When I was a little boy, I lived for holidays, anywhere–as long as it was at the ocean.
We lived in Robertson. In summer, the heat was suffocating – but there was great anticipation in our home, especially in the kitchen. The old paraffin rusk tin was cleaned out, as were the cookie tins with the kitten faces, the red and pink geraniums and the assortment of chocolate sweets in a kaleidoscope of colours.
Then, early one morning my mother and nana Eva would start baking: farm butter from Dassieshoek mixed with flour that was always sifted three times, grandpa Koot’s almonds, vanilla essence, white sugar, fine ginger, anise, currants, red glazed cherries and loads of mixing bowls that we would clean with our tiny, sticky fingers.
Baking day only ended when every tin was full to bursting with cookies and rusks. Then the packing started: the Studebaker was packed to the rafters, the roof rack topped with suitcases strapped down with red rope. Braai grid, meat from the farm, extra kerosene for the oil lamps, candles, quilts for the cold sea air at night, swimming trunks, beach towels, hats, colouring books, slingshots, plastic buckets and spades, green nets to chase the baby fish in the rock pools and, for my mother, loads of books from the local library.
Finally, we leave Robertson with her vineyards and blue mountains; nana Eva would take care of our dog and cats. In the back of the light blue, winged car we sing, and play at guessing what the next car to come over the horizon will be. ‘A Herbie!’ shouts Herman. Then me: ‘Fairmont!’ The game continues until my father swerves and stops in front of the beach house with the blue agapanthus in full flower on the front stoep and in the backyard, the fig tree with the wooden table and benches under her shade.
Once at Struisbaai, the house is aired. We’d dust, sweep the sand from our home, make the beds and unpack our clothes – in haste, because the blue ocean with its twinkling diamonds was waiting for us.
The days become one, each fitting the other like a puzzle, the smell of roasted mutton chops flavoured with coriander seeds, salt and pepper on the coals; farm sausage and all the neighbours’ fires wafting in the air. Flavours and tastes linger: snoek flavoured with apricot jam and farm fennel; periwinkle cooked in big black pots on the open fires, cleaned, minced and flavoured with salt, white pepper, chopped parsley, lemon and nutmeg; roasted crayfish with lemon butter…
The happy laughter of loads of children, the murmur of grown-ups chatting, festive music on FM radio.
We’d wake at the same time as the sun rising over the sea, thirsty for my mother’s moerkoffie. We’d butter slices of fresh white anise flavoured bread, squash them together and dip them in the hot, sweet milky coffee, the sweet anise mingling with ouma Nellie’s salty farm butter and devoured by our hungry mouths.
Then we’d run out and play in the waves, each day our skins deepening from red to brown, and more freckles appearing on my nose. I laugh, we all laugh, my mother swims in a soft blue onepiece costume and my father reads books by Andre P Brink. Late in the afternoon we’d devour yellow cling peaches and the sweetest watermelons – then chase one another with the peels, then play rotten egg, hide-and-seek and tok tokkie ’til dusk.
In the evening we all ate at the wooden table, my father saying the prayer before we wolfed down my mother’s boerekos, big plates full of wonderful, simply flavoured food, because the sea air would give us ravenous appetites.
After supper the cards came out. We’d play rummy and bridge around the spluttering oil lamp while outside, the wind from the sea would help the waves to kiss the sand good night, while through the windows with the frayed floral curtains, the light from the oil lamp would gently throw her beams on the shadows of the front stoep.
- Niël Stemmet