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From Birds to Birdies

 

I returned from the United States just before my brother Gary won the Masters tournament, then like millions of others was thrilled to see him win three tournaments in succession, a truly remarkable feat.
As a young child Gary showed signs of being a great athlete. One of my earliest memories of his ability is hearing my mother calling him to have a bath. Like all small boys, he hated bathing and I heard him complaining vociferously about not being dirty. Then I saw him burst out of the bathroom pursued by an irate mother.

He was stark naked, his back burnt brown by the sun and sped down the garden path onto the kikuyu lawn and into a field of brown thatching grass. Up to this point my mother had been gaining on him but he leapt into the long grass and vanished, his white backside bobbing like hare’s. My mother returned in none too good a mood but when she saw me doubled up with laughter she saw the funny side, too.
When he was older Gary played all sports and became a competent cricketer and rugby player, a very good runner and his acrobatics on the high diving board became almost a legend. At the age of about 12, I took him to a boxing trainer and in no time he became well known for his skill and courage. I watched him fighting a much bigger boy who knocked him to the canvas three times. Each time he got up, dusted his gloves and returned to the fight with tigerish ferocity. By the third time his opponent lost heart and Gary won the fight.

In our early years we lived at Lyndhurst just far enough out of Johannesburg to be in the country. We both loved the veld. Summer storms on the Transvaal highveld brew up early in the afternoon. Long black cumulus clouds bank up, lightning flashes then the driving rain sweeps across the countryside. In a few hours it is over. Frogs call from every pool, birds ruffle their feathers, silver drops hang from every grass stem and the earth has a wet warm smell.

When the skies cleared it was a signal for us to go out into the veld where water still gushed down paths and into dongas. It was a wonderful experience to run jumping over and into pools, feeling the green grass on the soles of our feet, then charging blindly down a hillside to the big gullies where storm water swirled by. There were many springs too, some big enough to swim in. We would strip off our clothes and plunge in naked, a few quick strokes then out of the bracing water. We then raced each other across the veld, and as I was bigger I could keep just ahead so he had to expend himself, but his stamina was incredible.
I taught him how to make bows from poplar sticks and arrows from khaki weed stalks, the arrow tips were made from aloe thorns. We both had catapults made from forked sticks and old tube elastic. Our prey was the sparrows that settled in neighbouring fields in thousands. The vegetable farmers were glad of any help. I believe it was using the catapult that developed Gary’s amazing co-ordination of hand and eye. His accuracy became uncanny and he was the only one in our gang who could shoot a bird on the wing. Our Zulu servant in the fashion of his people was quick to name Gary. He called him “Mashiyanyoni”, the killer of birds. In time it became birdies.

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