Childhood now and then

2008-03-03 00:00

It’s Saturday evening, our home is a hive of child energy with a sleep–over for four grandchildren, aged four to seven. The noise, mess and imagination spreads from one end to the other and back again like a whirlwind. They’re playing a fantastical archetypal game embellished with dinosaurs, glaciers, killer whales and volcanoes, and of course some ever-rescuing fairies. It becomes an elaborate enactment that incorporates dance and drama, as well as cautiously standing on the back rest of the couch to embody the omnipotent fairy rescue mission.

I’m just the invisible granny. They’re so absorbed in their theatricals and the actual creation of their story, which can alter direction every nano-second, that they’re securely oblivious of my fascinated observation from the sidelines.

During supper a marvellous conversation takes place about their version of how the world was created, about volcanic eruptions, the Ice Age, outer space and about how trees give us oxygen. I listen enthralled, convinced that I didn’t know nearly so much when I was a mere two bricks and a ticky high.

As for technology, they tell me to please sms their mothers and dads to say they’re fine, proceed to put their DVD into the machine, use the remote control and then play a game on the computer, all deftly manoeuv-ring the mouse. When it’s bedtime they have their Milo, knowledgeably informing me that it just requires 30 seconds in the microwave.

This gets me reflecting back on my childhood on a Free State farm. Those were the days when we didn’t rely on electricity for our various forms of entertainment, communication or convenience. So electrical blackouts and load shedding wouldn’t have directly impacted on our lives. My dad would go out to the shed as dusk loomed. In the centre of the dark, dank shed stood a cumbersome looking machine that he had to get started each evening. It was a generator that made a spluttering, vibrating noise once cranked up. As far as I was concerned that was the only way to get the lights to work. Although we didn’t have the use of electrical gadgets like hairdryers or vacuum cleaners, the machine generated just enough energy for some dim yellow lights suspended from the high ceilings. When I went to my friend’s farm home for sleep-overs, there were paraffin lamps, candles and a long-drop outside.

The fridge was another story. My dad would wear his oldest, stained khaki farm clothes whenever the fridge needed to be refuelled and lit. This required him to get into some sort of contorted horizontal position on the pantry floor, his long legs under the white enamel pantry table. After adding paraffin to a container under the fridge, he would strike a match and light the wick. He would have to use a spirit level to ensure the angle was perfect, or else the flame would peter out and he’d utter a “blast” under his breathe, before purposefully attempting the wick-lighting process again.

The kitchen stove was one of those gorgeous old stoves that burned mealie cobs. These we had aplenty after each mealie crop season, when the mealies were tossed into a threshing machine, which removed them from the cob. There was an old iron crook that one had to use dextrously so as not to get burnt. Using this, one could lever out the metal plate on the stove to throw more cobs on the flickering flames. The kitchen was always warm and a place where I bottle-fed my adopted orphaned lambs.

I don’t think it’s inane to reminisce or to try to capture moments from childhood. And I’m sure my beloved grandchildren will do the same, as will their grandchildren one day. But it’s interesting how the wheel of time turns and how each generation will have a totally different story to tell. Sometimes it’s almost comforting to back- track, when forward-time seems to hurtle and technology leaps ahead at Mach II. As Alvin Toffler predicted, humanity would suffer from “future shock” at some stage or another. I guess when one is over 50, one’s permitted to feel that way. Thankfully the little people keep us grounded with their fantasies, yet their technological know-how reminds us that each generation is equipped for whatever revelations it encounters.

• Eve Hemming is a local educationist.

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