I saw a picture of a Tickey Box recently. One of the red ones that used to sit on the counter of shops in South Africa. It took me back instantly to my grandfather’s general store in Vredefort in the Orange Free State… writes Trevor Romain.
One thing I remember clearly as a kid, was helping him pack up the cardboard boxes for the customers. It made me feel very important.
Sometimes when I eat things that remind me of my youth, like marmite, fish paste or Jungle Oats, I remember my grandfather teaching me to drive.
I have the memory sitting in my mind like a Technicolor movie. I can see it now very clearly:
“Brakes, Brakes,” yelled my grandfather.
Oh my god!
I jammed on the brakes and we came to a screeching, dust-swirling, stop right in front of a huge ant heap.
I got such a fright I almost swerved into the mielie field. My grandpa leaned over and gently klapped me on the back of my head.
“Avoid ant heaps,” he said. “Now, carry on driving.”
I was about fifteen years old and my grandpa was teaching me to drive on his farm. We would often go to Vredefort on the weekends from Orange Grove, in Johannesburg, where we lived.
(Ja, when the city kids came to Vredefort, now that was a spectacle, but that’s another whole story for another time.)
The car was a huge gray Chevy with a full seat in the front. It was a tank and I could hardly see over the bloody dashboard.
Every time we went to the farm my grandpa took me driving in that grey bumbershoot of a car. And every time I hit a bump or came too close to an ant heap or was about to run over a chicken he gave me a klap on the back of my head.
“Avoid the chickens,” he said. “Now, carry on driving.”
One time I was distracted by a bunch of Meerkats laughing at me when I drove past them sitting on top of an ant heap that I almost drove into the river.
“Avoid the river,” he said. “Now, carry on driving.”
My grandpa was amazing. I often watched him giving the calves their injections. I couldn’t believe how strong he was.
He just flipped the little calves over and zip-zip zap-zap he gave them their shots. All the time speaking so nicely and sweetly to them “It’s okay my girlie,” he‘d say to the lowing little calf as he injected her. Then he would carefully massage the spot where he had injected the animal and set her back on her feet waiting patiently as she steadied herself.
I wish I could sit with my grandfather today for a cup of tea. I would ask him so many questions.
I was so busy trying to be an all important, know-it-all teenager round about the time he died, so I never really got to ask him all the things I now want to know about his youth.
Many people of that generation did not say much about their formative years and so many stories of hope, resilience, determination, adventure and love are lost forever.
Unless we engage with our elderly family members and invite them to share their nostalgia, we might miss out on stories and memories that, in essence, are part of out DNA.
I bet my grandfather had so many great stories to tell that are long buried with him.
Two sayings come to mind as I remember my wonderful grandpa Ted Tanchel with fondness and a deep sense of longing for that time in my life.
‘When a person dies, their library of stories dies with them.’
‘Only the forgotten are truly dead.’
LISTEN to Trevor Romain read an extended version of ‘Map of Heaven’
Listen to the story above narrated by South African expat Trevor, who is now based in Texas… with a special ending about a young boy Trevor met in hospital called Victor. This story comes from a chapter in ‘Blind Date at a Funeral, written and illustrated by Trevor Romain.
Visit Trevor Romain’s website: www.trevorromain.com