Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Alwyn Hewson

Why I feel so compelled to dedicate a post to someone I didn't know very well, I'm not sure. I was shocked by the news that my former landlord, Alwyn Hewson, was tragically killed in a car accident last week.

I attended his memorial service, and it was only after I'd been sitting on that hard church bench for a few minutes, that I realised what I was hearing was not the usual hard-to-remember church hymns, but Johnny Clegg! It was surreal, and it's effects instantaneous. The tears I'd been hoping to keep at bay spouted, as the realisation hit me. The spirit of the great heart, under African skies. That was Alwyn.

I'd been so impressed when my folks told me about the Hewsons, the fact that they wanted to create a conservancy, had a small herd of cows and a horse-mad daughter were the reasons I chose to live in a cottage, on a farm in what might have been the middle of nowhere. People would gawk at me when I told them I lived in Muldersdrift, near Krugersdorp, and drove to Parktown every day. That's what one does when the desire to live in the country overrides common sense. The 'middle of nowhere' has a powerful pull.

My dogs and I had the run of their huge farm, they swam in the dam and we were able to walk where we wanted, undisturbed by traffic and other dogs. Al always asked if I was happy living there. That was his main concern, he always enquired after the welfare of the dogs and knew how paranoid I was about their safety. One Friday afternoon I got home to discover that Spike, my elderly Jack Russell, who was going deaf, had disappeared, probably due the to the thunder of that afternoon's storm. Together we took a walk, asking anyone on the farm if they'd seen him. Eventually, as darkness began to fall, Al said he'd have to call it a night, it was his daughter's birthday and they were waiting for him at home.

This was typical of him, as I discovered at the service. Always willing to help anyone, he lent me their car when mine was in the garage, offered me a daily supply of fresh milk and always insisted I stayed for a drink when I went up to the house, even if it was in the middle of cooking dinner and bathing the baby.

Al's brother, Roger, described him as having a love for cars, farm life, and...well, guns, saying how his brother lived a life like someone out of the wild west. This was true on the night of the robbery. He'd been finishing off the tax year-end, getting home after midnight every night that week. So on that Friday night, he fell in to a grateful sleep, only to wake to the sound of gunfire coming from my cottage. I still have this mental image of him, comically, clumbering down the stairs - as he told me later - trying to call me on the cell phone, pull on his jeans and load the rifle simultaneously. Nobody was hurt, but that was the night I was most grateful for his presence. He wielded his considerable influence and mustered what looked like the entire Muldersdrift police station and had them parked on the lawn in under an hour. It looked like a police convention, there were detectives, the sergeant, who had been pulled out of his warm bed, fingerprint okes; the lot. They never did catch anyone. Al managed to ferry me around, insisted I go to the house, drink hot tea, answer questions, put my dogs in the bakkie and then in the kitchen for what was left of the night, before insisting I get some sleep in the baby's room. I was helluva glad that it was him who was there when that all went down.

Apparently they referred to me as their best tenant, and without getting all mushy, the Hewson's were by far the best human beings I had ever rented from. I was devastated when I chose to leave the farm, deeming it unsafe to live in the country. I felt like I was leaving part of my family. It sounds like we all spent a lot of time together, but in reality, it was very little over the 18 months I lived there.

This is probably why I'm still so disbelieving that he's no longer with us. I wonder at how someone I spent such a little time with, managed to have such an impact on me. On my way to the service, I wondered what I could take from this experience, and it must be that spending time amongst those who add value to our lives is so important. Of course, I wish now that I'd taken up all those offers to stay for another drink.

You often hear that "the good die young." I don't think this means those of us left are NOT good, but perhaps we sit up and take notice of those who leave an indelible impression. Alwyn was such a person. His generous nature and inspiring character clearly touched many, many people. Perhaps such awesome and amazing people join us for a short time so that we can learn to maybe be a bit like them. If they didn't leave us so soon, we might not recognise what they have to teach.

Dr John Demartini teaches that gratitude leads to love. That we should learn to be grateful for what we have in our lives, and I'm grateful that I met Alwyn Hewson, that I spent some time in his sphere of influence, that I experienced his generosity and humour. That I was lucky enough to feel the warmth of strangers when my own life was falling apart.

1 comment:

Clive said...

Hi Colleen,

Would like to write a short note to thank you! Only recently came across your blog entry with your very thoughtful and kind tribute to Al and wanted to pass on my appreciation for sharing your sentiments. Almost a year has passed since the tragic event and it's still difficult to come to terms with the fact that he's gone. He filled a room literally and figuratively when he entered it and that makes the large void left behind, all the more apparent. As a family member, I was only aware of a small part of the positive impact that Al had on all the people around him, but since he died, have heard more and more about his enormous capacity to help all those he came into contact with. Although his time was cut way too short, Al's legacy will continue to live on within PE, Aidan and Liam. We all wish Al could have been around much longer, especially for the sake of Daryl and their wonderful and amazing children, but the many fond memories of the "Big A" will always be strong and his giant, generous spirit will be around forever.