Avoiding ‘oomies’ and shepherdson the way home

2012-03-05 00:00

MY father’s maxim about teaching us to drive was that we were always to believe that every­one else on the road was an idiot. It’s a valid principle, and one that I practised last night as I drove home from Johannesburg in the dark. It was not the most sensible thing to do, and the fear of it was not made easier to deal with by the tannies at the Wimpy in Potch wagging their fingers at me “Vrou alleen! Jy weet jy moet dit nie doen nie!” But I had already spent one night away from home, and my children cannot cope without me for two nights. Or rather, I cannot cope without them for two nights. Herman says they cope just fine.

So I drove slowly among all the idiots, ready for every truck that could have swerved onto my side of the road and every fool who may have overtaken carelessly. I was also on the lookout for oomies and shepherds, and the reason for this, I will tell you in this tale.

In the North West, I think there is a pedal-and-steering-wheel-test that parents put their children through each year. While the rest of us still have our offspring standing up against the wall on the Winnie-The-Pooh growth chart, saying: “My look how you have grown! You are past Tigger’s nose now,” our neighbours put their children in the driver’s seats of their bakkies to see if the feet can reach the pedals and the eyes can look over the steering wheel.

“Maria, you are now ready to learn to drive.”

“But Dad, can’t I wait till I am in high school?”

“You want to wait until high school before you learn to drive?” Shock.

I have even seen children who quite clearly have not yet passed the pedal-and-steering-wheel-test driving around on our farm roads. The problem with not being able to see the road is overcome by the addition of a younger sibling, who stands on the seat next to the little driver. As the driver copes with the clutch, accelerator and the steering wheel, the little chap next to him deals with rigting. “Bietjie links, bietjie regs ...” He pulls the dummy out of his mouth: “Ek het regs gesê!”

And back-seat driving is not only reserved for toddlers. Herman remembers visiting the farm in seventies when he was a boy, and getting a lift back from town with Oom Dawie, after a dance in the town hall. As they travelled, Herman found himself wondering why on Earth Abraham the shepherd had driven with Oom Dawie into town for a dance in the evening.

Very soon he worked out why.

Oom Dawie headed into the darkness, and Herman found if he listened very carefully, he could hear Abraham speaking softly out of the corner of his mouth the whole way home. “Bietjie links hier, Baas ... nou reguit... ons ry nou verby Uitkyk ... Baas weet van daardie gat in die pad ... stadiger nou ... om die gat .. nou weer reguit ...” And so it went on for 25 km. As they approached Strydpoort, Herman heard Abraham whisper: “Baas moet nou stop.” Oom Dawie blind as a bat at night did not know whether Abraham meant: “Stop because we have arrived”, or “Stop because there is a bees in the road”. So he slammed on brakes. The tyres screeched and Herman hit his nose on the back of the front seat. Ouma San up at the house could hear that her grandson had arrived home. Safe in the hands of Oom Dawie and the good shepherd.

So as I drove the three-and-a-half hours home last night, I knew that the toddler drivers would not be a threat, as they were more than likely tucked up in bed. The only dangers I had to look out for were my own imagination, the idiots and the oomies and the shepherds who may slam on brakes in front of me.

As it was, I crossed non-existent rivers that washed under the road in shadows. I drove around mountains that I would never have found there in the day time. What I thought were car lights coming towards me turned out to be farmhouse lights kilometres away from where the road actually curved.

Occasionally lightening flashed on the horizon lighting up the entire hemisphere in pale egg blue, revealing that contrary to popular belief, the heavens are a dome and the Earth is flat. And, thankfully, despite the fact that the roads are peppered with idiots and oomies and Shepherds, and that I was the fool to be driving so far in such darkness, vrou alleen, I arrived home safely. Back to the peace, the clapper larks, and to my husband and children. And they indeed, were all coping very well without me.

• Catherine Smetherham is rediscovering herself from a platteland perspective. She lives in Strydpoort, North West Province. Contact her at Catherine@holtzhausen.com

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