. On the banks of the Umgezi

My mother has just called me. She has just finished reading my post about the Apples & Thyme event, being a celebration of mothers and their influence on how we cook and eat. As a result, she informs me, this story popped into her head, the memory as clear as the day it happened. ‘Bubbles’ is my grandmother of the six foot trench rosebeds.

As my mom doesn’t blog I am posting it here as her celebration, both of her mom, and of Jeni’s. Thank you for participating Kas.

So in her own words, my mom’s story, which takes place on the banks of the Umgezi over 50 years ago…

Easter 1956

On the banks of the Umgezi River in Southern Rhodesia.

My mother, nicknamed “Bubbles” because of her penchant for all matters hilarious, and her exquisitely glamorous blonde friend Betty, who was equally fond of laughter, were comfortably ensconced in striped canvas deck-chairs alongside the tents and shaded by the enormous msasa trees.

‘The fathers’ were upstream in a fishing boat –completely concealed from the campsite by the lush undergrowth.

We children were doing as all children did in those far-off days – we were playing. In hindsight I know why my mother and Betty languished so comfortably – Betty’s long tanned limbs daringly displayed from her safari shorts, and my mom more decorously attired in an exquisitely finished handmade afternoon “frock” complete with pin-tucks and covered belt with eyelets and dainty buckle. They were smoking cigarettes held in tortoiseshell holders and their bright red lipstick made little crescent marks on the filter. Only the occasional glance drifted our way as we desperately tried to eavesdrop on their conversation and avidly conferred on just what might be so uproariously funny!

The truth of the matter is that Mom and Betty were so laid back about the safety of children on the banks of a wild African river because my father had warned us that if even so much as one drop of the bilharzia –infested river water should land on our skin and shimmer there in the afternoon sunlight he would know, as we would most certainly be struck down with the dreaded disease. What’s more, we might even contract the fatal strain “Khatanyama” which would “go straight to the brain”. And if we should escape the bilharzia we would make a tasty murky riverbed dinner for the vile and detested crocodiles whose bulging eyes we could see floating just beneath the water’s surface.

Ah! the afternoon drifted by and we managed to filch great handfuls of the spiced Easter biscuits which had been made at home the previous weekend and iced by tiny fingers in the garish colours so loved by children. And then the fathers splashed in out of the reeds – the boat laden with the bright flapping of the day’s labours.

Now the full pageant of a safari swung into gear. Betty and my mother disappeared. Aali, our “houseboy” who accompanied us on the trip appeared with the days stack of freshly laundered linen. Washed in the water which bubbled away on his personal working campfire and “ironed” by the vigorous movement of a scrubbed kitchen pot filled with hot coals. He proceeded to lay the dinner table, albeit somewhat rickety, with freshly starched white linen, a silver bowl with a posy of freshly picked bush flowers and foliage, and sparkling silver monogrammed cutlery.

Mom and Betty reappeared – dressed for dinner! We children were sent off to wash and dress, and my father and Ken joined the ladies for a sundowner. We were allowed a taste of beer, just the ice-cold froth that topped the amber liquid. Dinner was served – freshly filleted river bream and vegetables.

The darkness falls rapidly in Africa, and the sounds of the bushveld resonate with extreme clarity. Fireside tales and adults laughter always seemed so illicit and desirable back then – no wonder I find it difficult to purchase a lifeless fish lying gloomily on a bed of cold storage ice in a supermarket. Aah! for the irridescent colours of a sparkling river fish and the smell of woodsmoke I would certainly brave crocodiles and bilharzia.

13 Responses to “. On the banks of the Umgezi”

  1. on 14 Oct 2007 at 7:47 pm Charlotte

    Oh what a beautiful story. It sent prickles of nostalgia down my spine, reminding me of my glamorous, red-lipped, smoking grandmother with her beautiful, home-made clothes and hats. Thanks for sharing it, Valielje’s mother, and thanks to you for posting it.

  2. on 14 Oct 2007 at 10:58 pm Marye

    wonderful. :)I see three generations of amazing women here.

  3. on 14 Oct 2007 at 11:39 pm african vanielje

    thanks Marye, we’re only as strong as those who are there to hold us up in our weakest moments. It’s comforting to think that that support goes back generations.

    Charlotte, let’s have a story about your glamourous grandmother – you know it’s in there.

  4. on 15 Oct 2007 at 4:37 am Belinda

    How completely enchanting, Inge, and what a magical life and background you have been blessed with…thanks to your Mother for sharing some of her memoirs. She sounds very much like I picture you to be…vibrant, positive, and full of fun. :-)

  5. on 16 Oct 2007 at 4:14 pm Kit

    Your mother is a writer too, Inge, great descriptions that brought the whole scene to life – I love that they dressed for dinner and had starched linen tablecloths out in the wilds. Thanks to her for sharing her memories.

  6. on 16 Oct 2007 at 8:03 pm african vanielje

    Kit and Belinda, glimpses into other people’s lives are always fascinating and glamourous. That’s why I love bloggin so much. Because you guys are out there sharing snippets with us. Hope you can both add a story to our collection. Look forward to reading them

  7. on 17 Oct 2007 at 3:15 am Dee

    Lovely post!
    Bubbles..that’s wonderful, I call my son that.
    Thankyou (and your mom) for taking us back in time!

  8. on 17 Oct 2007 at 7:48 am african vanielje

    Dee, thanks for visiting. IS your son a bundle of laughs too?

  9. on 09 Nov 2007 at 5:34 am The Passionate Palate

    I finally got around to this post. You paint such an incredible picture of those days in Africa. It is as if I am reading a fairy tale. Thank you!

  10. on 15 Nov 2007 at 3:48 am Laurie Constantino

    Now that is an amazing story, and painted a vivid word picture of a life so vastly different than mine, but one that I could see quite clearly. Thank your mom for writing this, and you Inge, for posting it. Absolutely wonderful.

  11. on 15 Nov 2007 at 8:56 am sognatrice

    What a beautiful post! I’m so happy your mom participated in Apples & Thyme; I can certainly see where you got your writing talents from 😉

  12. on 15 Nov 2007 at 11:56 am Ruth Daniels

    Thank you for painting such a lovely portrait. It’s been a wonderful start to my day.

  13. on 16 Nov 2007 at 7:04 am Julie

    What lovely words! It’s a storybook memory. I loved wallpapering my imagination with the scene! Thank you for sharing this.

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