In October 2003, my dad left this world after battling cancer for some months. I have many fond memories of him–a man of action who would never let his teacup get cold before he was up on his feet to go and get back to the project he had been working on, whether fixing a vehicle, modifying a system in his house or garden, or doing something to improve one aspect or another of my mother’s life.
I was sharing some memories with my thirteen-year-old son some weeks ago. He had been tasked to write a short story, something to do with, perhaps, a family member. I generated some points for him by way of outline that he could use in his eighth grade English class.
As I thought about this, it became evident to me that it was a story I, too, could share with others. So, here we go! I originally generated the notes in point form (expanded here), and titled it Granddad fixes his car in the middle of nowhere in Africa.
Granddad fixes his car in the middle of nowhere in Africa
The year was around 1985. Granddad, then in his early 60s, decided to drive from Durban in South Africa to Lusaka in Zambia with Grandma so they could visit their daughter and grandchildren. The distance to be traveled was about 2,000 miles each way. Their car, a small Chevrolet 1300, was well maintained, but had been driven extensively and over some lengthy distances for nearly ten years.
Granddad was a skilled mechanic, and he always carried tools in his car as he had learned since World War 2 to be as self-sufficient as he could. Once in East Africa as a very young man–possibly still in his teens, when serving in the army–he had fixed a broken water pump on the truck he was driving–in semi-desert conditions–by modifying a part from another machine that the truck happened to be carrying. Never one to wring his hands in despair, he had the spirit of determination that would not give in and admit defeat.
As he and Grandma were driving back through Zimbabwe, about 400 miles from any major city or garage, the gearbox of their Chevy failed. The casing broke, and the bearings carrying the drive shaft were in ruins.
Granddad jacked up the car, removed the gearbox (a fairly major operation to be conducted on the side of the road) and started to fix it by using strong glue and wire. He always carried Pratley’s glue, as well as a range of tools in order to make emergency repairs or temporary modifications.
While he was doing this, a Zimbabwean soldier with a rifle–I think it was an AK47–drove up and asked what was going on. He lay his weapon down on the ground next to the car, pointing in Granddad’s direction. He–Granddad–reported that he and Grandma were a bit nervous about what would happen, especially if the gun accidentally went off!
As matters transpired, there was nothing the lone soldier could do to help, so, after a while, he left, and much to Granddad and Grandma’s relief, he took his gun, and without any unfortunate incident having taken place.
After some hours of grovelling in the roadside dirt and (no doubt grunting as he struggled with the components), Granddad managed to complete the temporary repair, and drive the car, which was making a terrible noise, all the way to Pietersburg (now called Polokwane) in the northern region of South Africa where he was able to purchase a second-hand gearbox and install it. He described the rumble and vibration of the driveshaft he and Grandma had to endure for some hundred miles as being almost impossible to bear.
I am thankful to be able to say that he and Grandma managed to get back to Durban in the car eventually, around a day or two later than originally planned.