Some of my happiest childhood memories are of summer evenings spent at Fishhoek Beach with my big brother, Roy, and my parents and grandparents….
After much nagging Mom would phone Dad and ask him to leave work early. She would pack her sturdy rectangular cane basket with flasks of tea and picnic food while Roy and I brought jerseys and towels to pile on top.
We stop to pick up Granny and Grandpa in Bergvliet; Roy and I race each other up the path to the front door. Grandpa is ready in his smart beige shorts and a pale short-sleeved shirt with a collar and buttons up the front. I reach out to touch the tip of his comb, just peeping over the top of his knee-length sock. Granny comes bustling out and we all pile into the car. We pass the time on the long drive speculating on whether it’s high tide or low tide and how big the waves are going to be.
At last we arrive; big or small, the waves are always perfect. I dance along impatiently as the grown-ups stroll towards the brightly painted benches at the beginning of the catwalk.
“Come on Dad, let’s go swim!” I tug at his hand.
Roy and I streak ahead down to the water’s edge with Dad following more sedately behind. Roy keeps running straight into the water until it’s too deep to lift his feet high enough and he has to slow down. He splashes me as I make my way in far more gingerly. Soon he loses interest in making me shriek and goes further out.
Dad stays close to me, he shows me how to float over the swells of unbroken waves and hold my breath and duck under big noisy waves that have already broken. He’s always there to lift me up if a wave breaks over my head or a dumper tries to tumble me upside down.
The best waves of all are those that are just about to break. When you see one coming, you start kicking at just the right time until it swells underneath you and carries you along as it breaks. With your chin stretched forward and your arms tight against your sides it feels like flying.
Way too soon we spot Mom waving from the beach, calling us to come and eat. I catch one last wave and run shivering up the sand and along the catwalk to where Mom waits with a clean, dry towel open in her arms to wrap around me. She rubs my back and arms to warm me up. I have goosebumps all over and I’m starving!!
As Roy and I eat boiled eggs and cheese sandwiches with numb, clumsy fingers and chattering teeth, we hear the siren at the level crossing wail. We throw off our towels and scramble up the steep grassy bank above the benches. We grab the diamond mesh fence and feel the vibration of the oncoming train. With a rush of warm air the engine roars past us, wheels clattering on the tracks. The wind tugs wildly at our hair as we wave at the passengers. One or two always wave back and we laugh delightedly and wave harder than ever.
Then, just as suddenly as it arrived, the train is past and we watch it winding along the edge of the sea away from us until it rounds a bend and we can’t see or hear it anymore.
As the light fades we pack the empty flasks and picnic containers back into mom’s big basket and make our way back to the car, contented and a little sleepy we already look forward to our next picnic.