This evening I want to share a story with you. Sometimes life gets difficult, and lonely, and all too overwhelming. Like now, living in a different country, and missing my roots.
I have a photograph of my grandfather on my desk. I look at him at these times, put him there to remind me that nothing is impossible, but let me explain.
My grandfather grew up and lived in Amsterdam. He qualified as an architect but work was scarce at the turn of the century. There had to be a better future, he thought, and with a friend made enquiries at the docks about the ‘New World.’ Leaving soon, were two ships, one to America and one to South Africa. He chose the latter. Just like that, not thinking, no research, he took leave of his betrothed with promises that he would send for her once he had made enough money. My Grandmother was no young lady, and counting her years, but promises of palm trees (at least that is what she thought) had her kiss her sad goodbye.
Arriving in Cape Town, there was no work. Days of fraught enquiries led him to the Orange Free State, in need of architects to rebuild the towns in the province following the Anglo Boer War. And plats, he found himself at the station in Kroonstad. Here he made his base, but work was scare to begin with. In Lindley there was.
Undaunted, my grandfather got on his bicycle and cycled the thirty miles over farms and through drifts to Lindley every Monday, staying with a local, and cycling back to Kroonstad on the weekends. All that he owned was in a kist brought with him from Amsterdam.
When at last he made some money, designing the Town Halls in Lindley and later in Bothaville and many buildings in Kroonstad, he sent for my grandmother. She never saw her mother again, and found no palm trees. Never spoke of her disappointment. Embraced their new lives and planted a palm tree in the garden. My grandfather became a rich man, they travelled often and proudly took their South African citizenship.
As tough as life was, their love for South Africa was obvious. Life was hard, but the rewards were great.
I have that kist in my home today. And the photograph of my grandfather on my desk. Impeccably dressed in his suit everyday, even on the bicycle, watch chain and polished shoes, he embraced change, held onto his beliefs and made no excuses or ever gave up.
Immigrants, refugees, citizens all – times have always been tough, in that nothing has changed. Remember that. I have to remind myself constantly, but darling on the desk makes the courage rise, and the resolve more important.