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  • Dedicated to Warrick and Leanne
    in celebration of their wedding day
    on 28 September, 2012



    You've got to give a little, take a little,
    And let your poor heart break a little.
    That's the story of, that's the glory of love
    .

    The Dean Martin lyrics were churning in my head as I helped my four-year-old son, Warrick, get ready for another weekend trip to my in-laws who lived on a farm in the Free State. His bedroom looked more like a retail store for Superhero freaks. It overflowed with comic books, card games, and plastic figurines of Superman, Batman, Spiderman, and The Hulk. There were good-guy and bad-guy toys, warriors from every conceivable planet, and mechanical playthings that ranged from traditional to sci-fi. His heroes were the A-Team: Colonel ‘Hannibal’ Smith, Lieutenant ‘Face’ Peck, Sergeant ‘B.A.’ Baracus, and Captain ‘Howling Mad’ Murdock—the TV show about four Vietnam veterans who lived as soldiers of fortune was a great hit among adults and children alike.

    Warrick and his best friend, Mannetjie (our neighbor’s sturdy five-year-old), were devoted fans and watched the show ‘as a team’ every Wednesday afternoon, psyched up then to rescue the world’s victims-in-distress. Armed with imaginary weapons and rescue paraphernalia, they would storm down the passage in their A-Team caps and t-shirts, yelling, “We’re the A-Team! We rescue the good guys and beat up the bad guys!”

    My son never went on a visit to his granny without a homemade gift, usually with a bit of help from his dad. He created pictures with dried flowers, leaves, sticks, and tree bark; sometimes he made drawings of his Superheroes; or he would take insects incarcerated in an aerated fruit jar with a fancy ribbon tied around the top. My mother-in-law, a witty sage at seventy-two, cherished every moment with her grandchild. She baked cookies with his name on them, hid candy under his pillow, trusted him to collect eggs from the hen house every morning, read him stories at bedtime, and always had a surprise planned for his visits.

    Grabbing his Samsonite backpack that was filled with toys he’d selected for the visit, Warrick skipped down the passage. “Yippee, we’re going to the farm, to Granny. Yippee-ee-ee!” I followed him out to the car, and his dad helped him get buckled up in the back seat.

    I'd hoped that we'd get away early to miss Friday afternoon peak traffic in Johannesburg, but as usual my husband got stuck in a meeting and now he was anxious about the impending congestion. Hence, not long into our journey, he muttered under his breath when a traffic officer stopped in the middle of an intersection, a signal for all traffic to wait. “Damn! A funeral procession.”

    “Where?” Warrick undid the safety belt and got up onto his knees for a better view over the car’s dashboard.

    I pointed to the oncoming procession in the opposite lane. “That long line of cars with their headlights on.”

    “What’s a funeral procession?” he asked, perching on the edge of the back seat.

    I looked at my husband who was watching the action with frowned concentration, a clear indication that he was psychologically unavailable for conversation. So I pointed to the big, marble-arch entrance across the road. “The big, black car is the hearse that carries the coffin, and the others are the family members and friends of the deceased. They’re going to the cemetery over there for the burial ceremony.”

    “What’s a deceased?”

    “That’s a…um…dead person,” I said.

    “Why’s he dead?"

    I just shrugged my shoulders, hoping the road would clear soon. Finally, the traffic officer gave the 'go' signal. Before he pulled off, my husband instructed our son to buckle up again.

    Warrick did as he was told and a short silence followed, before he asked, “Are we going to die too?”

    The words ‘no, of course not’ started forming in my throat, but I swallowed the reflex back like lumpy porridge, drew a deep breath and said as calmly as possible, “Sure, everyone dies, eventually.”

    “Why?”

    “Well, sometimes people die when they can’t be cured from an illness; sometimes people don’t survive bad accidents; mostly, people die from old age.”

    Silence again. Thank goodness, I hope that’s the end of it.

    “But Granny is old…is she going to die now?”

    “Not now,” I said firmly. “She’s still strong and healthy.”

    “When WILL she die?”

    What’s it with this child today? I glanced at my husband, hoping he would interject with a sensible answer, or change the mood with a joke, or just say anything. But as much as I tried to will him into dialogue, it seemed only his visual faculty was active, as usual. I mumbled, “I dunno.”

    “Mom…?”

    “Yes…?”

    “Do we have to bury granny when she dies?”

    “Of course. We love her; that will be our way to pay her respect, to say goodbye.”

    My husband emitted an audible sigh of relief as he steered the car onto the highway. I wished he would steer the conversation in a different direction too. Then Warrick moved to the edge of the seat again, patting my shoulder. But before he could speak, his father reminded him that it wasn’t safe sitting like that, that he had to move back and stay buckled up. Not wanting my son to feel brushed off, I turned around to face him. “Have you thought of a story yet to tell granny?”

    “Hmm, I have a secret to tell her.”

    “Tell me too.” I tickled his leg.

    He giggled. “Don’t be silly; it’s a granny-secret…about her funeral.”

    “You don’t have to go to any funeral if you don’t want to, my boy,” his father finally contributed.

    Warrick threw his head back against the seat with a thump. Tears sprang to his eyes, his voice trembling as he said, “But I want to go to Granny’s funeral. I love her; she’s the best Granny in the world!”

    “Alright!” his father said. “If that’s what you want, we’ll all go to Granny’s funeral then.”

    “Guess what? I brought something for us to snack on.” I fumbled to unzip the mini cooler-bag at my feet. We usually snacked on fruit or a sweet treat at the halfway mark, not that we were anywhere near the halfway mark, but it seemed like a good idea to get food into our mouths. I handed out bananas, peels stripped back, ready for munching. I bit off a big chunk and started chewing, before I turned around to face Warrick with swollen cheeks, my front teeth cupped over my lower lip.

    Warrick nearly choked as he laughed out loud, his little body shaking like a rattle. “Mommy, you look like a squirrel!”

    I felt my body relax at the sound of his delight, so I turned around to pay better respect to the food in my mouth, chewing slowly while savoring the velvety mush.

    “Mom…?”

    “Uh-huh?”

    “Are we going to bury granny in the morning or in the afternoon?”

    It felt like the mushy banana had turned into cement in my throat, and I silently resented the dead person for causing this dilemma. “Um-mm-mm!” I waved my arms to attract my husband’s attention, indicating that he should help me out.

    He nodded, saying, “Warrick, your mother can’t talk when she’s eating.”

    I rolled my eyes, to no avail. The next five minutes or so took place mostly in silence: Warrick played with his toys; my husband hummed softly; I fretted about my son’s funeral fixation—it just didn’t feel right to talk about my mother-in-law’s future ‘on the other side’ behind her back.

    “Mommy…have you finished eating?”

    I looked straight ahead.

    “Let’s not bury Granny on a Wednesday—okay?” he said.

    By some good fortune, our son’s quivering voice got through to his dad. “Oh, and why’s that, my boy?”

    The suspense caught in my throat like tumbleweed. Oh dear, what have I started? Did I overestimate his maturity? Have I triggered irreversible paranoia?

    “Because Mannetjie and I watch the ‘A-Team’ on Wednesdays,” he said.

    My husband and I stared at each other in surprise, trying our best not to burst out laughing. When we finally regained our composure, we assured our son that it would not be problem to arrange a funeral for another day of the week because “Granny will understand.” Sinking back in my seat, I succumbed to Dean Martin’s lyrics in my head.

    You've got to laugh a little, cry a little,
    Until the clouds roll by a little.
    That's the story of, that's the glory of love
    .
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