Baby Brother reminded me of the history of the name Quintella. Ever since he was a small child he has had an insatiable appetite for things of yore so he was always attentive when stories of the past were discussed. As he was much younger, he spent more time alone with Granny, soaking up her stories and storing them away in his encyclopaedic memory. It was the previous owner of the property that named it Quintella and this was after a town in Spain that she had visited. Granny and Grandpa liked the name so they kept it.
When we were very young two of my mother’s siblings were still living at home – Tony, the oldest was a bachelor till I was 10 or 11 and he took a keen interest in us all although we all knew and accepted that Big Brother was the favourite. Then there was Lee, the baby sister who I can still remember being in school uniform! Unfortunately, when I was seven, she was whisked away to Australia by her husband and has been there ever since!
Uncle Toto and Gramps, with Big Brother totally involved in the construction and design, built us a treehouse like no other. It was high in a gum tree in a faraway corner of the garden. This was no ordinary plank on a branch; this was like a real house with windows and curtains made by Granny and a leak-proof roof. It had proper little cupboards that were well provisioned and we ascended via a ladder that was nailed to the trunk. It even had a telephone – one Big Brother made with jam tins and string.
Imagine the modern child playing with those in this day of high technology. We would call down to gran and she would answer in a serious tone of voice or call us down for meals. How many hours didn’t we spend in this our very own house imagining we were shipwrecked or abandoned and having the time of our lives with no adult interference.
Miles away at the other end of the garden there was a swing made from an old tyre. Is there anything more thrilling to a child than to swing as high and as dangerously as possible. Uncle Toto used to say how high do you want it – how hard must I push and we would yell – “Give me “the works” Uncle To – Give me the works!” And with his powerful arms he would push and we’d go around in ever widening circles, higher and higher and higher till we screamed in glee.
The garden and house were haunted! Or that is what some people thought. Granny said they were friendly spirits and that it was a happy home and there was nothing to fear. But one of Mom’s cousins when sleeping over, awoke one night and encountered a ghostly woman who frightened the daylights out of him. None of Gran’s reassurances put his fears to rest and he never slept over again!
In one nook of our magical garden was a rather spooky fishpond. It had the clubhouse on one side (more of that another time) and bushes and hedges surrounding it so it was sort of separate with a little gate that opened into the nook. An eerie silence hovered over it, but it didn’t bother me and I would play there quite often. Granny told me that she’d seen the ‘lady’ there a few times. “She was searching,” she said, “looking under the bushes and into the pond, but she never spoke.”
“Did you speak to her, Granny?” I asked.
“No – I just watched her and wondered what she was looking for. Then one day I found it.”
“What?” I asked. “What did you find, Gran?”
“It was a ring – just a dress ring not worth very much – but it must have been precious to her.”
I felt a chill of excitement race down my back. “Did you tell her, Gran. What did she say?”
“No, I never got the chance to tell her. She never appeared again.”
“I think she must have wanted you to have it, Gran.”
“Yes, now her soul can rest in peace because she knows her treasure has been found.”
I haven’t thought about that story in years and wonder now what happened to the ring because I can’t ever remember Granny showing it to me – but perhaps she did! Maybe Baby Brother will know.
Besides all the clocks and watches in my grandparents’ house there was also a magical piano. It was a pianola and didn’t this give us some good times. All we had to do was insert the paper roll and pump the pedals and hey presto you had music! I found this definition in Wikipedia.
“A pianola is a self-playing piano containing a pneumatic mechanism that operates the piano action via pre-programmed music recorded on perforated paper. ”
Here is a picture of one just like it.
The songs it played are as clear as ever in my head – There’ll alway be an England while there’s a country lane tra-la-la (We were very Colonial in those days) And Be my love, Violetta which we loved as we had an aunt by that name! I remember Grandpa singing loudly to the music when we played and of course we would join in too.
I loved visiting my grandparents with my parents but also on my own or with one or all of my siblings. Not a hair was turned, when even as young as 8, I would catch the train from Fish Hoek and take the half hour trip alone to Plumstead. Packed bag in hand I would walk to Ophir road but sometimes Gran would meet me on the way. Even if I was the only grandchild there I would amuse myself in the neverending garden. There was just so much to explore. Pretend games were the order of the day – I would be a pioneering explorer or a princess lost in the woods waiting to be rescued – usually by Grandpa calling me to tea or lunch. One could not starve in our magical garden though – it was dotted with every possible fruit tree and berry bush – there were loquats to gorge on, the juiciest nartjies to pick and suck and loganberries on the hedge which sometimes left dreadful stains on one’s clothes. We also had plums, peaches, nectarines, quince, oranges and lemons. Then there was the vegetable patch. Uncle Toto even grew mielies and potatoes. So if we were besieged in the treehouse we got our supplies from the land!
Of course Granny, being a ‘real’ old fashioned early 20th century grandma, was constantly in the kitchen cooking wonderful meals, baking scones, chocolate cakes and milk tert not to mention the delicious jams and preserves she produced. Did I mention the fig tree? Big Brother developed a taste for fig preserve, I am sure, from the wonderful ones Gran did from the spoils of that tree.
The days seemed endless, the love eternal and the sun always seemed to shine. But no, I do remember winter. More on that and other memories another day!