Both of Dorothea and Theodora mean Gift of God – interesting that there is a Theodore for gifts of the male variety but no Dorotheo – and while they are uncommon in the 21st Century, my middle name is Dorothea after my grandmother, and I had good reason to think of it on Christmas Day.
The recent Johannesburg heatwave has been a nightmare of flies, mosquitoes and sweat: even those who haul out the hotties and unpack the winter clothes the moment the mercury dips below 28 have been complaining that it’s just too hot.
And while we’re grateful for the showers which have made the city a verdant tropical paradise, there has been a population explosion among mosquitoes. In fact, even as JoBurgers head south to the beaches, mosquitoes head north to spend their holidays in Egoli because of our bug-friendly climate.
For many years we have spent Christmas in the deepest south of Walkerville on the not-so-small holding of my best friend: when the three families first started getting together, there were 17 of us. As the children grew older and boyfriends and even boyfriend’s fathers were included, the number grew to 21.
A pocket farm full of horses, alpacas, goats, dogs, cats, rabbits, peacocks, chickens and geese – not to mention a large pool, a tree house, plus a ping-pong table and all the latest computer games – was paradise for the youngsters, while the adults, gossiped, drank and, in my case at least, smoked.
But parents died, children grew up and emigrated, some of us stopped drinking (and smoking) and although waistlines somehow continued to expand, our appetites diminished. So too did my tolerance for heat and flies. Now there are only eight of us, and the two youngest may be my friend’s children, but they are no longer children in any sense of the word and we are grateful for their tolerance.
It was my first Christmas without either of my children, and going to a menagerie in which none of the many, many animals are toilet-trained, and where the flies regard any pile of excrement as an ideal nursery, had me entering into one of those pointless and one-sided debates with God about the miscalculations he had made in Creation.
Flies being one, mosquitoes another of course, heat a third, and then the whole thing about children leaving home and wanting independence and all that rubbish when they could stay with their parents. I mean, Jesus lived with his mum and dad until he was 30 – why did mine leave so young?
Suffice it to say, I was pretty glum when I turned the light out and prepared for sleep on Christmas Eve. But The next morning I awoke to the first of the wonderful gifts God had given us. And if you don’t believe in God, that’s okay – call it Fate or Karma or what you will. The point it, it was cool and damp.
When we walked down Tyrwhitt Avenue to attend the Dawn Mass, the Republic of Rosebank appeared post-apocalyptic: quiet, deserted, no cars, no people, no noise. Okay, it was before 8 on a Sunday/Public Holiday/Christmas, but still. It was only when we reached Keyes Avenue and the cars and car-guards that we saw any sign of life.
The cool Scotch mist continued: even in Walkerville (hotter in summer, colder in winter, and windier all year round) it was cool and damp. After brushing past low-hanging water laden shrubs, I was chilly and wet. The furthest thing from our usual Christmas scenario – although to be honest I often am damp or wet, but that’s from sweat.
In addition to the cool damp, God had given us another Christmas gift: the pole providing my friend with electricity had exploded at 1am on Christmas morning, leaving her with no power and a dinner to prepare. She couldn’t even phone to let us know since both her children were out of airtime and she and her husband had no battery power.
But somehow she managed: roast turkey, gammon, roast vegetables, roast potatoes, gravy, and gammon sauce were not only cooked but kept warm using wood, gas and charcoal: the cool weather sharpened appetites and made the hot food doubly welcome, while the candle lit gloom added a romantic Victorian sense of festivity.
To add to the fun,we opened our presents using oven gloves – an excellent game! – which soon showed the obsessive wrappers with their profligate use of sticky tape from the happy go lucky-fold-it-in paper-and-hope-for-the-besters.
And my third present from God was the kindness of friends, who smiled kindly at my cling-wrap encased presents [inside ineptly made boves inside lots and lots of tightly wrapped paper well bedecked with sticky tape] and kindly commented favourably on the scent before exclaiming OMG and asking WTF IS this supposed to be?
Yes well, my first Bath Bombs disintegrated into sand, so a few people got a muffin case full of bath salt to explode all over their carpets a they ripped open my present. When I become aware of the ‘defect’ I made them again.
Now people have a doughy slop encased firmly in several layer of cling wrap within a handmade box wrapped in many layers of paper. By the grace of God they were all very kind and said the plastic-wrapped slop smelled grand and they couldn’t wait to use it.
When you get to my age the kindness of others and the kindness of the weather and the traffic is something you can really appreciate because, if you have learned anything at all, you have learned you can take nothing for granted and relaxing over wonderful food with old friends is a gift money can’t buy.
I missed my daughters, I missed cigarettes and wine and a youthful body: but I thank God for the gift of cool weather and loving friends.