My Mum sang as she danced. “One, two, three, one two three, one two three….” She glided across the lawn waving a handkerchief in her hand. “And now, you take the handkie…”
A Blue Crane was dancing with Mum! She delicately plucked the handkerchief from Mum’s hand as they continued their dance. My Mother sang out a Strauss waltz as she and the Blue Crane moved together on the lawn.
The Blue Crane, Lady Grey, had been placed on our farm by SANParks. She had broken her wing and it was hoped that it would heal and she would join up with a flock of cranes on a neighbouring farm. She and Mum had struck up a firm friendship. It was hilarious watching the two of them “dance” together. Lady Grey loved taking the handkerchief from Mum and then she would waltz a few steps before once more stretching out her beak and passing it back to Mum.
I used to get such delight watching my mother try to teach Lady Grey to fly. They would run together with Mum flapping her arms vigorously up and down and saying: “Do this, Lady Grey, move your wings like this.”
And Lady Grey tried. She tried, but never actually managed it. Until one day, joy of all joys, following my flapping mother closely, she actually took off. Her legs left the ground and she flew. Okay, it was only over a small fence and she landed haram-scarum on the other side but she flew! She picked herself and looked at my Mother triumphantly. “Yes, yes, we did it!” shouted Mum exultantly.
Lady Grey lived with us for about eighteen months. Her flying got stronger and indeed she did meet up with “a fella”! The two of them came back to the farm to say goodbye and then they flew off into the evening air. Even so, they flew low and stopped often. Her flying was still not strong. I was glad that Lady Grey had found a considerate, caring partner!
Apart from dancing with cranes, it was Mum’s job to rear all the little hanslammetjies. These were the baby lambs that had lost their mothers, orphaned lambs. And there were a lot of them. I remember Mum had thirteen at one time! But there was one lamb that as it grew older decided to become a dog rather than a sheep! Her name was Baa-bara! We had three bull mastiffs. Dad would give out his whistle and shout: “C’mon, dogs, bakkie!” (Dad’s truck!)
There was a mad rush as our three bull mastiffs and Baa-bara headed for the bakkie. The three dogs managed to jump straight into the bakkie. Baa-bara couldn’t manage that. Dad opened the back of the bakkie for her and Baa-bara hoisted herself in. The others greeted her affectionately and they were off. Dad often stopped, and let the dogs and Baa-bara out. They all ‘explored’ until Dad was ready to go. They all would all clamber into the bakkie and head for home. Baa-bara was one of the team.
Mum recalls arriving home at about five and walking into the lounge. Dad and his “compatriots” we’re all dead to the world. Dad had flaked out in his lazy-boy chair, the dogs were asleep on the floor beside him. Baa-bara had chosen the best place to sleep. She was fully ensconced on our beautiful, ever so comfy couch!!!
Reps who would come out to the farm would claim that they had never ever received a welcome like that before: Three bull mastiffs and one sheep would come bursting out towards their car in welcome!
Unlike Baa-bara who thought that she was a dog, our bull mastiff, Cosby thought that he was human! He made me laugh. He loved people and being part of the crowd. Often we would have friends around for a braai on Sunday. We would all sit on our garden furniture talking and chatting. Cosby, who was a big dog, would climb up onto a chair too. He would sit there, perfectly content, listening to whoever was talking. And waiting for Dad to bring the braai meat over when it was ready!
And then there was Cousins, Mum’s fifth child!
On returning from shopping, Mum was led through to her room by Sophie who worked for my parents. On the floor was her wash basket turned upside down. “What’s this?” said Mum puzzled.
“Dis ‘n geskenk vir jou!” (“This is a present for you!”)
Not knowing what to expect, Mum slowly lifted the wash basket. Two, big frightened eyes of a baby monkey peered up at her. His parents had been shot. He had been rescued and bought to Mum. It was known that she used to be a nurse and was good with animals. Anyone sick or in trouble of any kind headed for Mum. Naturally she was the first person to be thought of when confronted by this scared little orphan. She named him: Cousins.
He adored her and would rarely leave her neck. If he did, it was to race along the table and grab a morsel of food. Then, food in hand, he would sit contentedly on Mum’s shoulder eating his spoils with relish.
I look back at my parents farming days and I smile. Dad and Mum feeding the hanslammetjies, the guinea fowl perpetually skimming through the house, the dancing Lady Grey, the little heifers, Baaabara, Cousins, the many dogs. It was a place always open to family, friends and animals alike.
Our farm was a place fairly bristling with love.