A Year In 190 Retief Street

190 Retief Street PietermaritzburgDear Hopsing,

In your last story the hint of when I lived in your house for almost a year brought back many memories and I would like to share them with all of you.

You will surely remember that at the beginning I lived in the flat attached to the back of your house. The little flat had a shale stone floor that made it colder than the other rooms, but luckily the Pietermaritzburg’s winters were never very cold and so living there was pleasant.

After a while I had to leave the little flat because a woman you knew had some problems with her husband and needed to have a place to stay with her two children. I then moved into the main house where you gave me the use of the middle bedroom.

In the mornings the old man gave us a “good morning” bringing a cup of tea to our beds. He used to leave it on the bed side table. Tea was always too hot to drink, so I could not drink it immediately. While waiting for it to cool down, I regularly fell asleep to find cold tea when I woke up again.

After the cold tea I would go into the kitchen where I knew that on the stove I would find the pot with the remains of the burnt maize porridge. I was lucky because the burned part of it was my favorite. So with a table spoon I scraped off the sides and the bottom of the pot until it was clean. The old man always managed to burn the pap (porridge) because while cooking it, instead of stirring it continuously, he went outside with his cup of tea to look at the big cage full of singing birds.

When I went outside in the garden to get my motorbike to go to work, Knoxy always jumped on me to lick my face as a greeting and with its muddy paws made long brown marks on my clothes. In spite of its terrible appearance – it was very big and had a long black hairy coat – Knoxy was a very playful dog and would never have bitten anyone.

When I was working at the hospital, I used to go over the wall and dive into the Jones’ swimming pool every morning to wake up properly. The water was so cold that I woke up immediately. After a few minutes I went back to my room to dress and on my bed you always let me find my nurse uniform which was spotlessly white and well ironed.

Do you remember when the homeopathic doctor advised me to drink as much carrot juice as I could? So I bought a juice extractor and filled your kitchen with bags of carrots: in the fridge, on the shelves, on the vegetable carrier. Twice a day you could hear me making carrot juice which stained all your furniture and the basin. Obviously I was no good at cleaning up, so you were forced to do the work.

In the dining room, which was in the center of the house, there was a huge table which was very useful to accommodate the many people that often came to visit. During the weekends, besides your family you also fed all the church people and around that table sat comfortably at least two dozen people. The table was also used by Bugs and me to play flick-board and table tennis on rainy afternoons and the loser made tea for everybody.

The walls of my room were full of pictures painted by the old man. The feature of those paintings was that they were incomplete because the old man always had new ideas and so left the work he was doing and started a new one. Every now and then he would come and take one off the wall and complete it. His paintings were so nice he could have sold them, but he did this work only for passion.

We guys used your house as a deposit for spare parts of the cars as we all had the bug of fixing car engines, so we put this or that spare part in a safe place, like only your house was. The result was that you could see carburetors, pistons, coils, spark-plugs on the veranda, on top of the roof beams, on top of the kitchen furniture, in short almost everywhere. I don’t know how you kept the house always in order and tidy.

In the garage there were many bins full of all types of nails, screws and washers, but what a pity they were mostly full of rust. Other bins contained oil paint which was now hardened like plastic and so useless. Amongst the bins was an old Honda motorbike which I took without permission. Nevertheless nobody said anything. I use to ride it up and down the driveway, making lots of noise because the exhaust pipe was shortened. I’m sure I must have annoyed somebody, but nobody ever complained. From the ceiling of the garage was hanging a huge cast to make a canoe which, as far as I know, was never built.

Before going to bed we all got together in the lounge and the old man read from the Bible, gave thanks and we all prayed together. It seemed to me that he had a special relationship with God. He spoke to him as if he were in the room.
For many years I wore the light brown jersey you made for me on your magic machine. I was always fascinated how you got the woolen thread in what seemed hundreds of hooks without getting it all mixed up. Pushing the handle from right to left and from left to right, like incantation from the bottom of the machine always came out a beautiful jersey!

I stayed in your house for many months and life with you was for me really very pleasant as I always felt like a family member.

About Mauro

I am a scribbler of my far away memories. I am Italian and when I was little I landed up with my family in South Africa, where I remained until I was 22 years old. Then I came back to Italy, where I live. Writing life stories about myself and to share them with who desires to read them, helps me to tackle the hardships of life! [Read More]


  1. Wow, what detail you remember! All so true and I loved reading it so much. My folks were so warm and caring with all my friends. We are so fortunate to be able to re-live those days. Your description of the old man’s daily chores are spot-on and I can’t help smiling. Thanks for the good memories my friend.

    • Lorraine says

      Hi Mauro

      Wow this was amazing to read. It brings back many memories of our days in Pietermaritzburg! We have already lived here at the South Coast for 24 years! It is moons ago! Keep well and write lots more. We enjoy reading your stories. As soon as my life returns to normal I will write something again for Ons Stories.

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