Tuesday, March 23, 2010


Mine was a childhood of unfenced properties, of doors left ajar all night to catch cool breezes, of unbarred windows left open - 365 days a year - for the kitties. Of cars left unlocked, keys in the ignition, parked haphazardly on the lawn.

In what seems an Enid Blyton-esque idyll in comparison to contemporary suburban South Africa, my brothers and I wandered happily and unsupervised around our neighbourhood, in and out of our neighbour's houses, up and down the streets on our BMX's, stopping at whichever house was closest for a glass of Oros and, hopefully, a snack.

The village we lived in was regarded as a retirement paradise, all our immediate neighbours were elderly. One, Stella, was raising her grandson. He was our playmate, a small kid, a little sad around the edges but well loved and cared for by his doting granny.
It's only since becoming a parent myself that I've truly appreciated the enormity of her task. It's tiring enough raising kids in your mid-30's, let alone at 65+.
But Stella took her job seriously, and although I remember even at my young age noticing when she looked tired, she never had anything but kind words and a generous heart towards the disheveled and grimy rag tag and bobtail mix of neighbourhood kids who'd traipse through her house.

Even as our small friend's 'mummy', Stella was always a 'granny' to us. A granny in that her kitchen always smelt of baked goods, she always seemed to have set jellies in her fridge, often served with that most exotic of treats - boxed custard, and when bandaging your knee or giving you a consoling hug, she always had that perfumey old worldy elderly lady smell about her.

I don't recall Stella ever sitting down, except in the enormous diesel Merc she drove around the village. She was not unlike a little bird, short, bright-eyed, continually in motion.

I found her intriguing.
That a granny would raise her grandson was so far outside my realm of 'normal' nuclear families as to be fascinating, not least of all as the mysterious back story of how this came to be was only alluded to in muttered code by my parents.
And with one granny aboard and the other, my Granny Molly, in exotic Cape Town, having a granny next door was much more in keeping with my - also skewed, probably by Enid Blyton! - view of how childhood should be.
But most of all, despite being a warm and kindly lady, I sensed in her a secret, a curtain round her emotions, a detachment of sorts. I was too young to understand it, I probably had a bunch of fanciful theories to explain it, but it gave her an intrigue lacking in the mothers of our other playmates, in the other elderly neighbours who gave us Eet-Sum-Mores and milk.

Stella. She's not the reason we've named our new daughter that, but I'm pleased to have the association with this grande dame of my childhood, who captured my imagination at such a young age and holds it still.


McGillicutty said...

Truly a beautiful memory, there are always some people who whether they know it or not make a lasting impression. I love the name too!!! :)

Eni said...

Talking of an Enid Blytonesque upringing, it seems you read probably as many if not more Enid Blyton books than myself during your childhood. Thus, this explains why out of my profound fondness of Enid Blyton and her books, I decided to write and publish a book on her, titled, The Famous Five: A Personal Anecdotage (www.bbotw.com).
Stephen Isabirye