Last year I traveled with my grandparents in an incredible way. Not physically but carrying them in my heart, guided by the reach of their legacy. On my journey of unseen places and unpredicted adventures, my travels presented opportunities to hear stories of the kind of people my late grandparents were. I visited longtime friends of theirs in the United States, listening to their memories of the wonderful people I had the privilege of calling “family”.
I visited the World Methodist Museum in Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, to see pictures of my late grandfather, past President of the Methodist Church in South Africa and read about him receiving the World Peace Award in 1980 in “recognition for a lifetime spent fighting for equality and dignity for all” – a real goose bump moment. I stayed at the home of the General Secretary of the World Methodist Council and his wife, who began his career in the ministry under the guidance and leadership of my late grandfather and later became good friends.
Next I visited my Granny’s oldest friend in Collinsville, Illinois, who spoke of the wonderful friendship they shared and what it meant to her to have spent time with my Granny. I joined her and a friend for their weekly “Fish Friday” meal tradition; she took me for a drive down the Mississippi to appreciate its amazing views and she taught me how to crochet. It’s a wonderful blessing to be able to spend time and conversation with a lady of 80+ years, from a different country and culture, brought together by different love for the same two people.
In Indianapolis I stayed with a younger “old” friend of my late grandparents who told stories of her first visit to South Africa and the way they had welcomed her into their home all those years ago, when I was just a child. After not being in contact for so many years, during my travels she welcomed me into her home and her family because of the way my late grandparents had blessed her – a wonderful story of “paying-it-forward”.
Upon my return to Cape Town, with the subsequent loss of my dear Granny, I learned even more about their struggles of growing up in a segregated country and the challenges they overcame to build sanctuaries for marginalised communities, places of hope and child education: that’s the caliber of people they were.
To me however, they were just “Granny and Dad”. My memories of them was of my grandfather helping my brother and I to tickle our grandmother, which we probably enjoyed more than she did, and who walked us through his vegetable garden, showing us the tortoises. They were of my Granny who never showed up empty-handed, even if it was just a single avocado. We didn’t know the President and First Lady growing up but we were no less blessed to have them in our lives: blessed by them through their love, and blessed beyond their living by the legacy they left in the hearts of the people they called friends.
At the start of my journey a good friend of mine said that my travels should be less about the kilometres accumulated or the number of museums visited, but it was more importantly about the journey of my heart. He was right. Through the reconnections of longtime friends of different generations, at different times and in different places, I came to understand a little bit better my own family and myself. Maybe it was ok that my brother and I didn’t know of the GRAND people our late grandparents were, because they loved us and we loved them anyway.