The Salt Lake City Saunderses celebrate Peter’s 74th birthday and preview “The Gerda that Remains” – GERDA SAUNDERS

Featured photo: Aliya Saunders takes a selfie of the whole family celebrating Peter’s birthday.

Many thanks to Peter for all your help in sizing and editing the photos, and putting them in a place where I could find them.


  (Photo, Aliya.)O Don’t mess with these women! As part of Peter’s 74th birthday celebration, PBS Utah Producer Sally Schaum (LEFT above) and former KUER RadioWest-, now independent videographer Kelsie Moore (RIGHT above) () came over to to give our family a private showing of The Gerda That Remains.

I’ll say more about the film later, but first I want to go back to Tuesday Feb 1, which is Peter’s actual birthday. On Tuesday morning, Peter and I woke up, looked at each other, and marveled at the fact that this was the 54th time we had celebrated his birthday as a couple. (On two occasions he was away on work trips, the first to India (we could not even phone in those days, but he left late on the day before and his birthday started during the endless flight—which gave his coworkers plenty of time to celebrate with him; his second away birthday happened in a US city of which I can’t remember the name. I was able to send him flowers to his hotel, which clued in his coworkers that something special was going on—he had not even told him it was his birthday! Again, much celebration was set in motion).

Peter was 19 when we met. We were in three of the same classes in the first year of our Bachelor of Science degrees (in South Africa, a bachelor’s takes 3 years to complete the same hours as an equivalent 4-year American degree). After meeting under the aisle-spanning desk in the physics lecture hall when I dropped a book and he and I simultaneously ducked down—he was sitting in the row in front of me—to pick it up. We spoke after class and it did not take long for him to start walking me to from campus to my residence hall. After he’d had lunch at his parents’ apartment nearby, we met on campus again, this time in one or the other of our 2-5pm physics, chemistry, and math labs. When that ended, he walked me home again. He and I were not yet going steady, but during those walks we learned every possible thing about each other’s childhood pets, siblings, parents, non-academic interests, and hopes and dreams.


Left, Marissa and Gerda (2003) in the University of Pretoria physics lecture hall where Peter and I met in 1967. Thirty-six-years later, our daughter was obtaining her biochemistry BS at the same university. Right, Peter and Gerda  (2003) in the same lab on the UP campus where we did our weekly 3-hour-long afternoon chemistry labs until we graduated in 1969.

Despite our now regular daily walks, on the February day in 1968 when Peter turned twenty (we were then in our second year), we’d had only kissed once. It happened when we ran into each other in the December-January summer break between our first and second years. We had not arranged to see each other over the break. Peter was visiting relatives in the Cape with his parents and I was doing vacation work at the Atomic Energy Board, from whom I had a scholarship, and lived on a mattress on the floor in a kind friend’s apartment located between my residence hall and Peter’s parents’ apartment. I invited him up for tea, but I don’t recall us actually having tea. Right after our kiss, I left for my parents’ farm where I stayed until the new university year started.


Left, Erica (1969),  Gerda’s residence hall during my second- and third years. Right, Cyprus Flats, Arcadia cStreet, Pretoria, where Peter lived with his parents during his university years. Today the ground floor of the building is occupied by a well-known fancy night club; in our days it had a few shops. Peter’s and my places were about 6 city blocks from each other. Peter’s bedroom, at the back of the flats, faced my bedroom, which was on the top floor of Erica. After we started going steady, he and I flashed our lights at each other at  11 pm every day until both of us graduated in November 1969

If you’d like to take a virtual tour of the University of Pretoria’s huge, beautiful campus as it is today, watch a minute or so of the YouTube video below, taken during Covid times and at the end of a semester after classes had let out. The old chemistry, and maths buildings are still the same as when Peter and I were there. The gorgeous treesmany of which were already growing in 1908 when the university was established—seem about twice the size they were in our days.

On Peter’s 20th birthday (soon after the start of the 1968 school year), I wished him the usual happiness, which, in my mind, included him being with me for ever. He must have come to the same conclusion, because sometime in March he told me, in the magisterial man-language of those days, that he did not want me to go out with anyone other than him ever again. I needed no persuasion. We were officially going steady. We studied together at his parent’s place. Our degree required a fierce emphasis on studying: we had 3-hour tests on Saturdays (no time for tests during the week). We alternately tested in math, chemistry, applied math (Peter)/physics(me), starting a new test cycle directly after the first. Topped by the same cycle for 3-hour finals. That was a lot of studying together, two bodies right next to each other, also learning things that were not in the textbooks. Just before 8 pm on week nights and before 11 pm on weekends, he walked me back to my residence. ON weekend nights, however we stopped studying at around 9 pm and he taught me to dance. He was a ballroom champion, on the dance team of a local studio. Whereas I could help myself on the dance floor with ordinary dancers, I did no justice to his extraordinary talents. He taught me the final points of the waltz and other ballroom dance as well as that of many Latin dances, which were his favorites: the chacha, salsa, merengue, samba, to name a few. We went to university dances together whenever possible. A new world of knowing where my limbs were during a physical activity opened up for me. But this was the case for dancing only—in everyday life I was still clumsy; in sport, hopeless!


Left, Peter and Gerda (with a regrettable 1960s hair style) at a dance at my residence, Jasmyn, or Jasmine. Very fitting building name, since during our walks he used to pluck sprigs of jasmine flowers off a hedge we passed and stuck them in my hair. After the end of apartheid, the university renamed residences to better reflect their then inclusion of South African black women. Jasmyn becomes House Khutso, or House of peace, calmness, and rest.)  Right, Peter and Gerda (with a very unsophisticated dentistry-showing laugh) at a country club birthday celebration for one of his dance team members.


Peter and I graduated at the end of 1969. Our graduation ceremony was held in March of 1970. Above, we each interpret the Boer War cannon that used to be on campus. )As far as I could find out, it is no longer there). Since my parents would come into town for the graduation ceremony from Heilbron, in the then Free State where they then lived, and would have dinner with us at Peter’s parents apartment; and my sister Lana and her then boyfriend Willem would come from Johannesburg where they both went to RAU, Peter and I decided to announce our engagement that evening. A year later, on March 26 1971, we were married.

On the Sunday after Peter’s actual birthday, Marissa-Adam-Dante (MAD), Kanye-Cheryl-Aliya-Newton (KCANs), and Sally and Kelsie all gathered in our apartment’s common room where for dinner, the film screening, and our gift and dessert ritual. I had asked the three grandkids to each bring a phone of camera to take photos of the party: Kanye (14), Aliya (almost 12), Dante (9).


People hanging out while everyone gets here

1) Gerda, Kelsie, Sally and  2) Newton, Adam, Cheryl and 3) Kanye, Dante, and Adam (Aliya‘s photo); 4) Aliya and 5) Oupa (Kanye‘s photos)



1) Gerda watches as Marissa gets the food ready(Aliya‘s photo); 2) and 3) cousins cousins amusing themselves (parent photos); 4)Aliya‘s selfie of the cousins; 5) Aliya takes a photo of Oupa; 6) Dante takes a photo of Ouma

Given three enthusiastic under-15 photographers, Sandi (Adam’s mom, Dante’s Grammie) is feeling overexposed! (Aliya‘s video)

Perhaps the World Ends Here

“Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite” (Joy Harjo)

Given that Ouma can no longer cook a meal, never mind just getting one to the table, we order something in for family gatherings these days. For Oupa’s birthday, we ordered MOD pizza—Oupa and the grandkids agreed that that’s the way to go and the rest of us have a good excuse to throw our daily calories to the wind! Peter and I made a salad. Every MAD and CKAN sets up the table, carry in chairs, helps to get the food on the table and—miraculously—cleans up afterwards. This time, even guest of honor Kelsie—a cherished member of our made-in-America family—pitched in and carried out the garbage!


1) Oupa welcomes everybody, demonstrates how he’ll soon have to use a walker because of his advanced age, Marissa on the right; 2) Gerda reads a birthday poem for Peter, “On Reaching the Age of Two Hundred” by Donald Hall (Aliya‘s photos);   3) clockwise from middle foreground, Dante, Aliya, Sally, top of Gerda’s head, Peter, Kelsie, Cheryl, Newton’s tattoo sleeve that pictorially narrates his life and philosophy (Kanye‘s photo); 4) Sandi and Kanye (Aliya‘s photo); 5) Marissa and Adam (Dante‘s photo); 6) Cheryl, Newton, Marissa (Aliya‘s photo)


“Children, grandchildren, friends are all the gift I want—but there’s darem nothing like opening a present!”

When Peter was a child, his parents—though not well off at all—always made sure he had a pile of gifts to open on Christmas day.  My childhood experience to the contrary was that Christmas or birthday gifts could be as little as a bottle of shampoo or a tiny trinket. His birthday presents this year made a nice pile: funny gifts, gag gifts, uncannily perspicacious tiny techie toys, and homemade cards.


1)Peter builds a mental truth table to decipher Kanye’s Boolean puzzle, “The Case of the Stolen Cake”, to find the culprit;  2) upon finding that he was the culprit, Adam retroactively tries to steal the cake while Aliya wards him off; 3) Dante brings another gift: 4) Newton and Cheryl (Aliya’s photo); 5) Aliya gets a present too—a blanket that Ouma knitted during the two years of Covid 5 (parent photo);


Dinner done, we watch The Gerda That Remains, a PBS/RadioWest film by Kelsie and Sally

Left, The Gerda That Remains featured on the cover of PBS Utah Channel 7’s February program guide; Right, getting ready to see the film after dinner (parent photo)


These final photos were either taken during the filming or are stills from the film


For information about the premiere on February 17th, click HERE







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