On 16 October this year my grandfather would have turned 103. He was a phenomenal man and as far as I know, the first veterinarian in an extended family which could see its sixth vet graduating in the next decade. Had I been an historian or a better researcher, I would have liked to write his story.
As a writer and reader, or maybe just as a human being, I love the stories that emerge from the lives of people, the wandering trails that make up a biography. Beneath the surface of ordinary people – the butcher, the baker, the candlestick maker – lie such wonders of intrigue and coincidence that no writer of fiction need ever be short of stories to tell.
Call it coincidence or destiny, life stories are often like the nursery rhyme of the horseshoe nail:
For Want of a Nail
For want of a nail, the shoe was lost;
For want of the shoe, the horse was lost;
For want of the horse, the rider was lost;
For want of the rider, the battle was lost;
For want of the battle, the kingdom was lost,
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
Or in a more modern analogy, a sliding doors metaphor, referring to the 1998 film in which events unfold in parallel universes due to catching or missing a train.
As I mentioned in previous blogs, I cannot escape the duality of my art-science life. Veterinary science seems to be a pivotal point in so many of the stories of both myself and my ancestors that I’m beginning to see it as the nails in the otherwise artistic fabric of my life.
Soon after graduating, my grandfather started working at the veterinary research institute at Onderstepoort in Pretoria, South Africa. Here he met my grandmother, whose father was a janitor there. Years later, married with two daughters, he served as the housefather for the student residence at the veterinary faculty. Not surprisingly, both daughters went on to marry vets.
With veterinary genes from both sides of my family coursing through my veins, I too yielded to science, with my mother’s artistic influence colouring the issue like a packet of Smarties swirled through vanilla ice cream. Another decade or two later, it was on a veterinary farm call to look at sick cattle that I met my husband.
And though it wasn’t a vet job that drove our move to Australia, it did determine where we would go, as it has done again with our recent move. This despite my firm determination that I am now first and foremost a writer and an artist. (And of course my first Afrikaans novel is a semi-autobiographical account of a young veterinarian.)
I cannot say where my life is headed. I am a spinning coin of possibilities, forever landing on a different side. Often I long for the counsel of my wise old grandfather, he whose genes I share. Whether I’m writing, painting or doing surgery, I am aware of him - we have the same hands.
Happy Birthday. Veels geluk, Vadie!