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Open Features: Petronella At The Kareoke

Was Petronalla a "hit'' when she went to the Kareoke?

Mariannce Hall brings us another choice tale involving her unforgettable fictional character.

“You never take me anywhere,” complained Petronella, sighing with
self pity.

Her daughter-in-law, Stella, looked at her with suspicion and wondered what the old
woman was up to. Much to her dismay, Willem responded: “You can come to the fire
station’s Kareoke with us, ma.”

“A wat-se-ding?” asked Petronella.

“A sing-song.”

When Petronella asked Stella how she should dress for the occasion, Stella shrugged.

“Just wear any old thing.” Under her breath: ‘What the hell do I care?’

Every week the local newspaper was filled with flyers, and Petronella examined these
in great detail. Long dresses were in, she decided. She opened her wardrobe and
spent the rest of the morning robing and disrobing, but crimpolenes were definitely
out. There seemed to be nothing suitable. She rocked herself back and forth in her chair,
trying to come to a decision.

A sing-song.

She and Andries always sang when they danced –twirling around in time to boere-
musiek around the camp fire - he a young boereseun and she in her long
“Vootrekker” dress and kappie.

She heard him whispering in her ear. “Goeie more, my vrou. Hier’s ‘n soentjie vir jou.”

Then she would sing softly back: “Goeie more, my man. Daar is koffie in die kan.”

Those were wonderful days, she thought, and hummed the tune.

Then she sat up with a start. Somewhere, at the bottom of her kist she still had that
dress. It took a while to pull out the contents, but yes, there it was, yellow with age,
flattened like a concertina. The iron did nothing to take out the creases, and the rim of
the kappie would not respond and kept flopping over her eyes. Petronella had lost a lot of
weight and had shrunk over the years. The waistline of the dress sat on her hip. It’s
shoulders hung limply and it was far too long.

Sannie found her viewing herself in the mirror, and burst out laughing. “You can’t wear that old thing! You’ll look ridiculous. Throw it in the dustbin.”

If there was one thing that riled Petronella, it was Sannie’s domineering attitude.

“I’ll wear what I like!”

“You’ll be a laughing stock.”

No-one had ever laughed at her dress before, thought Petronella defiantly.

Sannie privately thought her friend was going “kinds” but wisely made no further
comment. Anyway, her boyfriend Hans was due any minute, so she left.

The first thing to do was to shorten the dress. The scissors were blunt, and
as the last snip did not meet the first, she simply cut off the corner. She tried the dress
on again. Much, much better. Now, when she looked down, she could see her
threadworn slippers

Then she tackled the sleeves. She found two velvet ribbons at which the moths had had
a go and a few big safety pins once used on Willem’s nappies. These epaulettes reduced
the yoke to half it’s size.

She thought of Cinderella as she took stock of herself in the mirror. No fairy godmother
for her! She was perfectly capable of solving her own problems.

The kappie got the starch treatment. “O hemel!” muttered Petronella as the iron left a
brown mark on the rim. She tried on her old silver wedding pumps.. From slopping
around in slippers all day her feet had spread in all directions. The pumps were a very
tight fit.

It rained on the night of the Kareoke. Petronella donned an old mackintosh, and, in order
not to get the dress wet, she pulled it up with a couple of safety pins. The kappie she put
in a plastic bag and slung a doek around her newly set hair.

“I’m coming,” she shouted when Willem banged on the kitchen door getting more and
more soaked from the rain. She decided to go in her slippers, so that the pumps would
not get wet.

“Where are your shoes?” demanded Willem.

She pulled them out of the plastic bag containing the kappie. Willem was not in a good
mood and was in a dickens of a hurry. He had had problems with the band. Also, Stella
sat sulking in the car.

When they arrived at the Fire Station, Willem escorted his mother inside and to the
“Ladies”.

“Take off your raincoat and comb your hair. I’ll meet you in the hall.”

As Willem conversed animatedly with his chief about buying a new tender, Petronella
appeared.

“Jis!” said the fire chief, looking over Willem’s shoulder.

Coming through the door was an old woman, heavily powdered, with two bright spots
of rouge on her cheeks. Her tomato red lipsick was smeared. She resembled a
gargoyle. A faded creased Voortrekker dress, yellow with age, pinned up at the top
with black ribbons and safety pins, hung on her like a sack. A tattered shawl was draped
over her shoulders. Wisps of hair stuck out from under a lopsided kappie, the burnt
brim of which showed the clear impression of an iron. She was obviously in pain as she
tottered forward on a pair of silver Cubans.

Willem reacted quickly. He installed his mother at the far end of the table. Stella was
nowhere to be seen!

The Kareoke started in earnest. All attempts at singing were drowned by the ear splitting
noise of the band.

Petronella was determined to do her bit. Her repertoire consisted of ”Boereplaas”. She
waited until Willem wandered off to the bar, then weaved her way through the swaying
couples to the stage.

“I want to sing,” she announced.

This should be interesting, thought the bandleader, looking her up and down.

“What’ll you sing, Tannie?”

Above the noise she mouthed, “Boereplaas”. It sounded like Bo.. something or other.

“Ah, born to be wild. Number seventeen.” He turned to the band. “Give it hell,
friccadel!!”

Petronella had a strong voice, built up from years of shouting at the volk on the farm.

“O, Boereplaas, geboorte grond. Jou het ek lief bo alles!”

She was determined to be heard. The music was unfamiliar but that did not deter her.

Her voice rose higher and higher, and the band played louder and louder. The audience
loved it. The rolled in their chairs the tears running down their cheeks. The din rose to a
high crescendo. “Boo! Boo!”

In the audience sat Oom Hannes with his family He had been afflicted with
Altzheimer’s for years. He was a sprightly, wizened old man, dressed in a suit from
another century. He watched the woman in the Voortrekker dress and kappie,
and heard the strains of “Boereplaas” through the din of the audience and the band.
He heard his beloved Miemsie singing to him, as she did when they were young.

Hannes stood up.. He ran his hands through his hair, straightened his tie, and walked
purposefully up onto the stage. He bowed low to Petronella, and with a sweeping gesture
offered her his arm.

“Kom, Miemsie,” he said, leading her on to the dance floor. Slowly the noise receded
and the song came to a stop. The music changed to a boere waltz. Everyone’s gaze was
riveted on the old couple as they waltzed slowly around the floor. Then all joined in, and
the hall became one euphony of swaying dancers.

“Dankie, Miemsie,” said Oom Hannes, taking Petronella’s hand and kissing it. He
escorted her back to her table. Here, his family claimed him.

Silly old cow, thought Stella, looking at Petronella’s flushed face. Yet she could
not help but wonder why Willem did not treat her with the same respect.

***

Wat-se-ding? What type of thing?
Goeie more my vrou. Good morning, my wife.
Hier’s ‘n soentjie vir jou. Here’s a kiss for you.
Goeie more my man. Good morning, my husband.
Daar’s koffie in die kan. There is coffee in the pot
Kinds. Childish.
O Hemel! Oh Heavens.
Jis! Jesus!
Volk Labourers
O Boereplaas, geboorte grond. An endearment meaning: Farmhouse and country of
my birth.
Jou het ek lief bo alles You mean everything to me!.

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