Granny Patsy dispensed lots of loving advice and one thing she said stuck in my mind: “You may not always like your cousins,” she said , “but you w always have to love them and they you”. When we were small loving and liking were easy – we were all at school together at the convent (even if James was banished to the boy’s playground and the boys dining room – the nun’s knew what 7 year old boys were capable of) and our cousins the Lovedays were from Johannesburg and we only saw them at Christmas.
My sister and I were known as the Black Andersons and Fiona, Bridget, James and Helen were known as the White Andersons. We never questioned the distinction – we were dark haired and loved to swim and tan and they were blonde and did not lie out in their bikinis covered in olive oil and in Granny Patsy’s words “leaching all the natural oils out of their skins ” like my sister and I did .Oh Granny, I wished I had listened to you more carefully! I am now a map of freckles and age spots but I suppose I did have a very clear line between my white bum and my brown back …
Bridget tells the story of my gran gathering all of them around and saying to them :”Now I want you to be very kind to Elizabeth- she has very thin hair. Philippa is all right – she has lots !”Fortunately , my sister now has lovely thick hair and we don’t have to be specially kind to her any longer.
Fiona and I did ballet together and walked to Shirley Parry’s school of dancing for young ladies in Kokstad every Wednesday. Bridget and I were in the same class – Bridget was at one time tormented by the thought that God was calling her to be a nun and spent lots of time going to Rosary and I presume praying fervently NOT to be a nun.
James was a boy and really rather useless in my view , although he was good at running. He is now the nicest man and is referred to in our household as Farmer James . He is a clone of my grandfather and has those wonderful old fashioned phrases that take me back to my wonderful childhood: he talks crop yields and rain forecasts and says I reckon and is our only real link to the land and people of my birth. James was staying with us (as a useful and worthwhile adult a few years ago when my son William was about 4 ).William walked into the kitchen and James said in a cheery voice : Good morning young William.” William looked up at the tall burly man and said without missing a beat : “Good morning fuck knuckle.” Lucky I keep smelling salts in the kitchen!
Helen was born much later and caused great excitement. Her room was the sweetest little room and had teeny tiny cupboards for her teeny tiny clothes. She was a living doll and I hope we were kind and sweet to her.
My Jo’burg cousins were exotic and special : we knew they took first place at Christmas time as Granny and Grandad had to make the most of them. No resentment – just how it was. Marion was competitive – she liked to run races and was James’s constant companion. Jess was the model for Little Women- she made exquisite patchwork quilts and blackberry jam and was alt together too perfect for words. She did have a deep and very naughty giggle and found my father “Uncle A ” very funny in a slightly terrifying way. (He had a big voice and used to meet and greet the cousins when they come to us for Boxing Day with a sjambok to keep the dogs from jumping up!). Although they wore homemade clothes like the rest of us there was a sheen on them from the big city- a whiff of Bigness. Marion has tennis lessons with Frew McMillan and we had heard about him on the radio! Jess dyed her hair red for her role in Anne of Green Gables. Clare – musical and small and a good sport – later to have a whiff of razzle dazzle when she told us stories of bunking out and nightclubs and of course, when she started playing for the girls band – was it called The Pervettes ? we were very excited to be associated with such an out there character.
At high school , there was a drift of distance apart and then I found Bridget again when I went to Maritzburg Varsity to do my Ll.B.She and I were very different but there was the cousin blood between us and I loved having her there. We went to King Mswati the Third’s 21st birthday party (well, we weren’t invited – we went to the concert). In true student style we got the tickets and climbed into my car – and without consulting a map , we drove straight to Harrismith . We stopped to fill up with petrol and asked the petrol jockeys how much further to Swaziland. Their jaws dropped and they repeated SWAZILAND in tones of incredulity. We were on completely the wrong course! We just turned the car around and drove there quite unperturbed. It was a great concert with Eric Clapton and fireworks and we slept in the car and drove back again.
Fiona and I hooked up in Jo’burg again where I was working as a legal adviser and she was doing her internship/ something at a hospital. Fiona was always an outdoors girl and found the city quite confining. We went to Graskop for the weekend – we stayed in the caravan park and Fiona was quite well equipped with camping gear. The night we got there was heavenly and the stars were magnificent so we decided to dispense with a tent .We cuddled into sleeping bags and drank Old Brown Sherry .The next morning we woke up in suburban Caravanville! Each caravan was bigger and better and had more additions and satellite aerials than the next.We went on a long hike and the weather turned that night.We were freezing in our tent so went to the ablution blocks and read our books in the baths.To every tannie’s credit, they offered us a place to sleep !
There are so many stories – trips to the Wild Coast and camping and tubing and Fiona’s Russian boyfriend Staz ( who was greeted by Rupert in impeccable Russian 1 and told him he had left his umbrella on the train) and Bridget’s matric dance dress and so much more ….
We have all attended one another’s weddings (mostly) and I know the names of their children but we are grown up and far apart. I do think however if I were to call any one of them from an obscure road , in a state of distress, each one would come to my aid. Because we are cousins and we have to love each other.