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How We lose our Traditional History

Updated on June 19, 2008

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.

Lung Cancer

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.


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    • sixtyorso profile imageAUTHOR

      Clive Fagan 

      7 years ago from South Africa

      Thanks for your comment. Small world. But 1939 is a bit before my time. I am 1947 model

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I was at college at Parow in Cape town with one of his sons John,in 1939

    • sixtyorso profile imageAUTHOR

      Clive Fagan 

      9 years ago from South Africa

      quickend01 Thanks so much for stopping by and appreciating my world view of the past. I really intend fleshing out further and there are othe hubs on this theme.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      That was a nice window into another time, life and place I would just hope you will add more scent,views and small details that would flesh out more of what life was like back then and there.

      It’s only our truest histories that can guide our best paths through the future and there is nothing truer than that from the people who actually lived the era.

      Looking forward to reading more from you

    • sixtyorso profile imageAUTHOR

      Clive Fagan 

      10 years ago from South Africa

      Sally thank you so much for reading and commenting. I am passionate about trying to preserve just some history of the common man. Books like Little Women, David Copperfield (the Charles Dickens version), Huckleberry Finn give us a little history as a backdrop to the stories, but the real stories as common as they may be, are what needs to be told! I often absorb colour and backdrop from fiction (books as well as the movies). In looking at old movies it is interesting to note the 'phones (lack of ) cellphones, cars, furniture ,houses and suburbs or apartments that make a silent historical commentary in the  background of the story being played out in the foreground!

    • Sally's Trove profile image


      10 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      Your hub is very inspiring, sixtyorso.

      My mother's family is quite large, and all but one of her siblings is still with us. They have many stories to tell, and they do! But no one is recording the stories. Maybe as a family we can all work together to change that.

      Thank you so much for sharing your memories. Oh, and I agree with Constant Walker, please, please, continue to add those small details that make us feel as though we are right there with you.

      Regards, S.

    • sixtyorso profile imageAUTHOR

      Clive Fagan 

      10 years ago from South Africa

      Yeah I guess that mkes things kind of hard. But it is wirth asking Aunts, Uncles and friends what they remember too!

      Thanks for taking the troubl\e to read and comment much appreciated

    • funnebone profile image


      10 years ago from Philadelphia Pa

      I great point about asking questions. I only knew one grandparent and when I ask my father about our history he always answers back with a drunk stork comment.

    • sixtyorso profile imageAUTHOR

      Clive Fagan 

      10 years ago from South Africa

      Donna thanks for reading and commenting. Yes I too wish I had asked more questions but I will gradually try to record as much of Grandparents and parents lives as I can remember.

    • DonnaCSmith profile image

      Donna Campbell Smith 

      10 years ago from Central North Carolina

      Generations after you will be so thankful you wrote down these memories. I wish I'd asked more questions when I could.

    • sixtyorso profile imageAUTHOR

      Clive Fagan 

      10 years ago from South Africa

      I think you are right but I have so much inside my head that needs to come out. Each of my hubs is a little bit of personal history. Schoolyard Economics perhaps has an unappealing title but have at quiz at that one too if you wish.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting

    • Louie Jerome profile image

      Louie Jerome 

      10 years ago from UK

      Cultural history is always important no matter how colourful your background. I think that maybe you have the making of a book here! You could expand so much on your stories.

    • sixtyorso profile imageAUTHOR

      Clive Fagan 

      10 years ago from South Africa

      Just Rodney and ColdWarBaby

      Thanks for your comments. I must admit that in writing, and since, a flood of lost memories keep surfacing. So there might just be some more hubs along similiar lines.

      Just_Rodney welcome back after your recent absence. nice to have you back in the fold. At one time you were my first and only fan.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Sorry I haven't been by sooner.

      Reminiscence can be both joyful and sorrowful. Either way, it is extremely important. It is a very good idea to keep some type of journal. Anyone with a wit of common sense is painfully aware that the “History” our educational system teaches leaves much to be desired in terms of its veracity. There will be times when the truth may only be ascertained through the private records kept by individuals.

    • Just_Rodney profile image

      Rodney Fagan 

      10 years ago from Johannesberg South Africa, The Gold Mine City

      Ah, memories from the past, some are bittersweet, and others joyous, as many have commented it opens some floodgates from forgotten recesses of our mind.

      Thank you.

    • sixtyorso profile imageAUTHOR

      Clive Fagan 

      10 years ago from South Africa

      Desert Blondie

      Thanks for stopping by and your much valued comments

      Much appreciated

    • desert blondie profile image

      desert blondie 

      10 years ago from Palm trees, swimming pools, lots of sand, lots of sunscreen

      In agreement with the wonderful you recorded these memories...something we all need to do about those we remember...and even our own father died before my children were born...he could have told such moving tales of his time in Korea...about being a father...about being a boy in a small town in Oklahoma during the depression...but there is very little left except a few letters and small newspaper clippings. Nothing to fully connect him to my daughters. ... so, here's to setting down memories!

    • sixtyorso profile imageAUTHOR

      Clive Fagan 

      10 years ago from South Africa

      Constant and Marisue thanks for your inspirational comments! Constant I think I will add more asides as I continue the theme.

      Thanks for taking the trouble to read and comment

    • marisuewrites profile image


      10 years ago from USA

      Sixtyorso, I was mesmerized reading about your ancestery and your life!  Please do write this's your responsibility now.  These people with such strong inner spirits deserve to be forever remembered.  One life, when remembered on paper, has such an impact on all those who read it and all those who come later in their bloodline. 

      You have renewed my own conviction to write about how my mom overcame her loss of sight, how she preservered. To write about my father and the calming source of strength he was; his sacrifices for his family; and my own struggles to raise foster kids and make a difference in families who suffered from separation and loss, all in a day. Just a simple day and history is written.

      All the lessons learned from failures to successes just might keep us strong and forward thinking.  Very good read and I hope to read more...I'll be checking back so keep the fingers typing!   =)

    • Constant Walker profile image

      Constant Walker 

      10 years ago from Springfield, Oregon

      Great stories. I think, when relating these stories, you should "digress" a little more. It was the details, the "soot in the eyes," that gave me a sense of 'being there' as you narrated. I loved it.

    • sixtyorso profile imageAUTHOR

      Clive Fagan 

      10 years ago from South Africa

      On reflection and as a result of your comments I have added a piece about my maternal grandmother too. She was quite a character!

    • sixtyorso profile imageAUTHOR

      Clive Fagan 

      10 years ago from South Africa

      Mulder, Eileen, Dutch84,Helen and Chef Jeff Thanks so much for stopping by and giving me your wonderful comments. Your comments as always enrich the Hub and give me great encouragement.

      Thanks again

    • Chef Jeff profile image

      Chef Jeff 

      10 years ago from Universe, Milky Way, Outer Arm, Sol, Earth, Western Hemisphere, North America, Illinois, Chicago.

      On NPR they have a thing called Story Core or Story Court - (I usually listen when I am driving, so I am not sure I am hearing it exactly correctly), but anyway, they record sounds and interviews with people - everyday people. Maybe you could also record your stories of your granddpa & grandma for their archives.

    • profile image


      10 years ago

      Hello, again, sixtyorso: What wonderful memories and how down-to-earth you have written these. Thanx so much for triggering a flood of my own long-ago remembrances that are so important to feeling whole when we make these a conscious part of our lives. I'll be back again to see what other writings you are up to. Best, Helen (a.k.a. Creativita)

    • dutch84 profile image


      10 years ago

      This is wonderful.

      I look forward to reading more from you, and I strongly believe that cultural preservation is important.

      Have a wonderful day! =)

    • Eileen Hughes profile image

      Eileen Hughes 

      10 years ago from Northam Western Australia

      Very important part of everyones lives.  It definitely all needs recording. They could do it  on a tape recorder while the person speaks if they dont like writing it down.

      My father wrote his story in bits and pieces.  It helped us find our ancestors

       Great  hub. enjoyed reading it.

    • mulder profile image


      10 years ago from Warnbro Western Australia

      These memories are so important I have fond memories of my grandparents to .

      Thanks so much for shareing I really enjoy reading your hubs sixtyorso

    • sixtyorso profile imageAUTHOR

      Clive Fagan 

      10 years ago from South Africa

      This is a short vignette of memories of two different grandparents


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