Thursday, January 17, 2013

Christmas flowers

...that's what I thought these flowers were called, when I was little. They bloomed prolifically in svelte blue and pink banks beside the narrow road that led into Knysna, the small, lagoon-wrapped south coast town where we spent some summer holidays. I was too young (and too-unborn, for the most part) to remember the earlier time, when my mother's parents lived on Leisure Isle, the little island in the lagoon itself, and reached by a narrow causeway

My grandfather, Lennox Fleischer, was known as Fly by his friends and drove around the island in a "solo car", adapted to hand controls, as he had had both legs amputated. Spinal tuberculosis, I think. His friends built a concrete ramp for him where he could launch his small motorboat, to go fishing. My brothers fished with him. I never knew any of that. For me it is a story. I did not know him. He is buried in the cemetery, there, across the water and on the hill.

Leisure Island remains very, very special in my heart - the small waves of the lagoon collapsing on the sand, the long, low tide, the crests of the breakers between the two headlands. When my father was young and heedless he swam across The Heads and their strong currents. An unpopular move, I gather. Was he thinking of Byron and the Hellespont, I wonder? I never thought about that before...

Knysna is now holiday central and heavily populated. I think we last visited just after Vince and were married [ photos have improved!], staying in an expensive guest house on the island, and fantasizing about what it would be like if my father had bought the modest beachfront holiday house that was offered to him for sale, long ago. It was called Pinky. It was pale pink. One summer our cousins visited and my Uncle Reg played sand lions with me every day on the pale beach where long straight strands of seaweed and chalky cuttlefish washed up, between the water and our summer home.

The lagoon, when I saw it with Vince, was still pale green at high tide, and the waves still flopped onto the beach at night with a sound sinister enough to have made me throw my toddlerhood toys (I had an extensive koala collection) out of my cot, one by one, so that my mother would come upstairs after the very last and very deliberate thump, to see what was the matter. I didn't like the waves. I thought they were coming up the stairs to get me.

And there were island gardens full of Christmas flowers. The hydrangeas pictured were not in Knysna, but at The Food Barn in Noordhoek, in Cape Town in December. I was going to write about food and lamb pies and French chefs. But the flowers made me think, suddenly, this Brooklyn night as I type, about small waves and blue flowers and a summertime when tomorrow was a concept so foreign that it left no mark whatsoever on my sunny, sandy, sand lion life.


  1. What lovely memories! I think there is something about the ocean that gets into your very soul - the water, the sand, the color, the smell, the voice. Once you love it, it becomes a part of you. i cannot imagine living more than a few hours from it. one needs a transfusion now and then.

    Imagine hydrangeas at Christmas - wow!

  2. love hydrangeas. love your blog. thanks for sharing.

  3. I have a lifetime love of certain flowers because my grandfather grew them. As a child, I fell in love with hydrangeas, wisteria, camellias, and coxcomb. They bring back wonderful memories.

  4. Love hydranges! ... and yes, Remember Aaron Swartz, a sad loss indeed.

  5. beautifully written ... I cannot wait for the 1st of your many, many books.

  6. what a wonderfully settled image.


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