My Father’s Garden – An Oasis – Part 3
For the birds!
Treasure is the garden
There are elements in my father’s garden about which I haven’t spoken yet. Suffice it to say that my Dad’s garden was an oasis, a paradise and a lasting treasure with which my Dad blessed his family.
I remember how Dad (and his faithful helper, Enock) would tend to the lawn. The grass was fine and green and needed constant attention. It required mowing, and it required frequent watering, and I remember well how Dad would get that lawn fertilized a few times a year and how it would grow so fast after the rain. In particular, I remember lying on my parents’ bed one Sunday. The door was open to the back garden. It was summer and hot. My older brother was pushing a lawnmower (not gas-driven or electric) back and forth to cut the grass. The smell of freshly cut grass lingered in the air – one of those indelible memories of summer and of childhood. We did not have automatic sprinklers, but a rolled up garden hose (on some type of iron wheel bracket) that would be unwound and a sprinkler attached to the end to water the grass. Needless to say, it was highly inviting to us to get into our swimming costumes (bathing trunks or bathing suits to my American brothers and sisters) and we would run through the sprinkler – and so would our fluffy dog, Butch. We had a lot of fun doing simple things like that in those days.
Looking after the Lawn
The grass is greener on this side
Our lawn was fine grass, not kikuyu which has a broader leaf but is more like a weed and is invasive. I don’t remember the name although I tried to Google it and found the name Bermuda grass which is a finer lawn and it could have been that one, but I really can’t remember. Kikuyu grows fast and needs constant mowing and eventually will choke out the finer grass. As I grew up, I noticed that this was, indeed, the case. The lawn needed constant weeding too. As any gardener knows, it is a rather back-breaking and never-ending task. the final result, however, was a lawn that was verdant and lush and welcoming.
I remember how Dad would get all the leaf cuttings from summer, and autumn leaves raked up during fall, and put them in the bottom corner of the garden into a compost heap. I recall too, how Dad would not only fertilize the garden with a wedge-shaped type of wheeled tool with holes in the bottom, through which white fertilizer would drop, but he occasionally fertilized with some kind of manure, which was a really stinky process. Many a time, I or my brothers and Butch would be wheeled around the garden in the wheelbarrow, which was great fun when we were kids.
Ground cover and small flowers
Dad planted lots of ground cover and the shrubs would have at their feet a myriad small flowers, many of which I did not know their names. Some of my favorite smaller flowers were snowbells because they were so dainty and pretty, and I loved freesias which had such lovely colors and I loved their fragrance. Dad's garden was a happy place and there was always something new to discover. Allow me to just name some of the plants that I remember growing in my Dad's garden: Daffodils, snowdrops, fuschias, freesias, geraniums, chrysanthemums, dahlias, arum lilies, strelitzias, pansies, irises, roses, hydrangeas, cannas, oleander, pansies, daisies, vygies, aloes, cypress trees (I always think of Van Gogh), birch trees, pin oak, liquidamber, fruit trees and so much more. You gave me the gift of appreciation for the finer things in life, Dad. I thank you.
Snow in Johannesburg – 27 June 2007
A snow day!
There were other trees and bushes with names I can’t remember. One tree had crab-apples and there were two bottle-brush trees which always fascinated me. At the side of the house, there was a tree which had leaves which turned fiery red in autumn. It looked like the burning bush with which Moses spoke. It was ornamental looking and very beautiful. I really liked that tree.
Thinking back, Dad’s garden was a place of solace and a place of beauty. It was a place where the sun shone, the rain fell and the breeze blew. When I was about six years old, Dad came into my bedroom quite early to wake me up. He walked over to my window and drew the curtains back and invited me to come and look. He had an excited expression on his face. I hopped over and looked out and it seemed like a fairytale: everything was white. It was snow! I had never seen snow before. The snow covered the grass and the trees and bushes, but it wasn’t very thick. Nevertheless….. it was SNOW!
Johannesburg in the Highveld
Johannesburg, South Africa
Johannesburg lies in the eastern plateau of South Africa in an area called the Highveld, at an elevation of 5,751 ft. Even though it is at a subtropical latitude, the temperatures are mild because of the altitude. The city has summer rainfall (usually thundershowers in the late afternoon - October to April) with fairly mild temperatures - average max. daytime temps of 78.8 ⁰F in January to around 60.8⁰F in June. Winters are usually sunny but can get quite cold, with temperatures dropping below freezing at night, causing frost. Snow is rare in Johannesburg. Snowfalls were experienced in May 1956, August 1962, June 1964, September 1981, August 2006 (light), and on 27 June 2007. Snowfalls have generally been very light. Johannesburg experiences regular cold fronts in the winter. These fronts bring very cold southerly winds but the city usually enjoys clear skies. I found this tidbit of information when I was searching for some facts and must share it with you: “Despite the relatively dry climate, Johannesburg has over ten million trees, and it is now the biggest man-made forest in the world.”
Beckers Anthracite Heater - just like ours!
It was SNOW cold!
Butch, my brothers and I rushed outside to play in the snow. I think I was wearing woolen gloves, which are hardly good snow-going gloves! There was enough snow on the ground to make a small snowman, but I soon discovered the downside to playing with snow. Thankfully, Dad had an anthracite heater in the lounge. I would lie beside it at night, turning this way and that trying to warm myself up while the fire radiated heat around the lounge. Once a year, the Macphail truck would come chugging up the road, and men would shoulder big sacks of anthracite by balancing a band around their foreheads to distribute the load more evenly, and would empty the messy black anthracite into a corner of the garden which had a wall built specially to store it. Each evening when Dad came home from work, he would top up the fire with anthracite and open up the flue at the back of the fireplace to stoke the flames. In the morning, he would jiggle the grate to catch the embers from the previous night and then use a specially designed tong to carry the burned embers to the dustbin. It was a daily ritual. The fire burned all through the winter and kept the house warm.
After playing out in the snow, feeling the cold, I raced inside and peeled off my soggy gloves and held my hands towards the fire to warm them up. Intense discomfort followed and my hands turned red and started itching and burning. It felt like fire and ice. We were ignorant of the fact that chilblains will follow rapid changes in temperature. I have never forgotten that lesson and I think it may stand me in good stead when I finally reach Canada!
Snow is rare in Johannesburg
Mousebirds take a sandbath
Mousebirds scurry along for a snack
My memories of warm summer days, the occasional braai in the garden (barbecue for my non-South-African friends), and the butterflies and birds that would visit the flowers, bushes and trees and get to the fruit before we did, give me a great measure of comfort when I think about the value of the home that my Dad gifted us with. Mom’s domain was generally indoors and she was a great cook. I remember family gatherings during holiday time, when the table literally groaned with all the wonderful food she would prepare. Her most famous baked treat was apple tart, which everyone remembers with longing. Personally, I enjoyed Friday night dinner. We had chicken soup with angel hair pasta, (my Mom made the best chicken soup), roast chicken and the best roast potatoes I have ever tasted, and we usually had a variety of veggies which included a starch and two vegetables of different colors, for example green and orange. Then we would have dessert. Fruit salad was a frequent choice and Mom made something she called “fluffy jelly” which was a pink jelly (jello to Y’all) which she whipped up (I think she included milk) and it left a fluffy, light, sweet and delicious pudding! I groan with longing when I think of the times when she would give us bananas and cream or strawberries and cream with a light dusting of sugar! Gone are the days! I wonder why we were all thin! Makes one think long and hard about where we get our food and what we put in our mouths. That is food for thought for another hub for sure.
Dad’s garden was a garden we lived and played in. The mouse-birds (with long tails and with tufts on their heads), scurried along tree branches and looked like mice. They would be really quick at getting to the fruit. Dad thought they were pests and tried to hang shiny paper on the branches to deter them. Nothing did.
Lightning storm in Johannesburg
I remember when I was given a birthday present of a bicycle before the age of ten. It was a two-wheeler and in those days, they did not have “training wheels!” Dad taught me how to ride it. He would hold the saddle at the back and trot along with me as I gingerly pedaled in the garden along the side of the house. I was pedaling away and spoke to Dad but got no reply. I turned my head to see Dad standing a significant distance behind me. I was riding all by myself. I got such a fright and realized that I didn’t know how to stop, and promptly fell off! When I was old enough to learn to drive a car, it was Dad who taught me how. I passed my driver’s license test first shot, which was quite a feat in those days.
As I grew older, I still would enjoy the peace and serenity of Dad’s garden. Sometimes I would walk home from high school. On warm, still summer afternoons, as I walked down the road towards home, the sweet scent of jasmine would waft up the street to greet me. I loved the thunderstorms that built up in the afternoon. Big cumulonimbus clouds would build higher and higher until a thunderstorm would break, rain would pelt down (and sometimes hail) and then the storm would clear up and everything would be dripping and fresh. The sun would come out and gleam on a freshly washed Earth. When I was younger, I remember playing in puddles and I wasn’t afraid to get wet. Sometimes, when it rained and the sun would break through and shine at the same time, I was told that this was a “monkey’s wedding.” I never could quite figure that out!
I found a video of a thunderstorm at night in one of the northern suburbs of Johannesburg, in Sandton. It demonstrates sheet lightning, but not the forked lightning that often would punctuate a storm, followed by long rumbles of thunder.
Dramatic thunderstorm in northern suburb at night
Being the youngest, and the girl, I was the last of the children to leave the nest, only to return with my husband and baby, to visit frequently. My young son loved the garden. We would fill a kiddy pool for him to splash around in. I set up a painting easel at which he painted with his adored cousins. What was once, for my brothers and me, a delight to run through the sprinkler, became a delight for my son, my niece and nephews. My son took his first steps in that garden. He climbed on the same roof I had climbed, and one day, when the ball he threw high into the air landed in the roof’s gutter, it was Enock who retrieved it for him.
After my divorce, I returned to my parents’ home with my son, then aged six, and we stayed there for a year or two. My son had the run of that garden. He loved to kick his soccer ball there and enjoyed eating the fruit from the trees. One summer, he brought his friend over to play and we arranged a slip-slide down the embankment and attached the water hose. They had a great time sliding down it on a hot summer’sday, although by the time they were done, the ground at the bottom was soggy and muddy, but that did not deter them, they had a ball. He and his friends enjoyed the swing set which still stood in the corner – and he especially liked the rings which hung from chains. He would swing on them and turn upside down like a little monkey.
Dad and me
Lemon Tree is thorny
Lemon tree, very pretty...
When we lived with my folks, I brought with me my birdbath and birdfeeders. The birds had more to enjoy and often we would observe the birds that came to drink or bathe. My Dad took over the feeding of seeds to the birds. In the afternoon, the birds would line up on the top of the roof of the house and on the telephone wires and tree branches, waiting for my Dad to emerge at 4 p.m. seed packet in hand. As soon as he had filled two of the feeders, the birds would descend in a free-for-all. I am so proud of my Dad for what he accomplished in that garden. Formerly, it had been bare earth all the way down to the bottom of the street. By the time my parents sold the house over fifty years later, the garden had grown into a beautiful sanctuary and has grown even more beautiful since then. The lemon tree still hangs over the low wall, but a higher fence has been added to secure the house. The suburbs are now all closed off and have one entry point at which a sentry is stationed for further security. Because there is high unemployment, there is, sadly, more crime and more violent crime there. It is a situation that South Africans live with every day. On a drive back from the service after laying the gravestone for my Mother last year, I drove Enock and my parents’ caregivers past the house and we spied the lemon tree. After the funeral of my Father on May 21st just a month ago, my brother drove his son past the house. They brought back two lemons from the tree. My nephew, now in his thirties, began reminiscing and holds wonderful memories of that garden too.
About my Dad
So, now you know about my Father’s garden, but let me tell you a little about my Dad. He worked hard all his life from early morning until night. He was old-school, a real gentleman and he was actually a gentle man. My Father always knew my heart. I believe that most of his life he was misunderstood. As a child growing up, he was never nurtured and had to just “get on with it.” He came from a family that had nothing – they were poor. His parents worked very hard until finally, they made a comfortable living, but there was little emotional support for Dad, in fact, I never remember either of my grandparents actually giving me a hug either. My Dad was quiet and sensitive – he was actually an introvert and possibly, didn’t have much self-confidence. He was very smart and always came first in his class. He was an accountant who could scan down a ledger with his finger and get the total when he got to the end – calculating it all in his head. Dad enjoyed ballroom dancing and loved classical music. I used to play all his records and dance around in the lounge dressed up in some of my Mother’s things. He loved opera and light choral works and had many records of Carmen Dragon conducting the Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra. In my mind’s eye, I can still see the covers of those LP’s. My Dad loved old romantic movies where couples danced and sang and fell in love. Dad also loved science fiction. He read through three libraries of science fiction and had stacks of science fiction books at home. He loved my Mom completely! My Dad believed in me and was the only person in my immediate family who knew my heart and mind. My Dad was my comforter. When I was in my room crying about something that upset me, it was my Dad who would come and comfort me, pull the blankets up under my chin and stroke my hair. Dad only ever spanked me once, and I think it hurt him more than it hurt me. My Dad was special, but not many people knew that. I am grateful to my Dad for so many things. He kept a roof over our heads when we were growing up. He came to my defense when the chips were down. Dad wanted peace and quiet. He had sensitive hearing and was sensitive to criticism. Dad was a good man – loyal and devoted. He was private and shy. He was my Dad and I loved him and he loved me and I am grateful. Thank you, Dad for everything you gave, and God bless. I love you, Dad - rest in peace.