Growing up, I had the good fortune of knowing a few of my grandparents. I even lived with three of them at one time or another. This has given me a fuller knowledge of my culture and my family history, but it also means that I have become aware of how randomly hilarious elderly people can be.
Although not as bitingly vulgar as my great-gran was, my gran still manages to pour forth some expressions that are cringe worthy and amusing in equal measure.
Not too long ago, in response to my about-to-pop pregnant belly, she asked when I was going to “get sick.” This, apparently, is her euphemism for going into labor or giving birth. I gently told her that I was not sick, and that the baby really could come any day now.
Whenever I am truly sick in the medical sense, gran has the good nature to whip out the salt and read a prayer around my stuffy head to ward off the evil eye.
[bctt tweet=”Can someone explain why my gran call blue jeans ‘bogart’?”]
She still has the tendency to ask me to draw the curtains every evening at the time of sunset, even though I’ve been doing it for more than 10 years now without need for reminder, and to insist that I dry my hair properly after a shower and take a cardigan with when I leave the house. Then there’s the strange use of the word “bogart,” which for some reason is meant to refer to blue jeans.
Gran also sometimes refers to our domestic helper as “the girl.” She doesn’t mean it unkindly; it’s simply another remnant from her past. My granddad, too, tends to say the “servant girl.” These phrases grate on my brain, but I have come to accept them as relics of days gone by, making their uncomfortable, unbidden and inevitable appearance once in a while.
Gran sometimes surprises us with an impromptu rendition of a poem she learnt in the eighth grade, which seems to have imprinted itself onto her memory verbatim. And in those solemn (for her) but completely ridiculous (for me) moments, I remember that there really is such a thing as a generation gap. One of the things that’s so lovable about the oldies in my life is their complete incongruence with modern times, and their willingness to be themselves regardless.
It strikes me how culture hangs on against all odds in people like my gran, who was born in India but emigrated to South Africa with her parents when she was still a baby, and how well they are able to pass it on.
[bctt tweet=”I try not to cringe when my grandparents call our domestic helper ‘the servant girl.'”]
As a third generation South African, I may have assimilated into the diverse culture of South Africa, but I still wear the patina of Indian culture that has been passed down to me, a garment that will not be shed. While I cringe at some strange turns of phrase or old habits that will not die, I have been given the gift of the best parts of Indian culture that live on in the selfless love of an aging grandmother: masala tea, curries that curl your toes, and pointed questions that know nothing of subtlety (gran often comments on how fat people have gotten).
My layers of identity would be much poorer were it not for the idiosyncratic and peculiar bits and pieces that my grandparents have clung to, and now give to me so generously. And as my identity continues to mold and morph, I wonder what version of myself and my predecessors will live on in my children, and theirs.