Sifting Through 100 Year Old Memories

November 04, 2015
Life is full of moments that have the potential to become the absolute highlight of your day. You've just got to take the opportunity to experience these moments, that's all.

The other day I was home by myself for a couple of days. Not completely alone I suppose. Our domestic workers were in and out all the time and my gran lives in a little farm cottage not even 100m away from our main house. I was grateful for the time alone because it meant that I could get a good chunk of studying done for my Transnational Migrants exam. Around lunch time the one day I decided to pop across to my gran's for a quick cup of tea before heading back home and cracking on with the studying.

My gran, known to all her grandkids as Gogs, has been a constant in my life. Her husband passed away about 15 years ago. I would love just one more of my grandpa's hugs. I don't really remember exactly what they felt like, but my heart faintly remembers them being strong and warm and smelling of the rye grass. Having been on her own for so long has given her a lot of time to get into her many hobbies. One of her passions is vintage cars - specifically Citeron 2CV's. She owns two vintage cars, her favourite being her 1977 2CV that she has affectionately named Molly Moo.

You would never have guessed that we're a family of dairy farmers, would you? Little Molly Moo takes my Gogs all over South Africa a few times a year on her Vintage Car Club rallies. She's made some great friends through this club and she's seen the whole of South Africa in a way that not many of us have been able to.

During my tea visit Gogs suggested that I take Molly Moo for a drive. I was nervous - I've never driven her before. She's a left-hand drive and her gears work so differently to anything I was used to. She also "waddles" along the road - hence these cars being given the nickname of the ugly duckling. We spent half and hour or so laughing as I drove around our community. Whenever Molly Moo is taken out on the road she's always greeted with the most excited and and interested faces.

After our drive I stood in her office and simply commented on how much I loved the one photo of her mom and dad on their wedding day and how I wished I could have known them. She asked me if I had seen her mom's post cards yet. I hadn't.

What followed was an afternoon spent going through my great gran Winnifred - or, to everyone that knew her, Peggy's collection of post cards. My gran's older sister passed away last year and so she was given the album of post cards. There were hundreds. Pages after pages of the most beautiful, old post cards that had been kept safe and beautifully preserved.

Some of the post cards were over 100 years old and dated back to 1911. Many of them were from her dad, my great, great grandfather. They were sent to her from him from all over the world, but mostly from France during World War 1. I don't want to sound ridiculous, but I got quite emotional while reading through them. There was just something about holding the post cards in my hands, running my fingers over the faded handwriting of family members that I never got to meet. So much emotion was poured onto those little cards. I've been day dreaming about what life must have been like back then. I'm desperate to fill in the gaps of the stories we know and I can only imagine the ones that have gone untold or have been lost as the years have gone by.

One thing that fascinated me was the fact that some post cards were sent with the most simple messages - messages we would send simply over text these days. One post card, from my great, great gran to her daughter read "Dearest W. Thought I would remind you to call in at the station tomorrow with E. Don't be late, please. Mother." Another; "My dearest W. I'm sorry, I forgot to state 'air mail'  on my last letter. It shall arrive soon, I hope. Mother."

Gogs told me story after story about her mother and her life growing up. I've known quite a bit about my great grandparents, but it was so interesting to find out more. I didn't know that Gogs' only memory of her grandmother was her standing in a doorway, pointing her finger and saying "Now, now children. There will be no more fighting." I didn't know that Peggy, my great gran, lived in Canada for a time. And I certainly didn't know that my whole family was booked to go on the Titanic but got an earlier ticket on another ship instead. It fascinated me to think that had that one little decision to book an earlier ticket not been made, I could very well not have existed.

I love family history and I love letters - writing them, reading them, sending them and receiving them. So as you can imagine, this afternoon was one that left my heart full. As I said earlier, life is full of moments that have the possibility to become the highlight of our day - we only need to take the opportunity. I very nearly never went over for that cup of tea. I was in the middle of studying and kept debating whether to pop across to her house or not. I'm so very glad I did.

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