It started with a faded picture. A picture of an old farmhouse with two people standing on the wide staircase leading to the front door.The picture jogged my memory and created a yearning to walk on the footprints of my past.
I remembered my father talking with longing in his voice about the farm where he was born and grew up. A farm called Pontplaas ( Ferry farm) due to the fact that a ferry was operated from the farm across the Bergriver. The farm was situated just outside the small town Wellington in the Western Cape, South Africa. A place that we visited every year at christmas time. This small town lies nestled at the foot of the Groenberg ( Green mountain). It was named after the duke of Wellington of Waterloo fame.Today it still is a small but thriving town in the heart of the Cape winelands.
It was home to my father and part of my roots.
I remembered stories told about a childhood on Pontplaas. Stories of five brothers and sisters of whom one sister died in childhood. Many a story was told about brothers teasing and playing practical jokes on one another and their sisters. Days were spent swimming and playing at the river which ran through the farm. Schooling was in English as Afrikaans was yet to be acknowledged as an independent language. Most of all, I remembered the longing in my father’s voice when he spoke about Pontplaas. The farm was sold due to reasons unknown to me and the family moved to live in town.
In April this year my sister and I went on a trip to follow the footprints of our past. First stop was the local cemetry where we found graves of family from as long ago as 1918.
Next stop was the house in the town where we visited our grandparents. We found it easily as the streetname and number is engraved in our memories. Although the house is changed and beautifully renovated, one thing was still the same; the wide staircase leading to the frontdoor. The same shallow steps with curving shape and the same circular window on the stoep greeted us. In my mind’s eye I saw my grandmother’s small figure with long white hair in a plait woven around her head awaiting our arrival. Inside the same wooden floors greeted us. Every step we took reverberated in the past and on my heart.
Lastly we wanted to visit the farm where my father was born. As we have never been there before, we only had a name and the faded picture. We started by asking the landlady at the guesthouse for information. What a surprise when she immediately recognised the name and said the farm is still known as Pontplaas and is part of a group of farms producing table grapes for the export market. She promised to phone the farm and make an appointment for us.
The next morning we set out to find the farm. The first stop was at the current Pontplaas. Although the name was right, the location felt wrong and the house was not the same. The farmer’s wife received us and when she saw our picture, she immediately recognised the house. It was part of the bigger farm and is known as small Pontplaas. One of the farm managers lives in the house, but as he was on leave we would only be able to see the house from the outside. A young man on a scooter was designated to take us on a guided tour. He whizzed off leading us through winding vineyards and past farm workers busy packing grapes.
We followed with expectation in our hearts. Around a bend we saw the house. I gasped in surprise as it looked exactly the same as on the picture. It is a bit rundown but to see it still standing made me very happy.
We spent some time walking around the house and in the garden, each step making a footprint on my heart as I imagined my father and his siblings playing and walking in the exact same spot. A few hundred meters from the house, trees growing along the river bank formed a meandering picture indicating the flow of the river we had heard so much of.
We left the farm knowing that we probably would never visit again but with the sure knowledge that footprints from the past have been transferred to footprints on our hearts, where it can never be erased.