Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Grandmother Adventures: An Introduction

An adopted grandmother is something that I would imagine is without precedence. Yet for as long as my sister and I can remember, there has always been Granny Pam. She is not a relation of ours, but we know her childhood stories, have eaten her delicious home-made biscuits (seldom made following any recipe) and have climbed the trees in her garden just like any grandmother. And yet she is not any grandmother, for even if there were a precedence for adopted grandmothers and one could imagine them all in a line in twinsets and neatly permed hair, our adopted grandmother would still stand out.

Granny Pam's hair is not permed and short, it is long and always elegantly swept up around her head. She is equally graceful when back-packing and bussing around Malawi alone (at 74) as she is in three-inch heels (at her present age of 83) and a long lack dress going off to a party or a play. Her hobby is fine needlework and she can cook huge, elaborate meals for important events like a society hostess of the earlier part of the twentieth century. When asked what she wanted to do for her eightieth birthday, however, she said skydiving. And she did.

She has almost always lived on farm properties on the KwaZulu Natal north coast. This means that as far as one can see, fields upon waving fields of lush, green sugar cane surround her properties, and make wonderful walking places, her large dogs bounding on ahead or around us. At other places there have been chickens wandering around the garden and then the most delectable scrambled eggs in the morning, a deep nutritious yellow. It is her cats however who dominate the house. Maximum, Minimum, Malawi, Mouse-tache and Ugly-Mugs (guess why) are just a few of the feline characters of epic proportions I came to know in her house. And there have always been beautiful gardens filled with abundant flowers, fruit trees, fragrant herb gardens and large branched trees perfect for climbing and thinking. On one of the longer holidays we stayed with her, I remember sitting cradled in the branches (rocking me and creaking as it is moved by the wind) reading Shakespeare's As You Like It. I could not think of a more perfect setting.

Shakespeare is one of her favourites, and I remember her teaching her extended family's (that of her long time domestic worker, Christina) children their Shakespeare texts for school. In the days when she had a nursery school (pre-1994), those same children and the neighbouring black children would attend as well. They would be pushed into cupboards and hid under beds when the stern inspectors paid a surprise visit. Granny Pam would greet them as they arrived with her charming smile and manner, pleading ignorance to knowing about any black children attending her school.

She would even write and direct nursery school plays for the children to learn and perform. At the end of each year, the parents would come crowding around the outdoor-amphitheatre that had flamboyant trees forming a proscenium arch over the stage.

One year, she had a little girl at her nursery school who could not walk. Her knees were unable to support her, and as a result, she had to crawl everywhere. Granny Pam - initially - did not know what to do with her in the play. She was an extremely intelligent little girl, and such a talented person could not crawl on the stage all night. It was then that Granny Pam hit upon an idea that is quite typical of her imaginative skill. If this little girl could not walk onto he stage as a character, then she would fly on as the fairy princess. Her father made her a harness, and at the appropriate moment during the play - thanks to Granny Pam - the fairy princess was able to swoop down from the flamboyant trees.

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