Going strong at 100

Helene Esau with her late husband Alfred John Esau.

Surrey Estate resident Helena Esau is living proof that laughter is the best medicine as she marked her 100th birthday last week.

The celebrations included a church service, an afternoon tea for the community, and a lunch for family and friends.

Born in Wellington, Ms Esau was one of six children.

Her family came to Cape Town when she was 19 years old.

They moved to Rylands when apartheid’s Group Areas Act was implemented and later to Surrey Estate in 1960.

She and her late husband, Alfred John Esau, had 13 children – nine boys and four girls. He passed away after 65 years of marriage.

While Ms Esau still has good eyesight and reads the newspaper, she is poor of hearing and doesn’t like using a hearing aid.

Her son Isaac Esau, 71, said his mother never had a day job as she felt it was important to look after all her children.

She also occupied herself with knitting, sewing, crocheting and gardening, and enjoyed dancing, singing and baking. Ms Esau was famous for her ginger biscuits, which she often baked for the church. The recipe has been safely handed down to her children.

Mr Esau said his mother was also known for taking in stray animals.

He described her as being very strict and having a quiet side but also possessing a strong sense of humour.

“If she called you you’d better go and don’t make her come to you. When someone would fall she would laugh and then help you up,” he said jokingly.

Mr Esau said the centenarian loved travelling and going for drives.

He said she would hop into anyone’s car if she heard that they were going for a drive, and she often travelled to Durban. When asked who was more strict of his parents, he said: “They were both quite strict but if we wanted something we had to go through mama.”

When asked what memory about his mother brings a smile to his face, Mr Esau said there was one in particular which stood out.

“My parents didn’t have a television so on a Friday and Saturday they would go to my sister to watch it and my dad would fall asleep if they didn’t talk to him. So while he was falling asleep my mother said ‘are you again sleeping’ and he said no he isn’t and as she laughed at him she fell off the couch and we all laughed,” he said.

He said that although they struggled as a family, his mother always made sure they had something to eat but there was one rule: if you didn’t like what was on the table you had to wash yourself and go sleep.

Mr Esau will remember his mother being an independent person who would not wait for things to be done for her and often just did it herself.

Asked what was the most important lesson his mother taught him, he said: “One thing that she taught us was never to steal people’s things. She said to us that we should not steal with the hand but to steal with the eye.”