This past week I felt all the emotions of celebrating the birthday of my Nan in Heaven (August 14), and remembering the day my precious Pops became an angel (August 15). These days brought out so many feelings and emotions from deep within my heart and soul… And I’ve been moved to tears almost every day.
One strong feeling is the power and importance of the relationships we share with our grandparents.
The gift of grandparents.
This incredible bond is a real gift, and often a rare gift. I think about so many of the my friends and the people we know, and my heart aches thinking of how many people don’t have or have never had this great bond with a grandparent – some because they passed on too soon, some because their parents didn’t have a relationship with their grandparents which prevented a relationship with the grandchildren too, some because grandparents lived far away, and some because their grandparents were too strict, too hard and too busy for this relationship.
I am beyond blessed and eternally favoured to have shared the most incredible bond with both sets of my grandparents, and still with my special Nan who is still with us. My grandparents were like two sets of parents to me – they played a vital and important role in my life and my upbringing from the day I was born. I was the first grand child on both sides (the only grand child on my maternal side) and they both lived relatively close for most of my life, and always made time for me, sacrifices for me and for me to spend time with them.
My maternal grandparents: Dot & Dave (or Nana and Papa to me) always lived close by in Durban. Being the first and only grandchild, I was both spoilt and adored beyond belief. I spent every weekend with my grandparents, either a Friday or Saturday evening whilst my mom and stepdad were out with friends, and I had the best time with them. My fondest childhood memories included them fetching me from school in their blue Toyota Corolla that reeked of smoke and an ashtray overflowing with cigarette butts, hours spent at the library choosing new books for the weekend, fresh warm Chelsea buns from Checkers, walks around their retirement block (where my Nan was the receptionist and my Paps was the supervisor), visiting all the old ladies to see if they were okay, receiving treats from them all as I skipped through the immaculate gardens, or a passion fruit and soda treat at the local bowling club where my Papa was the local champion. We spent Friday nights eating bacon and egg toasted sandwiches, me sitting in the middle of them, on the arms of their rust-coloured settee. I would sit at the big bay window, overlooking Durban, listening to the roars of the crowds at Kings Park Stadium, fireworks after the sports matches or the songs from a local concert, or the cruise liners coming into the harbour. And at night, I would climb into bed with my knitted Davy Crockett doll – which my girls now sleep with.
In my last few years of primary school, my Nan & Paps moved a block away from my school and instead of attending after care every afternoon (which I hated!), my Nan would walk to fetch me and then home to do my homework, play puzzles and raid her fridge for pink viennas, polony and cheese and gherkin sandwiches on white bread (one of my second pregnancy cravings). My Pops would drive me to all my hockey matches and swimming galas, play dates and parties, and Nan would make sure I had all my homework done, stationery stocked up and visits to the library on Friday afternoons. I look back now with great fondness and love at how they were there for me and made endless sacrifices for me, and how it was never “too cool” to be with them during my pubescent years. My Pops passed away whilst I was in early high school and I remember being almost too young to understand and grasp the weight of his death, but so proud that I could stand up at his funeral and say a tribute to the amazing man that he was.
When I got my drivers licence in my Matric year, my Nan gave me her car (as she had lost her confidence to be on the road), and I proudly drove her white Chico golf for years. I love that when I went to university, I would pop in and spend one afternoon a week with my special Nan – driving her around to do errands, weekly grocery shopping at her local Checkers and then home to snack her groceries, make her tea and lunch and sit chatting to her for hours – about life updates, she knew everything going on in my young adult life, the news and her daily soapies. I think back to giving her the biggest but most gentle hugs on her precious little body, forcing her to drink her meal replacement shakes when she lost her appetite, giggling together as she said “Pardon” every second sentence as she started losing her hearing, her perfect pink, rosy cheeks from her very-pink blusher and then leaving with handfuls of mint chocolates from her sweet jar. I am so grateful that I got these years to give back to my special Nan, the beautiful realisation of the circle of life.
I remember the night she passed away so clearly – my mom knocking on my apartment door in the middle of the night to share the heartbreaking news. And I remember this night being a huge turning point for me – my Nan not realising the impact she had on my heart, my relationships and this change in direction for me. Even in her passing, her heart and wisdom left the most beautiful imprint on me. And once again, I stood proudly at the front of her funeral, sharing my heartache and loss but the most beautiful memories of all she had been to me. How I just wish she had had the chance to meet my incredible husband and my baby girls.
My paternal grandparents: Zoe & Tredwin (Nan & Pops/Pom Pom to me) lived in or near Joburg as I grew up and even though we weren’t in the same province, I saw them every school holiday. With divorced parents, I would fly to Joburg every holiday to see my Dad and grandparents from the young age of 5 years old. I would spend some time with my Dad and then with my Nan & Pops. They often lived on open plots of land with beautiful gardens, and my Pops supervising the local golf course and public swimming pool. I have the happiest childhood memories of running through sprinklers and sitting in bird baths in my panties, jumping off diving boards at the local pool and pushing the lawnmower across miles of grass with their precious black dog, Jessie at our side. I spent days being spoilt with beer mugs of chocolate Nesquik, spoonfuls of mince and rice, and my Nan placing my towels and pyjamas on the heater before I jumped out the bath every night.
Over the years, my Nan and Pops travelled miles and miles across South Africa in their trusty Toyota Tazz – literally hundreds of thousands of kilometres. They would travel to visit friends and family in the Kruger, White River, Botswana, Cape Town and Durban. They would pack the car, Pops in the drivers seat with his hat, Nan in the backseat with no head rests so she had a good views, their ice cream tub packed with their padkos and off they went… Often, I would jump in with them between Durban and Joburg and I loved these hours spent together.
Later on, in high school, Nan and Pops moved to the South Coast of Durban to live by the sea, one of their favourite places to be. They would drive to Durban to fetch me from school, take me out for the afternoons, always slipping money notes into my back pocket and laughing over chocolate milkshakes with my friends. Once I got my licence, I loved the weekends I got to drive down the coast to visit them and spend time in their home – a home with walls covered in family photos (some with exes cut off the ends, haha!) and the most beautiful landscape paintings by my Pops and his sons. I have the happiest memories of my Pops’ delicious roast lunches and infamous chicken stuffing, the sounds of the News and the Egoli theme song at 6pm, the TV cabinet filled with endless slabs and bars of chocolate as Nan loved making the most of the latest specials at Checkers or Pick n Pay, the hand knitted toilet seat covers that kept our bottoms warm in the middle of the night and the way my Nan would sleep with the curtains slightly open at night to see the moonlight shine in. I admired so much in these two very special souls, and I was fascinated at how they barely spent a night apart in all the years of being together, and how Pops did all the cooking and all the driving.
In August 2009, MC and I went to visit them for the weekend and had such special quality time together – fish and chips at their favourite local restaurant, Nan trying to pack us bags and bags of chocolate and Pops keeping us entertained with his love for every bird that flew into his garden and he fed twice a day, and his mining war stories that could go on for hours. The following week, Pops had a knee replacement and we were anxious in saying goodbye as we didn’t know what lay ahead post his surgery. But he came through fit and well and we all felt such great relief. Unfortunately it was days later that his heart took great strain and he was rushed into hospital and then into ICU. I remember walking into the ward and seeing this great big bear of a man lying so peacefully in his bed, and holding his extra large hands and savouring the moment with him. Looking back, these final moments should have been traumatic and scary but I was so blessed to be holding his hand as he took his final breaths and be with my Nan as she said goodbye to the love of her life. It was just weeks later that MC asked me to marry him and the next year, we said “I do’s” and it’s hard to think my Pops wasn’t at our wedding.
My special Nan is still with us today, although she has dementia and can’t remember most of us anymore. I treasure the way she was at my wedding and watched me walk down the aisle, and that she got to meet SJ and spend special family time with her great-granddaughter when she could still remember her and us. I hate that I live so far from her now and only see her when I visit Joburg once a year. But so grateful for my special aunt who cared for her in her home for years before she moved to a Retirement Home where she keeps everyone entertained with her new experiences each day. It was heartbreaking to visit her for the first time and she didn’t recognise me but warmed my heart to hear all the stories about her granddaughter, Caley Jade. I also see it as blessing during a time like Covid that she doesn’t have to understand it all or feel the effects of not being allowed visitors. And I am so proud that her name lives on in our baby girl, Zo Zo and I pray that I get to be able to travel and visit her again soon.
I am who I am today because of these four special souls – they loved me, they raised me, and they impacted my life in so many incredible ways. I am eternally blessed to have lived life with them, and I hope their legacy lives on through me.