Margaretha Warren, better known as Ma, loves playing a card game of Patience and she told me from the word go that she crooks most of the time.
I immediately knew I was dealing with a humorous and sharp 100 year old who celebrated her birthday on May 14.
The house was filled with flowers, said daughter Liz and son-in-law Mike Greeff who helped with the interview at their home in Tokai as Ma is hard of hearing.
Poised on the couch with her playing cards on a little table in front of her, Ma gave a lovely smile and her face was framed by her short white hair.
She welcomed me in a very well-spoken tone; it was a teacher’s voice.
She was born in Worcester in 1918 and grew up there.
She attended the teachers’ training college in Paarl, followed by a year at the Mowbray college, specialising in kindergarten training, and her first teaching job was at the Diep River Primary School, now the Glenbridge school.
She then taught at Maitland Primary for a few years, followed by locum work at a number of schools, including John Graham, Bergvliet Junior, Sweet Valley and the Sacred Heart in Cape Town.
She was among the group of teachers who started Plumstead Preparatory School and remained there for 18 years, until she retired in 1983, said Liz.
Her mother was a history teacher.
“Mum was obviously a teacher of good calibre as for many years after she’d retired, she’d be out somewhere and would be approached by someone recognising her and coming to tell her that she’d taught either the person themselves, their child or their grandchild.”
However, Ma was also a feisty one.
Liz added: “A school kid once told her that another kid bit him. She told the kid to bite him back but he refused, so Ma bit the boy herself, to teach him a lesson.”
Mike walked up to Ma and while looking straight at her in a loud voice asked when she met her husband, Herbert (Herbie). She answered: “ I was in Diep River when I met Pa. Someone introduced us.”
Asked if it was love at first sight, Ma quickly replied , “no”, much to everyone’s amusement.
“Maybe it was love at first sight from my dad’s part,” said Liz.
Mike chuckled: “Maybe she made him work at it.”
Liz said her father was a sailor in the Royal Navy and her mother met him at the end of World War II, when he came to Simon’s Town on the battleship Nigeria. “They were married in 1948 and moved into their house in Medway Road, Plumstead, in 1951.
“My dad died in 1998 and mum stayed in the same house until 2015, when health issues necessitated that she come to live with my husband and I in Tokai.”
She said her mother was a very independent woman and sometimes still wants to be.
Mike said she lived on her own for a long time. “Once she had fallen one evening and dragged herself to the room to get a blanket, stayed on the floor until the next day, then only called us. Nothing was broken. However, years before, when she was 86, she broke her hip at the Park and Shop in Meadowridge.”
Liz said Ma came to their home in Tokai to recuperate and went back home again.
Ma maintains her great sense of humour even during challenging times.
Mike said her home was burgled quite a few times, so she put a sign on her door saying “Please don’t break into this house, we’ve been burgled 22 times and there’s nothing left to steal”.
Liz said: “Mum was always very active: she played tennis with a group of friends at the Plumstead Tennis Club until she was 73. She and dad took up ballroom dancing with the Arthur Murray Studio in the 1960s, and, contrary to the then norm of a couple splitting up and dancing the exams with a teacher, they did all the exams together and were the first to achieve the highest exam available, the Gold Star.
“Mum took up archery in the late 1980s and was a part of the Golden Oldies group at the Protea Club, eventually giving up shooting but still going along every Friday to help with the provision of tea for the remainder of the group.”
She said Ma drove her car until she was 94, then voluntarily gave up driving due to poor eyesight.
Ma was also a die-hard traveller. “My dad’s family was from the United Kingdom and she visited them a few times.”
Ma has been to Portugal and she travelled with her neighbour once to Malawi and Hong Kong when her husband was not that active anymore.
Mike said Ma still has a healthy appetite and her favourite food is fish and chips. She also loves going for a walk. “I push her in a wheelchair when I take the neighbour’s dog for a walk.”
Ma interrupted as if she heard him. “We walk around the pool for some exercise with the pet bird, sometimes.”
To round off the interview, I asked if Ma can tell us a few jokes as apparently she loves to entertain her guests. She fired away: 1. What do you call a camel who has only one hump? Drum roll please… Humphry.
2. The Sunday school teacher told the kids to draw any character in the bible. And the teacher looked at Johnny’s drawing and asked who is that? And Johnny said that is God. The teacher said oh no, nobody knows what God looks like. So Johnny said but now they know.
3. A blonde was given a job to do and her boss asked her to paint the porch. She came back and said she painted the Porsche and she saw an Italian car next to it, so she painted that too.
Mike teases Ma a lot and said: “Ma used to knit me a lot of jerseys but now she only knits fishing nets. After she drops a few stitches while knitting the jerseys it starts looking like fishing nets.” And then I had to ask the traditional question about what’s Ma’s secret to her longevity and her response was…”just good luck I suppose”, and she had us all in stitches again.