A note fluttered out of my Bible earlier this week. It’s old, out of place. It is a note written in 1945. By a man I never knew. My Grandfather Fourie. How strange. When did this land in my Bible?
I read: ” Darling, this thread broke but alle the pieces are here. You must please re-thread them in their proper places with a thin needle & strong white silk thread. This pearl was brought out from the beautiful Isle of Capri.”
All I have of this grandfather are the stories my father shared with me, some photographs, postcards, memorabilia, a cigarette stand with exquisite inlay work (made by an Italian prisoner of war and which any ex- SA Air Force cadre would love) and his wallet. But what a story they tell!
My grandfather toured through Europe as part of Genl Jan Smuts’ secretariat in 1945. So he was in North Africa, and specifically Italy. He even got to meet the Pope and had a crucifix blessed! Many postcards to my grandmother, Annie Elizabeth, and my father Erin John tell a story in short sentences.
Some cards are marke with a ‘x’ to indicate places he stayed, vistas he enjoyed. One postcard even marks the place where Mussolini and his lover were executed!
A favourite childhood pastime was to imagine travelling with him – Rome, Sorrento, Venice, the Isle of Capri. I toured museums, admired artworks and developed a keen interest in myths and legends of the Greek and Roman gods – Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Hestia, Aphrodite, Apollo and such.
When serendipity comes calling, I listen. So this week when this note fluttered out of my Bible, I took out the memory box marked Dad.
I sat on the veranda in the winter sun, and looked at the photos and postcards again. I imagine the owner and author sitting next to me.
I write this letter to my grandfather.
Thank you Oupa Boy.
I don’t even know what I would have called you, but on the back of a photo of you, you wrote: What do you say about this good-looking Boy! So you are Oupa Boy to me. Thank you for sharing with your wife and son as best you could. Thank you for the notes you left. They show love, adoration and care.
I love the story from a newspaper clipping of how my father had to come back to Bloemfontein, after the ship on which he was a passenger had sunk off the coast of Madagascar. It was underway to Europe. He was planning to work in Swedish steel factories instead of obtaining a university degree. How the people of Bloemfontein heard of his plight and raised funds for a second passage to Europe so he could fulfil his dreams. Thank you Oupa Boy for giving him wings to fly, to pursue his dreams.
I know Annie-Elizabeth and you upset her family by getting married. You were not popular. But my father loved you very much. He told me so. You and Annie had to be strong when you lost your firstborn, you had to be strong when Erin got meningitis. I can imagine how terrible it must have been. How awful the loss of your love to lung-cancer, your boy just admitted to Grey College. O, how proud your were of him – gymnast, band drummer and scholar.
My father was able to gain fantastic experience in Sweden, his testimony letters indicate as much. He returned to South Africa and was employed at a sawmill in Barberton. He lodged with a family who had a lovely daughter. My mom.
I was told that you became very ill, and my father arranged that you come and live with him and his future in-laws. That they took care of you until you passed away. I have never been able to find your grave. So I write this today to honour you.
I imagine the pearls Annie wears in this photo, taken shortly before she died, are the ones you sent her. Oupa Boy, they never got passed down. Things were awry at your passing.
But I can tell you, that your only great-granddaughter is a pearl! My daughter is the greatest gift I share with you. Pieces of all of us live on in her! You also have three strapping great-grandsons by my sister. One even has strong Annie features!
Your son lived a short but influential life, his lovely wife could not survive without him and committed suicide eleven months after his passing. I was only twenty then. It was tough, but I survived.
My life is full, some days up, other down. I believe with all my heart that your gifts and story has made me strong and determined to be the best version of me. I know that my deep love for my husband and daughter is an echo of your love for Annie and Erin John!
I have just finished reading Mythos, by Stephen Fry. Oh, I just know how you would have enjoyed this witty masterpiece about all the mythical gods, who I would never have come across, had it not been for your letters and postcards all those years ago! Serendipitous that your note fluttered to the floor while I was reading this!
Thank you Oupa Boy! For the pieces of precious memories, pearls of pictures and memories, a love of literature and photographs. My broken string of pearls, a wonderful lasting heritage.
This, my string of words threaded just for you.