A drive to the wild flowers through the past.


“The past is never where you think you left it.”
Katherine Anne Porter

‘We are going to the flowers.’

‘You too?’

‘Have to go, have to go, been every year.’

Never been. To the flowers then I say,  to that place where dry earth erupts with colour running into blue sea. Carpets of bloom await.  The trick is to leave early, go a little further and turn back as the flowers will only face the sun – slaves to her majesty. She must be out today for all rests upon the simple fact that she does.

Early means coffee stop at the local garage.  Winter bites, coffee stings on bloodless lips.  We are at the road trip, the childlike thrill of every adult here, and we are not disappointed.  Lego blocks of yellow canola fields curtained by snow capped mountains, miniature cattle in the distant, verdant fields. Isolated farm houses sleep in misty valleys, they are awake there I think, up with the purple dawn but there is no sound, no sense of labour yet. No feeling of sweat.

Passing through towns named after British places, cheeky taxis, little islands of puffiness and people honk and young men shout destinations to the already tired commuters, but I find it exhilarating. African rules. African roads. Potholes, dust and puddles of water from the night rain. Huge silos reach up to the sky, smothering wheat.

One town in particular calls for stopping.  Darling.  A town named Darling. Endearing name, this sleepy hollow speaks Afrikaans. Famed for a museum with all relics Apartheid, it is both history, and uncomfortable. People are living there, reminded of servitude, struggling to survive under present circumstances. How do I feel about the lamp base, the head of Verwoerd, all gilded and now, just a lamp base. But some industries thrive, a beer craft business, the local butchery where I find, for the first time rookwors, my mother came along for my joy of finding a dutch memory. The streets are wide and seem to lead somewhere, yet nowhere.

‘Ag man, dis my beurt.’ An abandoned building on the corner catches my eye. Massey Ferguson.

Place of tractors. Huge insects of the field, tyres bigger than my father’s car. Gone. I am struck by the memories of my childhood friend.  Her father worked his entire life at Massey Fergurson and how we thought him the absolute peach of a father’s friend – you see, every summer, the ultimate dream was to get one of those tractor tyres in the pool. He was our idol if he gave us one and see saw, making waves, trying not to get lanced by the single steel cap which often drew blood, Oom Dan was the making of a good summer.  Now gone, a lifetime of dedication to a company gone too. We had our turn – the building had me at summer at thirteen.

The rookwors and Oom Dan wrapped in a plastic bag in the boot, we stopped at Darling wines, then the Olive farm and followed the flowers to the West Coast National park.

You see one. You photograph it. Then another, stop to giggle in delight. Soon the rivers of flowers, the oranges, yellows and pinks weave, pop and thunder before you.

The ocean seems bluer against this background. Strips of white on turquoise frame the artists brush. Zebra and antelope graze undaunted by the gushing of tourists. It is but a day, some go further to the Cederberg, Baviaanskloof and fall amongst the petals.  Not for me this time.

Loving the scenery, bewildered by the natural beauty, my head is still in the museum, the stoeps and lace curtains of the small town.  The rookwors in the boot. Smatterings of scatterlings of my memories of childhood, making waves in the pool and watching the gardener watching us play. Everyone gardener was called ‘Boy’ or ‘John’ and I never learnt of their real names. I remember the dish of rookwors and hutspot before I remember their names. Except for Sam, my grandmother’s gardener, chauffeur and everything else. We were friends, sitting on the wall in the afternoons while he rolled his cigarette and hoped the sun would recharge the battery for his radio. Sam wore a cap when he drove the long, two toned saloon. I remember him then, and Dan, and the rookwors, and the tyre.

The flowers did their part. Vygies on our pavement found. Orange and yellow daisies struggling with the Free State clay were there, in abundance. The sea was not part of the memory.

A road trip, small towns, relics and rookwors. Wish I could have captured the flowers on film but my memory will suffice, unless I load up other pictures which are not mine, which I thought, not mine. Mine are good enough, unedited, unfiltered, untouched but for the memory of being there, with the rookwors and Oom Dan.