How We lose our Traditional History
Two pieces of South African lives
When I was a bit younger (Ok a lot younger), I remember saying to my ex-wife's grandfather. "you tell such interesting stories, why don't you write it all down?". He responded by saying "who would be interested in my stories?" Likewise my maternal Grandmother and I had the same conversation and her response was much the same.
One story that grandpa told me stuck particularly in my mind. His son (my father-in-law) was a small boy in the depression years (1928-1930 ish) in the then Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe). He was concerned about the plight of his family, no money, no jobs available, so he decided to do something about it. He decided to sell Potatoes to the neighbors for some ready cash. First problem he had no potatoes. No problem, he filled up a sack with stones. This was his bag of potatoes. He then proceeded to sell these "potatoes". The neighbors bought some of them for a few pennies each but told him, "don't worry you can keep your potatoes" In this way he made a few pence which bought bread and bit of meat to keep the family alive. The neighbors obviously took pity on this little mite selling potatoes, but pride was salvaged all around. No begging took place and no charity was given. Another story was about the "medicinal whiskey" that was taken on a nightly basis. The agreement between Grandma (who was a very devout practicing catholic) and grandpa (who was an atheist by the way) was that the Whiskey bottle should be kept in the medicine chest in the bathroom thus qualifying as a medicine. This salvaged the pride of grandma and kept the dignity of grandpa intact.
He smoked fifty cigarettes a day and was already into his late seventies. He used to comment "lung cancer - what rubbish". He also used to drive the skips on the mines. A skip is the lift at the end of a cable, in which the gold miners used to acend and descend to the mine face underground. He was subsequently diagnosed with lung cancer, Grandma then persuaded him to convert to Catholicism, become baptized and confirmed, which also entailed his first and only confession, all within the three months before he died of,ironically, lung cancer.
My Grannie lived to a ripe old age. We could never quite determine her age as her one vanity was to lie about her age. Her eldest daughter my Aunt is still living age around 90. This would have made her at least 110 if she had lived. She as a child was incarcerated in the British concentration camps in the Krugersdorp, Magaliesberg area of the Transvaal during the Boer war (1899 - 1902). At this time she was a small girl aged around 5 or 6. She remembers living on a farm in the magaliesberg and they had horses and an ox wagon. A trip to Krugersdorp ( about 15km away was a full week enf affair.
By contrast she was still alive when Armstrong landed on the moon in 1969. As she said to me at the time"who could have imagined that I have lived from the Boer war and ox-wagons to seeing a man land on the moon!" . Not to mention living through two world wars, the Korean war and a nephew killed in World War two.
So you see how by not writing about these two lives we lose our traditional history.
My Maternal Grandma
Although my Dad's mom was never one for stories, I have a couple of recollections of her from my teenage years. They used to live in a major rail hub in South Africa called De Aar (the Artery). She was a tall woman, statuesque over six foot tall (1.82m) and a formidable figure. Al my uncles were well over 6 foot and my aunts too. My dad was the shortest at six foot two inches! My Grandfather stood a bare 5 foot eight in his socks. We went to visit once. The trip from Roodepoort (near Johannesburg) was by train. Suburban train to Johannesburg and Sleeper coach to De Aar on the Cape Town route. I vividly recollect the smells of coal smoke, hot coffee and boiling vienna sausages from the vendors on the railway platforms and soot in the eyes from looking out the windows at the steam train. I digress, upon arrival, my dad was ordered to go to the shop by Granny to buy a cake for tea. He did so ( even though he was a married man with 13 and 10 year old sons). When he returned granny was incensed because he had bought a pink cake! She wanted to know if he thought that the two boys ( my brother and I) were girls and needed a pink cake. The cake ended up against my father's head and after cleaning up he had to go and get another more suitable cake!
A few years later my grandparents retired and came to Johannesburg. From the time of their arrival, we were required to go to "Sunday Lunch". Even when I was about eighteen and courting, Sunday lunch was a must attend. I dreaded these times as each new paramour of mine was told:
" My girl you are not good enough for my grandson, we are royalty you know, we have blue blood in our arses! My grandfather was George Rex of Knysna and was King Edward's (Bastard) son you know!He is the eldest grandchild you know" She was fond of the you know's. So I had to put up with this little speech each time a new lady entered my life.
When I got married a few years later( yes my ex was good enough). She asked what we wanted for a wedding present. My Ex replied that we needed a pink blanket for our bed. Yes Pink again. Granny was not happy that we wanted a pink blanket. She told me that as the man of the house ,I should put my foot down. I told I also wanted a pink blanket. She mumbled and grumbled at that.
On the day of our return from honeymoon, we heard that Granny had died that morning. We went straight to her home. We went into the bedroom to pay our last respects and there on the bed next her was the pink blanket with a note wishing us a happy marriage.
I for one intend to record as much of my life as possible so that the history is not lost.