When my little sister, Laura was born, our family was in the process of relocating from Johannesburg to the Western Cape. We were going to live in George, a large town located on the Garden Route about half way between the cities of Cape Town and Port Elizabeth. My grandparents, Granny Joan and Granddad Jack, had moved to George about a year before and they had persuaded my parents to move to this beautiful city.
Catherine, Hayley and I were driven to George by our Father. It was a fourteen hour drive as frequent “wee” stops had to be made with three small girls in the car. We were driven to George ahead of my parents moving as my Mother was heavily pregnant at the time with our new sister, Laura. Our Mother was going to give birth to the baby at the hospital in Johannesburg before moving down from the Highveld to George. We three girls were all going to be looked after by our grandparents for two weeks before my parents planned to join us.
I loved George. It was totally different from dry and dusty Johannesburg with its violent thunderstorms and frightening lightning and thunder. George was very green. There was an abundance of trees, flowers and bushes and it rained a lot of the time. My grandparents lived in a cottage near the outskirts of the town and their tar road suddenly ended about 1000 metres from their house and became a dirt road and then a dirt track that led into the forest. The forest was dark and mysterious. Full of huge, tall trees and thick bushes and foliage. We were forbidden from going into the forest on our own as it was easy to get lost amongst so many trees that all looked the same. Along the sides of the dirt road were trenches where the municipality had been digging. I don’t know why they were digging there but the trenches were so much fun. Catherine and I used to climb into the trenches and walk along them, more or less hidden from view from the road. The bottom of the trenches was covered in clay. It was deliciously squelchy and sticky and we loved the feeling of the clay between our bare toes. One dinner time, I told Granddad Jack about the clay and he said that you could make things from it and dry them in the sun. The sun would bake them and make them hard.
What a delight! The very next day, Catherine and I went down one of the trenches and mined it for clay. We scooped the clay into a plastic bag we had brought along for that purpose and hauled it out of the trench. Very soon, we were sitting on the back doorstep and making all sorts of pots and figurines out of clay. We made two kinds of pots. One shape was created by rolling the clay into a ball and then pressing our thumb into the ball to make a deep hole, gradually working and thinning the clay to make the pots taller with larger bowls. The second shape was made by rolling fat sausages from the clay and winding the sausage around and around to form a bottom and then the sides of the pot. We also modelled the clay into figures by rolling it into an oval shape and then pulling out the arms and legs and the head. Using your fingers you then needed to shape the head and the limbs. We also made hair from small and narrow sausages of the clay and stuck tiny stones into the heads to make the eyes. These pots and figures were left in the sun and dried up beautifully provided it didn’t rain.
Catherine and I spent many a happy hour playing with the clay and we also made pots for Hayley to play with. We also made plates and bowls of fruit. While we were staying with Granny Joan, Hayley put on a lot of weight. She became quite a chubby little girl compared to the wispy, thin little creature that had arrived in George. Hayley was a fussy eater and turned her nose up at many foods. Granny Joan wasn’t standing for any of that nonsense though. Granny Joan gave us roast chicken and pumpkin for dinner every second day. Hayley was not keen on the chicken and pumpkin but she really liked the jelly and custard that followed for dessert. Granny Joan was very clever. She would give Hayley one spoon of chicken and one spoon of jelly until everything was all eaten up. As a result of this increase in food, Hayley became very bonny and sweet looking with her huge blue eyes and pink cheeks.
One morning, Granny Joan said that Mom and Dad were in the car and on their way to George. Catherine and I were very excited. Hayley was too young to understand what was happening. Eventually, late in the afternoon, the car arrived with both my parents and a very funny looking, wrinkled and red baby. I got such a fright I ran away. I thought that Laura was the ugliest baby I had ever seen. Poor little Lu! She looked like that because she had become slightly dehydrated during the course of the long drive. It is quite an irony when I look back on that particular memory as Laura is so lovely to look at now. One of my male friends said recently that “she was the fairest of them all.”
Robbie and Michael Cheadle are the co-authors of the Sir Chocolate Book series