Then came the wonderful years of being a student. It’s the only time in your life that you’re so free and without responsibility. The only ‘contract’ to be fulfilled is the obligation you owe towards the person or persons who gave you the opportunity to study.
Those were the golden years of laughter and, once more, of song – just as Griet and I had danced and sung on the ashheap at Doornkraal. But this time it was with a different rythmn, with different games, and with new friends. My father had extracted from me a promise that I would write him a letter every Sunday evening telling him what had happened the previous week. He also promised me five pounds at the end of my first year if I remained fancy free and, as he put it, part of the group, rather than becoming too involved with anyone in particular.
I first saw Ronnie in my botany class – we were in the same class. Ronnie was English-speaking, and could speak very little Afrikaans. I, on the other hand, could speak no English at all. By way of example, I remember that my residence friends and I used to take the train to Cape Town on a Saturday morning to go shopping. We dressed up very smartly – the gloves had to match the shoes and the handbag – and sometimes we even wore hats. We knew that there were street-photographers in Adderley Street, and if we were lucky enough to be photographed by them, that would be a great compliment. We bought nothing fancier than reels of thread or buttons, or maybe a pair of gloves, but it was wonderful to wander through shops like Garlicks, Stuttafords and Cleghorns, and to admire all the beautiful things that were available. Whenever we wanted to buy something and made enquiries in Afrikaans, the English-speaking sales ladies would glare at us severely, and say: ‘Speak in English, please.’ Time and again, I turned away empty-handed because I wasn’t able to express myself in English.
I told these stories to my father in my Sunday evening letters to him. When I was at home during the university holidays, he encouraged me to go to Rhodes University after I had finished my degree at Stellenbosch, so that I could learn to speak English. My father was very ill during my third year, and he died on the day I began my final exams. I kept my promise to him and the next year I went to Rhodes, where I obtained a teaching diploma.
I think the final spur was when Ronnie invited me to his parents’ house in Constantia: the only words I spoke all evening were: ‘I’m fine thank you,’ in reply to their ‘How do you do?’ after Ronnie had introduced me to them. The worst thing about that evening was the large photograph of Jan Smuts on their diningroom wall. I wrote to my father about all of this. This was a great shock because my father was an Ossewa-Brandwag man.
Before we knew it, our student years were gone and the adult world lay in wait for us. We didn’t, then, sufficiently appreciate that the next phase of our lives ought not to be undertaken without adequate preparation.
Ronnie and my paths had begun to converge more and more after our first year at university. We understood each other, and there was a strong energy between us. We had a large and interesting circle of friends, and we really enjoyed our student life, with all the fun that went with it. We played the games of youth to the full, but always responsibly.
After I graduated, I kept my promise to my father and went to Rhodes University for a year, in order to learn English. Ronnie and I began dreaming about our future. We decided that we would walk together, and that we would one day build a house, with children and many friends. And that we would prepare good food together.
Ronnie was a wine man through and through; and the combination worked. Our house was always open; our house was always friendly; our house always had the aroma of food being prepared in the kitchen; there was always good music; and there were many friends who enjoyed our hospitality, and never abused it. Our children grew up in this environment, and we always encouraged them to bring their friends home, just as we did. They could decide for themselves whether or not their friends would fit in.
Those were our golden years of good fortune, many guests, wine people, business people, and lots of cooking.
The Connoisseur’s Guild that was started in Stellenbosch, at the instance of the KWV, was begun by five women, of whom I was one. Our objective was to promote and expand the food and wine culture of the Stellenbosch wine district. Ronnie and my cooking became more expansive and, during our many overseas trips and with our exposure to other food cultures, the bond between us strengthened.
At home we had several different tables: a kitchen table, a casual visiting – or kuier – table, and a diningroom table. Each was nicer than the other. So many interesting people have sat around these tables that I sometimes wish we’d kept a visitors’ book – but in truth, we were not visitors’ book sort of people.
Everyone was equally welcome, and equally special.