“In loving memory of the man to whom books were wealth.”
The rusty mesh gate would have deceived you. There was a breathtaking beauty that lay beyond the rickety sound the hinges made when one opened it. The endless green lawn, scattered cypress trees and half shrub hedges around a most colonial type house. It was, still is one of the most beautiful houses I have ever seen. The stones stuck out in an intricate architectural design, giving it a rough but homely edge and appeal. The solid hardwood doors led to the biggest living room my young mind could imagine. The windows seemed to run from roof to floor with such beautiful drapes and blinders that would let the sun’s rays in without the slightest restriction. The soft rays would touch the corners of the room, often finding their way to the antique picture frames that housed smiling black and white images. It was the perfect house. My paternal grandfather worked in a ranch in Rongai and his white boss, whom I never met, let him rent the house when he was not at home with grandma at the Kano Plains, Ahero, Nyanza.
I am looking at an old family album. In one of the photos, daddy, (spotting an afro, dressed in a stripped sky blue polo shirt and brown bell-bottomed trousers) is seated on a raised chimney looking stack of stones at the back of the house. He is holding me. Standing next to him is mama, seemingly fresh from high school but a mother of four in reality (I take more after my dad though, physically. So there is no telling how am going to look after two kids, haha!) She is in a white dress dotted with big blue flowers. I think the blue was secretly planned; my shawl was also blue 😀 I flip the picture and in his characteristic calligraphic writing, dad had written… “June1987. Left to right: Johnson holding Auntie, Carren(mum)”. I loved the way my folks, especially dad wrote at the back of pictures describing who, when and where. Something ‘analoguely’ fresh about it.
There was something extra special about mornings at the ranch. Birds chirping, the fresh air and the soft feel of the dew on bare feet as we watched the sun rise. Bliss. We drank the thickest, freshest milk ever! Straight from the cow’s udder! Well, not really, straight…you get what I mean 🙂
I remember my siblings and I playing hide and seek, running around and laughing endlessly, only stopping occasionally for seconds long enough for uncle Evans to take a photo and maybe have lunch; then continue till dusk. We all knew the drill. After supper, we would gather around the fireplace, my favorite spot in the house. Grandpa, having already lit a fire, sat in his straw cushioned armchair. Lights off and curtains drawn back on full moon nights, we would listen as he told age old stories. I would marvel at the way the fire danced in his already reddish eyes, as he spoke animatedly. On days when there were no blocks of wood to light up the fire, we would sit outside at the pouch, full moon and all, grandpa smoking his pipe. On such days, it would be our turn to tell him stories, as a lion roared in the distance and other sounds we couldn’t really make out also asserted their presence. Looking back, I think the summers in Rongai were for storytelling, more than anything.
Sue Monk Kidd writes in her phenomenal bestseller, The Secret Life of Bees… “When I was younger than you, me and June and May- and April too, because she was still alive then- all of us would visit our grandmother for the whole summer. We’d sit on the rug in the parlor, and Big Mama- that’s what we called her- would tell us the story. Every time when she finished, May would say, ‘Big Mama, tell it again,’ and off she’d go, repeating the whole thing. I swear, if you listen to my chest with a stethoscope, what you’d hear is that story going on and on in my Big Mama’s voice.”
Grandpa, died a few years later. He didn’t live long enough for me to know him too well. Suffice to say, we never went back to that house in Rongai after his death. Memories of a sturdy balding man, wearing those thick spectacles, telling age old stories as the full moon looked on, are engraved, deep. I grieve imagining what he would have been like and the anthology of short stories I would have stacked in the brain corner where the rest are stored. But I smile at the memories. I am glad we made them. It is enough a way to remember him and those gone days. Now I can tell my children grandpa’s stories and when, (because we live by faith) when God keeps me long enough to see my grandchildren, I will tell them grandpa’s stories too and maybe I’ll have some of my own which will be passed on for generations to come.
I wish everyone of us had a story like the one quoted in The Secret Lives of Bees, (Please get the book if you haven’t. It’s brilliant!) to live inside us with so much loudness you could pick it up with a stethoscope. So go on! Live life, love and share. It’s worth it.