A Missionary Doctor's Autobiography
Back at Medical School, I soon found myself busier than ever, with lectures, ward rounds, tutorials and practical work. Days were brightened by the anticipation of letters postmarked in Malawi, which ended "With love, Bwenzi." This was a Chichewa word meaning "friend" but for us it had attained greater significance. Of course I found time to reply, maybe not as frequently as I would have liked, usually signing myself "Your Dum-bi." (Another Chichewa word meaning more-or-less "Special friend").
About a month into the academic year, my grandfather, "M.P", with his second wife, Anne, returned from a trip to America. His first wife, Lily Goode, had died six years previously and he had married Anne, a widow, two years later. He had been keen to take Anne to visit his family in his home country and they had enjoyed their trip immensely. Within two weeks of their return to Cape Town, M.P. died suddenly of a heart attack.
He was buried at Helderberg, the College he helped to found, next to his first wife, Lily. I was one of the pallbearers. Poor Grandpa! Looking forward to a long and happy retirement, and then - gone!
After the funeral, life settled into a routine again. It was arranged that I would stay with Grandma Anne, to help ease the loss of her beloved companion. I helped with the move from "Dunrovin", the house in which Anne and Milton had planned to spend their retirement, into a flat, more suited to her current needs. I had to park my bicycle that I used to travel to and from University, on the landing. Anne was "a good cook" and I soon found myself gaining weight. "Maybe the good cooking had something to do with Grandpa's heart attack," I mused, resolving that I would decline second helpings, even at the risk of offending my step-grandmother.
Letters flew (well, they seemed to crawl!) regularly between Cape Town and Malamulo. Plans proceeded for Lilian to come down in July, when I would be on holiday, to meet my family; then we would all drive down to the Cape together. Lilian and I would resume our respective studies and my parents would spend the holiday visiting family and friends, before returning to the mission.
It was a cold but sunny winter day when the redheaded nurse stepped off the train after her long journey and after a welcoming kiss, was introduced to the Buckley family. Soon we were driving along the bumpy Lesotho roads. Lilian was intrigued by the riders on their sturdy Basotho ponies, galloping over the rough mountain trails, with their brightly coloured blankets. "They always wear their blankets," I explained, "to keep warm in the winter and, they say, cool in summer! We're on our way to Maluti hospital," I continued. "Dad was involved in most of the negotiations for building the place, and I used to say that I would work there one day. Maybe, but we will have to see what God has in mind." Though no one knew it then, this would be where she and I would later spend more than five years.
A few days later, in the dark blue Chevrolet, we started the leisurely trip to the Cape, stopping off to visit friends of the family on the way. First stop was with the Mungers, who owned the site of the old Spion Kop College, which was now closed.
Here, on the banks of the Tugela river I proposed and was accepted, although due to the many uncertainties facing us, we waited for three months before announcing our engagement. We still keep the memory of that magic moment on the banks of the Tugela river.
Arriving in Cape Town, I went back to live with my step-grandmother, while my family stayed with my Uncle Bob and Lilian entered the midwifery course at Groote Schuur Hospital. Studies were demanding but we still found time to meet and talk. As the romance progressed, we decided that she would postpone her furlough to England until after my graduation, which was still a year away. Instead she would give up her midwifery course and we would get married the following January.
The wedding, on the 18th January, 1954, in the Claremont Church, was a simple one, with two bridesmaids and a best man.
"Never has my beloved looked more beautiful," I thought, as I stood with my best man, watching Lilian walking in on the arm of Dr C Paul Bringle. We promised to be true "in sickness and in health, until death do us part," and then Pastor F H Thomas blessed our union and introduced us as "man and wife".
We could not afford a lavish reception, but the church ladies provided refreshments and soon we were on our way to a guest farm in the beautiful Ceres valley, where we spent a lovely week. Then it was back to final year studies for me and a new job for my bride. We lived temporarily with Uncle Bob, who was now a divorcee with three girls. We made a part of the big rambling house into a "flat". Life was hectic, especially for Lilian, who beside having taken on a full-time nursing job, also was homemaker and a sort of "foster mother" to the three girls.
Toward the middle of the year, when we found that a baby was on the way, we decided to move into our own flat, in Newlands. We thanked God for His guidance in helping us to find a place we could afford, and a landlady who would not throw us out when the baby arrived.
Mary was born at the Mowbray Maternity Hospital, in November. I took Lilian to the hospital, said, "Goodbye", and went home. I phoned next morning to hear that we had a healthy daughter. Husbands were definitely not encouraged to be present or even wait around. (When John was born, I was present; and I was very much involved in Jane's delivery! -- see chapter 12.)
Our faith grew a lot that year! Lilian had to give up her job; (those were the days before maternity leave!) Baby Mary was due just two weeks before my final exams in December, and my internship would start in January (that is, if I passed!) I tried to get temporary "summer" work but the jobs involved working on the Sabbath or selling alcohol or tobacco - things I would not do. Providentially, just as we were considering, for the twentieth time, how we would manage, I had an unexpected phone call.
"Hello. I'm Dr Billy Kenmuir," the voice said. " I'm doing a locum at the Rhondebosch Hospital. I believe you are due to start your internship here in January. We are very short of staff and wonder if you would be willing to start earlier?"
"When would you like me to start?"
"Right away, if you could."
If I could! I thought, but said, "I'll be happy to start right away."
We couldn't believe that our prayers had been answered in such a remarkable way! I did pass my exams and received the coveted diploma. By selling my Hallicrafters radio, we were able to manage until, as a young intern, I got my first pay check and from then on finances ceased being such a pressing problem, at least for a while.
Yes, 1953/4 really had been two eventful years!