On Saturday afternoons my childhood friend Barry (see the story The short form of flying) watched Piggeldy and Frederick, a strange cartoon translated into Afrikaans from the original German. I watched it with him because we didn’t have a television. My mother refused to let something into the house that couldn’t listen and wouldn’t shut up. My sister and I pleaded with her but it didn’t help.
“Besides,” my mother added, “we’re poor. Ask your father.”
“Are we poor?” we asked my father.
“We’re not getting a TV,” he said.
So Barry and I watched Piggeldy and Frederick at his house. It was on Channel 1 just after lunch. Barry was fanatical about it—Piggeldy and Frederick could not be missed.
To miss Piggeldy and Frederick was easy. Each episode was only three minutes long. We got ready well before the time and kept very quiet, afraid of Barry’s father and the mute complexion of his anger. He did not approve of cartoons, nor, as far as we could tell, of anything else that others enjoyed.
“Be quiet,” Barry whispered and turned the volume down until he was sure that only we could hear the TV.
Each episode was essentially the same. The opening scene simply said Piggeldy and Frederick. Then we saw Piggeldy, the smaller of two pigs. Piggeldy asked his older brother, Frederick, a question. The entire episode consisted of a few crudely animated scenes in a specific pattern. Barry marvelled at the notion that the whole thing, short as it was, could follow from a single question. In his house, questions were dead ends, the last stops before trouble.
The narrator would say, “Piggeldy wanted to know what love is,” or something similar.
“Nothing easier than that!” Frederick grunted. “Come along!”
And off they went, floating above a field with only their little legs moving. Soon, Piggeldy was overwhelmed by doubt and asked, “Do you truly know what love is?”
“Of course I do,” Frederick said and stopped. “At my age, I must.”
“But tell me then,” Piggeldy implored.
Frederick closed his eyes and rubbed his ear against Piggeldy’s ear.
“Love is like that,” he announced when he was done.
As Barry shifted where he sat against the sofa and wrapped his arms around his knees, I wondered what this meant to him. His parents never touched him, except in anger.
“Is that it?” Piggeldy wanted to know. “Just rubbing ears?”
“There’s more,” Barry whispered as Frederick wavered, “No—it’s also for hunchbacks and bow legs.”
“Bow legs?” Barry whispered. “What’s that?”
“But I have neither a hunched back nor bow legs,” Piggeldy wailed. “So you don’t love me!”
“What’s a bow leg?” Barry whispered again.
“You don’t have one,” I said. “Shut up.”
Piggeldy and Frederick continued, but I knew that Barry was no longer paying attention. He was, I now know, where he’d still be many years later when we sat on a ledge above the Tugela gully and he told me that he was sure you could see him from far away in his mother’s only picture. I think he loved to climb for the same reason he loved Piggeldy and Frederick—both combined the intimacy of contact with the certainty that you’d be let go.
“And then,” the narrator’s voice always said, “Piggeldy and Frederick went home.”