Skip to content

Starry Pants

And then, suddenly, Monday comes to crash the sacred silence. The housekeeper arrives early. Laundry. Vacuum. Dishes. The hospital bed is removed and my Father’s bed (which he made himself a few years back) is put back in its place. Order is restored to the household as if nothing had happened.

We need to go into town to sort out admin. Funeral parlour. Or are undertakers? Both names seem equally absurd. Bank. Doctor. Funeral policy. Death certificate. Cremation. Cof n. Oh God, the choice of cof ns!! My sister and I both step back at the sight of the cof ns – they are too garish and ghastly to look at! No please, we cannot put my Dad in one of those! Not with his purple starry pants and t-shirt!!

“A Jewish coffin is more expensive,” the parlour lady tells us. We are not worried about the price! It is the cheap ornate wooden look with shiny gold handles and fancy screws that make us squeamish… “I can put rope handles on” she tries to placate us. “What about owers?” she tries. “NO” we both say, just a bit too loud and expressive. “Ok” she says. “So do you need me to be there?” An even louder and more expressive NO escapes and we both start apologising profusely. “Our Dad did not want a circus, definitely no owers and no you need not be there, we will cope.”

We sign papers and ll out forms for the cremation. No, no pacemaker. No, no prosthesis. Yes, he died of natural causes. I do not know where he was born. My sister guesses Tarkastad. Perhaps Wolmaranstad? Wtf does it matter where he was born?

We need to choose a design for the funeral brochure thingy. White lilies? NO! Lilac hues? NO! We will send you a picture. (A few years ago we took our parents on a boat cruise from Genoa to Cape Town. A very persistent photographer took loads of photographs. At a formal dinner one night my Dad had to wear a tie. Grumpy as hell about the whole palava the photographs turned out quite nice. My Mom bought one, saying it will be perfect for his funeral brochure. She kept it all these years.) The entire rigmarole is beyond exhausting. Shopping. Doctor’s appointment for my Mom who is not feeling well. In Spar, we bump into a number of people who we have not seen since our childhood days. Repeat the story of death. Remember tonic! More locals. Repeat the story of death. Did you get bananas? Another old-school acquaintance. Green beans or courgettes? At the till we hear a man say to someone “Do you know Ann Stroebel? Her husband also died this weekend!” My sister says to the till attendant “We are his children”. “Haai mevrou?” And she carries on scanning our groceries.

We go for lunch at a local restaurant where my parents are regulars. David is our waiter. Friendly. My Mom asks him if he knows my Dad. “Ja mevrou, ek ken oom Eric goed van Witsand se dae toe ek nog by Nella se winkel gewerk het!” Die oom is Saterdag dood. “Haai mevrou, my innige simpatie. Wat kan ek vir mevrou-hulle kry om te drink?”

The visit to the pastor at the Bible School reveals yet another side of my Dad that we knew little of. He visited Phil often and attended services at the Chairos Church. “Your Dad told me exactly what to do. And that I am not to wear a suit and tie. Jeans and a T-shirt and make it short!” Dad was well-loved and respected by Phil and his wife Tanya. I remember my Dad telling me that he was attending the annual church concert. They asked him if he would participate, to which he agreed. I was completely dumbstruck – my Dad in a church concert? He did a solo performance of “I’m a lonely little petunia in an onion patch”. Apparently, it was a great hit! One weekend we came home. My Dad was even more quiet than usual. On Sunday morning he showed us a photograph of himself in a big swimming pool, being baptised. I was speechless. Afterwards, Victor asked if I knew about this. I had no idea! “They could have at least taken the kreepy krauly out of the pool” Victor said.

We could not stop giggling. My Dad. Dark horse.

The NG dominee comes to visit. We have to break the news that he will not do the service for my Dad. I explain to him that my Dad was banned from the NG kerk in about 1970 for being a Freemason. He was asked to choose between the Freemasons and the church. He chose the former, never setting foot in the latter for 12 years. When I was in matric the dominee at the time, Ben Marais, invited my Dad to come to church, aa I had to be confirmed. My Dad came to church and fell asleep within minutes. My Mom just about cracked his ribs to wake him up. He never came back. I was confirmed. Sela.

On Monday morning, many years ago, my Mom went to the pharmacy. Neville Lotz, the pharmacist, asked her how my Dad’s hand was feeling. My Mom had no idea that my Dad’s hand was feeling anything. “Why?” she asked. It then transpires that there was an argument during his fourball. Some old (white) members of the club wanted to change the constitution to prevent certain new (coloured) members from becoming committee members. My Dad objected. One of the fourball players called him a “k….boetie”. My Dad klapped him so hard with a backhand swipe that he broke a few bones in his hand. He was obviously too scared to tell my Mom. He was banned from the club for six months. He joined the club in Riversdale and never went back to the Heidelberg club again.

We go through old photographs at home. There are hundreds of pictures of him, dating back to 1939. A beautiful boy with blond curly hair. Judging by the pictures he must have been adored. An only child, my Grandmother called him “baby” until her death when he was well into his sixties.

At the funeral place, I am painfully aware of the fact that my Father’s body is lying in the back in one of the fridges. I feel guilty that we did not put socks on his feet. Silly thoughts of how cold he must be, entertain themselves in my mind. I wonder about the cremation. Will it really be his ashes that they return to us? What are the chances that they simply take a scoop from a big pile? I am somehow very sceptical of the whole cremation business…obviously read too many Huisgenoot stories as a child.

We are now in that twilight zone between death and memorial service. I hate the words “memorial service”. Celebration of Life. Whatever, we are all in limbo. Waiting for family to arrive. Trying to focus on minutiae about who sleeps where and what will we give them to eat. My Mom is fixated on her own reality – the medical aid excess payment of her medication. And the dogs that won’t eat. Tonight she says “There is something I don’t understand”. “What is that?” we ask. “Why are people now telling me what a good man he was?” We don’t really have a plausible answer. “Let’s eat” is the best I can come up with.

I am sitting at my Dad’s place at the table. Everyone puts their hands out and automatically I repeat his grace. “Seën ons Vader voor die ete laat ons U nimmer vergete. Amen”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *