Litte Lulu and the gigantic Grenada

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I’ve been reminiscing a lot lately about the small South African community where I grew up. I would call the place a "town", but that would be pushing it. And surely you should know by now that I’m definitely not the type to exaggerate, EVER…

Seriously though, the town is so small that you would miss the entire district if you dare to swerve for a chicken or any other forms of wildlife crossing your path.

It’s a place of many stories – not least of which is that it produced the likes of me – and I’ll tell you some of those tales one day.

For now though, you only need to know that it was mostly a farmer’s community, and that the majority of people lived miles from what remote civilization could be squeezed out of the two competing petrol stations, the three Afrikaans churches (the handful English families in the area gathered in someone’s house for their own weekly English language church services), the local supermarket, the elementary school and the convenience store.

The result is that most kids rode the school bus to school, but only after parents, guardians, grandparents, older siblings, neighbours or even farm hands drove you to the main road via the dirt farm roads. Talk about a bumpy ride!

So it wasn’t unusual at all to get stuck in mud or deep sand a few times a year. My sisters and I always had heated debates about whose turn it was to open and close the gates (there were at least two on our farm road). A single icy glance in the rear view mirror from my parents was usually all it took to speed up a decision.

Anyway, I’m digressing.

So kids were driven down the respective dirt roads to the main road that led into town (anything with tar on it was considered to be a main road, by the way). There we would then wait for the school bus to take us to the one and only school in town.

In the afternoon after school, we would board the bus again so that the same thing could happen in reverse. The ride was long - it was a good half hour before I got to my drop-off point (which feels like an eternity when one is that young), and that was only halfway down the bus route. But most of my friends were fellow "non-townies" who also had to ride the bus to get home, so it made the journey much more bearable.

I remember one girl in particular who used to ride the school bus with me. She was a few years my junior (so of course we didn't socialize) and the cutest little thing with enormous blue eyes and a mop of unruly short, blonde, curly hair (if it had been red like mine, she would have been snatched up to play the lead in "Annie", for sure). Her hair was a source of endless hypnotic fascination for me, because the ringlets sprouted and bounced in all directions whenever the bus would hit the slightest bump.

I remember her name, but for the sake of anonymity, let’s call her "Little Lulu".

Because Lulu’s family lived close to the end of the bus route, she was dropped off much closer to home than the rest of us. In fact, she could have walked, but her rather protective parents (she was their much adored youngest child) preferred to pick her up. And that bit of information is crucial to our story.

As you can imagine, typical of such a small community, there are many versions of this story floating about. There were no eyewitnesses that day (circa 1987) to verify or substantiate any of the events, so I’m going to tell you the version I believe to be closest to the truth: my own.

Legend has it that Lulu was about 8-years old when this happened.

One afternoon after school, following another bus ride and – I’m almost certain – more hair-raising entertainment for me courtesy of Lulu’s coiffure, Lulu’s parents weren’t at the gate to meet her when the bus dropped her off.

Lulu, who before that day wasn’t really famous for her sense of bravery or adventure, dropped her books right there at the gate in a state of panic and started sprinting home. All elbows, knees, quivering lips and bouncing ringlets, she left a cloud of bushveld dust in her wake.

When she finally reached the house, she was even more alarmed to find everything to be deserted, despite the fact that the family car was parked in the driveway. Which normally meant that her parents couldn’t be very far away.

She searched the house for about sixty seconds flat (those were the good old days when no one ever locked their doors), before she made the life-altering decision that would make her a revered girl forever after that (and the subject of this blog post some 15 years later.).

Because that’s when Little Lulu took matters into her own hands and grabbed the car keys.

Lulu’s family car was a sturdy machine. An automatic Ford Grenada. To anyone who has never had the pleasure of encountering a Grenada: just picture a cargo vessel on wheels.

According to the rest of the legend, Lulu had enough foresight to bring along two pillows to sit on so that she could at least peer over the dashboard while she drove. (I’m sure that mop of hair was visible above the wheel and dashboard, even if nothing else was.)

And thus she set off on her maiden voyage as a driver to go and find her parents.

I don’t remember how far she got. Perhaps a mile or two. (It was an impressive distance to all of her young peers, though.)

I think all went relatively well until she reached an unexpected sharp corner in the dirt road. But since she’d managed to build up some momentum, Lulu couldn’t manage to slow down enough to get the Ford safely (or at least on two wheels) around the bend. I think she would have had a chance, had it not been for a pesky tree right there next to the road...

And that’s where they found her. Unfortunately she had a few nasty scratches and bruises, but luckily that was the extent of her injuries. I think the Grenada survived, but then, it will take at least a tornado to wipe out a car of that calibre!

No one ever dared to ask her about that first solo road trip. But I know that no one looked at her quite the same way ever again. And this time our curious glances had nothing to do with her hair… or very little, in any case.

She wasn’t even punished, because apparently her parents weren’t home due to a minor misunderstanding - they thought she had a play date over at a friend’s house that afternoon - and they felt incredibly guilty about the whole thing.

I don’t know what’s become of Lulu and that Grenada, but I have a feeling that both of them are still alive and well.

In fact, as we are speaking, they are probably kicking up some dust clouds on a rural road somewhere in Sunny South Africa…


Helen said:

I'm sorry, but I think Lulu rocks. I love a chick that takes matters into her own hands like that. That's awesome.

And it doesn't even matter where she was headed in the car. Mounting a search and rescue operation? Cool. Headed to the corner shop for the all-you-can-eat candy buffet? Cool too. It's just cool that she was like: Right. Car keys. Get in the car. Get out of Dodge.

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is a South African girl living in South Africa. That doesn't sound very original, we know, but you might find it remotely interesting when you learn that she has only recently returned to South Africa for the first time after a nine year, one month and two week (non-stop!) stint in the United States where she accidentally became an outlawed alien (also known, especially in immigration circles, as an 'illegal immigrant.' We prefer the term 'outlawed alien' ourselves). During her reversed exile from her homeland, she kept herself occupied by winning this website (but only after shamelessly bribing the judges) and thus being unleashed on the web where she slowly, leisurely became the World's Laziest Blogger; by being a nanny and by attending sci-fi conventions in search of other aliens. In the US, she also made her sailing debut, her international acting debut, tried and failed to learn the piano, and never learned to cook. She is hopelessly addicted to coffee, dogs (especially Labrador Retrievers), how-to books (with a particular fondness for her copy of the Time/Life A - Z Medical Encyclopedia), and she tends to grossly overuse parentheses (we're not kidding) during her attempts at writing, which you may - if you really have masochistic tendencies - subject yourself to by reading the words to the right of this column. If you REALLY and truly STILL want to know more, you can read her C.V. here.
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The Wish List (Because yes, she really does need more how-to books. Honestly!)


  • Helen : I'm sorry, but I think Lulu rocks. I love a chick that takes matters into her own hands like that. ... [go]
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