The year we spent waiting for my grandmother to die has come and gone. Mostly I ran on beaches and clambered through trails overlooking the meeting of Atlantic and Indian oceans. Plettenburg Bay – a place tourists spend thousands of dollars to reach. They plunge from the highest bungee jump in the world and watch herds of whales drift by – a watery safari.
I am 10 years old. In front of me lies my grandmother; her body stretched to either edge of a splintered wooden box. Mother’s mother. Stuffed tightly around her edges are queen proteas. They overwhelm her. Their furry thick petals and wild green leaves look like heaven (not in the religious sense but the feeling of it). Her casket is awkwardly placed on the coffee table. It pushes up against the green couch, she had chosen to face sliding screen doors overlooking a hilltop of proteas and the distant sea. There was importance and there was vague memory before death, after death and in-between.
I knew my mother was there, at her bedside, when everything slipped away. Their two hands clasped, my grandmother’s breath growing shallow (as I’ve heard it does when death is slow to come).
I don’t walk up to the box that holds her awkward shape; long, cold, stiff. I obsess over the wild beauty that surrounds her. Flowers soft to touch. I imagine her closer, I touch her skin – pull on it.
Family gathers around a deep hole in the garden. I don’t come within five feet of the hole as I watch each person drop handfuls of dirt into it. I’m not afraid of seeing the box carefully placed in its cavity. I’m scared of standing in front of a crowd. Like a magnet, I stick to the side of my mother. Her edges are corduroy, soft and crumpled.
All faces are a blur, except for my aunts. Her yellowish skin and excessive sniveling shock me. She sucks in air through her nose. Every movement made is monstrous and cruel. All else is fine. The air that wraps her face is new air, thin and whispery. The grass under her feet perfectly kept, sculpted around a wild garden. The rest is sea, dirt, tree and protea – a good death.
Today Canada remembers veterans of war. I spoke to my great uncle Bob about his experiences as a POW as well as his journey through a broadcasting career. This audio piece was used a few weeks ago in At Humber, our daily hour long current affairs show out of Humber College. The show is produced by final year journalism students at Humber and is broadcast on 96.9FM Radio Humber. Enjoy the story. Everyone should interview their elders about the past, there are so many stories out there.
Have you ever imagined how many times you could wrap yourself around a gigantic tree, perhaps a baobab tree? No other tree seems to be as prominently installed in the mythical imagination of the western mind. What is bigger? What can compare?
Your entire back pressed against its side. Warmth emanates through your body breathing life into trails of traveling blood. Flip yourself like a coin. Tummy and chest hug smooth bark. Repeat, over and over again. How many times would it take?
For me this mythology was real. I remember what baobab bark felt like and yet this tree still feels like the stuff of fairytales. Part of the reason for this is because it is implanted into my childhood. From my current North American perspective much of that childhood seems like a mythology. There were giant trees, unending desert, unusual grasses and swimming in Okavango tributaries. Yes there was also a small town, where we lived with all amenities available but the memories that pop out are the ones from camping expeditions.
I am leaning against a baobab, my foot resting on its sprawling root. Above me branches reach out in every direction. A tire swing hangs from a lower branch, gently swaying. To my left sits our little blue buckie (truck). For miles ahead of me the bleached Makgadikgadi Pans stretch out; buckles and cracks texture its surface.
After scouring the ground I have returned to rest under this large embracive tree. In my hand, fingers press against little red stones called garnets. In front of me friends are still collecting these small red treasures. That moment ends there. Memory trails off and enters other days filled of other happenings that I almost can’t believe were my own. Memories are very much like dreams, a conglomerate of truth and what you have convinced yourself to be real.