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My Aunt the Lion Tamer

Updated: Nov 5, 2020

My Aunty Mona never planned to be a lion tamer. An accident forced the choice on her after she had won the 220 m hurdles.

She was preparing to be a teacher and a champion runner. The tragedy changed all her plans.

She was modest and did not flaunt her attractiveness, but all agreed, she was one of the most beautiful young ladies in Springs. Her friends loved her for her sense of humor, her discerning stylishness in clothes and her fun loving personality.

The day before the fateful race Mona, in a black satin gown, her arms resting lightly on her partner's shoulder, danced the whole night long. She was celebrating the culmination of 3 years of study to be a teacher. A bright future lay ahead for her.

She had never run as well as she ran on the day of the disaster. Her fists clenched, elbows moving backward and forward like pistons of a high powered motor, her strong legs, a blur of power and speed.

What a girl, nobody had ever seen such a spectacular feat. At the rate she was going she would have a place in the SA Olympic team in London the following year.

Friends and admirers gathered around her.

She was sweating profusely. They wrapped her in a shawl and carried her off to cheer her victory.

On looking back to that day her family agreed, the icy waters of the swimming pool they all jumped into was the cause of the illness.

The shock of her hot body meeting the ice water was too extreme to bear. Her nervous system crashed.

Mona sensed her hand growing stiff. Was the episode a cramp, she asked herself. A terrible pain shot through her arm, she was overcome with weakness and was happy to reach home.

This was no ordinary stiffness. A doctor was called and he sent her to the hospital. She was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. The illness causes the joints, usually in the hand, to freeze up, accompanied by constant, excruciating agony.

Nothing would take away the torment. She grimaced, not accustomed to being miserable, she took her suffering with forbearance. Days and weeks went by and it became clear, she would never be able to use her hand again. Her fingers were bunched up in a half clenched fist, like a claw, stiff and immovable.

From being a star athlete Mona, in a moment, had become an invalid. A tragedy for her and for the family.

With the tenacity she had inherited from her mother, Rachel, the brave woman continued her life. She was not going to allow this setback to get her down.

She would never speak of her pain, but secretly called the torment the lion and herself the lion tamer.

Daily, throughout the rest of her life, she faced the ravenous beast. She was the star performer in her secret animal taming act, turning the vicious animal into a docile creature anew each day. Only she witnessed the heroic scene.

She only showed us nephews and nieces puzzles, wise words, patience and taught us to love learning about new things. We were blissfully oblivious to her suffering.

Aunty Mona had spent a lifetime subduing the lion; without respite. The moment she dropped her guard he would bite.

She completed her studies to become a teacher, as her sister Anne had done before her.

She never married, but would travel from Springs to Krugersdorp to visit her sisters Hetty and Lily and their offspring. She had a permanent place at aunty Lily's home, where she would arrive almost every weekend, with stories, coloring books, crayons and all sorts of ideas for teaching us new things.

My fondest memory are the letters I wrote when she was on a tour of England. I cherish the postcard with the picture of the Grenadier Guards, in front of Buckingham Palace.

Any Sunday she didn't come to Krugersdorp, they would go to Springs, where she lived.

A Chinese doctor, Liang who gave her injections from time to time alleviated the pain

My thanks to cousin Solomon for the information on which this story is based.

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