Another Decision

But Anglo did offer not only Michael’s job back, but also all our relocation costs. I was shaken. I didn’t want to move within Bath, never mind across the world. Again. And I hadn’t really enjoyed it the first time.

But basically we were committed. And at least I knew what to expect this time. Telling my parents was no easy matter. I still remember my mother standing at our kitchen sink in Bath. They had come up for the day, bringing with them most of the Sunday lunch, as usual, plus an assortment of books and clothes for the children. As my mother washed the cauliflower, I casually mentioned that we thought we might go back to South Africa. Her hands did not move. She stood, shocked rigid.

I suppose a plethora of thoughts and emotions rushed through her mind. How could we do this when I had been so homesick the first time? How could I take the children away from them again?  How could we bear for the grandparents not to be around for birthdays and Christmas? How could I spend the rest of my life having Christmas dinner cooked on the barbeque in temperatures of 30°C? How could I go back to a country with policies that denied people basic human rights?

To be honest, I tried not to think of any of those issues. I focussed on the exciting part of getting the house finished quickly so we could put it on the market.  I felt I had driven Michael into a state of depression, and this was the opportunity to have my old husband back. I also thought vaguely that perhaps I could play some part in abolishing apartheid. Some very small part that might justify this decision.

In order to speed up the house renovation, we hired a group of young men to assist with painting and hanging wallpaper. They were an entertaining crowd, in spite of spilling paint on the new carpet. Morning tea became quite a highlight in the day as they stood around the kitchen scoffing the day’s fresh baking. Unfortunately, one morning, no-one noticed Edward had disappeared. It wasn’t long after their break that one white-faced young man came running back down to the kitchen to tell me that Edward, who was barely two, had climbed out of the open bedroom window and was standing on the ancient glass conservatory roof.

I couldn’t reach him, and I was afraid to call him in case he lost his footing and stepped on an actual pane of glass, in which case the whole structure would have collapsed. The four men and I stood just inside, holding our breath, watching as the little fellow stood on the edge, peering down. Young as he was, he must have realised this wasn’t a good plan, as he turned around and started walking back. When he was within reach, I leaned out and grabbed him, whistles and sighs of relief echoing all around. Once the paint had dried, that window was permanently locked.

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We sold the house and once more moved back with my parents. Michael’s job started at the beginning of December, so he flew out alone, while the children and I spent a lovely Christmas with all my family. My grandmother was there at the time, and she wound the children up to a state of wild excitement by sending them on frequent trips to the window to look at the sky because she was sure she heard sleigh bells.

Traditions, whether good or bad, reinforce a feeling that ‘it must be done this way’. My childhood Christmases were always very traditional, and I longed for my children to feel the same magic that I had felt.

So the last Christmas my children and I spent in England with my parents followed very much along the lines of all the Christmases of my childhood, complete with Great Grannymums’ recitation of ‘Matilda and the Cat’, and Catherine organising her siblings and cousins Huw and Megan for the traditional nativity play. In the morning we went to church but had to sit upstairs in the gallery, and little Nikki, who was only four, dropped a small teddy over the edge, where it landed on a lady’s wide-brimmed hat. It was a red hat.

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