A few years ago my Mom and Dad moved to the Drakensberg Mountains. We, their kids, were suprised by the sudden decision but excited to see what country life was like. They took to it like ducks to water, on the lake of the property they had just bought. They make country living look cosy and chic and extremely tempting.
Tomorrow they are going on holiday to France and Italy for four weeks to visit my lovely Aunt and Uncle who have all kinds of ameezing things planned for them. My brothers and I are sharing the house/great dane/cat/bird sitting duties while they are gone. I am really looking forward to my country side confinement and have planned all kinds of knitting projects, cooking experiments and Jane Austen-esque walks.
I visited them about two weeks after they had become country folk and wrote about my first few days there:
I knew I was going to like the tiny, mountain town where my parents had moved to from the moment I got out of the car and saw a seventy year old woman wearing a huge sun hat and high top converse sneakers.
I had always imagined that people who lived in tiny mountain towns did so because they didn’t know any better, or were too afraid of the big cities. Boy, was I wrong. These people have balls the size of the tractors they drive. It is cold, it is isolated, it is dusty and you have a very good chance of driving into any number of breeds of livestock and severely denting your car. But they are friendly, open, good listeners, knowledgable about the mountains in which they live, and all round just damn fascinating.
Moments after seeing the seventy year old converse wearing lady, I walked past two of the most good looking men I have seen in a long time. Rugged, but not in a ‘scary farmer shoes’ way, in a ‘my name is Jasper and I work for Green Peace as an environmental lawyer’ kind of way’. They both looked up and the cuter one smiled and said “hello” as we passed each other. I nearly wrapped my arms around his ankles and said “I’m not letting go until we’re life partners.”
My next encounter was with a very friendly farmer’ s wife kind of lady whilst weighing oranges at the Fruit and Veg store.
She said “Hello, I looove your hair. Who cut it for you? It wasn’t Jean was it? I didn’t know she knew such modern styles.”
Nothing about this is extraordinary except that three days before, I had paid an exorbitant amount of cash for an extremely questionable haircut that my friend’s four year old could have done for free with his plastic frog scissors. With his eyes closed.
Whether the farmer’s wife had dodgy taste in hairstyles or was just being kind, I found myself telling her all about where I was from and about my parents’ move and my recent break up. She listened and smiled and made noises like a baby dove. Women who are sensitive and good listeners sometimes do coo when they are really empathising with what you are saying. Coo-ers are the best. The last thing she said to me was “It was really lovely to meet you”. I walked away with the strange feeling that she actually meant it, it was nice to be reminded of what genuine sentiment sounded like.
Later, my dad took me to the farm stall where they buy groceries. Really. The gravel parking area had four signs pointing in different directions. They read: Shop, Art Gallery, Picnic Area, Farm Animals. This is the Mall. Really.
After talking to a couple of goats and touching a black pig’s belly I go into the shop. My Dad is inside, little woven basket in hand, gossiping with a farmer’s wife about the Chinese family who smoke cigarettes in their newly opened shop and apparently (this was where they two of them got really excited, leaning into each other and lowering their voices), they sleep in the shop at night. I swear, when the ‘Rebecca Loos sleeping with David Beckham’ story broke, it was not with this much scandal.
There is no one behind the counter in the shop, just a little sign that says “Please write down what you have taken”, and a jar to put your money in and help yourself to change. Personally, I would have used the word “bought” not “taken”, but thats just the latte drinking, smog inhaling city slicker in me.
My Dad writes down what he has ‘taken’ and puts his money in the jar. The man astounds me, he had lived in this tiny town for two weeks but already carries a woven basket like he was born with it attached to his arm and knows everyone’s name and intimate secrets. Next I go to the bookshop whilst he walks across the street to the bank. (I can now die happy having seen a bank framed with broekie lace). I walk into the book shop past a group of young guys drinking coffee outside a cafe.
The roads are all dirt, I have passed three cows and an ox wagon on the way to get here, so it comes as a suprise that they stock a wonderful range of books, play himalaen drum music and sell scarves from Checkoslovakia as a side business.
There is no one inside so I call out “Hello”, expecting a doddery old lady with crazy hair to pop up from behind the gardening section. Nothing. I begin to browse wondering if everyone here operates on the ‘write down what you have taken’ system. A few minutes later, one of the young guys from the cafe walks in and says “Hello”. Getting into this friendly small town thing I say “Hello”. He says “How are you?”, I say “Fine”. Thankfully, he rescues me from saying “How are you?”, by telling me that he is just outside having coffee and I should yell for him if I needed anything. Seriously, had these people never heard of shoplifters?
It takes me a few seconds to realise that he hasn’t gone back to his coffee, instead he is standing behind the counter looking at me (I do have a great ass).
“So, you like books? I like books and stuff”, he says. I am not convinced until he starts recommending authors and titles and I realise that he is one of the most well read blonde floppy haired/surfer/mountain boys I have met.
“Where are you staying?”, his next question. I tell him that I am just visiting my parents who have moved to this small mountain town. And also that I am thinking about coming to stay with them for a couple of months. “You should”, he says, “The guys would love you here. My wife is in Russia trying to sort out passports, we are moving there”, he tells me.
Wife? The guy looks like he stopped being breast fed and moved onto solids last Wednesday. Another young guy wearing a white apron with blood all over it walks in and hands married bookshop guy a Coke. They both laugh much louder than the situation is funny, which tells me that they are either both insane, or this is some kind of very inside joke. As the bloodied apron guy walks out, married bookshop guy looks at me and says “That’s my friend, he owns the butchery, he’s really nice. There’s money in meat.” It seems that this tiny mountain town is run by children. “You’re trying to set me up with the butcher?”, I ask. “Well, if I wasn’t married I would set you up with me”. I picked up my pile of books, bid him farewell and walked back onto the dirt road. I was starting to see why people used the sign and jar system after all.
“Watch out for the fires”, married bookshop guy yells as I pass the three cows and ox wagon.
I’m told it is burning season in this tiny mountain town. All the calendar-esque mountains are black from the fires. My mom is a Grade One teacher at the local school. She says there is a big difference teaching country kids and city kids. Country kids horse ride before school (Polo Cross is an after school event). And they all point at the surrounding mountains and say “Look, Sarah’s Dad is burning again”. Quite a thing to know whose Dad owns which mountain. My mom said that she knew she wasn’t teaching city kids anymore when one of her new students bought a wildebees tail for Show and Tell.
On the way back to the house, my dad takes me over the railway tracks to show me yet another breathtaking unpaved avenue of trees in this curious paradise. We are at the top of someone’s driveway when ‘someone’ stops behind us in a huge, dusty bakkie. A grey haired woman in a jersey the colour of a popped blister, gets out, dusts her knee (I’m still not sure why) and asks us if we are coming to stay with her for the weekend. We all chuckled in the polite way you do when strangers turn into comedians. Her name was Brenda. Brenda invited us in. “Make yourselves at home, I’ve got a little lake at the bottom of my garden, please, take a look around”, she says, pointing to a distant bushy area. We can’t and don’t say no. Her garden is huge, ginormous. It takes us ten minutes and seventy five photos to reach the bottom. But when we
do, it is so worth all the oohing and clicking. A field, the size of heaven, grazing cows, nervous buck, beautiful birds. They’re all there. Beyond the field, a spectacular, sparkling lake, trees, mountains. `A magnitude of oohing and clicking later we head back. Brenda says we are welcome anytime, to walk, to picnic, “don’t even worry about coming to the house, just walk straight to the lake”. She might well have said “Here’s the jar, just write what photos you have taken.”
The next day, I go with my Mom to the library. If they were ever going to put a library on a postcard, it would be this one. White, creeping ivy, a little rusting bench outside with a granny reading in the sun. Really. The librarian who helps us belongs on the same postcard. She is old, wrinkly, grey haired, little round glasses, sweet smile and wears a t-shirt that says “I rocked it out at Splashy Music Festival ’07”. Really.
Everywhere you turn, this little mountain town is creating and dissolving stereotypes.
It was in those 48 hours, somewhere between the converse sneakers, bloodied apron and the Rock Festival t-shirt, that I began to realise I had to become a resident of this strange tiny mountain town…if only for fashion advice.
Happy Adventures Mama and Papa x