My (maternal) grandparents were especially fond of the Great Outdoors and every Sunday my sister and I bustled into their car where we would play a game or two before being lulled to sleep by the car’s engine. One of our favourite pastimes was waving at other drivers on the highway. Most people waved back. Others would smile shyly or nod in acknowledgement.
Another favourite was counting cars (how many red ones? how many blue?). On the longer trips we took to counting windmills and when we ran out of those we counted goats. (This was in Africa. There are goats. And sheep but mostly goats)
Eventually – after what felt like hoooours – we would arrive at a park or farm where my gran would take it upon herself to choose the ‘perfect’ picnic spot and we would, after unpacking a small-sized kitchen’s worth of tableware and food, settle down for the first of several meals. If it was Summer my sister and I wasted no time in changing into our bathing suits and diving into the river/lake/farm dam. If it was Autumn, we did the same. It didn’t matter that more than one lake or dam had warnings posted all over the place warning would-be swimmers of bilharzia and other parasites. My grandparents didn’t read a word of English so if it didn’t bother them it certainly didn’t bother us.
My grandparents had a knack for choosing picturesque places. Even if we weren’t exactly welcome in some of those places. Once, we settled down to a meal of fried chicken beside a slow moving brown river only to be interrupted by the furious farmer on whose property we found ourselves. I have no idea how my grandfather convinced that farmer to let us spend the rest of our day there under the shadow of a willow tree but we got to stay. I remember that was the first ever willow tree I climbed. I tested her fine leafy hair for strength and durability when I swung out and into that lazy brown river.
One day stands out above all the rest. After our third or fourth meal under a tall and fragrant Eucalyptus my grandparents and parents fell into a deep and sonorous sleep. My parents were with us that particular day which makes this day not only memorable but also remarkable because they were separated for as long as I remember and rarely took us anywhere. I believe they had agreed to this outing to try and reconcile but it was like forcing a lion to live with a buffalo.
A cloud burst above the lake forcing my sister to think up of some new activity that did not require wind or water. I of course, knew exactly what to do. A new book waited for me in the back seat of my father’s car. I seem to think it was Wind In The Willows because I can still remember those beautiful illustrations of Rat and Mole and Toad and elusive Badger. Ignoring my sister’s baying for attention I got into the car, closed the door behind me and in no time was lost in the pages of a book.
My sister is younger than me but as you will come to see she is the more
dangerous assertive one. She got into the driver’s seat and started ‘vooming’ and ‘vrooshing’ behind the steering wheel. At some point I became aware of motion – the slow, forward rolling of wheels. The car was moving.
This was not my sister’s first attempt at carjacking. In fact – and yes, I know you are going to find this hard to believe- my sister and I were rescued by a neighbour after my sister released the handbrake on my mother’s car and we went rolling down our street. I think I was seven years old at the time which means my sister was five. Said kindly neighbour managed to throw himself through the passenger side window (my side) and pull up the brake before we rolled through the Stop sign and into traffic.
I think it was an Act of Grace that woke my father from his afternoon nap that day. While my sister screeched with delight at the prospect of drowning, my father forced the driver’s door open and saved our lives.