The End of the Beginning (and the Beginning of the Next)

Tuesday 26 October 2010: 4 years 1 month on …

“You have a condition called corticalbasal degeneration.  You will become severely incapacitated within three years … and may have some five years left. Go back to Port Elizabeth and enjoy what time you have left …”

Those are the words that I remember from my consultation with Prof Carr at Tygerberg Hospital on 8 February 2007.

I set myself three goals, one of which was to see Sean finish his grade 11 year and enter his matric (Grade 12/Senior) year at High School. That was a year ago now, and I reached that goal quite comfortably.  I then set a new goal of attending his Valedictory Service at the end of 2010. I have slowed down and it has been more difficult to get here.

But, here I am, and – thank God – still not severely incapacitated. Although I am aware that the last few weeks have been the most difficult so far, I am still able to manage well.

And, here Sean is, finished with High School and about to write his final examinations over the next six weeks.

Eighteen years into Life and the last twelve years spent at school preparing for that Life. The last week or so has been hectically spent by him and his mates (and their families!) celebrating the end of those formative beginning years.

All of this has been well-documented and pictured on that new “can’t live without” in our lives, that euphemistically called social networking site FACEBOOK. (Our generation seems to have done quite well without it, but somehow have also slowly become addicted to it!)

First, they had their formal dinner at the Edward Hotel. A crowd of his mates arrived at our home before the dinner to have photographs taken.

I spoke to the matrics on Tuesday in the school hall ( read Fasten Your Seat Belts).

Then there was the Heritage March last Wednesday afternoon. With the military band resplendent in their reds leading the way, the Grade 12 class marches in their cadet uniforms from the present school buildings in Mill Park (just 3 years short of its centenary – will I be here in 2013 for that and Phil’s Valedictory? – my next  goal!).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_gHX7qC_fZM

They march towards St George’s Park, around Park Drive, cross Rink Street and down Pearson Street (I wondered if that Pearson is family of the current Junior School Headmaster Lindsay Pearson?) and head for the original school building on the Donkin, opened in 1859 as the Grey Institute for the first classes of the Junior School there.

The original buildings were bought by the Mediterranean Shipping Line and they have spent millions restoring both the school and the Rectory.

The school leavers form up with their “backs to the Southern Seas” in front of the school “with its front to the Southern Seas”. And so, witnessed by their parents and friends and many Old Greys, at the top of The Hill and with the white beaches and the Indian Ocean below, the Rector, Neil Crawford spoke to them about the wise man who built his house upon the rock, as opposed to the foolish man who built upon the sand.

 After Bible reading, prayers and the school song, the boys get to throw their berets into the air and to “klaar-out” for the last time. This is all very emotional and stirring stuff and the beginning of the many tears that flow over the next few days.

Wednesday evening saw the Officers and NCO’s celebrate the end of their year at a formal mess dinner in the school restaurant.

 Thursday is the Prize-giving and Valedictory services. Congratulations to all the prize-winners and the new Headboy, Alex Blumberg, and all the new prefects who were announced at those functions. Graeme Clarke, the outgoing head prefect made a very stirring speech as his farewell to the school, on behalf of his peers.

After the Valedictory Service, the parents all lined the avenue together with the staff and boys remaining behind, and bid our son’s farewell from the school, as they “walked ‘neath the Tower” for the first and last time as a school boy – and then headed off to the Old Grey Club at Kemsley Park.

Continuing with tradition, there, we, the fathers and them, our sons and now the newest Old Greys, had lunch together. (The mothers now head off to another venue, Elizabeth Place, this year, to tea and reminisce together.)

And then, after lunch, we all met up at what has become a new tradition – Barneys on the Beachfront.  At age 14, I was bringing Sean home after an evening cricket practice at Framesby when I reminded him that Mom was out and we were going home to an empty house. He suggested then that we go to Barneys for a beer! When I advised him that it was a bit soon for that, he invited me to have his first beer with him at Barneys when he turned 18! He would buy the round.

Well, (and although not his first beer!), true to his word, he bought the first round (with my money!).

There, the celebrations lasted well into the night, complete with school song and “For all the Saints” sung with gusto on the tables and chairs. Dad eventually got home after Son!

Twelve years as school mates and family friends have come to an end – the end of the beginning of the preparatory years.

And, now, after a week of festivities, the final crunch lies ahead, with school-leaving examinations taking place over the next six weeks. Then, it’s the Plett Rage, when our school-leavers and students head off to that wonderful place, Plettenberg Bay, to do whatever they do best in Plett!

 It brings back memories of my very own end of exams at Stellenbosch University, when we (four guys and a girl – names to remain anonymous to protect innocent persons!) arrived at the Piesang’s River Caravan Park – music (70’s and 80’s!) blaring from the car speakers, and were refused entry based on the fact that the Park was a family park and the owners were unable to distinguish a family in our Peugeot! We ended up camping at the Plett Caravan Park …

Nowadays, it’s all much more formalised and organised and patronised and socialised.

 I’m sure there will be many stories to write (and some not to write) about. In the meantime, a lot of hard work lies ahead. Good luck, with your exams, school-leavers, and good luck to us all, as we all face the beginning of the next of our lives!