I don’t always understand life and why things turn out the way they do…
I went for a walk today. I try to do this each day, mainly to get my head cleared and to get out of my flat. My mind is constantly swarming with thoughts, and walking time is when I give the wind a chance to blow them out of my head. I want to make it clear that I stroll. No power walking for me.
For some reason my (often illogical) thoughts led to people making videos. These days we see a lot of videos on Instagram, chronicling people doing pretty much anything under the sun. Sometimes it’s a funny cat (I follow many of them online), and sometimes it’s just someone weirdly showing you their shoes while saying “Someone got new shoes!” I wonder who.
Then my thoughts went way back to a time before I had any form of social media. The only thing we had back then was the now debunked MXit. Cell phones with cameras were still a relatively new thing in South Africa. I often played around with the camera, recording and photographing various things. I’m not a photographer or filmmaker by any means. I was just a kid with a new toy.
My birthday is two days after Christmas, and this meant that I spent most of my birthdays as a child at my grandparents’ house. My grandmother and I were very close, especially then; before I became a morbid teenager.
Now, this is where the camera comes in. My gran always made a point of singing a very off-key Afrikaans version of “Happy Birthday” whenever one of us had a birthday – even the pets. One year, my mom and I tricked her into singing it while I recorded it on my phone. I teased her with it for a long time and sent it to other family members. If I had Instagram back then I probably would have posted it there. I wish I did. At some point, when getting a new phone, I lost the video. Even though it was funny, I secretly always felt a little choked up when I saw it. There was a twinkle that her eyes made in the light. The way she smiled. The way she looked at me. She really loved me. I always knew that.
Earlier this year, Ingrid Michaelson (one of the world’s most underrated artists ever) released her latest album, It Doesn’t Have To Make Sense. One of the songs, “I Remember Her”, speaks so perfectly of the memories that I hold of my grandmother. She wrote the song for her late mother.
“There’s a house. It’s not on a hill. And the paint’s chipping off of the old window sill.”
I remember every corner of my grandmother’s house. I can picture every room as I sit here. It’s burned into my brain. I often dream of being on the house, talking to my gran and my mom. I hope that the dreams continue. I like to think that she visits me.
“There’s a tree in the front yard that’s older than me, and older than all of you.”
There was a giant tree that stood tall and proud in front of the house. I recall a day when I climbed it and fell, scraping the skin off of my body. My grandparents always used the tree as an excuse to not put up a front fence, but we all knew that they didn’t want a fence because that way they wouldn’t be able to spy on the neighbours. There was also a large tree behind the house, where my gran’s vegetable garden was. The last time (or one of the last times) I went to the house, the tree had fallen over onto the porch. It felt very symbolic of the fact that time was running out.
“There’s a smell that the heat makes. It reminds me of Christmas and birthdays in December.”
Jan Kempdorp is close to Kimberley and is therefore as hot as hell, especially during December. I don’t like summer at all, and yet I was always excited to go and visit her. She always did her best to make sure that the holidays were fun.
“She would sing me lullabies. Gave me my hazel eyes. And then she’d call me beautiful. She made me beautiful.”
I think that one of the big things that bound my gran to me was her unwavering belief that I could do absolutely anything. She was absolutely adamant that my father should let me study acting. She wanted to be an actress when she was young, but she was denied the opportunity. I think that’s why she didn’t want the same thing to happen to me. I always try to think about that when I think of giving up. And trust me, lately I’ve been thinking about that a lot.
I’ll never forget my grandmother. I think about her every day and I miss her more than words can describe. It’s a physical pain that I feel. I might not always have said out loud that I loved her, but I always did. God knows, I’m often not a very lovable person, and yet she loved me so completely, even at my worst. That says a lot about a person, when they are able to look past all your ugliness and still see beauty. Still believe in you. I don’t think that I’ll ever stop mourning. I don’t want to forget, and yet it’s so painful to remember.
“But things they fade. Things turn to grey. As much as I try to save them, they turn to grey. Just like the house that’s not on a hill. With all the rust on the gate, the chips on the sill. I love it still.” ~ Ingrid Michaelson
Listen to Ingrid’s beautiful song here.