I do not remember either of my grandfathers. I am named after my mother’s father, Basil the baker. My father’s father, John, owned a corner café in Alberton. I can imagine he would be very proud that one of his grandson’s is an orthopaedic surgeon.
He would open the store early in the morning and close late at night every day of the week, closing only briefly for Sunday lunch. At lunch he would have probably told his children that they must study and become professionals. Become a doctor or a lawyer or an accountant. Make money, but more importantly, have a life and be someone. Don’t slog all day behind the counter.
That is not why I became an orthopaedic surgeon, although one cannot discount the brainwashing effect generations of aspiration and desire to have children pass through university into a profession might have had. One cannot imagine their hunger for that, when they themselves had not even completed primary school and their dreams were vested in their children’s children.
If my grandfather was alive now as I write he would be opening the store. He would have woken up earlier, maybe at four or four thirty in the morning. He would not have had breakfast; perhaps he would have taken a cup of tea. Then he would have walked through the courtyard at the back of the house, down the steps, under the grapevine to open the store from behind. The back door opened into a kitchen, with a small veneered table with chrome legs. He might have taken his tea there.
My grandfather would be tired at the slog that faced him yet again. Worried about having to pay the suppliers, and calling in credit from customers who had no money but needed to pay. He would have been concerned about his daughter who was studying at university, who would later go on to become a lecturer. She was ahead of her time, but beyond vision for an immigrant from the dark days of Greece in the twenties and thirties.
If time and place were one, at the same time today I would be driving back from the hospital. I left at three in the morning after a call from my ward that one of my patients had died. He was only sixty, a pleasant Afrikaans gentleman that I had known as a patient for almost three years. A lecturer at the university. He had a knee replacement two days ago. Everything seemed to be going fine until I answered my phone this morning.
But today my grandfather would have me for company at five as I returned home. A specialist who earns money, has a life and is someone. Today I was awake before him, and the price I pay to be honoured with my profession is beyond measure. How do I explain to him that I did everything right. That I am a good surgeon. That I care. That I had to phone my patient’s wife and tell her that husband had died, and she was alone from now on.
Wish that today my grandfather could make me a cup of tea at five in the morning, as he opens the store. Wish that we could compare notes about work.
Neither of us have any idea of what it is to wear the shoes that take us to work each day.