I’ve been thinking about my grandfather, my mother’s father, since Flutter posted her excellent blog about a moment with her dad.
Terence* was a child prodigy. An only child he was brought up on a farm 48 kilometres from Kimberley, doted on by his mother. He rode horses when three years old, was a crack shot by the time was five, could drive trucks by seven, played open tennis for Christian Brothers’ College when nine, won the Griqua Under 18 tennis when twelve, played for Griqua cricket when sixteen, and played soccer for the junior Griqua side. He would have been selected for the senior Griqua rugby side while at school but was not given permission by the headmaster. On his debut for Griquas, while still at school, he scored 114 not out against Free State in 1933-1934.
He spent school holidays sifting for alluvial diamonds from the farm river, selling them for motobikes and rifles. He has an easy smile and told jokes laced with the gift of his Irish blood. Terrence was also a good squash player and golfer. He could play any musical instrument he picked up, but he couldn’t sing for shit.
Eventually, he played for the SA Rugby side in New Zealand in 1937 and for the SA Cricket side in 1947, Captained by Alan Melville and Danie Craven respectively. (He turned down an opportunity to play at
Wimbledon to pursue his chance at the SA Cricket side.)
During the War he was a Spitfire pilot, shot down and parachuted into the Adriatic. He was picked up by the Nazis and, dripping wet, was transported over snow capped mountains to a POW camp. Shivering and nearly dead, strangers kept him alive with the warmth of their bodies. When morning came, Terence was still alive, but his cell mates were marched from the room and all shot. When the guard returned, Terence was sure he was next, but instead he was taken to the mess hall. He recalls not being able to eat a thing.
MIA and not on any of the POW lists, my grandmother and the rest of Terence’s family thought he was dead and decided to sell the Kimberly farm. It’s now one of De Beers most profitable fields.
But of course, he was alive (and filled with tales of eating horse meat and outwitting the Bosch). Following his love of sport, he negotiated with Adi Dassler to bring adidas out to SA.
He lived a long and full life, but sadly contracted Parkinson’s in his 40s. I remember him with a twinkle in his eye and a vodka tonic in his shaking hand. I spent every June holiday with him and my grandmother in Plett, watching Wimbledon and playing Chinese checkers (he let me win.)
The end of his life was awful though; pureed food and pills for every moment of the day. But he still had a sense of humour and never, ever complained. I remember once he had a small angina attack in the high street. Coming to and realizing an attractive woman was giving him mouth-to-mouth, he said, “Don’t stop, I haven’t had this much action in years”.
I know there was a dark side to him, something my mother alludes to, in her own dark moments. But I loved him. And I miss him. And I know, wherever or whatever he is now, there’s still a part of him that’s drinking vodka tonics and watching test matches with his old mates.