20 Kathleen Street’s memory of yesterday


I’m too sentimental. Especially when it comes to things like grandparents. I can listen to grandma’s stories from yesterday. Sometimes the pain of the Second World War comes alive here in front of me when I listen to Grandma. She and my grandfather started anew in South Africa in the 1960s. With a few turns around the Cape and the South West they finally find a home in Bellville.

Last December I stood in front of Grandpa and Grandma’s house in Bellville. Well, it was their home for 45 years, but I never said goodbye when grandma moved out.

The first day I was in the Cape, my friend took me to 20 Kathleenstraat. She stayed in the car and left me alone.

I get out. The garden looks different. My grandfather’s proud garden is dull and neglected, but the house still looks exactly the same.

My heart sank when I saw it: the cracks in the driveway are still there. The genuine Cape windows are still there. The door is still the same and where my grandfather and grandmother’s nameplate used to hang, there is an empty spot on the wall.

I close my eyes. It’s as if they can walk out the door at any moment and offer coffee, as always when we finally arrived there at half past seven in the morning, after a long night on the N1 from Pretoria.

I want to knock on the door, but no one is home. Yet I know that it is not the same. There are no more noisy clocks hanging on the wall, the sofas are no longer in the living room. The round table is now in my sister’s house and the back garden probably looks even more neglected than the front garden. Grandpa’s computer room full of screens and miniature trains is now just a thought.

Maybe it still smells the same? Cigarettes. Coffee.

I get tears in my eyes when I remember my nephews and I watching who could run the most laps around the house. I remember Christmas presents in the living room. In the streets of Bellville my brother and sister run around together. I remember how we used to bake mud buns. There were two poodles and I was scared shitless of the stuff. I think of the time when Grandpa came to visit and took a wilted plant out of his suitcase. “This plant is going to come back to life in the summer,” Grandfather said. “So, don’t throw it away when it’s dead.” Today there are still some of those plants hanging in a tree in our garden in Pretoria. Every summer they start “living” again with the most beautiful pink and purple flowers.

I look at the house one last time. Try to engrave it in my memory. Then I get in the car and we drive away.

Grandpa is dead. For a long time. Grandma now lives in a beautiful resort. There is a strange man living at 20 Kathleenstraat, but the memories live in my heart.

I must remember to find out what one calls the plant, because I promised myself I would always have some in my garden.