1981 may have been a career boosting start to my career as a construction surveyor, but emotionally, it was torture.
Sheila steadfastly refused to join me in the Transvaal. She cited her boys being settled in school and having to visit their father, Philip Simkin, who lived in East London, but in fact, she was happy in the Eastern Cape and had found a job with an Orange Free State-based company that serviced the dairy board by testing the milk of dairies throughout the Eastern Cape.
From her point of view, it was right up her street. They provided her with a small truck, a Datsun 1200 and her job was to collect samples from the dairies that were members of the scheme. She would attend evening milking, sleep over at the farm, attend morning milking and the third milking if there was a three-milking day, then drive on to the next farm.
She would fill the intervening hours with painting interesting historical buildings in the towns and villages along her way. She is hugely talented.
It was also the year that one of my favourite people passed away. Sheila’s father, Christopher Thompson Maling died in August, in Sheila’s arms. He and Vicky had moved from their farm to a house in the little town of Komga about three months before he passed away in August from cancer. Sheila always said that he did not want to leave the farm where he had been very active up until the move.
Starting off in the impersonal care and indignity in the David Reese (spit-and-die) ward of Frere Hospital, his niece, a senior nursing sister, Norah Shelver, got him moved to the little four-bed ward at the small hospital in Komga where Sheila tended to him until the end.
I went down to attend his funeral. Sheila’s second oldest brother, Alan Maling, an artist of great talent, who had been very upset when Sheila and I got together, and had never forgiven me, demanded to know what I was doing there! That was sad. Thankfully, two other brothers are my firm friends.
I didn’t know it then, but Chris, on his deathbed, strongly suggested to Sheila that she should join me in the Transvaal.
By Christmas, when I drove down in the Kombi Double-cab that we owned by then, and took my own children to join her and her boys, she was still resisting the idea. The visit was an emotional rollercoaster. She had arranged to move from the Tip-Top Hotel house to a nearby farmhouse. It broke my heart to help her move there, and I packed my own personal thing to take back with me. That my bitch, Lizzie, would go back with me, made the parting seem more final.
When we attended the New Year’s Eve dance, it seemed to be our last waltz.