In the mid-eighties, the economic bite was being felt in the construction industry. The Roberts Construction Grout laboratory for which Jed (Charles Howard) worked reduced staff, leaving Jed redundant after thirteen years with them. My company, SNA, consulting engineers, had been designing eighty-odd kilometres of freeway in the Orange Free State Province and were preparing to increase staff for the supervision of its construction. At my suggestion, they agreed to interview Jed for a position in their site laboratory.
Later, he phoned me, somewhat agitatedly, demanding to know what I had told them about him. Puzzled, I asked him what had happened. He said that he had been interviewed by the two top directors who seemed to be fairly non-committal until, at the close, they had asked him how he had heard of the position. When he gave my name, they seemed relieved, told him the job was his and then had thrown the rest of the applications into the wastepaper basket! Hence, his question to me; he wanted to know what glowing reference I had given them that he now had to live up to.
When I asked the directors concerned, Dolf van Huyssteen and Vissie Visser, I found the answer. All the other applications, which included those of secretaries and other positions, had already been decided upon and were from employment agencies to whom a percentage was now due. Jed’s application, being free of such considerations, was a relief and as he was the last applicant, they could discard all the papers. Jed and I had a good laugh when I told him, but he had already established himself as a hardworking, conscientious member of their team. Unfortunately for the company, the freeway was privatized and they felt that they were in an impossible position with their client being the contractor, as well, and withdrew, but they kept Jed on. He found himself on a site far to the south of Johannesburg, rehabilitating a concrete road for nearly a year. However, he had a long way to commute home, every evening.
Sheila and I were awoken, a week after their last visit at 2 a.m. by the telephone’s insistent and at that time of night, ominous ringing. It was Valery and Jed’s neighbour with shocking news. There had been a car accident.
Jed was dead. 26th November 1987.
He had driven into the back of a heavily laden truck at eleven o’clock, just three hours before we got the news. The police came to tell Valery, who had called her neighbour. We told the lady that we would contact Val when she had gotten over the worst of the shock.
Val held a wake for Jed after the church service, early the next week. We did not go to either. Firstly, we felt that Jed, who was not a church-going man, would have found it hypocritical and secondly, as we had this strong feeling that Jed was still around, there was no point in saying goodbye just then.
The day after the accident, a snake in the St Vincent’s Catholic Church near our farm, that Val used to attend, without Jed, when they visited us, had all the nuns vacating it abruptly. Sheila and I both felt his presence at the farm for quite a while afterwards and I am not ashamed to admit, we chatted aloud to him.
Two years afterwards, I was picking mushrooms in the bush after some good rains that we had had. There was a good crop of white parasols and horse mushrooms about, but seldom in groups of more than two or three. I was about two hundred metres from the homestead in a dense clump of euphorbia and acacia with Sam and another dog. The two started growling fiercely, obviously the sound of combat. Dropping the fungi, I tore through the bush to find them attacking a which stood raised to a metre above the ground. When it stayed where it was, I realised that Sam had broken its back, but I yelled for them to come away. With a stab of horror, I saw Sam lurch. Scooping her up in my arms, shouting No! No! I ran for the house. Half way there, she started vomiting. I kept on, yelling for Sheila to get the truck out. She had it ready before I arrived; gravel spurted from the wheels as we hurtled the six kilometres to the village, and the vet.
But she died as I laid her on the grass.
“Jed always wanted her,” Sheila said quietly.
We missed Sam awfully, but it made it that much easier knowing where she was.