Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Memory Cracks

The ground is cracked and there is barely any grass left. The yard is a dust bowl speared by brown stubble. I point my toes at it and whinge: “I don’t have my shoes on!” I touch the ground again: it’s hot, prickly and dusty. But somehow, it’s soothing as well. One single blade of grass has stubbornly decided to grow, against all odds.
And then, I remember. When did I start loosing that part of me? I used to wear shoes only when I absolutely had to, constrained by stupid social norms. Or by the cold: winters at -32C are not an (easy) shoeless feat.


Sometimes, life does feel like a movie - and I swear, I can hear violins. And then I’m back in my beloved village and life is great again. It’s over 30 years ago but I can see her in her sunflowers dress – that was her good dress – and therefore its sight was always anticipating great things ahead: a trip to the city, a Sunday visit to someone dear or somewhere nice, a wedding… All my childhood memories are now woven in that Sunflowers dress. I wish I had the chance to keep it. I do have her blue sweater – another appearance staple of hers that stayed engraved in my memories since early days. She was never a fashionista, my Nana. She never spent time or money shopping for herself. Her only fashion statement ever happened much later, during her last days with us. She made us promise that when we lay her down for her final sleep, we will tie a ribbon around her neck, to hide her wrinkles. She even chose the ribbon: a red one. My mum was the bravest of us all and she carried out Nana’s wish, much to the affront of the old crones who came for the last visit: “you better take that silly ribbon off before the priest arrives”. – “The ribbon stays”, mum stated. The priest didn’t mind it; he was an old friend of my grandparents and he knew Nana was a good woman who had the right to one last little extravagance, after a life spent looking after the others.

I think often about her. About my village and our farm. Above all, I think about the crazy ways my life has changed so much. About the things I have forgotten and those that still await for me. About how I used to roam around the hills and forests, finding my way by finding north. My Old Man made sure I knew how to do that. I think about how I could tell a season by the birds around the place. Something that the Southern Hemisphere can’t really relate to. How I could find the cardinal points by the moss on the trees. How we used to bake bread and labour the land. I knew what needed to be done each month just by looking at the garden. Here, the soil has lots of clay. The months and the seasons are opposite to everything I knew. I still find solace in the hours I spend in the garden, Most of the time, it feels good. But it also feels artificial: Nowadays, I am not really cultivating the land or growing a crop. I have a small garden purely for our pleasure.
My Nana was a woman born ahead of her time. She would have made a very good entrepreneur in our days. Having survived the War, she had a great way of doing lots from little. You know how we all spend bucket loads of money on gro-bags when babies are born? Those special, tiny sleeping bags keeping babies warm at night but preventing them from overheating? My nana invented those before they were invented in the modern days. That’s how she slept her babies and that is how we slept as babies too. She made clothes from scratch and kept sewing, knitting and crocheting – depending on the season.
No scrap of food was ever wasted – she swept the breadcrumbs and fed them to the chooks. The food leftovers were made into pigs feed. The fruit and veggies were made into preserves. She moved about with the grace of a ballerina yet with a general’s demeanour and precision, ushering us all into the chores we had to help with.
And then, the bags. Those plastic bags that we all complain of slowly filling our environment… I still remember how she used to wash and recycle every single plastic bag that came her way. In fact, she recycled just about everything; nothing could go to waste. We made our pocket money by selling bottles to the recycling point. Glass bottles, not the plastic pets we have today.

There are so many things I love about her. But above all, I remember her big heart. Her smile. Her witty replies and her thoughtful praises.

She used to go to bed last, as she was preparing the household for the new day. She was first up, before even the sun was up and I remember those mornings, half asleep, when I could hear her voice talking to the chickens while she fed them. Then she milked the cow, talking to her too.

I don’t have any memory of my nana sleeping. I don’t think I have ever seen her sleeping. Her “rest” time was sitting in her arm chair, working on something – a sweater, a vest or perhaps making a new tablecloth for her 3 granddaughters’ trousseaux. I kept asking her whether she was tired – she always answered that the night was too long - something I didn't understand until it was my turn to have children.

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