5 Priceless things my parents gave to me
Growing up, I can always recall there being rolls of undeveloped film lying around in their little round grey or black containers. My dad was a film photographer you see, but he had a bad habit of taking photos and then not having them developed for months or even years! When he did eventually develop the film, those little containers could be re-purposed, most often into storage for fishing hooks or swivels that would otherwise go missing. And the photos would go into one of the many photo albums that my mom kept, to be looked at over and over on the many rainy days we got in Durban. Repositories of memories of when we were awkward teenagers who didn’t want to be in photos; birthdays with a round cake with peach slices on the top (there were always peach slices on the top) and all the cousins behind the cake resulting in confusion in whose birthday it actually was; my little sister doing up my buttons even though she could barely walk; to before my sister was born and my brother and I being dressed alike even though we are born two years apart and to even before the children, to my parents wedding and my mother looking every bit like the teenage girl she was. I somehow managed to escape any baby pictures that could be used to cause embarrassment later in life. My brother was not so lucky…
Not all our photos were taken by my dad of course, like many families we visited the studio in town and there’s the almost obligatory photo of me holding a red phone dressed in what looks like a Chinese suit and a few other interesting family portraits. But mostly they were my dad’s work, documenting our formative years. So in between looking at photo albums, it was almost a greater adventure to rummage through my dad’s cupboard and take out all his cameras and playing with them. I can’t remember much in the way of the details of any of them. There was a Yashica I know, because I recently asked if I could have it and was told if they found it, it would be mine. Suffice to say it has not been found yet. And there were a couple Vivitars that would be considered point and shoot I guess. With thumb wheels to wind the film, little counters to tell you how many exposures you have left and catches that if accidentally pressed would open and expose the film and spoil any picture that had been taken and not wound through. I found that out the hard way. The Fujifilm disposables were my favourite because a couple times I got to use them and quickly learned how not to cut peoples heads off. Just getting them all out and lining them up made for a day well spent.
It was on these rainy days in Durban that the first thing my parents gave me was a love for photography and photographs…
My dad held two jobs his entire life. The first lasted 18 years, he was unemployed for a period of about 6 or 8 months and then the second at a bakery that lasted another 18 years. Bread needs to be delivered to the shops early so they reach the customers at their freshest. So for 6 mornings every week my dad would wake up at 4:30am to be in at work and out on the delivery route before the rest of the town had really got going. But he would also finish work early so that meant he could fetch us from school and we would spend long lazy afternoons spent fishing on the beach. Thinking about it now, those days seemed endless, coming home after the sun had set to wash off the sand and eat freshly made rotis with something or the other. Fresh fish if were lucky! And Sundays were not much different. Because if we were going fishing we needed to be at the beach before dawn to get the fish as they woke up. In the summer they woke up before 4:30am so the rods and reels would be ready the night before and we would be bundled out of bed and off to the beach at 4:00am. Any later and you were going to the beach to swim or build sandcastles. And who in their right mind went to the beach to build sandcastles when there were fish to be caught!
As I grew older and my mom started her business at school, I recall that my days also began not much after my dad would leave for work. My mom would wake up and start making lunches and I would be up and in the bathroom by 6am, because I was the eldest and my room was closest to the kitchen where all the commotion was going on. I grew into being a morning person (a rare and strange subset of human beings) and this has served me well into adulthood. Instead of fishing rods and reels its running shoes and a GPS watch or a golf bag that gets prepared the night before. Arrangements made with friends for an early practice and tee off time or a 6am race start instead of where the best spot to cast our lines would be. Although lines do get cast once or twice a year, more often than not its a camera and tripod that goes to the beach when the opportunity arises nowadays.
The second thing I was given by my parents was an effective way to manage the time required for each of my passions – starting the day off at the earliest possible opportunity and then making hay while the sun shines. And when I get it right, there are some days that still feel endless…
The ability to work hard must have been a trait the British looked for before importing my forebears into South Africa. Both my parents worked hard all their lives. Their parents before them were the same. In fact I would still consider my parents to be working too hard, mostly because they refuse to quit. My dad did his job at the bakery stoically up until near retirement when his shifts began to run over 12 hours on some days. My mom took care of us 3 kids while cooking, cleaning and trying to earn a little bit of supplementary cash on the side at the same time. They are my working class heroes and from a very early age instilled the value hard work brings into me and my siblings. I never earned pocket money until I got to university. Instead, I was rewarded with stock items from the shop my mom ran for completing weekly chores. Rewards for hard work at school were negotiated at the beginning of the school year and paid out only if all objectives were achieved by the end of the year. No compromises or renegotiation would be entered into. I was, effectively, performance managed from the age of 11…
Observing my parents working hard all their lives also taught me that hard work alone is sometimes not enough. There’s a saying that if you work hard for someone else, you building other people’s dreams. My dad had an opportunity to become a private owner driver at the bakery when they privatised part of their delivery fleet. He turned it down partly because it was a large investment and partly because he was risk averse. I think it may be something he regretted for a long time afterwards. My mom on the other hand was more enterprising. She began by knitting school jerseys (you’d be surprised how many jerseys are sold in Durban even though the temperatures barely get below 20 degrees celcius at any part of the year) and then expanded into a little business selling sweets and chocolates outside the school. For the business graduates out there, I think that’s called an adjacency strategy. I often feel it was my mom’s small business that put me through university, but I now realise it was a combination of both my parents hard work.
If you work hard opportunity will present itself. Watching my parents taught me that hard work, focused in the right way, will reap rewards. But one should also have the courage to grab every opportunity with both hands.
Every second Saturday, for most of my primary schooling years, my mom would get us kids ready and take us into Durban city centre with the bus, then march us from the bus stop across what felt like 10km but must only be about 2km (if that) to the municipal library at Durban City Hall. The books from the previous trip returned, 3 new books borrowed and then up to the museum of natural science and history to look at the dinosaur and the stuffed animals for a couple hours. Then we’d go wait outside for my dad to come pick us up after work and we’d have picnic lunches, which more often than not was two half loaf bunnie chows, at the Durban Botanic Gardens (See the pictures I got on a recent trip back on my gallery page: Durban Botanic Gardens).
From an early age, these trips into the city instilled a number of very important qualities into all the Luckan children. Core to it all was a love of reading and an almost insatiable thirst for knowledge. I think my parents quickly realised that their knowledge alone would not be enough to keep us going and therefore allowed us to explore through the books in the library. By the time I reached high school I had graduated to the adult library and even took along two cards to borrow 6 books at a time, 3 fiction and 3 non fiction on most occasions. And one of the favourite subjects to be explored was the natural world and all the wonders it held. Borrowed library knowledge was supplemented by a small collection of reference books kept at home that would be pawed over until the spines eventually started to show the wear. Two in particular held my interest for many years. They were both on Southern Africa, one describing the fauna and flora of the region and the other being the places to visit and the sights to see. In particular, I remember a picture of a silky river flowing over the rocks I think was taken in the Tsitsikama forest that always left me wondering how it was achieved (long exposure on a tripod with possibly an ND filter on the front of the lens) and left me wishing I could, one day, do the same. Even my memory of time spent in front of the television is marked more by documentaries on a Sunday evening than cartoons or series. 50/50 was a staple and David Attenborough’s voice on National Geographic or BBC specials to this day defines how narration of any documentary should be done for me.
The constant pursuit of knowledge and love for nature and all things of this world were seeds my parents planted in me at a very early age and are two things I still hold close to my heart.
They say the best stories are the ones that you can hear (or read or watch) over and over again and never tire of hearing one more time. Attend enough of the Luckan family functions and soon you will know and love the many stories my parents have to tell almost as if you were there. The time when my uncle saw a porcupine and asked in Hindi if it was a lion or a zebra, the story of the log that fell off my aunts head while she was carrying it and burst the municipal water main, my dad stealing oranges from the field that was on the route home or almost losing his thumb for a cup of tea, lessons on how to catch crabs and shrimp in the drains of the sugar cane fields or buy 4 ice creams to impress the girls with only 1c and then get 4c change.
My parents and even the wider extended family have always had a great oratory tradition, sharing the family history through great story telling ability, even acting out the scene to better describe it. With two flaws. They would invariably start laughing at the funny part before telling you what the funny part was. And somehow the stories would change with each telling. We grew to love these stories though and they have became part of us over the years. They spoke of simpler times than we grew up in and much simpler times than now, when my aunts and uncles were still not grandparents, when my grandparents were still alive and when 1c went a long, long way.
The fifth thing that my parents have given me is hopefully this ability to weave great tales. Its one that I am still trying to work on, through my photography first and then through writing down my thoughts and musings. So hopefully I will take you along with me on my journey, through my words and pictures…