we should drive on for there are other animals to see.

A SIGN OF CELEBRATION

The gate was along a rather isolated road, one with little in the way of views to recommend it – in fact there was a plot filled with rusting remains of broken down vehicles next to it on the one side and open wild grass on the other. One would be forgiven for driving past the gate without even noticing it – never mind giving it a second glance. The gate itself wasn’t even attractive – it too had nothing to recommend it, unless you wanted to admire the security aspect of it.

I have passed this gate many times, only this time I slowed down at the sight of something bobbing brightly in the distance. Closer inspection shows that someone behind the gate was celebrating a birthday. The balloons tied to the gate must have been a marker for friends to know where to find the party.

I pulled away smiling at the thought of a garden hidden from the road, where children would be playing party games; perhaps gathered around a cake and singing ‘Happy Birthday’; or sitting on the lawn eating icecream – it was an ‘eating-icecream’ sort of day. This outward sign of a celebration within lifted my spirits as I drove along this rather isolated road with little in the way of views to recommend it.

TRAVELLING LOCAL

The COVID-19 pandemic has clipped our wings in ways we would never have imagined a year ago. Initially there was the anxiety of repatriating South Africans abroad who needed to come home as well as the hundreds of people trapped here who had to return to their homes and places of work abroad. Then we were stuck: at first confined to our homes; gradually being allowed out to exercise; being restricted within provincial borders; and now we can – still with caution – enjoy what South Africa has to offer.

With so many overseas trips cancelled – and still not possible – ‘travelling local’ has taken on a new lease of life. There is a lot of ground to cover in this beautiful country! Friends and neighbours are taking advantage of setting off to explore hitherto unvisited areas or hiving off to the familiar delights of iconic places such as the Kruger National Park.

While confined to home during the initial lockdown phase, I got to know my garden very well indeed – as well as the creatures that share it with us. Nonetheless, I would gaze through our front gate with a degree of longing, yet only ventured as far as our local supermarket on my weekly grocery shopping expeditions.

Expeditions they have been too: rising in the pitch dark to enter the shop when it opened at half past six in order to avoid the lengthy queues that gathered outside after sunrise. I still go early even though the queues have somehow dissipated, and now can enjoy the fresh air and the birdsong at the start of the day. I am home by seven in the morning and the rest of the day stretches ahead, with the worst task already behind me.

‘Freedom’ first came in the form of being allowed to exercise close to home. We have got to know our local streets very well. How’s that for ‘travelling local’?

I clearly recall our first day visit to the Addo Elephant National Park. What a rigmarole it was to get in as we had to book the visit beforehand and show proof of our residence in the Eastern Cape. Then, as now, one had to fill in various forms and have one’s temperature taken – and of course wear a mask. Even though the shop, restaurant and the picnic area were closed, this didn’t detract from the sheer joy of leaving the confines of our town and being in the wild once more.

I have visited the area a few times since then, but the Mountain Zebra National Park was ‘calling’ too – especially once overnight accommodation was allowed. For the first time ever, we eschewed camping to stay in a chalet.

Another favourite place that has simply had to be savoured once more is the Tsitsikamma section of the Garden Route National Park. Spending four days there was restorative for my soul.

We have not yet left our home province, but the rest of South Africa is beckoning …

THE END OF WINTER

When winter ventures in everything looks sad, laments Tracey Blight in her poem The End of Winter. During our winter walks we have noted how the drought-stricken grass has turned to golden straw and, in places even disappeared. Some trees have been stripped of their leaves; and the regular winds still have a chilly edge to them. The end of winter is a sombre time – this year the edge of the sombreness has been honed to a keening for the social isolation that the COVID-19 pandemic has imposed upon us. Cheerful gatherings to ward off the dullness of the cold forbidden; even travelling to feast our eyes on distant places has been restricted; the greatest loss has been the pandemic-imposed distance between family and friends that has prevailed for so long.

In a way these steps in our street epitomise that loss:

There was a time when these old stone steps led up to a gate in a low wall that opened into a garden of happiness. I remember how the old man who lived there when we arrived in the neighbourhood used to bring a basket around after the rain to pick the large white mushrooms that popped up all over our lawn. We learned so much from chatting to him as he went about this task and I was warmed by him saying more than once “it is wonderful to hear the sound of young children in the neighbourhood once more.” Both the man and the mushrooms have gone.

I remember a time when these steps led up to a gate that opened and shut several times a day as children came and went: such happy days when friendship meant entrance without question. I recall bicycles being humped up and down those steps to be ridden around the streets accompanied by laughter and shouting. That family left; the children of the time have grown up – some already have children of their own; most have sought their happiness in other towns or even abroad.

It was with a deep sense of horror that I noted the workmen outside one day. The gate had been tossed aside and brick by brick the gap in the wall was filled. The plaster was roughly applied, leaving the outline of that hole still visible to the casual eye. The happy entrance has been permanently replaced by a dull, cement-covered wall – leaving only the drive-way as an entrance to a garden one can no longer peep into as one walks past. A fortress of a wall shouts keep out!

Yet, the rough stone steps remain – worn in places from foot traffic from decades past; a reminder of happier times, freer times and, alas, safer times when people mixed more freely and neighbours knew each other better.

Winter is not all drab and dull: we have enjoyed the aloes that brighten the landscape and now, as the season turns away from us, the scarlet blooms of the Erythrina trees brighten the mood and point us to spring peeping from the wings, still too timid to take full stage. Looking down too at the debris of leaves and seeds shaken by the winds that have roared and tugged and made us shiver, we can see beauty in the end of winter:

This collection of leaves in a gutter represent what has gone and should be forgotten, the sadness that will heal with time, as well as the hope we need to nurture as we face our uncertain future. We move to Alert Level 1 of the lockdown on Monday … along with brighter prospects, a new season, and hope – lots of it!

https://www.poemhunter.com/poem/end-of-winter/