My grandfather Ross is the only grandparent I never got to meet, and stories like this one make me think we would have gotten along like a house on fire. Actually, scratch that. There’s nothing good about a house on fire. We would’ve gotten along like a perfectly normal house.
My grandmother Jude and grandfather Ross had three kids: Mike (the oldest and my father), Martin and Carl. Raising three boys, particularly these three boys, would probably have had Mother Theresa reaching for the wine bottle, so it’s completely understandable that Ross liked to have the occasional drink. However, he wasn’t keen on letting any family members catch him in the act, especially his nephew, who was both the local minister and an insatiable gossip. As part of his strategy for avoiding unexpected guests, Ross never answered the door himself and often hid away somewhere, leaving it to Jude to make up excuses for him.
One evening Jude and Ross were sitting in the kitchen having a drink when the doorbell rang. They both froze as they heard the minister’s booming voice echo through the house.
“Mike! Are your parents here?”
“Yeah, they’re in the kitchen. Come on through.”
They figured he was there to inquire after Ross’ father (my great-grandfather), who was ill in the hospital at the time. The minister was there with the best of intentions, and Ross was having none of it. He wasted no time and bolted through the back door. In the next split second Jude decided that she was tired of making up excuses for her husband and followed him. It was pouring rain; Ross dashed across the back yard towards their small shed, Jude hot on his heels. Once they arrived they found the tiny room dripping, with only one dripping-wet chair available. Ross took it. They waited quietly.
Meanwhile my father had led the minister back through to the kitchen, where there was no sign of life save for two half-full glasses sitting abandoned on the countertop.
“I don’t understand, Uncle Joos,” said my bewildered father, who was fifteen at the time. “They were just here two minutes ago.”
Back in the shed Ross had just anxiously told Jude, for the umpteenth time, to go check if the minister had left yet. Obligingly she crept through the rain to the house. There was a problem, however. The house was built on large foundations, and the windows were too high up for her to see anything. However, Jude was a determined woman. Drawing on her fifteen years experience as a financial consultant, which didn’t help one bit, she scaled a large rubber tree, finally reaching a height where she was able to see through their bedroom window. A sliver of the kitchen was visible through the doorway, but the minister was nowhere to be seen. Sensing a trap, Jude snuck around to the front of the house, sticking to the shadows. Her suspicions were confirmed: The minister’s car was still there.
She reported back to the shed and the couple resumed waiting, rather wishing they had thought to bring their bottle with them.
Meanwhile the minister was walking curiously through the house, his search yielding nothing but three bewildered and apparently abandoned children. Eventually he left, and Ross and Jude happily returned to what they had been doing before, which was nothing at all, really.
The next day Jude got an urgent phone call from Ross: she should be ready to leave directly after work. The minister had called and asked Ross where they had been the night before.
“We were visiting my father in the hospital,” he had said.
“What’s wrong with you?” the minister had demanded. “You don’t even tell your children. You just disappear.”
“Oh, no. We didn’t tell them because Carl always cries when we leave.” (At the time Carl was an exceptionally independent six-year-old boy who didn’t give two hoots where his parents were. My grandmother would like me to point out here that my fondness for making up stories probably comes from Ross).
The minister had said he was going to visit Ross’ father that night, so Ross and Jude had to rush to the hospital after work and get there before the minister to ensure their cover.
“What if he’s already there?” asked Jude as they sped towards the hospital.
“It’s not seven yet. He said he was going at seven.”
“He suspects something. I think he’s trying to trap us.”
“No, he said seven.”
When they pulled into the hospital parking lot they spotted a cream-colored Jetta.
“He’s here,” said Jude. “That’s his car.”
“No man, that car has a CAM number plate.”
“That is his number.”
“He lives in the city! It’ll be CY.”
“The car’s registered in the country. For cheaper insurance. CAM.”
“That’s not his car.”
They both got out, Ross jogging ahead of Jude. When she was halfway up a flight of stairs Ross came streaking back down, nearly knocking his wife off her feet . “He’s there! Quickly! Get out!” My grandmother says she’ll never forget the look of absolute terror on his face.
They drove halfway back and parked under a tree, waiting under the cover of foliage until the enemy cleared out. They had narrowly escaped a trap. When they returned the first time the cream Jetta was still in the lot. The second time they struck it lucky.
They ran up the stairs and into the room. Once there Ross zeroed in on his father. He didn’t bother with pleasantries like saying hello, but got right down to business. This was it. The moment of truth. Had their cover been broken?
“Dad, when last did you see Joos?”
“Now that’s funny that you should ask. He was just here not two minutes ago.”
“Did he ask if we were here last night?”
“Yes, he did ask.”
“What did you say?”
The old man shrugged. “I said my son visits me every day.”
And so our story ends with what could possibly be the most ingenious guilt-trip ever. I’d just like to add that it makes me happy to know that my family history reads like something out of a screwball comedy.