I’ve spent some time now interviewing some special human beings for this section of Humble Pie, and even more time considering who should be the first among these to pay tribute to… The person featured here, today, did not initially come to mind, but in the end, I could think of no one better!
I had recently interviewed my grandfather for the photobook we were all putting together for his 80th birthday. We wanted to include his life story on the pages, and this would be my task. It was an interesting interview to say the least. To extract a personal history from someone whose memory is starting to fade in places can be a tricky thing. But with a little help from his siblings and my grandmother, I eventually had what I needed. And so follows a few details you might like to know about a certain John Henry Richardson, 80 years of age and still the love of my life…
Born the second eldest, in 1935, John would be followed by another 3 younger siblings. To John’s memory, his mother, Eileen, was the “most wonderful woman in the world,” never once losing her temper with her five children. His father, Percival, meanwhile, was a motor mechanic. Being the generous man that he was, their yard and garage were constantly backed up by the broken-down vehicles of family members.
Their upbringing was a Catholic one and religion has remained an important practice in John’s life ever since. When his father and mother married, Percival converted to Catholicism and “became more Catholic than the Catholics.” With this the children learnt to follow in the example of Christ, and every Saturday, John would embark on the 7km cycle to church, to spend much of his weekend in prayer.
To this day, John (or ‘papa’ as we like to call him), is the most pious man I know. While I am no longer Catholic myself, from him, I have learnt to treat others with decency and compassion. I have learnt to never turn away someone at my door who comes asking for help. Sometimes I am short-tempered or impatient and there are times I pass judgement on others, and so I am glad that he is still with us in this life, as I can often fall short of his teachings. Nevertheless, whenever I hear The Beatle’s ‘Let It Be’, I will forever think of this patient soul.
But beyond being a dedicated Catholic, John was an avid cricketer. No doubt he had inherited this love of the gentleman’s game at an early age from the Richardson family origins in England and Ireland. As a youth he played for SA Schools, and later on, for North Eastern Transvaal as a wicketkeeper and batsman. John remembers his sister, Joan, thinking he was the greatest cricketer in the world. When he would play in the Berea grounds in Pretoria, this “excitable” young woman would yell to anyone in the stands who criticised him, “You stupid drunks! You know nothing about cricket!”
John would one day pass on this love of cricket to his two beloved sons. David, his eldest, would go on to play for South Africa, while Ralph, his middle child, played provincially. The cricketing legacy of the Richardson clan continues today with David’s first-born, Michael John, playing professionally abroad.
But his enthusiasm for sport was ultimately far surpassed by the adoration he reserves for my grandmother, Margaret. His life changed forever when he met the beautiful, free-spirited Margaret Young on a train. While he had secured himself a date to a dance, he needed one for a friend. He approached Margaret and used his awkward charm to convince her to attend the dance as his friend’s partner. Of course, on the night of the dance, he subsequently decided that he preferred Margaret to his own date. My grandfather has since maintained that he married my grandmother for her money. When he says this though, his eyes twinkle, and we know that this is most likely the only lie he has ever told.
They eventually settled in Port Elizabeth in 1969, where they would spend the rest of their days together as their children grew up, left for varsity, and eventually, married and had children of their own. The experience of having grandchildren has, in the words of the man himself, blessed him with “the greatest gift of all.”
I am eternally grateful to this man, to my papa. My mother had me when she was relatively young, and I grew up knowing them more as a second mother and father than solely a pair of grandparents. My grandfather’s love for me has remained unfaltering and his patience with me tireless. Every Saturday morning, he would walk with me down to the main library in town. It was a magical place for me then, and still is today. We would spend hours in the children’s section, finding a selection of books that tickled my fancy. At night he would read to me from these books. He never cared when I sometimes insisted on the same book we had read a few weeks prior. Dutifully, he would simply read whatever I wanted. I’m not sure if I would be the reader I am today, if it had not have been for this man.
So here’s to twenty more, my darling papa! You’ll raise your bat yet! xx