Allow me to tell you a few stories about my grandfather. I feel it’s relevant because it’s informed my worldview on a number of levels, and also, he was the absolute shiz.
I could recount all sorts of benefits to the role of grandparents in the lives of grandchildren and children, but I’ve written about that already. This is purely anecdotal, and you can glean from it what you will.
As a young boy, I was drawn to my grandfather’s enjoyment of violent action movies. Growing up in the 80s where films like Rambo and Die Hard were contraband for a lightweight like me, it didn’t stop me eavesdropping on the odd recounting by my grandad about some hectic scene. I loved hearing them from him, probably more than the scene itself.
I always knew him to have a mischievous twinkle, a firm faith and a warm home. I could always go to my grandparents’ home and feel safe.
I suppose it was linked to tales about how he was called in to referree or prevent brawls from breaking out. He was a solid man, with a strong presence and an acute mind. As a youngster I imagined his right hook would have been pretty lethal.
He used to joke with me, as I got older, when it came to giving me or someone else a choice. He would hold up both fists and ask: “Addington? Or mortuary?”
Addington is the hospital in Durban, the city in which he grew up and lived out his life. He often wrote letters to his grandchildren and I kept most of mine. One recounted his hobbyist pastime of playing music with his brothers in a band called the Simco Swingsters. The band would play at the Marine Parade Hotel on the beachfront and the door takings from the gigs would often help “keep the wolf from the door”, as he put it.
More than that though, the brothers seemed to be at their best in music. They were all quite gentlemanly offstage and in their normal professions – bookkeepers, accountants and pastors – but the music seemed like permission for their alter-egos to goof off. And they were funny and popular. I asked them to play at my 21st birthday party, and I joined them on drums. And I watched, from behind the drum kit, I both laughed and was in awe.
He was a complete softy when it came to his granddaughters and great granddaughters. And those moments have a special place in my heart and memory. Every other male in the family was sidelined whenever they walked into the room, and if we dared try talk, it was a choice of Addington or Mortuary.
My overwhelming memory, however, was that visiting my grandparents’ home was always a safe place. I could be, and they would let me. And when I grow up, I hope people feel that way around me.