The dog, the cat, the prrot and the pig

2009-04-09 00:00

NOT so long ago, we took a detour on the R103. We stopped for scones and tea. We also browsed through the free property magazine. Five months later we had sold our house in Fourways, my partner had dissolved her practice and sold the property and I had retired from my job.

On a smog-filled Friday afternoon at the end of July we loaded the dogs into the cars and drove out of Johannesburg in a maze of impulsivity, heading east on the N3. On Monday morning Biddulphs arrived to unload our lives. Hilton was one giant intoxicating jasmine bud waiting to explode. After 15 years together and half a lifetime in Johannesburg we were somewhat astounded to find ourselves in the midlands. Was this a prelude to menopause?

In all fairness, several years ago a visit to a Johannesburg psychic phenomenon foretold of our impending move to an area “just outside Pietermaritzburg”. Karen would be working with small animals, dogs and horses. At the time it made a great party story, but really, who in their right minds moved to just outside Pietermaritzburg?

Well, I suppose we did. The strange thing was that we only remembered this story after our move. Once we did, we were desperate to recall what else the psychic man had said. Perhaps it was best that we could not find the notes of the session in among the 200 boxes waiting to be un-packed.

So begins the second half of our lives. Unanticipated, unplanned and uncharted. How often does one get the opportunity to redesign the course of one’s life? We have long, philosophical life discussions late into the mist-filled summer nights. We scale down. Simplify everything.

We convert the outbuildings into a physiotherapy practice for Karen. By January the following year she opens her doors. We choose not to entertain apprehension. It’s a wise decision and soon she and her practice are flourishing. I am uncertain of what exactly to do with my retirement status. It is a strange hat to wear at 45. For the briefest of time I miss my previous designer-label occupation. But not for long. As a result I prefer asking people: “Who are you?” rather than “What do you do?” It freaks some people out. Too often we need labels to define who we are. Now when I have to fill in my occupation on any document I enjoy choosing from all the possibilities — pensioner, struggling writer, receptionist, novice artist, student, self-employed, unemployed, dog-minder. No one’s caught on yet and I am happily discovering my label-free self.

Our small village “just outside Pietermaritzburg” embraces us. We are overwhelmed with goodwill. We actually speak to our neighbours. We listen to a piano concert under the trees and gentle winter sun. We explore the Hilton Arts Festival, have breakfast at Caversham watching the weavers dive in and out of the waterfall and discover shopping delights in Kubela’s General Dealer. Our garden blesses us with avos, lemons, oranges, monster cabbages, humun-gous pumpkins, a Purple Crested Loerie, the crisp call of the Yellow Billed Kite, Arum lilies that grow taller than our heads and the nurturing early evening mist. We have no words for such abundance.

During this time the Civil Unions Bill is passed. People want to know if we will now get married. Initially we reply: “No, whatever for?” Then Karen’s sister calls and wants to know how we could let them all sign the national petition to fight for our right to choose to get married and now all we can rave about are the 12 different types of azaleas in our garden? “It’s just not right,” she splutters. We have created an activist monster. We owe it to her to at least contemplate the choice. Could, should marriage change our relationship? Would it though? What would it mean? We surprise ourselves with the profound discoveries we make and set a date for October 27, 2007.

At the end of July we bulldoze our lawn flat for the marquee. One year after our arrival, in the middle of August, we lay new grass for our wedding. Most people laugh and say it will never be ready by October. We ignore them and sprinkle more fertiliser and water. What do they know; this is after all Hilton. The patients all arrive early for their physio appointments to participate in the wedding garden project. We get free advice from seasoned Hilton gardeners. Many bring gifts from their gardens. They discuss in detail where they think they should be planted.

For the wedding it is our instinct is to source most of what we need from Johannesburg where we know how and where to find things. However, the idea of several trips to Gauteng stops us in our tracks. We decide to keep it local. An authentic midlands wedding.

Our local wedding planner is five months pregnant. We worry that the baby could come early and upset everything; she just laughs at us and becomes the rock that keeps us grounded. Our outfits are spiced with a touch of Indian bling. We choose rich creams, deep reds and voluptuous oranges for our colours. In the middle of September it starts raining. It turns our lawn into a magnificent green bog.

On the Tuesday before the wedding the wedding planner decides to erect the marquee. It will give the lawn time to dry out. Later that afternoon we have four heaters and four fans on the lawn inside the tent. We feel cautiously optimistic. By 6 pm the heavens open and someone comes running to call me.

“The water, come look the water Lyn.” The electrical appliances are standing ankle-deep in water. The saturated water table is welling up from underneath. By Thursday the wedding planner has extended the wooden dance floor and raised off the lawn with sawdust and wood bark into the rest of the tent. The guests might all float out the door but we would not sink into the marsh below.

At our age we have no guilt or obligation with regard to our guest list. We invite our immediate family. All our gay friends. Our very straight, new Hilton friends. Some consider it a risky social experiment. Only two of the 80 invited choose not to come.

Friends and family begin to arrive from the Wednesday before the wedding. The Meander absorbs and entertains them. On the day the sun comes out and the rains wait until everybody is inside the marquee. As we are about to say “I do”, the heavens open to bless our civil partnership. A midlands priest conducts our blessing ceremony.

My sister, a midlands magistrate, concludes the legal affairs. Florence, our Zulu friend, and her sisters dance the Zulu wedding dance for us. My uncle has composed a special song. Tess, our sister turned activist, is our Mistress of Ceremonies. She is eight months and one week pregnant with twins. Her gynaecologist forbade the five-hour journey to KwaZulu-Natal. But she is here. The twins are born three weeks later. Unbeknown at the time, we would become the very proud god parents. We have a perfect day. A synergy of gay and straight, old and young, black and white, and family and friends. We get married and celebrate love on a floating deck in our green Hilton garden.

The next morning at 9 am the family gathers at one of the local churches in Hilton. We are there to christen our nephew Josh, son of Tess and Dave, parents of the unplanned, impending twins. They are capitalising on the rare opportunity to have the whole family from all over the country together in one place. The priest who performs the christening thankfully keeps it short. He too was at the wedding the previous night. Back at the house the marquee doubles as a christening celebration venue. The sun shines all day. Our garden drips with colour. Our friends all pop in to say goodbye. By 5 pm the last people leave.

The mist rolls in and we sit in the tangible stillness so characteristic of this area, reliving every moment of a perfect weekend. The only ones who are glad it’s all over are our dogs. The matriarch Maltese, Holly, the Boston Terrier, Yoda and our Bearded Collie, Jinty.

This morning, almost a year since the wedding and two years since we moved to Hilton, Karen has a patient who ex-plodes against “Joburgers invading the midlands”. Karen vehemently agrees with her. I cannot help but laugh when she tells me. I suppose we feel — local.

Oh, yes, about the work with small animals and dogs. Karen’s animal physiotherapy practice grows weekly. Dogs and cats, the odd horse. The lame African Grey Parrot and the paraplegic pot- bellied pig in the Karkloof.

We live and we learn each day, coming to understanding that the only constant is the inevitability of change.

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