“Is there stuff stuck in my teeth? I think my breath stinks, please smell it and tell me truthfully”
The scarf goes on, the scarf comes off. The pearls twisted twice…no once.
“Which goes best with this top…but look this part is hanging out down here”
“I neeeed to weeee….”
“Geeeez, this place is freezing…can I borrow your coat, mine is the wrong colour for this outfit”
Exactly the same. Scenario. Words. Friends.
(Ok, maybe the hair is a little greyer and the bodies have a bit of sag and soggy here and there).
The only difference is time… its now forty years on and we’re not in a boarding hostel getting ready for a dance in the 1970’s, but in a Grahamstown guest house preparing for registration at a very special reunion and celebration – that of 40 years with girls at Kingswood College.
(We also shared the weekend with the 1975 and 1985 matriculants. You’re welcome!)
Yehaa! We’ve made it thus far, intact and reveling in the good fortune of 4 decades of friendship that’s survived the idiosyncrasies of this thing called life. Through the years we’ve been in touch and in each other’s weddings. We’ve cheered on degrees and doctorates, celebrated children, cried through divorces and ached in death, across countries and continents. But it’s the first time in 40 years we’ve all been together, in the same place, at the same time. And we’re absolutely delighted. Cryptic and colloquial conversations happen late at night with a bottle of red or two as witness and early in the morning as we all climb into one bed sharing cups of coffee with rusks and then walks on windswept beaches.
Chats over countless cappuccinos range from chronic constipation to the state of the constitution. (South Africa’s that is!)
We discuss clever and giggle stupid like the schoolgirls we once were. We made memories back then and now we relive them, through words and faded photo’s, in the comfort of hindsight, ageing grace and raucous laughter attached to leaking bladders.
Grahamstown is very cold in winter. We went to watch the current first team girls hockey match well prepared with coats, blankets and the gorgeous warm red scarves given to us with our extensive welcome packs. The game was played on astro turf and under very bright night-lights. A far cry from the dusty, dry hockey fields we smacked balls and opponents around on in our day. Today they have a High Performance Sports Centre inclusive of indoor running track and all that opens and shuts to nurture future Olympic and rock stars. As well as two swimming pools, plenty of squash and tennis courts and rich green fields with larney bleachers, all set in landscaped and haute-cultured gardens.
This is not school, its paradise.
As it must be to curl up with a book on one of the fatly-stuffed and cushioned couches in the library. In our time the library was dark and cold, filled with leathered red Encyclopedia Britannica’s and hard wood chairs. The only fun and learning we got out of it was when the chairs and tables were pushed aside for ballroom dancing lessons with stiff armed and awkwardly legged boys who darted around like pesky gnats. Clearly out of their depth with this new phenomena called girls-at-an-all-boys-school. This old library is now a museum. Man, this school has HISTORY. (I was third generation and my brother’s offspring, forth. My father taught there too.)
Alongside the museum, a state of the art dining hall in which students can pick and choose a menu that suits them, buffet style. School meals for us came in one stainless steel bowl or tray of whatever with a side of white bread and margarine. All of which was plonked on our tables by domestic servers whom we teased and pranked unmercifully. The food choice then was of the take-it-or-leave-it kind. For us on this weekend, the food was fabulous. From the registration supper to casual lunches and cherry-on-the-top formal dinner, all I can say is ooo and ahhh with sighs and salivation as the taste of spinach, strawberry and caramelized pecan nut and feta salad, chicken curry with all the pieces and minted roast lamb, fried fat potatoes, pumpkin fritters and all the trimmings linger on. Yum!
The dignified Saturday dinner was held in the aforementioned High Performance Centre, now transformed into a five-star venue with KC coloured drapes, long-stemmed red roses and fairy lights, back dropped by the schools live Jazz Band. School kids play THIS well? Most certainly they do! It set the lavish tone for the rest of the evening at which an informed and interesting speech made by the current head girl oozed confidence and charisma. If she’s representative of our future, we’re in good hands.
The head boy toasted and current students waited on our tables with ease and charm. Loud laughter erupted when a certain Old Kingswoodian who goes by the notorious name of Naartjie – then and now – ceremoniously (unceremoniously?) returned the decades-missing junior boys shower bell. It somehow “disappeared” when someone decided he didn’t like cold water and a wooden spoon on a frosty winter morning! Naartjie insisted he had just looked after it through the ages and to celebrate its return to the school, mounted it in a beautiful wooden box made by himself from the rescued floorboards of Gane House when it burned down.
More speeches followed and honouring accolades for some of our old (!) teachers, many of whom were invited to celebrate with us. The most touching to me – our Afrikaans teacher, who unashamedly shed a tear in greeting us – his first female students. He quipped personal mementos about each of us, while glauwering (laugh + glower?) generously when I told him the only words I know and frequently use in Afrikaans are sies, voetsak, slapgat and poepal! Ja, well, no fine!
I vaguely recall that the evening ended in the morning.
And what a beautiful morning it turned out to be. Crisp, cold but clear skied and sunny, we made our way to chapel. I knew it would be an emotional time as the tears welled up all too soon just hearing the choir practice the Our Father. There, with a guard of honour, white helmeted heads bowed and red jackets bold, we assembled outside the large wooden doors and pink brick walls. Past and present students all together. Us in our Sunday best. They in their very smart school uniforms. The sunlight in all of our souls. Flags slowly rose, wreaths were laid and the blue noted bugle forlornly let out the Last Post in memory of past students who had lost their lives in war. In front of me a little schoolgirl hitched her checked school dress up high, pulled her black tights out of her shoes and manoeuvred them into her waist. Amidst the memory of death, pomp and ceremony, there is life – normal and natural.
The service was special in every way. The orchestra leading the worship, the choirs, both junior and senior, singing oh-so beautifully. We laughed with the very exuberant Minister as she jiggled and jollied her way through a profound and impactful sermon. We cried at the reading of the too long list of fellow classmates who had passed away – way before their time and we huddled together arm-in-arm, tears rolling down even the most hardened face, as the never forgotten hymn “God be with you till we meet again” bellowed forth with gusto, memory and deep meaning at the end of the service.
There we were forty years on, together under the universal love of God, united in life, stories, heartache and laughter.
It is said that the opposite of poverty is not wealth but community. How rich we all are as the Kingswood community lives so gloriously on.
We lifted our teacups high to that on Cops lawn and asked each other, most sincerely, if we had parsley from the sandwiches in our teeth.
Just one last time as the final photos were taken.