These are the last two illustrated pages of my Granny’s album. The first is dated 1905.
The second, undated entry, is penned by her husband and is indicative of my Grandfather’s wonderful sense of humour.
For years there was no electricity at our farm, except when the generator was switched on in the evenings. A coal stove burned in the kitchen throughout the day, having been lit early in the mornings – apart from providing boiling water for tea and heat for cooking, it also heated the water in the geyser. Food was kept cool in a paraffin ‘fridge – note I said ‘cool’ for the Lowveld summers were hot enough to make even an electric ‘fridge battle – or preserved for longer in a paraffin chest freezer. Laundry was done by hand, mostly in cold water, and dried in the sun and the breeze.
With no electricity, we relied on sadirons to iron our clothes. My mother accumulated quite a collection of them, ranging from very simple ones, similar to the image below, to more expensive ones that had place to add charcoal to make the heat last longer.
The large wooden table in the kitchen would be covered with layers of old blankets and sheets. A bundled up wet cloth was placed next to the metal trivet on which we would rest the sadiron whilst reaching for another item to be ironed or while folding a garment. The various sadirons heated up on the stove and were used in a particular order so that one always had the hottest one to use. Each had to be wiped on the wet cloth to remove any dirt or soot from the stove before being gingerly applied to the garment. The old sheets bore many scorch marks from testing an iron that was too hot.
When they were young, my children would laugh when they saw an array of sadirons in museum, knowing that their mother had used similar ones in her youth – I’m not that old, even though these useful domestic appliances have been around since the mid-1700s! I wish with all my heart that I had one of the original farm ones in my possession. My wise, kind and eminently practical mother quite rightly passed them on to the farm workers she left behind when she exchanged farm living for the security of urban living: they needed them far more than I ever have. This one was purchased for me fairly recently by one of my brothers – apparently they are still popular items among migrant workers returning to their homes in Zimbabwe and elsewhere in Africa, where electricity is not necessarily an option.
I used to wonder why these irons were called ‘sad’ – did one ever find ‘happy’ irons? I have since discovered that the ‘sad’ comes from the now obsolete sense of the word meaning heavy or solid – which is an apt description for them!
A road beckoned to three generations of my family.
We came from all over the country to meet for a weekend at a farm in the Bushveld to celebrate what would have been my father’s hundredth birthday.
The firepit was at the centre of our celebrations.
The fire burned all day.
With a kettle constantly on the boil.
It was where we cooked
With plenty of pots to choose from.
A sheep was slow roasted over the fire to feed the gathering of the clan.
It was shady under the Karee trees.
Nyala came down to drink at the dam next to our gathering place.
There were impala nearby too.
Including a few black ones.
Redbilled Oxpeckers kept them free from ticks.
Pairs of Egyptian Geese kept us company.
As did some White-faced Ducks.
Blacksmith Plovers arrived and left throughout each day
We talked, we laughed, we cried. We remembered, we found out new things, we bonded all over again.
Look what fell out of a pile of papers I was sorting through the other day: the examination time-table for what we called Matric – the last year of our secondary schooling. How well I remember that time: so much depended on the results of those examinations. For me a university entrance pass would be the ticket to exploring another part of the country and an opportunity to broaden my horizons and future prospects in ways I was still unsure of.
There is no longer a Transvaal Education Department. Transvaal as a province no longer exists – the part of it we lived in is now called Mpumalanga.
How well I remember the lump in my stomach sitting for the two Mathematics papers – they were the biggest hurdle to my future.
Then came the other hurdle: Physical Science. This is because we had been taught that subject all the way through in Afrikaans, which meant that I had to turn to the Afrikaans side of the question paper to see what each question was requiring of me as I did not recognise the English names of anything!
There was such joy when all was over … I left the Transvaal to make my home in Natal (now KwaZulu-Natal) for many years and, after several moves, now reside in the Eastern Cape – which used to be part of the Cape Province. Just seeing this sheet of paper again after so many years makes me realise how different my life may have turned out had I not gained a university entrance – or not passed the examinations at all!
What memories do you have of your final school examinations?
Two more images from my Grandmother’s album.
This is dated 2.6.1903.
Do you remember the Mother Goose rhyme, There was an Old Woman who lived in a Shoe?
Here are some more of the entries from my Granny’s album. Look at the intricacies of this beautiful illustration in pen-and-ink:
A beautifully painted bouquet of flowers:
Lastly, something close to my heart – birds:
It does not fail to amaze me how much care has been taken by friends and family in their contributions to her album.