What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?
– A. E. Housman –
When you say: Home, where is that? What picture comes into your mind? Of course where I am at this moment is home. I am home. But I am thinking now of that home of the heart, that place that first made me feel welcome and safe. For me that was not my everyday house, not the house of my parents. It is the farm with its unprepossessing house that belonged to my aunt and uncle. I realised recently that I have to remind myself that I was there only for holidays, that most of my time and childhood was not spent there. But oh yes, that was home.
I smile when people talk about off the grid. That place was off the grid. No electricity. No running water in the house except for one tap in the kitchen. It wasn’t pretty, not picturesque. But I loved it and it loved me. My smiling aunt in her white apron who always without any fanfare made my favourite food. She knew to keep a glass of the morning’s milking on the dresser for me to drink. My quiet uncle who knew when I had hurt myself. The feather beds, the water kept cold in clay pots, the bonnets we were required to wear against the sun.
How I relished everything there! Being sent to find the layaway nests, you know, those hens who go off to into the wild yonder to lay rather than in the coop. Soap making, when I stir the mixture in a huge cast iron pot on a fire outside the house under the big thorn tree. Christmas at the dam, thorn trees covered with yellow blossom, my aunt’s wonderful pies filled with lemon curd and topped with thick cream. Climbing the mulberry trees to eat our fill. My uncle sitting on the stoep slowly turning the separator handle.
But of course, it was the people. My aunt and uncle, and my two cousins. My girl cousin five years older than me and thankfully, blessedly still part of my life. Here we are now both in our seventies remembering those days together, still loving each other. My boy cousin was five years younger than me. He loved dolls and he loved playing house. But he would be the one to stay home and look after the children. I can still see him under that big old thorn tree, cradling a large doll tenderly with his pellet gun close to hand. I feel my tears rise knowing he died at 18.
But by then my uncle was gone. He died when I was fifteen. The day of his funeral we drove to the church in the town. I couldn’t make sense of it. How could he possibly be dead, be gone? The farm and the house felt the same. It all looked the same. I was still a child, so I did not know that I had more to mourn than the loss of my beloved uncle. It would all go.
My aunt, uncle and cousins
But of course, for me it is still there. Exactly as it was. I visit often with such pleasure and now with such deep deep gratitude because I know now what the place and the people gave me. The people taught me what love was. The place gave me somewhere I would always belong.
A long way to a far place
A dirt road, a dusty track
A bushveld road
The way home
– D. McDougall –