I learnt some of the most valuable lessons from 3 important people, lessons that define me today.
The first lesson I learnt was from my Uncle Rui. He taught me the meaning of Fun! The backdrop to this lesson were the narrow winding lanes of the town of Evora, in Portugal, each lane leading to beautifully preserved examples of medieval architecture. Amidst the ubiquitous smells of delicious food and the lilting language of my youth we reached the restaurant where we were to have lunch, only to realize that he couldn’t go in with his casual shorts and sandals. Far from home in Lisbon, we raced around to shops, looking for a long pair of pants and shoes, laughing at the situation all the way. Being a natty dresser, not any old department store was good enough for my uncle! Dodging cyclists and taxis, we finally found one of those discreet shops, which cater to the discerning man, the type that will measure your waist and speak to you in hushed tones. Re-making our way to the restaurant we become aware of giggling behind us. My aunt and cousin, laughed and pointed to the hem of my uncle’s new pants – the hem was too long and it was dragging on the cobbles. My uncle looked down at his pants and burst into laughter.
The next lesson I learnt from my Mother-in-Law, Cecilia. She taught me Kindness. Cecilia raised 4 children in a foreign country. Not for her children modern processed foods. She lovingly made fresh healthy meals from scratch. She became masterful at making nutritious meals at next-to-nothing costs. And she was the Queen of the Kitchen Shortcut. Meals were on the table in double quick time. She gave of herself to her husband and children without asking anything in return. When she became ill, all she worried about was the trouble she was giving to her children, caring for her. In her last months, as we sat with her, she remembered her younger days in Mozambique, and she sang for us, songs from her youth, and recited, by heart, poetry and funny rhymes. She entertained us, and made us laugh, to help forget the insidious illness eating away at her body. She asked for nothing, gave a whole lot, and gained an everlasting memory in the hearts of all those who knew her.
The 3rd lesson I learnt was from my Grandmother, Luisa. My Grandmother showed me what Unconditional Love was all about. For 9 years she was the warm lap I escaped to, who comforted me when I was sick, and who lulled me to sleep every night. War tore our family apart. My parents came to South Africa with their young family, my Grandmother went to Portugal with her ailing Mother. My world changed during the course of a 45 minute flight to Johannesburg. There was always the hope that she would join us in our new country, but I think that was just a story my Mother told me to comfort me. Things were not easy for my parents. There wasn’t a lot of money, with 3 young children to school, clothe and feed. My Grandmother phoned every week. Every month there was a parcel from her with clothes and books. Hand-crocheted jerseys and winter socks. She showered us with telephonic kisses and hugs, every month, every year, for 35 years. I so looked forward to these parcels and those calls. The parcels kept coming, even after my parents were financially ok. This was her way of maintaining the connection with us, and us with her. I saw her again 15 years later and to her I was still the little girl. Seeing her again was like returning to a safe and warm cocoon. Throughout the years, her love never wavered, and as I grew up I realized its unconditional nature. It didn’t matter what I did or who I became, she just wanted me to be happy.
My Uncle Rui, my Mother-in-Law Cecilia and my Grandmother Luisa all died in the same year, within 3 months of one another. I lost 3 important people, but what they showed me define the way I live my life today.