Wednesday, September 13, 2017

hennie, aka tom selleck

Posts I've got in drafts:
- It's Spring and we've been in our lake house for 5 yrs!
- A week of Me and how I came back to life after the madness that was August!
- My Granny turned 100!

Post I'm writing instead: My lovely brother-in-law died and we are bereft.
Because life is weird and unpredictable and very, very strange. And we know this, but it hits home so much starker and harder when you lose someone in the very blink of an eye.

Hennie always knocked off early on a Friday. It was one of the perks of running his own business after years in super-corporate investment banking.
He came home early last Friday to mow his lawn. He always mowed his own lawn because he didn't trust anyone else to do it right, because he was particular about this (and very many things) and because he got great satisfaction out of it.
He mowed his lawn with focus and presence, possibly only wandering off in his thoughts to think about the pizza he'd be making for supper (he converted the whole family to homemade pizza, we've all been using his dough recipe for years, and always will), or the weekend ride he'd had last Sunday with his brothers and his niece (Frieda went as her Dad's pillion), maybe he had a chuckle at the latest hilarious atheist meme he'd messaged to his sister-in-law (me) the day before.
He mowed his lawn in the soft Spring evening air and just as he was finishing - edges perfect, minimal cuttings in the pool - a sudden massive stroke felled him right there and took him from us forever.

I met Hennie when I was 17. He was 37. In Afrikaans culture I should by rights have addressed him as 'oom' (uncle) because of the age difference, but being my boyfriend's brother closed that generational gap and I awkwardly called him by his first name, always feeling a little cheeky for doing so.

There was another reason I felt a little uncomfortable around him.

I'd only a few years back gotten over a teenage crush on this guy - Magnum PI - and my new boyfriend's brother, with his loooong legs, twinkly blue eyes, big mustache and cute giggle awkwardly reminded me of that only recently abated lustful interlude.
I'd had posters of both these images up on my bedroom wall for ages, along with MacGyver and Pancho - my other two tweeny heartthrobs. (Don't judge okay, it was the 80's!)

He was a difficult man then - painfully hygiene-conscious, hard, prone to ranting tirades about all the things he felt were wrong with the world (there were many), still the over-indulged eldest child despite being 1 of 4. All the family deferred to his wishes and as time went on and my position in it got more secure I started baiting him a bit, gently challenging him on issues and subtly telling him to STFU when he got too boring.
I remember once in a restaurant asking him if I could taste his guava milkshake - it seemed like an exotic flavour and I was intrigued. He was so taken aback he let me, and afterwards his other brother told me he'd never seen Hennie share a straw in his life.
Another time I accused him of being a pussy for making a huge fuss about a (smallish) spider, no one else would call him on his shit.
When we first moved to Observatory he commented that a 'lot of gay people' live there. I retorted that a 'lot of gay people' probably lived his neighbourhood too but just didn't feel as free to show it.
We disagreed on a lot of things, but strangely we liked each other a lot (and it wasn't just the Tom Selleck thing).

Hennie was a difficult man, but almost more than anyone else I know he changed. And he worked at changing.
He became less ranty, or at least would catch himself and laugh off whatever was supposedly offending him. He became far less bigoted and he and his wife regularly had dinner with a gay couple (who lived nearby!). He went through a long and measured introspective journey to embrace atheism. He started his own company as I said, and employed people from many different walks of life. He phoned his aged aunt every week for a long chat, he popped in for breakfast or lunch with his mum at least twice a week, he had her over almost every Saturday evening for a braai, or his famous pizza.
He mellowed as he got older, he got gentler.

The last time my husband saw him he was wearing a t-shirt which said 'Normal People Scare Me'. Sheldon Cooper was his profile pic.
He was a funny guy.

He was only 62.

My husband loved him. As a brother, as a friend. They would spend hours on the phone talking bikes and cars. Hennie used to come and LAN game at our house once a week for years before we selfishly started having children. They'd go for rides together, fix things together, laugh at idiots together.
He shared a birthday with Frieda.
We joke he's the source of her long legs.
The girls loved him.

He was the most charismatic curmudgeon I've ever met. He was a gentle giant. For a grumpy guy, he made a lot of people happy.
RIP Hennie, we will miss you so.