'Oupa, watch out!' - The day Granddad trampled me under his Chevrolet El Camino

1970s Chevrolet El Camino. Image: Getty Images
1970s Chevrolet El Camino. Image: Getty Images

I don’t suppose it’s something a child ever wants to go through: having a parent or grandparent drive over you with their car. Or bakkie, in my case.

That day still haunts me, but through a wretched sense of humour and a poor ability to word my feelings, I have come to make peace with the fact that I almost died.

I was in primary school, around grade 3 when my life would (almost) be altered forever. I had just received my first bicycle the Christmas before and I was ecstatic to ride it wherever and whenever I could. I still recall it so vividly: a blue and white Shimano, 10-speed. Back then, it was all about how many ‘speeds’ your bike had.

And mine was the best, until my friends upgraded from 5-speeds to 12s, then 15s and 18s… until we all had 21s.

Living in the countryside, there was no shortage of roads. Whether it was in the street, riding it to school or Sunday school, or just exploring the gravel roads on the outskirts of town, my bike knew no ends.

1970 Chevrolet El Camino

                       1970s Chevrolet El Camino. Image: Getty Images

The big entrapment

As a cyclist, you must share the road with other road users, cars and bakkies, to be precise. And then you’d find yourself at a stop sign, mimicking the sound of an indicator. "Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock," and then riding off when it’s your turn. Ah, the innocence of youth and the carefree lifestyle of the countryside. It all bodes well for a child’s spirits. And because it was always the second-coming of China, everyone knew to be on the lookout for cyclists.

Everyone except my grandfather, it seemed. I love my Oupa to bits, but on this day I didn’t know whether he loved me back. 

Just before Oupa pulled his brawny Chevrolet El Camino out of the garage, I got my bike and both of us dotted down the driveway. Me before him. And because I took on the characteristics of a real-life driver, I paused in the driveway and proceeded with my verbal “tick tock, tick tock” indicator as a real car would. In front of me, a man who served on the church council with my Oupa pulled up at the neighbour’s house. I assumed he’s here for my Oupa. Behind me, Oupa is reversing, and all I can remember thinking was that he will probably see me. But he didn’t.

Oupa had his right arm resting on the driver’s door window sill, his head peaking out and looking rearward, and the cigarette resting between the fingers on his right hand. I saw that, but I didn’t move. I froze, looked forward again, and my “tick tocks” became even louder! God help me, because suddenly all I saw was darkness.

1970 Chevrolet El Camino

                       1970s Chevrolet El Camino. Image: Getty Images

An ironic twist

Starting with the back wheel, the El Camino began eating into my bicycle. I didn’t know whether to scream or shout, but I could feel the bike buckling underneath me. Suddenly I hit the ground, but everything happened in slow motion. My body would react to each action the bike would make, forcing me underneath the El Camino.

And that bakkie was loud! A 4.1-litre straight-six engine burbling towards me and the heat of the exhaust brushing over tender legs. And then, as if wondering why on earth exiting the driveway is taking a bit longer than usual, my granddad revved the bakkie to gain a bit of momentum. All the while I’m stuck, my hearth throbbing in my throat, still not able to fully put an escape plan into action.

Then I heard it: the bitter-sweet sound of my mother’s screeching voice running towards the bakkie. I couldn’t see her face, but I saw her feet coming towards me. Suddenly there were more people standing in the driveway. The man who I gave ‘right of way’ to also hopped closer, my grandmother’s friend came running from her house just a few numbers down. My grandfather climbed out of his idling bakkie and reached out his (then) strong arms and pulled me and my bicycle out in one swift motion.

I felt safe. I thought he was going to hug me, but he gave me to my shock-ridden mother and asked: “Wat soek jy onder die bakkie?” (What are you doing under the bakkie?). At least he smiled and rubbed my head endearingly. I'm sure he got a bigger freight than me.

My poor Shimano was never the same after that incident. Whenever I rode it, it had a slight limp – bearing the scars of war. Both my bicycle and I lived to see another day, but my cycling days came to a gradual end after that. 

And it’s ironic, really, that I find myself in an occupation dealing with the thing that tried to kill me in grade 3. 

1970 Chevrolet El Camino

                       1970s Chevrolet El Camino. Image: Getty Images

DISCLAIMER: All images are sourced from Getty Images and are that of the American Chevrolet El Camino.

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