My great-grandfather, a good old-fashioned Presbyterian elder, believed that all who weren’t of his religious persuasion would end up on Judgment Day tumbling head over heels into the darkest and deepest depths of the fiery abyss, shouting out as they fell headlong and helpless Lord-Lord-we-didnae-ken-we didnae-ken! and in reply they would hear the good Lord’s cheery voice booming down from on high – “WEEL, YE KEN NOO!
For him Judgment day held no fears. Quite the opposite. As one of The Elect he would be able to watch his enemies receive their just and merited punishments for his God was indeed a vindictive god, made in his own image.
My grandfather on the other hand reacted against this Calvinistic vision. When he was 16, he left home, school, church, country for Canada – Dawson City – and returned after 20 silent years, not in a big, flashy car, not splashing money about, not loud-mouthed and full of tales of bravado but what you see in a vulgarised form nowadays on television – a secret millionaire. He posted money to people who for whatever reason seemed in dire need of it and to those who could benefit others by being better off – all this coming to light only after his death. God, for him, was other people; like in the John Lennon song – Imagine – no hell, no heaven
And then we come to my father. He went to St. Andrews University, took a degree in geology then seemingly in his father’s footsteps went abroad – Australia – mining – the bowels of the earth – the other side of the world, far and deep enough away to be thought of as a fairly permanent move. But something happened. At some stage in any family history, something ( kept vague, mysterious, side-of-the-nose-touching stuff) h-a-p-p-e-n-s and life can never be the same again. Something happened and he came ‘home’ again. His favourite saying was the title of a book by Thomas Wolfe – ‘You Can’t Go Home Again’. I think he felt he’d taken the correct first step – going to Australia – then chickened out, run home to Mummy, back to his comfort zone, and been ashamed of his lack of determination and purpose ever since. God, for my father, was that inner sense of purpose and direction with which he had unfortunately lost contact.
And me? I went to Africa. Kenya. Kiambu. A coffee Farm. Loved it all. Three marriages. I wasn’t good at marriage. Two children. I wasn’t the best father in the world. No religion. Never felt the need for it.