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Sunday, June 19, 2011

Ouma Annatjie (Grandmother Anne)

Now about my grandmother.

Ouma Annatjie

My grandmother, Anna E J Heyneke (née Verster), was born on 8 November 1910 in Bethal. She was the second youngest of four children and the only girl. When she was 17, her father died from a bleeding ulcer. Her mother never re-married.

One of her brothers married a young woman called Sarie. Not long after they were married Sarie was diagnosed with leprosy. She was sent to a leprosy clinic called Wesfort, west of Pretoria. Given her poor chances at recovery, her husband was granted a special divorce and re-married later. My grandmother visited her a few times, when the leprosy wasn't contagious anymore. Sarie never left the place and died after some years there.

Ouma Annetjie lived in Bethal with Oupa Neels until 1988 when the two elderly people moved into a flat that my father had built for them behind our house. I guess this was when my childhood ended and real life took over.

Later, after my grandfather had died, my grandmother was moved into Centurion Rusoord (an retirement village and old age home). She had had a hip replacement and needed more specialised care than Mother could provide. There she lived out her final years. She died on the afternoon of 25 June 2005, aged 94½. She left behind two daughters, three grandchildren and one great-grandchild.

The photo shows her funeral brochure, which Ilze and I designed and made together. I love the miniature fabric rose which we stuck onto the photo on the cover. Ouma Annatjie was that kind of woman. Always immaculately dressed with hair to match. Even when she was very old and very frail, she always looked her best.

I assign her longevity to the fact that she looked after herself, and not just on the outside. She ate lots of fresh vegetables. Lots of wholegrain too. Very little sugar and salt. Lots of fresh air. Never smoked, never drank. Tea instead of coffee. Kept busy. More often than not took an afternoon nap.


My grandmother had worked when she was younger, but became a housewife when my aunt and Mother arrived. Actually, I think of her more as a farmer's wife. They produced fruit and vegetables as well as corn. They had chickens and grandfather was and avid hunter. Ouma Annatjie was also an excellent cook and baker. Oh, how the tables groaned under the load at Christmas!

Ouma Annatjie was the original cat magnet. She had more than 24 of them at one stage! And just look at her descendants. Aunt Alda, Mother, Cas, Ilze, The One and I. As I've said before, it has even spilled over to the ones mad enough to marry us. Mother, for instance, doesn't have to go find a cat; they just arrive on her doorstep.

Thinking about it, my grandmother's love for animals wasn't limited to cats. She loved all animals, big and small. One time someone drove over a toad in the driveway, only half killing the poor thing. She was so distressed at the toad's predicament that she went inside, got the airgun my father used to shoot pigeons with for the cats sometimes, went back outside and helped the toad out of its misery.

I've written about my magic blanket before. I inherited a blanket which Ouma Annatjie used during her last years in the old age home. It is as though her love for cats has soaked into the fabric of the blanket. Wherever you put it, one or more cats are sure to go lie there and fall asleep there. It never fails, retaining its powers even though it's been washed several times.

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