Happiest Holidays December 07, 2018 00:00

My whole childhood I felt a sense of missing out. My parents were very solitary, and I wasn’t allowed out to parties often, so felt very isolated.

But in December, we went to the sea!

It was always the same. We’d travel down to Port Elizabeth where I was born, and where my grandparents lived in the house my parents still owned.

At around 03:00 in the morning we’d be woken up from a deep sleep, the car packed up, some dithering and arguing, but finally we’d be on the road with a cup of coffee in our bellies. We're Italian. We learned to drink coffee young. (As an aside, I barely touch the stuff now.)

The trip was arduous with all three us sisters in the back seat in a car without air conditioning. It was hot and cramped. I remember the seats were patent leather and so you’d go through varying degrees of sticking and then sliding around in your perspiration.

Then if a sister dared to cross the line into your space, there was immediate backlash. The back seat real estate was precious and to be preserved at all costs.

We would stop once only for a burger and to fill the tank – always at the same place – and then hit the road again eating our lunch in the car.

Visiting the grandparents was wonderful. What is it about grandparents? They’re so loving and encouraging that you couldn’t help but feel happy in their presence.

My grandmother had the added bonus of being an excellent baker. Before we arrived, she’d have spent days baking her famous cookies. There were three types: romany creams; custard and soetkoekies. These would serve as breakfast and afternoon tea while we were there. There was no limit on how many we were allowed. It was a seemingly endless supply. My sisters seem to remember a lot of marble cake, but it's the cookies that stand out in my memory.

Of course while we were there she’d have another few intensive baking days preparing more for us to take home with us when we left.

I remember incredibly lazy days. Every morning was dedicated to the beach – King’s Beach in particular. After a few hours there, we’d go home and lie around a lot, mainly reading. Sometimes there would be a visit to cousins or friends my parents had made many years before.

There would be the daily feeding of wild birds that my grandmother loved so much.

I remember one year we were loaned a blue beach buggy. It was one of the highlights of all my December holidays. We really made good use of it.

It was a sort of pilgrimage for my parents, visiting their old haunts. Without fail we’d also go to Jeffrey’s Bay where my parents had a few pieces of land. It was a lovely drive and in those days there really wasn’t very much there. We'd go to each respective piece of land. Stand a while. Look. Take a picture and then go home. I never quite understood why we did it, but it was part of the ritual so that was that.

There was also a run down place called The Shack. A hastily self-made cottage on the Krom river where we would have to use an outhouse for all ablutions, but there was fun stuff like fishing and boating. It was the first place I water-skied. It was overrun by massive baboon spiders at night which lurked around every corner. Everywhere you sat or lay had to be triple inspected so you didn’t have a nasty encounter.

Occasionally we’d be joined by other close family friends and I remember the joy of being able to discover and share our secret places with them.

Because I read so much generally, but especially over this time, I had it in my head that I should have a holiday fling. Of course I’d never had a fling of any kind, ever, so how I thought I could possibly have the freedom to be flung while away with my parents, I have no idea. But I dreamed and dreamed of it. Every teenage boy who walked passed was part of a story in my mind.

To this day I’ve never had a holiday romance, and I guess there’s an age limit on that sort of thing. I’ve also stopped reading romance novels which makes giving this idea up a lot easier :)

I always think back to this time very fondly. Don’t we all long for a summer holiday as carefree as when we were young?