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Sunday Lunch



Sunday llunch
Grandpa and Grandma

Grandfather hung his blue felt hat on the coat stand outside our door and knocked. 


It was Saturday, and he and Etti arrived for lunch.


Grandfather greeted me with a friendly smile. He said, "wow, look how tall you've grown".


Whenever an opportunity presented itself Grandpa paid complements. This was what he always said to encourage me. He never complained about aches and pains. 


He asked where we'd been this week and told us where he had walked. He was forever going somewhere.


His mother, Hetty, my great-grandmother, who died before I was born, used to say, "I don't want to hear about your plans to move to Israel. That's a dangerous place, and, in any case, what will you do there? You'll never succeed there."


She was referring to his plans to leave South Africa, to live in Israel.


As he sat down, munching nuts and sipping whiskey, and started spouting his opinions about the military struggle confronting Israel and the plight of the hostages.


The whole country is concerned about the outcome of the conflagration. I will be called up for the army next year, the war may be over by then.


"That's enough. I don't want to hear a word about the situation. Nobody agrees with you, and you're provoking arguments," Etti, my grandfather's second wife, rebuked him, as she blocked his hand from pouring another tot.


He wasn't what you would call sprightly; he moved around and regularly went to the toilet.


He wore navy shorts and a light azure Summer shirt that Ettie had bought for him in Australia 15 years ago. 


Grandfather, a constant presence at our Sunday lunches, listened to all we had to tell him. My younger brother Alon, writes stories and Grandpa rviews them. I tell him the things I hear about foreign countries and ask him if those stories are true. I asked him why we couldn’t visit Belarus, where his mother’s father Baruch came from.


As a child, I tried to make him laugh with my antics, much to my mother's irritation.


I remember jumping from one chair to the other, like a jack in the box, and he laughed. Mom warned, "Don't encourage him in those dangerous games." He restrained himself when I did something risky like somersaults.

 

He and I had a game of soccer in the downstairs garden. Sometimes, 

Dad came to play with us when his work permitted.

We took turns being goalies. My younger sibling, Alon, also participated, but he was still a baby. 


When he got a little older, he began exercising on the crossbar and swinging from one pole to another. It didn't interest me. 


My ancestor took us to the chess club on Fridays, and my brother became pretty good at the game. I played better than he did, but my interests lay more in computers.


I was working on a program that taught me how to buy shares and was making money from it.


The old guy could speak Nederlands, which he said was similar to Afrikaans, the language of South Africans who originated in Holland.


Languages were part of our family's cultural heritage. He amused us by saying “hello, goodbye and how are you” in German and Spanish.


My father, born in South Africa, and his brother accompanied my grandparents on their journey to the Jewish Homeland. They relinquished a spacious six-room house with fruit trees in the backyard and a vast expanse of lawn in the front. 


They handed over their dog to the neighbours and said farewell to the golden city.


This move was significant, bringing the Gork family back to its roots in the Land of our forefathers.


We still have a distant relative living there.


My Dad's mother died after they came here, and I never got to know her. 

Although she grew up in Israel, she didn't want to live there. She went to that country on the southern tip of Africa to teach Hebrew.


The principal of the school where my grandmother was a teacher introduced her to grandfather, and they married. 


They transferred to Johannesburg, my father's birthplace; Emanuel was born in the Sanford Maternity Home in Port Elizabeth, where husband and wife taught. 


Leon was offered the position of head of the Hebrew Department at Carmel College in Durban. My Dad's brother fondly remembers the beautiful beach where Grandpa took him daily.


My father's birth took place after they came to live in the metropolis of the gold mining area.


My dad and his brother attended a Bernard Patley Jewish Day educational institute where they learned Hebrew and other subjects. 


The learning centre was in a neighbourhood called Yeoville, about 5 kilometres from their house, which was in Cyrildene, another part of Johannesburg.  


Granddad used to drive them to the academy every day. He had a Toyota, which they sold when they moved to Israel, where cars are left-hand drive, while their car was right-hand drive.


He was employed by Postal Services and studied to become a tour guide part-time.


They lived for a while with my grandmother's mother, who was named Haya. Her husband had passed away. 


Afterwards, the family found an apartment. Grandma never returned to being a pedagogue. She became very ill and stopped working.


She succumbed to the illness, Grandpa married Etti, and they ate with us almost every Saturday. 


Dad made a barbecue, and we had steak and sausages. Etti always brings a cake for dessert or some delicious ice cream from a new shop nearby called Otello.


"Grandpa, did you have black servants in South Africa?" I always ask him as we sit at the table eating. 


At 83, it's hard to picture him as a boy of my age, 15, growing up in a quaint South African town.


I want to know what it's like to live in foreign places, and I'm curious to know what kind of life my Dad lived when he and his brother were kids.

 

Grandpa's past is not a place where he yearns to return. He doesn't consider those days a golden era. 

He left South Africa because life was an illusion of luxury and decency, like a bubble he was sure would burst one day.


He was willing to face the changes the modern world would have to undergo if it was to move forward. South Africa did not encourage change or improvement; he considered it a dead-end country. 


"When I was your age," he reminisced, " we also had family meals, but there we had it on Sundays because that was when people went either to the place of worship or a recreation centre.


There were about ten churches, and people who didn't participate in physical games went to the house of God wearing black suits and dresses.


He said, "It was worth waiting the whole week for day of rest midday repast."


The meal never began until everyone had arrived from morning leisure activities.

 

He recounted how it was. The celebratory banquet was served at noon precisely.


His elders came home from the bowling green dressed in white, their white sun hats embellished with the blue shield-shaped club logo on their heads. 


Raymond, Grandpa's brother, who lived in Toronto and who died about three years ago, and Grandpa finished with their weekly scout meeting. 


As a child in South Africa, he described sitting by his folks' round dining room table.


"Things haven't changed much; we also have a round dining room table."


"In those bygone days in that country," he shared, "I spoke English and Afrikaans, and black people served us."


His Grandparents on both his father's and mother's side were dead. 

Moshe Itzhak and Bluma Leah, his father's progenitors, looked down at them from a picture on the dinette wall.


There wasn't a picture of Baruch and Ita Roche, his mother's parents. 


The picture showed a handsome middle-aged man with a strong appearance, a square-cut beard in a brown military-style jacket and cap, and a woman with a long, narrow face and sharp nose in a grey shawl. 

Grandpa had never seen people dressed this way in South Africa. The only people who resembled them slightly were the old couple, the Zuks, living in the house of orange face bricks in Job Str, a poor part of Krugersdorp, where Manny had his builder's supplies shop.


The black lady, their cook, had prepared the meal precisely according to his mother's instructions: Tsimis (a kind of puree of carrots boiled in gravy and mixed with prunes and potatoes, a mouth-watering dish) 


John, the black man who worked for them, finished smoking his pipe and positioned himself in the doorway connecting the kitchen with the dining room.


Tucking his floppy hat between his legs he stretched out his hands in the stance of a beggar, palms held together, forming a cup.


Grateful for the glass of brandy, his weekly treat from Grandpa's father, he said, with a deep bow, "Dankie mij baas," (thanks boss). In mocking obedience, he stood to attention, holding the glass half full of the fiery liquid with one hand; he saluted, and everyone laughed.

 

The family sat at the round dining room table, Granddad's mother Hetty at the side nearest the kitchen so that the two black serving ladies, known as the girls waiting in the kitchen, could hear when she shouted instructions.


They had worked until late the previous night, ensuring that all the Sunday lunch dishes would be ready as expected. 


Hetty, Grandpa's mother, rang a bell as the family finished each course, and the servants shuffled in with the next one. 


Manny, Granddad's father, sat near the bookshelf. He was the last member of the family to take his seat after his brothers, and he was seated awaiting the arrival of the head of the family.


Grandpa sat at the side near the window, looking out onto the back porch.”Stop looming out the window.” His mother screamed., Terry his ginger coloured Airedale was there, tongue out and panting, for scraps.


Raymond sat nearest to their father, and Bernard sat next to Hetty.


Things were as they should be. Everyone knew his place and did everything according to a fixed order that stayed the same. 


The servant arranged the silverware in the order of use. 

First came the chopped herring decorated with whites and yellows of eggs, artistically sprinkled over the grey ground-up fish that was a little salty.


"How could you eat such horrible stuff?" I asked my ancestor. He said it tasted good and rolled back his eyes, dreaming of eating it again.


They consumed that weird concoction with another thing I'd never heard of called Kichel. His mother placed it in a heap on a plate in the centre of the table. 


The whole town spoke about her excellent Kichel. Grandpa used to help her make the biscuit-like food.


He rolled a lump of dough into a flat sheet, and his mother pressed a mold into it to form diamond-shaped pieces. They came out of the oven as paper-thin, browny-yellow biscuits slightly singed into curls at the edges.


Grandpa took a kichel and scooped the chopped herring onto it.


His mother looked at him with a warning, "Don't get your shirt messed up; you'll have to wear it for another week. I'm not going to do the washing every day". 


She never did the washing; the girls did that. The one servant, Miriam, was at least 50 years old, but they called her a girl.


John was about 60, and they always called him "boy." "Don't go down on your knees to pick up the fork; you will dirty your trousers," his mother used to say; "let the boy do that."


Miriam pushed a glass table on wheels, with the yellow soup tureen decorated with red flowers, into the dining room.


Grandpa's mother scooped steamy yellow liquid into bowls, which she passed to each person at the table in order of importance.


Her husband should have been first, but Bernard, the youngest, made such a racket that he waved a hand and smiling said, “serve my dear Bernard, I can wait.”


Grandpa was always the last to get his portion and complained, “Why am I always last in this hour?”.

Tsimis and roast beef were the main courses. Grandpa smelled the tantalizing odour from the kitchen long before his favourite dish, and the old black lady wheeled in the food.


The family washed down the food with a fruit salad of papaya, known as paw paw, apples, raisins, pieces of orange, and orange juice. 


Grandpa was allowed to get up after eating all that was put before him. "You are not going anywhere until you finish your lunch," his mother always told him.


Grandpa's father had his brandy. He kept the whiskey for his chums when they played Klaberjas in the evening. “What’s that?” I asked but Grandpa didn't know how to play this game, “It’s some sort of card game.”I’m going to learn that game.” I announced. 


Life was an orderly affair, and nothing was allowed to change the set order. Nobody dreamed that this orderly life would ever change. 


These days aren't like that; Every day, even every moment, brings change, and we don't know what will occur in the next minute. We know that anything is possible in our lives.


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