Memories rekindled in a journey through time
Childhood memories and metaphor trump high-age morbidity
I can’t sleep. I am haunted by childhood memories. They even make a coffee of this name in PE.
My friend, who is quietly but deeply expressive, lives in the so-called high age (he is a ballie) with the shadow. They measure this mortality in percentages these days, and at under 10 or five percent, he has 90 percent of a chance or more to outlive his cancer.
It is 00:15 o’clock on my journey, whatever time that is on my cellphone. My shadow woke me. And after some micro puffs of cortizone, I am at the kitchen table savouring a slice of Grahamstown Home Industries’ carrot cake with its smooth, creamy icing and sipping sis’s vanilla chai tea. OK, and scarfing Flanagan’s moreish Irish kettle-fried chips.
Nobody is here to restrain me, just the booming silence of the refrigerator and rain pattering on the car port.
And the memory of muffled giggles of me and my two sisters and sleepover friends as we pass around the midnight feast stash of condensed milk and sweets.
And glassy-glassy! The dense, heaving tension of glass on glass as the upside tumbler scritches, driven on by the dark force (of someone’s diabolical mind), it squeaks out the answer, in this forest of outstretched hands all touching at the tips, of who laaiks who!
More barely stifled screeches as “the Devil” outs the tweenage courtier in our King Edward Road, Cambridge home.
Then Knorr introduced/addicted our tastebuds to Aromat-drugged chicken noodle soup, and Simba brought us similarly chemically flavoured salt and vinegar, and cheese and onion chips, and of course, the arrival of “isotonic” naartjie-flavoured (always “flavoured”!) Game in a glass with ice blocks, which emerged from the men’s only bar of the Cambridge Club. Sent by my dad, after we played squash together.
Parents make decisions for their children which scar them for life. My sis’s dream of a university education was brushed aside as irrelevant when there was a great teacher training college in the Karoo which her cousins had attended.
A few hours ago, she read me the opening lines of her PhD in foundational literacy, really big words, complex academic discourse. It has been the journey of her life to this point in her early 60s, where she is poised to fulfill her dream of holding a doctorate in her hand.
All I see now is me lying on a double bunk bed in sis’s spare room which is dotted with readings and open files spread out on the beds, floor, her work desk, all so not like my normally ridiculously ordered and neat sister!
Her readers are perched on her nose, her head, with its modern coiffure a bit tousled from study, is turned to me. It is an unselfconscious moment of scholarly truth, just as memorable as being capped at grad.
Do we need to decide which of these memories will we pick out and dust off as the neural layers begin to thin and dissipate, exposing our earliest recollections? Shall we prise loose the painful ones, and risk pushing past the delightful moments hiding in the wings?
There will always be bitterness and regret, remonstrations with parents or guardians long since gone, but that was their journey. I want my own.
I have not seen my daughters for a year. In fact, I have hardly seen anyone outside those I encountered on my lockdown travels. As I head back to town, my hair sheared so tenderly by one of my brotherly mates of 30 years, there is apprehension. I feel the changes.
My loud storms, crouching under a table waiting for the roof to blow off again, have been matched with a silent storm of changes in the newsroom. But the journalists, those true to our crusty craft, not the revolving-door, civil servants-in-waiting, are still here making deadline day after day.
Last weekend, my high-aged friend and I sat in a high Karoo lucerne field in the green shade of a Camdeboo stinkwood full of the joys of early summer and watched the two Binder boys do badly at the MotoGP, the world’s premier motorcycle series.
We got talking. I was slightly stunned to hear this seasoned professor with just a few years left before retiring, talking about the struggles of his students to keep going at home under lockdown. There was a sense of deep despair, even sorrow, something that just appeared out of the ether, uninvited but unstoppable.
My lockdown journey felt more than a little indulgent in the face of such a profound crisis. I am virtually back in the game, this time a bit more thoughtful, a little less restless, yet still hankering for the quietude of the land- and seascape, which I found this week on Delores hurtling to my other home, the coast, on Wednesday.
The bike was burbling with joy at 4,500 revs, the temperature needle just above cool though it was 35 degrees in Bedford. My own temperature was rising fast as the heavy black riding gear leached moisture from my body.
The journey to Makhanda flowed, the curves and cuttings.
The possibility of a hurtling warthog, a kudu, or the earth looking so blazingly hot I could not see why the bike did not simply explode in flame — all of this, well it was simply metaphor.
I chose to revel in the beauty of being alive.
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