Beryl Eichenberger

The Memory Book

At 80 she was still very active and her small house at the edge of the sea in the Cape West Coast village was bright and cheerful, always full of youngsters – friends and family, ex-students and hangers on. Her bright humour and endless stories were a catalyst to these curious young people.

The early morning hours allowed her to savour her memories, enjoy the solitude.
Always busy with this or that project, each day had a goal. Her latest was to gather all her bits and pieces, photographs, scribblings – poetry, prose, – recipes, calligraphy and her memories – and craft them into a book that would be a legacy to the friends and family she loved.

June 7
Dear Diary
Something woke me at 4am and I lay in the darkness unable to sleep again. All I could see was the faint glimmer of the moon reflected on the sea.
Calm – peace – this silence allows me to reflect.
I eased myself out of bed and opened the kitchen door to enjoy the ozone freshness that lingers at this time. Mischka greeted me loudly – cats are such a part of my life.
I am so grateful that I found this place – the perfect space to record my stories. Today we’ll start with the very early years and see what fun I can have with those colourful, long distant memories.

I am seven years old and invited to a party.
All the way there I chatter to Dad – I am a bit nervous ‘cos I don’t know this family, but all the kids in my class will be there, so it’ll be all right.
But a party!!
We haven’t had parties for ages…. I know there’s still rations ‘cos Mum always has to give those stamp things when she goes shopping so – a party!
We get to a café in the middle of town – it’s all closed up and looks like no-one’s there. Dad rings the bell and this huge man opens the door – he has a moustache and looks quite friendly but I don’t know him.
Mr Frost (that’s his name) takes me into the café and the tables are all laid and look very pretty – there’s balloons and streamers – it looks like Christmas – but no-one is here yet – I am the first!
What if no one else comes and I am left here all alone until Dad comes back? I sit down and Mr Frost asks me if I would like a drink. I open my mouth but I can’t speak I am so nervous – my throat has closed – what if I can never speak again?

August 4
Dear Diary
Finally the days are getting longer and my pattern of early rising has set in so I enjoy more of the morning and the sunrises. I have more time to get my memory book in shape. It takes longer to do things now but maybe that’s a good thing – time to think – not something I used to do as a pastime!
The book is taking shape, sometimes I think it’s just my excuse for reliving my past but then one of my young friends comes and asks me how it’s getting on and can they see it and they seem to like it. I suppose it takes them back to a time they didn’t know.
Today I am going to the local café for a birthday tea. I remember a time, so long ago, when going alone to a birthday party paralysed me with fear and left me dumb.
How life changes one.
I love the liberation of going alone, staying as long as I want and leaving when it suits me.

I am 22 and have made my first major life decision.
I am tired of being herded into a life that I know is not for me. I don’t want the conventional marriage, two point whatever kids, a nice home and all the rest of the stuff that seems to be the most important thing to my family.
Today I decided to escape.
I told Dad and the twins, very clearly and slowly that I had decided to leave the country and go to South Africa. I told them twice.
I told them how I saw my future here and how I wanted my future to be.
I know this is the right thing to do – I feel brave and adventurous and now I know it’s OK not to be like everyone else.

August 5
Dear Diary

Well the party wasn’t so bad!
There we sat, a bevy of chattering old ladies making a buzz of noise in the usually sedate café. Deliciously decadent slices of chocolate cake were served with steaming cups of good Italian coffee – I do like good coffee – never really got into the instant stuff.
The real highlight was Rose’s granddaughter who read us the most delightful poetry – truly inspirational. Seems she is a published poet so I spoke to her about my project – rather diffidently asking if this type of thing might be published. She was very encouraging so I invited her to come to one of my famous pasta evenings to continue the conversation. Am I being over confident?

She flexed her fingers carefully to get the circulation going properly and opened her computer. The manuscript was growing daily as she transcribed the many words she had written over the years.
She turned the pages of a battered notebook, this was an interesting year, her arrival in Cape Town from Johannesburg. Her old eyes grew misty as the memories flooded her mind and her fingers flew.

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