Monday, December 20, 2010

67. Mother moves out.

We had been living in the house facing the petrol station for about a year, when mother announced that she was moving into a block of one roomed flats designed for the elderly. Her reason being, that if she moved out we would be free to do whatever we wanted to do, without having to consider her. We could sell the big house and buy something smaller. There were resident nurses in the flats, a dining room and a bus that took the old folk into town to do their shopping. So she moved into Vonke House where she was lonely and isolated because the majority of residents were Afrikaans speaking and rather reserved. Mother, on the other hand, was full of life, very friendly and loved by all who knew her, but for some reason she did not fit in. In fact, one of the people in the dining room complained that she laughed too much! She was smart and pretty and would never admit to her age. In fact Juliea and I were visiting mother; we were in the lift when it was necessary for her to introduce us to someone. She quickly introduced me as her daughter and Jules as her granddaughter, not wanted anyone to think that she was old enough to be this young woman’s Great Grandmother!

Yes, we did decide to move again, at least I did. We did not need a house with a granny flat and the property was not very secure, from a burglar point of view. I found a beautiful top floor flat in Cap ‘Dor a luxurious block with an elevator and wonderful views. There was a very large master bedroom, with an en suite bathroom; the bedroom was big enough to take an executive size desk for Tom and his television, and it had a lovely view. In fact it was that room which persuaded me to buy the property. Except for George Avenue, the flat was superior to anything we had lived in before, and Tom’s room was so different from his dark, cold little room in MacDonald Gardens where I am sure he would not have survived another winter. In fact, his health improved so much that he served as Chairman of Trustees on the Body Corporate for some time. Mother often spent the weekend with us and we had plenty of visitors; I was involved with a couple of Committees and Clubs and life was pretty good.

There were some interesting people living in the building, those living in the pent house units were very wealthy, but one man in particular caused both amusement and concern. I will call him Charles. He was a large man, in every way. At eighty his passion and sex drive would have made a rabbit blush. His collection of limited edition, French books of erotica were extremely valuable, if not to my taste. He was attracted to me, and used to buy me gifts, which was somewhat embarrassing. He had lived in France for a while and, after a visit there, brought me back a very expensive gold chain necklace from Monte Carlo which I was loath to accept. But he had a temper and once when I refused a box of chocolates, he threw the box across the room! I did not want the necklace to go that route. He and Tom were on friendly terms and, as Tom never went out, he had no objections to Charles escorting me to the theatre, or even out to lunch. Unfortunately Charles thought that, because Tom had been ill for so many years, I would be grateful to have a relationship with him. But he was so wrong! He was a highly educated and intelligent man and I enjoyed talking to him, but that was all.

I once visited Charles in hospital where he was wired up to machines, had a catheter inserted and a saline drip in place. I bent over to kiss him on the forehead and he tried to pull me into bed with him. I was laughing so much as I left the ward that people stared at me. Another time he came to my front door wearing bright red lipstick, obviously expecting some sort of reaction, so I told him the colour did not suit him. Later I found the tester lipstick, which he must have stolen from a cosmetic counter, on his dining room table. This man had been a brilliant engineer who had constructed the sewerage tunnel that ran right under Johannesburg and had been decorated for work done for UNESCO. Sadly, he was a very heavy drinker and there would often be three or four glasses of wine standing around the flat so that there was always one to hand.

The worst episode happened late one night when Charles phoned me, asking for help because some demons were after him. Tom was not happy about my going to the flat alone, he was unable to move far, and I said I could handle the situation. I knocked on the front door which Charles opened wearing only a short vest and brandishing a very dangerous African weapon that looked like a cross between a saber and a hatchet. He was probably having a fit of the DTs. He said he had got out of bed to answer the telephone in the living room and that these “creatures” were all along the hallway floor and he could not get back to his bedroom. I said I did not think the hatchet would be much protection against devils and demons, but I pretended to shoo them out of the way, helped him back into bed, made him a cup of tea and left him, taking the hatchet with me. Next morning he could remember nothing about it.

Then I thought I had upset him because he said he did not want to see me, and kept himself hidden away for a couple of weeks, saying he was unwell. When I did finally see him his face looked like something hanging in a butchers shop. He had undergone surgery for a complete face lift because he was going on a cruise - supposedly to find a wife! The surgeon who performed the operation should have been struck off for allowing this vulnerable old man to undergo such drastic surgery. His face recovered fairly well and shortly afterwards he entered into a short lived, disastrous marriage; -------- but that is a story in itself. He changed from a generous, good looking lady-killer into a pathetic, lonely old man who died about a year later. His two lovely daughters were very concerned and loyal but I don’t think his two sons, both very well known in their professions, had much respect for him.

Mother was staying with us for a few days when I took her a cup of tea. She was lying there, wearing her little frilly night cap which held her curlers in place, and said the words I always dreaded hearing, they were “I’ve been thinking!” Whenever mother had been lying in bed “thinking”, I knew that she had some project in mind and there was work in store for me to do, but on this particular morning she exceeded my worst fears. She had been thinking about giving up her little flat and moving into a frail care home in town so that she could walk to the shops. I went to inspect the home and could see only very, very frail old people sitting round the walls, gazing into space. The rooms had no locks, residents used communal bathrooms and toilets and there was no privacy. I begged her not to go there, she would lose her independence, she would not be able to cook the little meals she liked etc. etc. but her mind was made up. Considerable expense was incurred by all our moves, and I knew Gordon’s Removal Company’s telephone number by heart.

My sister, Maureen was now living in Stellenbosch and so, with her help, new carpeting was laid, TV shelf and TV installed in her new room, we made her as comfortable as possible, sat back and waited. We did not have long to wait. We told her she would hate it and she did. Within three weeks mother decided she wanted to return to her beloved Rhodesia, and so, when she was past ninety she flew back there, leaving me to store and sort out her stuff for shipment later. She did not have the resident’s permit now required, nor anywhere to live, but Jane would sort all that out she said, and Jane did. I only saw her once more, shortly before she died aged ninety eight, brave, feisty and smiling to the end. What a girl!

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