The second visit was a few weeks later, I presume Granny had lain down the law, as to whom she could or could not see in what was after all her home too. So once again we went visiting the newly wed Mr and Mrs Allan without my father, the heir to the Third Reich. This time we made it into the lounge of the Forest Town house, and there was Robert in his wheelchair with a small table next to him with an ice-bucket a bottle of whisky and a crystal glass filled with the golden nectar.
We children were told to greet Robert and then were herded outside to sit on the veranda where a small table had been set up. The table was covered with all our favourite treats, various offerings of Granny’s baking and a forbidden treat, bottles of Coca-Cola. My mother did not allow us to imbibe any fizzy drinks, because she believed the high sugar content was bad for our teeth, not our bodies mind you, so was ahead of her time in condemning so called junk food.
Karen and I enjoyed about two hours of sampling all the wares on the table and slowly sipped our forbidden nectar, inside Robert was imbibing his nectar a lot faster with explosive results. The next thing that I knew Robert was behind my chair and before I could even turn around to inquire what he wanted, he had grabbed me by the hair and had thrown me to the floor, unfortunately, for him, dislodging himself from his wheelchair at the same time. So there we were, me held by the hair on the floor and him with a shirt on and no trousers under his blanket struggling on the floor.
Robert screaming at the top of his voice a little slurred from whisky, spittle spraying everywhere, lending credence to the term “mad dogs and Englishmen”. He was calling me so many names and promising the wrath of God on my head that it was very difficult to neither understand nor isolate any one insult or threat. Next thing Granny was there and she managed to free me from Robert’s clutches, liberated me is the more appropriate word. This time we did not retreat, we fled in total panic, completely shell shocked with more than a touch of hysteria flitting around our emotions.
It would be a year before we visited again, but I will describe it now so that Robert and his memory can be laid to rest and the consequences of that last visit will reveal themselves in time. So about a year later we were once again on our way to visit Robert, Granny in the intervening year had visited us and always brought cakes and things to us children, but each time she visited she seemed a little more unhappy. I being a year older, seven that is, had by that time discovered that Robert was not the only person on earth that hated Germans; I had discovered that there were others of the same ilk.
One of my friends at school had invited me around to his house one afternoon after school in my second year of Limberlost, we had been friendly from my first year, and as children we had never inquired as to our respective nationalities nor religions, it was not as important as who supported what soccer team and who won the most marbles. As it turned out Michael was Jewish. His mother picked us up after school and we spent a very pleasant day playing in his garden, his mother being very kind and making sure that we were well fed and watered. That was until just before I was to be picked up by my mother, when she asked me what part of England my parents came from, when I replied that my father was from Germany and as far as I knew my mother was from South Africa she turned into the Ice-Queen.
Michael the next day at school told me that he was forbidden to play with Nazis. So our friendship was summarily terminated. It was due to this that on this visit I had a better understanding of Robert’s strange behaviour. So, with a fair amount of caution I entered the lion’s den for the last time. It was as if the scene had been rewound, everything from where Robert was sitting with his whiskey to the table outside was dejé vu.
Everything that day was a repeat of the last visit until the time Robert appeared, this time he did not appear behind me, but on the threshold of the front door, this time with his service revolver in his right hand. I can only surmise that there were only two possibilities that I did not die that day, the first being that at the last second some sort of sanity prevailed, or that the gun was not loaded. Personally I tend towards the second. This time he did not say a word just sat there with the gun pointed at me. How long we sat staring at each other I have no idea, what broke the spell was my mother’s scream. Once again we departed the battle field licking our wounds.
That was the last time that I ever saw Robert. Granny divorced Robert and his sister had him moved to an Old Age Home in Durban next to Mitchell’s Park where he eventually died.
Robert was not the only person in the world that never learnt to forgive and forget the wrongs, that real or imagined, had been perpetuated against him. What Robert was not able to understand is that in actual fact he was one of the lucky ones. He had not only survived a war that had obliterated millions of people, mostly civilians, but that he as a soldier was probably responsible for the death and maiming of enemy combatants. So there were probably families in Germany that were nursing men who had suffered far more devastating injuries than he had, who had carried on with their lives and contributed positively to their communities.
I have had the privilege of meeting a few of his fellow comrades in arms with far more disabling injuries than he had suffered, who accepted the fact that in war death and disablement were inevitable. They also understood that the enemy soldiers were there because their respective governments had ordered them to the front and that like the Allied soldiers the German soldiers fought for what they believed in and that not all Germans had been Nazis.
At the age of seven I had not as yet heard of the Holocaust, but I understand Michael’s mother’s reaction to me today, I am not sure that I condone passing the guilt of one generation onto another. I will never be able to understand Robert’s irrational hatred of anything German including children who had nothing to do with his circumstances in life.
Lots of Hugs and more