2 Sep 2016

Woodville

My grandmother was given up for adoption in 1920, a month away from her fourth birthday. She remembered it, hazily. Having to wear her best shoes, which were too small. Her green dress. Hiding in a cupboard at the new house, crying, in a room that became her own.

I went there ten years ago, saw her room, the one that had a door onto the stoep. The kitchen was still an afdak running the width of the house. The stream where she'd watered the cows was at the end of the road. I emptied the bag of ashes that I'd brought illegally on the plane and let them float downstream. I felt connected and satisfied at having come this far, and found the place.

I found her school too, and the house of her art teacher, Mr Lindauer, whose father Gottfried was a real artist and who was persecuted for being "German" (he was actually Czech) so soon after the First World War. I found her adoptive father's grave in a cemetery I hadn't come to find, but which turned up on a hillside as I entered town.

There were many things I didn't find. I didn't find the mother who had given her up and why. I didn't find what her name had been for three years and then stopped being. I didn't find her birth family, any half-siblings or cousins. I didn't find peace though the hills and the stream and the trees and the sheep faded into a beautiful green dusk as I drove on to Napier, with jetlag so bad I had to roll the window down and hang my head into the onrushing air to keep myself awake at the wheel.

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