Friday, 23 March 2012

It is too much love to say

Lily and Jumbo Hirshowitz

I don’t know very much about my grandmother Lily's life. But this is what I do know:
She was born in 1910 in East London in South Africa.
Her father was an invalid, and her mother ran a boarding house to pay the bills.

I imagine my grandmother, Lily and her sister, Jumbo helped run the boarding house. I imagine they cooked and cleaned.  I don’t know. I only know my grandfather came to town one day, and fell in love with Lily.  

Jack was handsome, wealthy and had studied law at Cambridge.  He sent Lily a diamond ring, and in that way that rich men marry beautiful women, they got married.  

They moved to a big house in Cape Town and had three children.  Lily never worked again.

She was 52 when I was born, the first of her eight grandchildren.

I spent a lot of time with her and this was her routine as far as I could tell:
She bathed every morning and then sat at her dressing table in her petticoat.   
She put on her stockings, her makeup and her jewellery. Then she got dressed.

She sat in the living room on the sofa with her back to the window. She did the cross-word puzzle and the Word Game in the Cape Argus every day. 

She read, gardened and played bridge with her friends.  Tea came on a tray in a pot, with a jug of hot water and a jug of milk.

She smoked 30 Benson & Hedges cigarettes every day and she would let me light them for her.

Every day at five o’clock, she would bring in the drinks tray with ice-bucket and silver tongs. She and Jack would drink a whiskey and soda. 

She taught me to crochet, knit and shuffle cards.  She taught me how to play Patience, how to make a house out of cards and how to make a fan out of the gold foil in the cigarette box.

I never once heard her say an angry, unkind word.
I never heard her complain, although I could see when she was sad. 

She didn’t like the way her hand shook when she developed Parkinson’s disease.
Even when I held her soft, wrinkled hand and kissed it and said I loved all of her including her shaking hand, she was still sad. I could see that.

This is the last thing she taught me:
It was the last time I saw her alive. 
My grandfather had died and she lived alone in a small flat. Although I loved her desperately, I would only visit her when my mother nagged me to.
That day as she was saying goodbye to me, she said: “be happy”
She was trying to tell me that happiness is a choice.  
I didn’t understand what she meant.
I do now.

She died in 1992. I remember the date because I was five months pregnant with my first child.
I called my daughter Lily. 


These are some of my grandmother's recipes:


  1. Very moving. Brought a tear to my eye.

  2. oh good, that's what I like to hear, thank you x