Heri is gay? 😕 What does that mean? What is gay? 🙄 I couldn’t understand what my mother was trying to tell me. This, after I had confided in her in my St 7 year that I thought the older man next door was the most wonderful, handsome man ever and that he was funny and sweet and kind… (I didn’t tell her that I had a crush on this hunk of a 30-something year-old – I’d never!! My mom is not the most ehhhm let’s say diplomatic person and she would’ve probably had a good giggle if not laugh straight in my face). Yet, thinking back, perhaps she knew – why else would she have told me that Heri was gay?
She merely stated a fact leaving me to find out for myself what ‘gay’ meant. So I consulted the school library the very next day. Hmmm g…ga….gam…gat….gay – there we are! Ok: “Gay”: happy (jip, that he certainly was.. and nice… and have I mentioned attractive??) in high spirits (ehm, spirit? Alcohol? Yes, he did like the odd pint at a braai) homosexual 😯 (huh?? Homo-what??)… h…ho….hob…homos… Uhm… attracted to members of the same sex/ partners…
EXCUSE ME?? Same gender PARTNER?? Aaaahhhh!! THAT suddenly explained Jani’s constant presence in Heri’s house! And I thought he was just a boarder?? 🙄 Oh bummer!! 😳 I felt like a complete and utter idiot! I had never even known that same gender partnerships/love affairs existed? I had never… and suddenly I got it! It all made sense! Sunet and K (schoolfriends) – K couldn’t stand me. (Sunet and I spent many afternoons doing homework together since we practically lived next door to each other and she knew that I diligently did mine. So she served snacks and stuff and I’d do the homework. We also were training partners in the swim team and played badminton together. K wasn’t much of a ‘sport’ and she lived miles away. Now I understood why she disliked me. Another schoolfriend, A – softspoken, funny, sensitive A with the odd way of talking in a voice one octave higher than me (ok, until today there are a few straight men I know with a higher pitch than mine), spending time sitting chatting to the girls while watching the rugby team from the sideline (same stare – same drool)
So Heri was gay. I henceforth started calling him “Oom”. I presume it was out of spite at first. My teenage way of handling my disappointment. Or maybe to rub in the fact that he was, after all, really only an ‘old’ man. 😉 The name somehow stuck – it became a pet name that only Heri and I would share for the rest of his life. Not even my own children would later call him “Oom”. They, like everybody else, called him by his first name. Always. Just ‘Heri’. “Oom” was all ‘mine’.
Fast forward a few years………..
My “Oom” died. On the 28th August 2009 one day after his 64th birthday, “Oom” had finished living. Just one month and a few days before the year was through to remember my Jani’s loss I had to bid farewell to one of the most special people I had met in all my life.
For the best part of 30 years, I had spent almost every single Friday afternoon at Jani and Heri’s home, after work, for a cup of coffee. Perfectly brewed and beautifully served on their quaint stoepie – sitting next to Jani on the “Hollywood swing” bitching about this, that or life in general, having a giggle, gossiping, crying over the loss of a pet dog or cat, howling with laughter, weeping with joy and sadness sometimes, discussing and arguing, scouring through magazines for new ideas on home decoration and wedding and evening gowns and dresses (Jani had much the same kind of love affair with ball gowns and dress-up than I have with shoes), always Heri’s much loved traditional Austrian music playing in the background and eating delicately prepared snacks (Heri – the trained chef and elegant and graceful host and Jani the ‘spoiled significant other’) and ending up sipping cocktails and cheering shooters sometimes until well after sunset into the evenings. I was always welcome. I could run in on a Saturday morning for the usual stylish croissant, honey and filter coffee.
Sometimes Jani would put on a different cd. And depending on the music, Heri and Jani had taught me to dance. Jani patiently tangoed and twisted me on that stoep. Heri was the master of waltz. Often either one of them would accompany me to a year-end function or event if I needed a dancing partner or just a ‘date’. At least I always had fun. Never ending up with having to take a drunk guy home. Nevermind having to take any guy home, for that matter. Never alternative motives. Always there. Always willing. Always dependable. Teaching me to never judge a book by its cover. Showing me how to be accommodating and tolerant of anybody and everybody. Demonstrating and educating me in people’s worth regardless of their beliefs, preferences and differences.
My children were introduced to Heri and Jani just as soon after their birth as to everybody else in my family. They had grown up knowing this couple almost as relatives. I never felt the need to explain their relationship and they never questioned it. They felt safe and loved and cared for much the same than they would at a grandmother’s house. They were hugged and kissed (Jani would hold their faces in both hands and meticulously kiss them on each eye and Heri would be offered the forehead for a ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’), they were praised and yes, they were reprimanded as well sometimes (they were never allowed to backchat me in either’s presence, they were expected at all times to be well behaved and Jani easily smacked Georg on the hands when caught chewing a nail and coaxed Monique gently (“Moennik, laat “Antie” jou nou ‘n ding vertel…“) on how a girl should take care of the way she dresses and presents herself.. Without fail at the end of schoolterms they were required to show their report cards; and they would get a small reward for good scores and a pat on the back and some nudging “we know you can do better” if they seemed lacking in effort.
My “Oom” died last week. The last few months were hell for him. He had spent 30 years with my Jani. They had gotten married last year on the 29th February 2008. It was a leap year – Jani called it a “moet trou” jaar. He was hesitant to ask me to be a witness at the ceremony, since we knew each other so well and yet he understood and respected my faith and religious views. I was thrilled. And honored. Never had I known a couple (other than my grandparents) having spent so many years together.
My “Oom” died last week. Jani, after hearing one of my songs a few years ago, of which the first verse starts like this: “MY LIFE HAS BEEN NO FAIRY-TALE – KISSED COUNTLESS FROGS TO NO AVAIL”, sang it like this :
“MY LIFE HAS BEEN A FAIRY-TALE – KISSED JUST ONE FROG – NOW I’M SO GAY!” – we always laughed until we were out of breath and sometimes even cried when he hollered to the tune…
Heri loved the song too – he referred to it as “Jani’s Parra” song – and he loved the chorus:
IT TAKES TWO PERFECT WINGS TO FLY
IT TAKES TWO HANDS TO TOUCH THE SKY
IT TAKES TWO ARMS TO HOLD ON TIGHT
IT TAKES TWO SHOES TO DANCE ALL NIGHT
IT TAKES TWO HEARTS TO BEAT AS ONE
IT TAKES TWO FOR ONE TO DEPEND UPON
IT TAKES TWO TO TANGO AND TWO TO FIGHT
IT TAKES TWO SHOES TO DANCE ALL NIGHT
A while ago, after he had already been admitted to hospital, he asked me to sing this, “Jani’s Parra” Song – and after I finished he said with a long sigh: “Ai, my BB – ek mis my Jani só! Vir die “Tangos” én vir die “Fights”…
My “Oom” died last week.
Ja, my “Oom” – IT even TAKES TWO… to LIVE sometimes… 😦