When my father met my mother, he
was a 21-year-old South African farm boy who had hitchhiked and walked
from Umtata in the Transkei to Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, a
journey of many hundreds of miles. On the parts of his journey where
he was forced to walk, he would tie his shoelaces together and hang
the shoes around his neck to save wear on the soles.
He found lodgings with 'Aunty Queenie',
an elderly lady who owned a boarding house which happened to be directly
across the road from the house where my mother lived with her parents.
She met him one day whilst visiting Aunty Queenie to borrow a bristle
from a sturdy broom to test a cake she was baking. My father saw her
and was instantly smitten and my mother admits to having found him rather
'attractive.' The man who would become my grandfather was not quite
as enthusiastic about the friendship and their courting was a furtive
affair. I am pleased to be able to add that my grandfather eventually
became one of my fathers greatest devotees, but, at that time, his little
girl's honour was at stake, and at 18, he felt her far too young to
be in love.
As my fathers first, and only girlfriend,
dad was a little unsophisticated in the ways of wooing. His idea of
a dinner for two was a whole boiled chicken served on an enamel plate
with two poached potatoes, eaten with a fork and spoon. This was the
way the lad had survived in his rural homeland.
Valentine's Day was fast approaching
and he faced a great dilemma. Dining out was financially out of the
question at that time. He had only just started a new job and was secretly
saving his pennies for a rather impressive engagement ring. The boiled
chicken and poached potato cuisine had failed to impress his sweetheart,
so that was a no go.
Ah, but what about a picnic? He
had fished all his life and pictured himself, Errol, with his darling
Felicity at his side, holding a rod in one hand with his free arm around
her as they whiled away the time in idle chatter, waiting for a bite.
Bliss! He put the idea to my mother,
and, as she had never been fishing in her life and rather fancied the
idea of a day along with her darling on the banks of the beautiful Sundays
River, she readily agreed.
It was the 14th February 1956 when
my father arrived to fetch her for their Valentine's Day excursion.
He was rather startled when she appeared in a green silk dress with
three lots of crinoline petticoats charmingly puffing out the skirt,
and matching high-heeled shoes but her rather odd choice of dress for
a day at the river did nothing to limit his joy at the prospect of the
outing. She climbed into his '54 Chevvy, neatened her petticoats and
off they set.
The couple hadn't got very far when
my mother felt something crawling along her ankle. Not too worried about
it, as we South Africans are used to creepy crawlies and she thought
it was probably nothing more than a flying ant, she brushed at the unseen
insect and continued to listen to my fathers instructions on the do's
and don'ts of proficient angling. A few minutes later the same sensation
occurred, but this time my mother felt two creatures crawling up and
around her petticoats. She let out a blood curdling scream and my father
swerved the old vehicle to the side of the road, jumped out and ran
to open her door.
My innocent, demure mother sprang
from the car seat still screaming, shaking her dress and petticoats
so hard that her modesty was in dire jeopardy. Seven live prawns fell
from under her dress -my father's live bait, always prawns, had escaped
from the packet he had placed them in on the back seat of the car seeking
refuge in the petticoats that must have looked to them like a foaming
Valentine's Day of 1956 was not
their most romantic experience, but I am so grateful that they had another
43 years together to make up for it.
In loving memory of my father, Errol
Dix-Peek, born 15th February 1933 - died 28 October, 1999 and with grateful
thanks to my darling mother Felicity.