I really thought I was on to a good story. No scratch that – a great story. I’d bumped into a lady at the wool shop and we browsed and chatted, as shoppers sometimes do. As she spoke it became apparent that she’d dealt with some terribly hard things in her life, any one of which would be very hard to handle. My heart grieved for her and I thought sharing her story would be encouraging to others, so I asked to meet her a few days later, back at the wool shop.
Armed with IC Recorder and a list of questions, I was there smack on time. She didn’t pitch up – at all. So I settled in to chat with the wool shop proprietor, Robin Schmidt, and her husband Don, who was home from work recuperating from a double knee replacement op.
‘Robin’s Nest’ is not an ordinary run of the mill type of shop. It’s not even in town. At a Y junction below the homely Witbank suburb of Highveld Park, Robin’s Nest nestles into a curve where the road bridges the stream leading into the semi-agricultural area of Seekoeiwater Plots. It is well known for its hospitality and the interesting group activities Robin sets up for the local ladies.
My husband and I met Don when we first moved into the area, some 28 years ago, when there were just a handful of us living on these plots, and it was very easy to know everyone. I’d bring Don’s daughter home from school, together with my own brood and make sure everyone’s homework was done, so when Don finished work, they could enjoy each other’s company.
A real gentleman
In later years, when Don’s mom and dad moved to the plots from Johannesburg, my own parents were blessed to have them arrive. Many visits and chats built up a grand friendship between the four of them. One year it was Don’s father who saved us all with his feisty little tractor. A particularly heavy rainy season had flooded the area so badly, that eventually our family was forced to park in a neighbour’s yard and walked the last ¼ kilometre, which was no mean feat carrying school bags and shopping while juggling an umbrella and trudging through thick mud. It seemed that at least every second day, Don’s dad, Ginger, was towing someone out of a mud pool. He was unassuming and gracious, no matter how dumb you had been trying to make it through the same swamp he’d pulled you out of the day before. He was a real gentleman.
And so our community grew.
Many more families had settled in Seekoeiwater by the time Don and Robin were married. And it was great for us all when she opened up their huge open-plan room, to women’s groups for sewing and knitting demonstrations and a good chin-wag over a pot of tea. Many otherwise lonely ladies were able to make new friends and feel safe in the warm and friendly atmosphere. Robin’s Nest as a shop grew out of those gatherings. Robin’s mom had retired from running her wool shop in one of the busy centres in town, so the stock moved premises. That room at the end of Don and Robin’s house was a perfect venue. A long, wide room with plenty of place for shelving and stands, a purchase counter near the front door and right at the other side of the room, a round table – perfect for spreading out patterns or supplies, and placing chairs around.
Having grown up with a knitting and sewing mom, I loved the textures and colours of the wools, the ‘stuff’ that is associated with knitting and the bargain table, with so many eye-traps; I’d pop in to Robin’s Nest, on the way home from work, even if I didn’t buy. There was always an invitation to join the group as they worked away busily.
That very room was where our first Community Meetings were held, together with a SAPS Representative and who ever could make it to the regular meetings; many dilemmas were thrashed out and voices heard in that room. The first Seekoeiwater road braai was held right in front of the wool shop’s gate. Who wouldn’t appreciate munching a wors roll and chatting to a smiling familiar face on the way home from work?
So, when Don and Robin’s home burned down, on 11 August 2012, when a gusty dry wind blazed flames through the thatched roof and razed the house to its foundations – it was devastating. We had driven passed earlier in the day and all was in order with our world, and returned later to see the ruins of our friends lives literally ‘up in smoke’ – smouldering piles of debris where the wool shop had been, wood burned to ash and bricks crumbled and fallen where the immense heat had stolen their home and business. Poof!
Miracle of community action
This was when the miracle of community sprang to action.
Everyone did what they could to help. And before night fell the traumatised family were shepherded away from the horror-scene to a safe house. They were given a home to live in, for the time being, and food parcels and clothing ‘just’ arrived. The local Police Reservists collected a bale of hay from us, for their sheep, as the scorched ground left the animals on barren earth, which gave me the idea to drop off pet food at the plot for the cat that had survived and drifted home a day or so later. And so people helped, as need arose, it was met.
The full details of that sad tale are a story on their own, I don’t think, even now with hindsight, it is easy to understand the outpouring of love, help and hands-on people who rushed to their assistance, whether it was a huge help or just what one was able to do, on the spot. It ranged from my son helping a peacock out of the fencing wire, on the day of the fire, where it had caught tight in the flurry to escape, to correlated collection points set up to facilitate the flow of food, clothing and household goods.
God’s principle of sowing and reaping is true. Just as Don and Robin had made the community a foundational focal point in their daily lives, so the community had hurt with them. We may never understand the depth of their actual loss but we cried with them and now we can rejoice with them.
Robin’s Nest is a most appropriate name for our wool shop, which has just reopened. Only now the wool shop is nested snuggly in the lounge of Robin and Don’s cottage, the one they’ve renovated from a storeroom. It is good to be able to drive past Robin’s Nest and pop in and chat. So even if that lady with the other story never tells me her tale, I do believe we’ve been living the better story.