We laid my father to rest yesterday.
My father was a man of Light. He was the most positive person I have ever known. He never, ever grumbled – he was never a grumpy old man – and he seldom spoke ill of anyone at all. He and my Ma raised four kids; we all got married and we all stayed married, and we produced eleven grandchildren for them between us. Ten of those got married too, producing [so far] twelve great-grandchildren and two more buns-in-ovens. My father knew all of them and remembered all of their names, and who belonged to who, and almost to the end he made the littlies wooden toys that one day in the twenty-second century their grandchildren will wonder about.
My father didn’t only build a family – he was a Master Builder all his life, and his company put up many fine buildings and estates in the Cape. Nevertheless, I think his finest monument remains the Sanlam Hall at Kirstenbosch – a lovely old thatched hall overlooking the Gardens; it was the first building my father ever built.
My father encouraged us all to follow where our talents took us. He encouraged me to be a mapmaker; he made my first light-table for me, a contraption of glass that we used in those early days to trace data with draft film and inky pens. He helped to finance the printing of my first map, and he let me make copious draft copies on a huge ammonia-driven plan-copier that he had at his builder’s office. He encouraged me to write; my book, ‘Leopard Boy’ was one of his favourites.
My father and mother were married for more than fifty years, when one day a crippling illness laid her down. My father had cared for her for many years, but after she died he remarried, a sprightly lady we jokingly referred to as our ‘wicked stepmother’. My father was 75 years old then, in his prime, and in his new lease on life he and my stepmother travelled overseas, took boats to St Helena, tripped around RSA, joined Bridge clubs and made wooden toys for the littlies. She cared for him as he aged, and he loved her deeply, and the Light was undimmed.
My father reached the age of 91 and started to slow. At Easter 2011 he and his wife came to lunch at our house. He was cheerful if a little unsteady, but it was to be the last time he left his house. By the end of January 2012 he was bedridden and in much pain.
My youngest son, who is in California as I write and so could not be here for the funeral, saw his Poppa before he left for the USA.
‘I’m going on a long trip, Poppa,’ he said.
‘So am I, my boy,’ Poppa replied. ‘I may not be back when you return.’
My daughter wrote:
I think I said goodbye to my grandfather on Tuesday.
There is no tragedy in this. He is 92 years old and has been astoundingly fit and well for 91 and a half of them. He is ready.
We, of course, are not.
After spending 5 minutes with him, during which he held my hand so tightly and asked, through his morphine haze, so, so sweetly after my husband and girls, after he told me how proud he was of all his grandchildren and their children (he has 11 and 14 respectively) and I kissed his soft cheek and told him I loved him – his wife, my step-grandmother I guess, walked me to my car and said she thinks he’s ‘turned his face to the wall’.
He is ready.
His hand held mine for the rest of the day. Through the traffic and the kids, errands and chores. His hand held mine and I feel it still.
I think I said goodbye to my grandad on Tuesday, but I still feel his strong hand on mine.
I hope to feel it there always.
|John Orm Slingsby, 5-11-1919 – 13-03-2012|
I saw my father, conscious, for the last time a few days before he died. We made some small talk, then he smiled and made a small, risqué joke which I will not repeat. He chuckled, and the smiley creases around his eyes crinkled and creased and smiled.
Go well, Dad, wherever you have gone, still smiling.
O dis swaar, bitter swaar, swaar om ’n weeskind te wees.
Kaartman, Menseregtedag 2012