My Grandfather’s wisdom, reworked

My quiet hero: Gustav LaatzMy Grandpa was a legend in the little village where I was raised – he was a gentleman farmer and a carpenter, built houses, was the village barber, won so many prizes at the local gun-club as a sharpshooter that eventually there was no room for any more…he worked hard all his life, and as his grandchildren we really were more privileged than we knew.

In his late seventies and well into his eighties he was still building and doing carpentry. I remember eavesdropping from the bedroom my sister and I used to  share, listening to his conversations with his customers as he cut their hair on the stoep. He was a man who seldom smiled, and I learned only a few years ago that my cousins feared him because he seemed so formidable. My aunt laughed about that, and said that he’d simply had no sense of humour. It wasn’t that he was dour or hard to be around, he just went about his business in his own quiet way.

When my parents struggled in their new home in another province with three young children under the age of 5, and another on the way, he brought us all to KZN and bought a house for us to live in, and a dress shop for my mother to support us. My father was at that time a drilling contractor who travelled around the country drilling for water. It didn’t help that he was not in the best of health. The two men couldn’t have been more different.

To me my grandfather was like a mountain at the back of our landscape. Always there, a model of quiet industry, modesty and just getting on with it. A man of few words and many deeds. One of his favourite sayings to us was ‘Save a pin and buy a farm.’ When I had my hair cut short at the age of 8, my mother helped me to sell it to a wigmaker. ‘Grosspapa’ suggested I put the money (all of R1,50, which today would probably be around R150), into a Post Office Savings account. I was dismayed. I’d spent that money in my head over and over about twenty times! Of course I didn’t have much choice in the matter, and off to the Post Office my mother and I went, and my money ‘went away.’ I didn’t regard it as keeping it for myself, for a greater good some day. It was gone as far as I was concerned, out of my reach.

Once he bought us each a slab of chocolate, sometime near Easter. ‘That’s much better than an Easter egg, isn’t it?’ he remarked, his blue eyes twinkling. He was not a smiler. I put my head to one side and smiled. Of course I agreed with him. I couldn’t out of politeness, say that an Easter egg was all about the fact that it WAS an Easter egg. Yes the egg was hollow, and there was far less chocolate and the slab was very large and very solid… but… an Easter egg was an EASTER EGG! It meant so much. The wonder of that mosaic pattern on the egg – who came up with that, anyway? What was that supposed to represent, come to think of it? A tortoise shell? Two tortoise shells stuck together? Very strange.

Saving a pin and buying a farm… I thought about this, this afternoon. I was waiting for a client to call back to clarify something that wasn’t clear about a brief, and while I waited, I grabbed the sliver of time, which I thought would be ten minutes max, and began work on a website for another client, even though it felt silly, since the web page would be barely open before…but the first client didn’t call back all afternoon. So the web page was finished by the end of the afternoon, ‘while I waited’. It had loomed large in my head as a mountain of difficulty. And now I’m halfway through the project which involves two pages and some changes. Cool.

Time is money, we often hear. But it’s not always or even all that often that I remember to grab that sliver of time – it can be a very skinny sliver of only a few seconds, which can be used to phone someone, or send a quick email enquiry. These slivers of time add up, like the two-cent coins that one wily beggar in Johannesburg saved up over the years to put her son through university. Because she only ever requested 2 cent coins, people weren’t too irritated; they normally gave a little more if they had it, but they passed her daily and her presence was not something to be avoided out of guilt because ‘These people are everywhere and we can’t help them all.’ After all, two cents… it was a pleasure to get rid of all those pesky coins cluttering up the wallets.

I also recall an older man in Estcourt, KZN, who used to call on us at WesBank where I worked, soliciting donations for the Daily News Milk Fund. Somehow One Cent a day rings a bell – maybe it was One Rand a day by then but it started out 25 years ago with lots of people giving very small donations.

So – all those seconds and minutes add up, and I find they are the death knell to procrastination. It doesn’t feel like good self-discipline, it just feels like I’m doing myself a favour and getting a head start. Then that feeling of turning Friday into Saturday starts to happen. And there’s very little wrong with that. I think my Grandpa would agree.

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