On 1 February 1921, three years after the end of WWI, in the middle of the Spanish influenza pandemic and 18 years before the start of WWII, a baby girl was born on a farm in rural South Africa. On 1 February 2021 Antie Joutjie (Johanna) Kuhrau of Kleinmond will be celebrating her 100th birthday. And what’s more, she says she has been so blessed in her life that she would be quite happy to live another 100 years!
How can one walk in the footsteps of someone who has travelled such a long road? Looking into her smiley eyes now, one can only guess at the social change, the joys and sadness, disappointment and fulfillment she has experienced along her journey. It’s all there, though, locked up in the vault of her memory.
On Monday Antie Joutjie will be celebrating with a slap-up lunch with her six children, all still alive. Because of Covid limitations, her 18 grandchildren, 15 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren will not be physically present but in her heart they will be there. One of the things her two daughters, Hilda Greyling (with whom she lives) and Alta Forster remember most about growing up with their mother was her involvement with children.
“She’s so small, but with us children, she was very strict,” remembers Hilda. “Each of the six of us – three girls and three boys – had our jobs to do around our farm at Eikenhof on the outskirts of Johannesburg, and you’d better be careful if you didn’t do what you were supposed to do. It was all about discipline, though, and I think the fact that we have all made our lives count had a lot to do with the sense of responsibility she taught us.”
Perhaps the way she brought up her children was influenced by how she herself grew up. She, her seven sisters (one of them her twin, Lizzie) and one brother all had to help their disabled father on their farm. They had to pitch in and till the soil, plant the crops and weed the lands. “And if my father thought we were being lazy or slowing down,” she laughs, “he used to throw clods of soil at us.” Her mood changes. “Ja, we didn’t have an easy time growing up.”
The happiest time of her life, she says, was working at Cotlands Baby Sanctuary in Johannesburg, after her own children had left home. “Oh I loved those little babies,” she smiles, her eyes turned inward to the memory. “I cried with the unmarried mothers when they left them with us and I cried when they were adopted and left the home. Oh, I loved those little things.”
Her daughters remember her making jigsaw puzzles with her grandchildren, too. The children would get bored and give up, but she kept going till it was done. “Unfortunately, her eyesight’s not really good enough for that anymore,” says Hilda. “It hasn’t stopped her knitting though. She has always enjoyed knitting and so it continues, morning, noon and night; mostly scarves, now.”
“Oh yes,” her mother chimes in, “I can’t sit here doing nothing; my hands have got to be busy. I knit and I read – the Bible and Die Groot Stryd – that’s how I keep busy.” No longer able to get around on her own, one of her greatest joys these days is to be taken by Hilda for a walk in her wheelchair around the neighbourhood.
“People here are so friendly; they all know us and as we do our rounds, some invite us in for a cup of tea, or stop their cars for a chat,” says Hilda. “She loves getting out in the open air; that and sitting here at the big window overlooking the sea in the evenings, watching the beautiful sunsets.”
So it’s all systems go for the big day. Hilda is busy creating a hundred-year family tree as a present for her mom, together with a scrapbook of memories, with pictures, letters from the past, messages, things that will be meaningful to her.
“I didn’t realise what an emotional experience this would be for me,” she says, “every name I add to the tree, every picture I paste, brings back so many memories. We’re a very tight-knit family and I know it will mean a lot to my mom. It’s such a strange world we’re living in and she often finds it confusing, especially as her hearing is bad these days, so I just want to make it as special a day as possible for her.”
And we, too, add our best wishes for Gesondeid to Antie Joutjie for her 100th birthday this coming Monday – as well as for the 100 still to come!