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Sandra Sugar Swanepoel
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December 1 means something else to me

07 January 2014, 07:52
On World Aids Day last year a reel of very old memories played in my head as I remembered my dearly loved and much-missed grandfather. It was his birthday yesterday, although the last birthday he was around to celebrate was his 61st – when I was just six years old.
Ian MacLeod – my mom’s dad – was born in Glasgow in the late 1920s. At 21 he boarded a ship to leave behind the economically stifled, tenement building lifestyle of that city. He sailed southward to begin a new life in Africa. Like thousands of other Scotsmen, he had chosen to settle in what was then known as “the land of milk and honey” – Rhodesia.
Night classes completed while in Scotland qualified him for a job in the construction industry. Not only was he capable of building and overseeing the building of houses and other structures, he was also a talented draughtsman. He married my gran and had three daughters. At one point, they lived in a house that he had designed himself.
My grandfather saw Rhodesia claim its independence from Britain. Although Scottish by birth, he felt a deep loyalty to Rhodesia, demonstrated by his service in the Rhodesian Bush War. After the new regime was established and the country was officially renamed Zimbabwe (I’m leaving out lots of details here), he and my gran moved to South Africa, as did their three daughters, three sons-in-law and first grandchild (my older sister).
In his early sixties, my grandfather succumbed to cancer. I was so young and it was so long ago that my reel of memories is really only a slideshow of mental images and impressions. But thinking about it, there is so much I know about him – so much of him that made me who I am – that I have had to skip over most of it to avoid writing an entire book.
He had a profound effect on the generation he produced, passing on attributes such as kindness, loyalty, honesty, conscientiousness, love and humility. These have trickled down to my generation and I hope that we all do him proud.
Aside from the parts of my grandfather that pervade my personality and character, I’d like to document some of my personal snapshots:
• Sunday lunch at my grandparents’ house. Actually, we had the privilege of living one street away from them, so visits were not only limited to Sunday afternoons. One week I mentioned that the roast that was served looked like an owl – to me it really did! That made both of them laugh.
• Playing in my grandparents’ big back yard while my grandpa tended to the garden, wearing his “gardening gloves”.
• Tea at my grandparents’ house. We were allowed two biscuits each. Once we became desperate for that third, forbidden biscuit, we would always look at grandpa as we timidly asked for it. We didn’t doubt that he’d say yes.
• Grandpa loved treating us to “pokey hats” (ice cream cones).
• Lost in translation: Grandpa preferred “Cassel” to Lion Lager. And that time when I thought he had asked me to bring him a “tile” from the bathroom. Luckily I didn’t take him literally – turns out “tile” is what you hear when a Scotsman asks for a towel.
• Washing my hair. Grandpa: “Do you want hot water or cold water?” Me: “Both please.” Every single time. In hindsight I’m pretty sure he was just joking…?
• Nap time at my grandparents’ house – why did I have to nap when I wasn’t even tired?! And that time when, in my boredom and sleeplessness one afternoon, I chewed a chunk out of the headboard. Luckily my grandpa was around to soothe my alarmed and indignant mom.
• Grandpa could not keep birthday presents a secret. I remember the year I knew to expect a nightie when I opened my present from him and my gran.
• Visiting grandpa in hospital. Sometimes I was too young to go in and see him, which was really disappointing. But the one time when I did get to go in, he offered me one of his liqueur “get well” chocolates. Not yet being a connoisseur, I bit the chocolate in half, in the process spilling all the liqueur onto his bed sheets. Once again my mom was a little flustered, but he smoothed it all over.
• Playing quietly with my cousins at my aunt’s house while my mom visited grandpa in hospital. And my mom coming up to the front door, saying to my aunt, “Dad’s died.”
• And finally, seeing his coffin carried into the church, then standing with the rest of my family while a long line of those who loved him offered us hugs, kisses and words of condolence.
My human mind insists that my grandpa should have lived longer – that he should have had the chance to meet his youngest four grandchildren, and perhaps even the growing brood of great-grandchildren. Instead, we had him for a short time only. But, with the exuberance and wonder of a child, I truly savoured every second of attention I got from him.
Let us not, in our adult years, lose the sense of preciousness which every moment spent with one of our many loved ones holds.

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