“Mens moet altyd dit in die huis hê”

A person should always have this in your house
Lauren Paremoer

Groundnuts and Tea_PatienceMususuGrowing up in Hornlee, getting special visitors meant making snacks. Special visitors would sometimes be people like the dominee. More often it meant my parents’ childhood or varsity friends, or family members from other parts of the country who had found our house by driving around and asking people on the street where we lived. Tupperware parties meant many special guests, as did birthday parties and Christmas Eve. Sometimes New Year’s Day meant special snacks, but more often it meant the beach, copious amounts of coca cola, and perhaps watermelon, ice-cold after being buried in the sand the whole day.

As children, once we hit about 11 or 12, we were expected to make tea and coffee and snacks. Whether we knew the guests were coming or not, something had to be conjured up for them. That’s why my mother always said, “mens moet altyd dit in die huis hê”.

Our standard snack fare usually involved things that were in the cupboard but strictly out of bounds until the guests came: ornate serving platters, exotic food (when I later moved to Cape Town I learned that the proper word for this was “luxuries”), and complete sets of matching glasses, cups and saucers that, miraculously, remained unchipped.

Salticrax and cheese were the workhorses of the snack plate: Salticrax with grated cheese and a mussel, Salticrax with grated cheese and a sliver of tomato, a small block of cheese with a tiny pickled onion (vampy red or swampy brown) impaled on a toothpick. Gherkins. Choice Assorted biscuits. Real juice. Dried fruits. McCain frozen sausage rolls. Surf Joys for the children or ice cream from the 5 litre tub bought at the factory shop – delights that made me appreciate how truly exquisite chest freezers can be.Cream soda floats_TaraBalie

These are the snacks that stand out in my mind when I try to remember what we served. I loved them, and would secretly hope there would be leftovers I could have after the guests left. Of course visits also meant picking up crumbs of a different kind. From snatches of conversation we might learn that our parents were once young and frivolous. We could see their excitement upon getting a new magazine, VHS or TDK tape – treasures that connected them to something bigger, something that always remained partly concealed from us until the 1990s. We could sense their giddiness at being with people they trusted and loved; how they relished having homes and food and drink they could share.

As an adult living far away from home, many of these special foods are now even further away than the top shelf, the back room, or the Christmas hamper. Though these secret universes still exist somewhere, I carry the scars of those visits with me. The scar at the base of my thumb, an injury incurred by washing the glasses a little too quickly – eager to be done with all the work. The fillings from having too many jam scones and Quality Streets, and too little brushing before bed. A complete inability (still) to go to bed before all the surfaces have been wiped, and the clingwrap and foil have been deployed to preserve whatever freshness remains in the processed, oily, and sugary delights neglected by too-polite guests and heavily-policed children.

Today, these foods still taste like home, love, and surprise. Looking back, I also realise that they were my first apprenticeship in the craft of making and maintaining relationships sanctified by laughter, protected by paper doilies, and covered in a billowing white net marked with Cutex (to ensure that it is found should it get “lost” at the next church bazaar or family function).

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