To My Beloved on our 46th Anninversary
18th January 2015
We were children of 11 and 13 when we met in Chingola and were just teenagers - not much more than a boy and a girl - when we started our life journey together.
That we have been together for all these years is a wondrous and inspiring thing. If we were asked to share ‘why is that so?’ – what would we say?
We had many similarities in our backgrounds – and many differences. We both had hard working, working class parents, who strived for a better life for their children. All four parents were devout Catholics, who believed in education, discipline, good manners, respect for elders, cleanliness, Confession and Communion. Family was paramount and they took their responsibilities seriously, providing a home for aging parents and providing financially for others. Our fathers both worked on the Nchanga Copper Mine, and our mothers both worked for Nchanga Trading department store. Our fathers never ‘raised a hand’ to their wives, and were known to be gentlemen – your Dad was shy and uncomfortable in social situations, my Dad loved a party, an extrovert who delighted in an audience. Your Dad was gentle and a pacifist, my Dad meted out our punishment and never backed off in an argument. Your Dad loved the pub and a drink - mine did not. Your Dad played golf, grew magnificent veggies and chickens and made fudge, he was a clever man, and a gifted mathematician. My Dad left school at 14, read avidly, a poet, was self taught, and achieved success as a swimmer, and a Mason, of which he was exceptionally proud. Your Dad never boasted. Mine did, he was a show off and a musician - he loved to sing and play his mouth organ. My Dad was a health fanatic, a swimmer and diver, vain and a snappy dresser, your Dad was none of those things, he cooked and golfed and prior to afternoon shift, slept with his legs in the air, so when they fell down he would wake up.
For all their strength, it was our mothers held the real power in our homes, they made the decisions about the kids, the money and the important things. They shared a similar sense of humour and a sense of the ridiculous, and participated in many Christmas Shows where they happily made fools of themselves and gleefully embarrassed Eric Bailey, their boss, and then laughed about it all year. They were both heavy smokers, as was your Dad, mine was not - your Mom always with a XXXX mint, my Mom loved a gin and to entertain at home, your Mom did neither. My parents loved to dance and party, yours did not, although I always thought your Mom wanted to. Both mothers were fierce disciplinarians, and both loved to sew, making clothes for their families and wearing the clothes they made for themselves. Your Mom was so feminine, loving shoes and clothes and jewellery and perfume, and she made award winning wedding cakes. My Mom was ever the practical one, a good old fashioned English cook. Your Mom had a questioning and clever mind, she loved crosswords, my Mom loved trashy detective novels and romantic magazines. Your Mom called England ‘home’ although she had never been there, and filled her walls with pictures of English country scenes. My Mom called Africa ‘home’ and although she was English born, she never wanted to go back, and adorned her walls with African art and embroidery she did of black Mamas with their babies and sailing ships. They were popular women, respected in their community, with circles of close and loyal friends. When your mother knew she was dying, she asked my Mom to ‘take care of her little boy’ (you), a promise my mother lovingly upheld till the day she died 42 years later, two days before your 62nd birthday.
So this was our background. And this was what we inherited.
You arrived at our front door in 60-13th Street Chingola around 5.30 pm one day, and propped your bicycle on the front steps. You knocked on the screen door and held a small brown paper packet containing seeds in your hand. You said ‘My Mother sent these for your Mother.’ I went to get my Mom, who was annoyed at being disturbed at dinner time, and when she saw you, she said ‘Hello Jobs’. Your nickname was Jebs, but she was known for her malapropisms all her life, and you forgave her then, as you did for the next many decades.
And one sunny afternoon, as Marian and I were walking home from the movies (I cannot remember the film), you walked past us, heading in the same direction, slowed down, glanced across and said “Do you want to get cased?” Marian and I exchanged a look which questioned “Is he talking to you or me?” – and then with an imperceptible nod, she gave me the unspoken reply “It’s you.” I looked back at you, and without a thought about what ‘being cased’ may entail, said “OK.” You said, “Good”, and kept walking.
I cannot remember our third encounter back at school, or the first time we were alone together, but I do remember dreaming about you, thinking about you, writing your name on the back of my hand, my desk, my books, writing you love letters, and the thrill of sitting alongside of you in a darknened bioscope. I loved what it felt like to ‘have a boyfriend’, and the most handsome one in town, who so many girls fancied. You never knew you were good looking, which made you all the more good looking and desirable to females, and that is still the case. (Our son inherited this trait.) I loved the feeling of a certain kind of belonging, and how easy it was to learn to adapt our strides as we walked together so we didn’t bump. I was proud to ride my bike alongside of you, watch you dive bomb in the pool, and jump athletically with your long legs on the trampoline. My heart thumped when we sometimes had lunch together in the school playground. I remember feeling slightly sick when you held my hand, wanting to hold on forever, not knowing how to extricate it without being rude so I could wipe off the sweat which poured off my palm into yours. You were clever and strong and solid and loyal and patient, and you thought I was beautiful. You especially liked my legs and bum, you told me often you ‘didn’t like big boobs on a girl’. As I had none, that suited and reassured me. I loved how we learned to rock and roll together, and were probably two of the best dancers on the floor. I loved how you respected my Dad when he said ‘Have her home at 10 pm’ (an hour and a half before any of my friends were expected home after the youth club dance) – and you sometimes ran carrying me on your back to meet that deadline, after we had danced to one song too many, to face my Dad standing, legs akimbo, arms crossed, a deadly look in his eye, on our front step. He was a terrifying sight.
You know that my Dad was strong and protective and he adored me, and that I had never known a ‘bad man’. So although I didn’t understand it at the time, those values were – and remain - important to me. I loved how safe I felt with you. I loved how I could go to bed at night when my parents were out, with you ‘keeping watch’ down the hall in the lounge, and I knew that no harm would ever come to me in your presence. You always knew when someone did not have my best interests at heart.
Like your parents, you were clever, you got top marks (in everything but English) with little or no effort. This amazed me, who conscientiously applied myself to everything I did. You were my teacher in mathematics, sitting afternoon after afternoon at our kitchen table, patiently guiding me through unfathomable confusing numerals. You were quiet and shy, and deeply respectful of my parents, you knew without their approval you could never ‘have’ me and were determined to win them over. You pruned rose bushes and trees, helped build fires for the braaivleis, let them teach you to drive and to dance, spent hours looking inside car engines with my Dad, something which you had no interest in - just because he liked to. You babysat their son and daughter - (and you even once had the responsibility of taking us both on holiday to Cape Town) – listened to their childhood stories and developed an abiding interest in England, generated admiration for my Dad’s prowess in the pool and on the diving board, and later on, when you were an apprentice, submitted to my father’s fierce reputation and authority, like all the other apprentices did. You became the son of my parents, and for decades, your generosity and financial support ensured they had quality of living. You did that ongoingly - even when it on occasion went unacknowledged by my father, and I thank you.
You were somewhat awkward socially, shy, a quiet boy. You were not affectionate or demonstrative, nor good with words or expressing your emotions. Your family didn’t do that. Mine did, effusively. They also ran around half naked (sometimes naked) in our house, something it took you years to come to terms with. Yours were always dignified and fully dressed. You followed me to London 18 months after I had left Zambia at 17 years old at my fathers insistence when you and I wanted to marry, and you taught me how persistent you could be. You always were a demonstration of integrity. One day I gleefully related how I had been given change for a five pound note when I had paid for my purchases with a one pound note. You insisted I return and give the money back, and I did. But it was a couple more decades before I really got your lesson. I acknowledge your fairness and stand for justice in everything you do.
I loved meals at your house, always an occasion with some if not all of your siblings, Grandma, and always a couple of visitors, and the Groom Table was always well attended, and the food plentiful and delicious. There was always a lot of laughter and bantering and compliments to the chef. Your Dad was an accomplished cook, stews and curries and roasts and baked fish - and oh my, his roast potatoes were the best I had ever tasted, before or since. Cooked in a deep tin pan filled with lard on top of the stove, they crunched on the outside and puffed on the inside. I remember the first time I had lunch at your house, feeling terrified walking into the dining room. At the head of the table was your Mom and with her were Grandma, Leslie, and Llyn, her two older son’s wives, and I think, Lynda. They eyed me carefully, assessing. I so wanted them to like me. They did. They all welcomed me, and your mother took me into her heart, treating me as a daughter from the first day. When I went away to technical college, she sent me bottles of lemon juice to drink and to bathe on my skin, to help clear my pimples. When I went away to London for 18 months, she wrote to me weekly, newsy upbeat and funny aerogrammes, some of which I still have. Once she asked me if I had had tea with “Liz and Phil”. For the life of me, I could not think who these perhaps distant relatives may be, so I asked her. It took six weeks for letters to turnaround and come back, and then I learned she jokingly meant Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip. Her letters sometimes implored ‘look after my little boy’ – or ‘please don’t hurt my little boy’. All this time, she was battling cancer. She was strong and courageous, and no matter how much pain she endured – she could crack a joke and laugh. She was the first person I truly loved who died, and her death was a tragedy for us all, on your 21st birthday (15th October 1968), just three months before our wedding.
I ramble now, with these pleasant thoughts, some half a century old. In March, it will be 51 years since that life altering walk home from the bioscope. Today, the day I plan to give this to you, 18th January 2015, it will be 46 years since Fr. Claude Cotting married us in Chingola. And I wonder what it was, what it is - and who we were and who we are, that has had us survive together- for the most part, incredibly happily - for so long? What did we learn, what have we retained and what have we discarded from our childhoods? Who are we? What we have learned since, who and what influenced us, how we travelled across the world to create a new life and how we adapted – and then transformed ourselves, us two ‘wet behind the ears bush kids’ into parents! All the long hours of hard work, the financial hardship, the houses bought and sold, friends and family who loved us and others who didn’t, happy times and disasters, hospital visits, sickness and heartbreak, births and deaths and the moves and the mayhem and the magic, and all the travel, the arguments and ecstasy, the love making and the love breaking. All the wins and all the losses, the disappointments and the challenges, the tears and regrets and laughter, the heat of anger and the tenderness of love. How we separated, close to divorce – twice - and yet somehow found our way back through the maze and determined our lives were meant to be lived together, and then to somehow create a new marriage from the ashes of the old one?
I know we were well loved. Perhaps we had a blueprint?
Well, you are my rock, and have been all of my life.
I thank you for your forgiving me, Gerald, and the courage it took to create a new marriage with me, given my past record. Thank you for trusting me when I had betrayed you. You brought discipline and clarity, a special kind of love, to each day of our lives. Your capacity for creating a new possibility and a vision for us to live into was and is an inspiration – a guiding light for me. Your fortitude held us through the times of enormous challenge, discomfort, confusion and pain, and guided us safely to a new future, where we stand happily and lovingly today, experiencing the kind of happiness we once thought unachievable. You remain unwavering in your love and perseverance.
Thank you for always, always, ALWAYS being there for me, your ongoing commitment and hard work and the way you manage all the things I am not good at. Thank you for your willingness to be responsible for the practicalities, the financials, and for holding the details of our lives so steadily, so calmly, in your competent hands. You are the true distinction of Loyalty and Love.
Thank you, too, for always honouring my feminine strength and power, although I know you often do not understand it. Thank you for giving me the freedom to explore the world and to live my purpose, and for encouraging my self expression (another mystery to you). With you I stand taller and laugh louder. I find compassion and forgiveness. I am willing to take more risks, work harder and strive longer. With you I know I can appreciate fully, give generously and love wholeheartedly.
I know that I can take care of myself, but I so love having you take care of me. Your everyday “It's handled, Sandra”. Thank you for the safety I always feel, both physically and emotionally, and the deep knowing that I am protected, respected, found to be beautiful, and profoundly loved. We live a happy, extraordinary and adventurous life because of you.
There will always be a myriad of things to thank you for, things you do each day to make me happy, and there will always be more to thank you for, to acknowledge you for, and to love you for.
I want to end this letter by thanking you for being the head of our family, for blessing me with the gift of motherhood, for being an extraordinary father, for partnering me in parenting, and always watching over Joshua and I. I thank you for raising our son to manhood, for being the finest role model I could ever have imagined, for setting an example and being the benchmark above all others as a Man, a Husband, and a Son.
I LOVE YOU GERALD GROOM