David Moseley

Here’s to you, Granddad

2014-03-26 10:30

David Moseley

We set off from a tiny beach cottage on the mouth of the Kleinemonde River. The idea was to hike along the coast until we got to an old shipwreck and then turn back.

I’m not sure what it’s like now, but in 1998 the smattering of patchwork huts wedged in between fynbos and dunes, accessible only through local knowledge, was the most isolated part of the country I’d ever visited.

The small cabin that belonged to my friend Nick’s family had more “nature” inside than outside. To get in, we had to dig through months of dune sand that had blown up against the front door, then sweep the sand out that had made its way in.

Once inside, we shared the kitchen with a family of field mice who refused to budge when we chased them away. Later that night two of them crawled over our bunk beds, causing shrieks of terror and cries of “rat!”, “rat” until we turned on the lights to see a tiny mouse nibbling on a biscuit.

Yellowing copies of Readers Digest and books with titles like “Shore Birds of Southern Africa” filled the tiny lounge. There was no electricity, salt water came out of the taps and those brave enough to risk the brain-melting radiation of a cellphone had to stand on a pile of bricks on top of the ceiling just to see if one bar of signal might appear. It was the perfect weekend getaway.

When we started our beach hike there was vast ocean views to the right, a river to the left and nothing but wide open sand in front of us. It felt like we could march for days and not come across another soul. So it was something of a shock when we saw a silhouette appear in front of us like a desperado approaching the hero in a Clint Eastwood western.

As it got closer we realised it was Nick’s brother Richard, the only person who knew we were staying at the cottage. He should have been in Port Alfred, preparing for the annual Boat Race competition held on the Kowie River, but now he was stomping across the soft sand.

Kevin turned to me and joked, “Oh jees, here comes older brother to ruin our fun.” Laughing, I replied, “Nah man, someone’s probably died.”

Richard walked past his brother and said to me, “your dad’s looking for you.” My dad didn’t even know where I was. My heart sank. “He’s going to phone a petrol station in Kleinemonde in 20 minutes,” said Richard.

We followed him to a tiny BP that was slowly crumbling to pieces. There was a small hut, one pump and a battered old payphone that only took coins. As promised by Richard, the phone rang almost as soon as we stepped onto the gravel forecourt.

On the other end, my dad’s voice. “Hi, how are you…?” I dropped the phone and Nick picked it up. I knew what had happened. My grandfather had died. I sat on the dirt road crying as Nick and his brother made plans to get me to Cape Town. I couldn’t speak to my dad.

I’d told my family I didn’t want to come home that weekend because I was going away with friends. It was a mind-numbing, life-altering moment, yet also kind of remarkable because my father had tracked me down in the middle of nowhere.

I cried as Richard drove me to Port Alfred. I cried as family friends took me from Richard to Port Elizabeth. I cried on the flight to Cape Town and all night after the funeral and on the flight back to PE and then on the drive back to Grahamstown.

My granddad would have been 90 next Monday, dead for 16 years yet not once forgotten. I’m crying, too, while I write this.

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