Category Archives: My Childhood

Post 181. Val moves on

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Val was never one to sit still.  She was happiest when she was doing nice things for people.  She was a member of the Montclair Methodist Woman’s Auxiliary and visited a senior citizen’s home once a week.  She practised her hairdressing and toenail cutting skills on them.  It was the highlight of her week.  She was a good friend who listened and laughed easily.

A year after dad died, Val joined the Senior Citizen’s BINGO and Bridge club.  It helped her to get over Wilf’s death and filled in the loneliness gap.  It was at this club that she met Albert.  He had recently lost his wife to illness.  They hit it off and within a few months, we got the news that they were planning to get married.

I couldn’t imagine having another dad and it was weird that my mother was going to have another husband.  It was always Wilf and Val.  Now it was going to be Al and Val.

Tony and I weren’t able to make the wedding.  Rig and Sue had “checked him out” and found him to be a nice guy who really loved our mom.  They said she looked really happy too.  He was a carpenter and had converted his garage into a carpentry shop.  He owned a small house up the road in an area called Montclair.

When Mom called to tell me she had to sell 28 Rolleston Place*, I cried.  I loved that house and that neighbourhood.  I wanted my grandkids to sleep in my old room with me.  I wanted to show them how to go down into the drainpipes and under the road.*  I wanted them to play rounders in the park with my friend’s grandchildren.  I felt SO sentimental about it.  It was ridiculous.  I wanted to keep it in our family forever.  That place was full of memories.  OUR memories.  Some other family was going to move in.  For them it would just be an empty new house.

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BUT, it wasn’t my decision to make; it was mom’s.  It was her life.  She had to move on and make it a good one.  Besides, I only visited once every couple of years.  It was also very unlikely that my grandkids would ever be there with me.  Even if they were, by the time they were the right age to climb into drainpipes, I would be sixty something and probably not in any condition to go underground with them.  I had to give it up.

Val got married to Al and moved into his place.  We met him once, about four months into their marriage.  Val was overly protective of his weak heart and our kids had to tiptoe through the house, but he was a lovely man.  I hadn’t seen my mom so happy in years.  Her and dad had become used to each other.  She had lost her sparkle.  Al put it back into her eyes.  It was all very sweet.  She had someone to take care of and Al was as happy as Larry.

A few months later, we got a call to tell us Al had been hospitalised.  His condition was critical.  They were having a barbeque in their garden and Al lit a mosquito coil.  He suddenly had a coughing fit and breathed the smoke into his lungs.  He contracted a form of Hepatitis, which poisoned his system.  Al died two months later.

Val was devastated.  I felt awful I couldn’t be with her in her grief.  She stayed in Al’s house for a few months then moved into a small granny cottage in Pietermaritzburg.  Peter and Char and their daughters, Kendall and Kelsey, lived just up the road.

Their marriage was short but it was happy; they were happier than they had been in years.  They were determined to not let this one get old and stale.  They were going to do things differently.  They were going to keep the romance alive, have fun together, not take each other for granted, speak kind words and make sure they never went to bed angry.

For eleven months, that is just what they did.

PS reader :  I would so love you to read some of my childhood stories.  They will help you to understand my ridiculous emotional attachment to our house and our neighbourhood.   You will have a good laugh too. Go to Archives in the right column: February/March 2013

Post 177. Goodbye Great Grandma.

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Grandma with me

When we asked Grandma why she didn’t have any hair on her legs, she insisted it was because she had worn stockings all her adult life.

The last time we saw her, she was a hundred and four.  One year short of her last breath.  The doctors wondered what she would die of.  Her heart was strong.  Her vital organs were all in perfect condition.

She had grown up on the diamond mines of Kimberly, lived through the great depression and seen the invention of the telephone, aeroplanes and motorcars.

We loved playing with her wrinkled hands and thin greying hair. We would lie across her lap to have our backs tickled with her bent fingers.  She loved to sing.  Our favourites were, “Poor Babes in the Wood” and “Chibbaba, Chibbaba.”  Her voice trembled and shook but her pitch was perfect.

She gave her heart to Jesus and got baptised when she was ninety years old.  The next fifteen years were lived just wanting to be with Him in heaven.

She lived with her only surviving daughter in Johannesburg, but would come to Rolleston Place to stay with us when it got too cold.  David teased her non-stop about having a boyfriend.  Rigby called her Granny Grumps and “Frilly-Brooks.”  She did have some interesting underwear.

Her eyesight started to fail and arthritis got hold of her hands.  In every other way she was still very much alive.   She had an amazing sense of humour. When she started to fall and hurt herself around the house, her daughter put her into an old aged home.  On one of our visits we asked her if she had found a boyfriend yet.  Her reply was, “ Oh there are plenty, I just can’t catch the buggers.”

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Grandma with our girls.

She never used anti-wrinkle cream or foundation.  She ate well and never bothered about how many calories there were in a slice of bread. I never saw her jogging.  She had eleven children and buried ten of them (one baby in a shoe box) one after the other.  She lived to the ripe old age of almost a hundred and five, then fell asleep forever.

My great grandma on dad’s side lived to a hundred and one.  On her hundredth birthday,  a Queen’s representative presented her with a tree to plant in the forest of her choice.  At the ceremony a man started digging the hole.  She grabbed the spade from him and said, “Step aside young man, this is MY tree and I’m going to plant it.”

So much of who we are is genetic; hereditary.  Our mannerisms, personality, way of speaking and our physical make up. That includes how wrinkled we get.  So many hang-ups and addictions are passed down to us from our parents and grandparents.  So are many of our gifts, talents and strengths.

Before we got married, I told Tony about the longevity in my family.  I told him I might be around for a long, LONG time.  He didn’t seem to mind.

I don’t have much hair on my legs.  I have never worn stockings.  Grandma didn’t have any hair on her arms either.

I was always curious about that.

Post 115. Treasure

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It was good to be with Wilf and Val again.  Nothing had changed in Rolleston Place except that a few houses had been re-painted.  No one had died and there were still lots of children everywhere; there were also lots of grandchildren.

The Lowe family

The Lowe family

The girls were made to sing and perform for everyone just like we used to*.  There were muffled giggles at their accents and their Indian head wobbles.  Dave and Bev brought their three boys Jonathan, Cameron and Mitchell around and there was lots of dancing and jiving in the lounge.  Peter and Char had little Kendal and Rig and Sue came with Ryan and Leigh.  No. 28 * was brimming with life again.  We spent lots of time in the pool and soaked up all the sun we could get.  We had come from another cold winter in Mussoorie.

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Wilf was so surprised with his gramophone.  He got really tearful and even more emotional when it actually worked. It was amazing to hear an old vinyl playing with all its funky crackles and scratchy sounds.

Val took me shopping.  What a traumatic experience.  She needed to do a big shop so I took half of her list.  I had no idea where anything was.  I hadn’t been in a supermarket with a trolley for two and a half years.  It was BIG.  It took me ages to get the goods and I made my way back to Val.  Everything I had was the wrong brand.  In Mussoorie we had no name brand sugar, flour and milk.  They all came in clear plastic bags.  As Val started to take things out and put them back, I started crying again.  I told her I would meet her outside.  I didn’t want to go near another supermarket.  Not ever.

I had changed.  Everything in me had been shaken up.  My worldview was different.  I shuddered when my family still called their house helpers “girls” no matter how old they were.  They still called their gardeners “boys” or “John” even though they had names.  There was so much I didn’t like and I had to constantly remind myself to not be critical.

Being with my family again made me think.  How often we lock people up in the boxes of our past.  We presume they are the same as they were a year ago or even a few months ago.  There is an expectation for them to behave a certain way and when they don’t we are taken by surprise.  That holiday together helped me to let people out of those boxes I had put them in.  He is like that, she is like that or even I am like that.

We change.  We are flexible and adjustable.  We can go from one culture to another and adjust to it.  It may be difficult but it’s not impossible.  I may not like it or agree with it, but I can be happy in it.  If I look for the good and not the bad, I will find it.  If I have to use a microscope I can do that too.  There is so much good in people; SO many kind, lovely people in the world.

A poor man looks through the rubbish to find treasure.  How often I have found myself standing in a pile of treasure, looking for rubbish.

* Post 5.  Honky Tonk

* Post 7.  Smoking banana leaves

Post 18. Wilf Lowe

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Dad in his element

Dad in his element

Dad’s jazz collection kept growing and so did his knowledge and influence in the world of jazz.  He had one of the biggest, oldest jazz collections in the world. People loved his radio programmes “Artistry in Rhythm” and “Jazz Journal” and he became known as “South Africa’s Jazz King”.  He got lots of letters from Jazz fans all over the world and won a trip to England on the “100,000 TO GO” quiz show. The topic was JAZZ of course. He knew the ins and outs of jazz. The Quiz Master had to scramble for other questions when the puritan jazz man refused to answer certain questions, stating “That is NOT a jazz question”.  Well, he won a trip for two, to the land of his birth.  It was his first trip home in 20 years.

 

Lots of jazz vinyls

Lots of jazz vinyls

 

His sister and her family visited us once. It was a culture shock for all of us.   They were so different.  We were used to my dad’s accent and we didn’t consider him to be a foreigner.  Our cousins were pink and soft; REALLY soft.   They were 18 and 16 and very slim and their hands were kind of floppy.  When they arrived at 28 Rolleston Place, the whole neighbourhood came out to see them.  They were watched from the swings, see-saw, the slide, the trees and a few lace curtains were slightly open.  My aunt asked her eldest son to help her with her suitcase and in his very sing-songy, high voice he said, “Oh cum on muvver.”   They were ok after a while and I think I may have even fallen in love with the younger one.  He looked like one of the Beatles.  His name was Peter and his brother was David. Very original of my dad and his sister I thought.

They had an unusual way of kissing.  It was always on the side of our cheeks but their lips never touched any part of our faces.  South Africans kissed on the lips so we considered it rude and snobbish to do it any other way.  They were always fully clothed and never bare footed.   We ran around like the street kids we were, always bare foot and barely clad.  They watched us going up and down trees, in and out of every one’s house and to their horror, climbing through the underground storm water drain pipes which ran about 6 foot under the road.  They had arrived in Africa alright and they didn’t need a safari.

We learnt a bit about dad during that visit.  His younger brother had been killed in a motorbike accident when he was 16.  Wilf wanted to join the Navy but had no qualifications so he joined the Merchant Navy as a ship’s carpenter and started his life of travel.

Wilf and his sister Flo had been evacuees during the Second World War.  He remembered the bombing of London and had quite a collection of shrapnel and war relics.

One of my favourite things to do was to jitterbug with dad.  He had won the Jitterbug Championships in Kent for a few years in a row.  I was small and flexible and loved being thrown around by him.

It seemed to me that dad could see himself in Dave and didn’t like it.  Dad wasn’t the goody-goody we had all thought he had been; Merchant Navy, sailor’s lifestyle, drinking, smoking, (he got TB when he was in his early 20s) and goodness knows what else.  Things changed when us kids came along. There was no alcohol or any other substance allowed in our house.

Except for when Papa stayed.  He had plenty. Val kept trying to flush it down the toilet, but it would pop up again.  We would help him make his cigarettes with a little roller, paper and tobacco.  It was fun licking the edge of the paper to finish it off.  Papa had to leave when he wouldn’t stop drinking.  He moved into a small flat in town with his budgie.

Wilf had done it all and he did everything he could to stop us from doing what he had done.  He lost Dave and Sue in the process.  It seemed to me that he just didn’t know how to do it.

Post 17. Strain

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Sunday School

Sunday School

Dad started family movies at the Methodist hall on Saturday evenings.  We all thought it was so he could keep an eye on Sue and her boyfriends.  She was shocked one night when both of them arrived for the show.  Dad would go around with a torch and shine it on the teenagers sitting in the back row.  He wasn’t popular.  We watched every episode of Mission Impossible, The Avengers, The Lone Ranger and The Three Stooges.

That was when I first tried eye makeup.  We had been at Brenda’s house and went straight to the Methodist Hall.  I went to say hi to Val.  She looked at me and said “Did someone hit you?”

“The Lowes” were Methodists and proud of it.  We were members of the Montclair Methodist Church.  Dad would drop us off at church and read his newspaper in the car until it was over. When they needed a superintendent for the Sunday school they knocked on the car window. They figured that dad had nothing better to do on Sunday mornings.  Dad was irritated that his reading had been interrupted, but he accepted the proposal.

Sunday best

Sunday best

We would dress up in our Sunday best and attend church then Sunday school. Church was quite an experience. It was so quiet and there was, “No talking until it’s over!”  The four of us would always get the giggles and we would be separated from each other. Then we would get separated again and again until there were no more combinations of separation. We giggled at the minister in his black dress and white collar; we giggled at the funny wobbly voice that came from Mrs O’Neill sitting behind us and we giggled at the intense look on Wilf and Val’s faces when we just could not stop.  Val would  slap our leg if we got too noisy and that set off the ones who didn’t get it.  If we got uncontrollable giggles we would be marched out and sorted out.

Papa was funny. He would pretend to take money out of the offering bag and would take an extra swig of communion wine when it came around. No matter how bad the experience was, we didn’t miss a Sunday.  We were regular “church goers”.

Sunday school was better than church.  We learnt Bible verses and fun songs about how Moses parted the Red Sea but none of it changed anything.  It just gave me a love for singing and Bible Stories.  By the time I was twelve I could see the hypocrisy of my Sunday school teachers and was bothered that they couldn’t answer my questions.

It was then that tension came into our house.  With the jazz clubs, entertaining of visiting jazz singers and musicians, dad’s radio programmes and band managing, my parent’s social lives were taking strain. The strange and awful word “divorce” had crept into our peaceful, happy lives.  It became very tense.

With the tension came insecurity.  I would lie awake listening to dad’s music but I could also hear their unhappy voices.  It was horrible.  I wondered what would happen to me if they got divorced; where we would all end up, what it would all mean.  No-one I knew had been divorced, but I knew that it meant the end of a happy family. We all drifted further and further away from each other and the church.

BUT, everything had to look good to anyone who might be looking.  We could never talk about our problems outside of the four walls of our house.  We were decent people.  We were “Christians.”

Post 16. Someone is always watching.

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Mowat Park (also known as “The Maternity Ward”) was our local girl’s high school, and that was where I was headed with all my friends.   New Forest Boys High School was where the fathers were.  News reached us that Sue was about to be expelled for ongoing bad behaviour. Val decided it would be a good idea to take Sue out and put us both in another high school outside of our area.  It meant that I would have to leave my friends. I made sure Val knew I wasn’t thrilled.

I was bold, cheeky, small, daring, friendly, bossy and cute and I had all the swear words I needed to keep people in their place. I was 13 and ready to take on the world.

To get to Mitchell Girls High School on the Berea, we got a lift with the Rutherfords who lived at the entrance to the circle, next to Mr Menzies.  Tommy Rutherford was a plumber with a big paunch.  He had three daughters, Janice, Tralee and Karen and a lovely wife, Marcia.  They were all really funny and we practically lived in their house.

When I was much younger, I found a metal wedge in someone’s garden.  It was small and smooth and it had a nice sharp side.  I was sitting on the carpet next to their wooden coffee table and I tapped it with the wedge.  It made an amazing design in the wood and I just couldn’t stop. By the time I was caught, the entire table was covered in my pretty wedge design.  I was the only one who was proud of me.  I had no money so Wilf had to pay.  Wilf didn’t like to pay.

They had a beautiful fish tank in their lounge and one day I was helping Tommy to clean it.  When he left the room I put my hand into the tank and started splashing around. A drop of water went onto the hot fluorescent tube and it made a lovely hissing sound.  There was also a little puff of smoke.  I flicked the surface of the water towards the tube again and again and again.  Seconds later there was an explosion of glass into the fish tank.  Tommy flew in and caught me with my hand still in the tank and panic on my face.  There were a few deaths but I survived.

Soon after that Tommy taught me one of the most beautiful songs I had ever heard.

“Be careful little hands what you do

Be careful little hands what you do

There’s a Father up above

Looking down at you with love

So be careful little hands what you do”

He went on to sing of the feet, eyes, ears and the song went on and on. When he sung it I felt loved by somebody.  For the first time in my life, I was aware that someone was always watching me.

Post 15. Weed

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Our parties were good clean fun until our older siblings started experimenting with alcohol and weed. They thought it was cool to share their new found pleasure with us.

Sue was caught smoking and denied it all.    I was devastated when I slept the night over with some of her friends and I saw her smoking inside her sleeping bag.  Her and her friends showed me how to shoplift in Grey Street, Durban (then called Coolie/Indian Town).  We would come home with lots of beautiful “Coolie Bangles” up our jersey sleeves in the middle of summer. The SCA (Student Christian Association) had regular visits from Sue, mockingly dancing through their meetings.  When she was 13 she dated Gordon Igesund (South African Soccer Coach) which displeased dad no end. When Mr Menzies moved out (we had made the poor man’s life really miserable), the Igesunds moved in. Gordon and Sue were banned from seeing each other.  All hell broke loose on her when dad found out she was at the same party as Gordon. He walked into the party while she was dancing and pulled her out by her arm and escorted her all the way to the car.  That was one of her big embarrassing moments. Resentment began to build up towards dad.  Just before she was expelled from Mowat Park Girls High School, she was pulled out and  put into Mitchell Girls High.

Dave smoked pot with our African gardener Amos and anyone else who would smoke with him. Dad called him an “uncouth youth,” and was constantly lecturing and disciplining him.  Every now and again dad would laugh at something naughty that Dave said. It would be undone when Dave went into hysterical laughter at the table and sprayed  food on dad. Farting was one of Dave’s favourite activities and he chose the moment just after grace to express himself.

We teased poor Peter endlessly about being adopted, but mum had photos to prove to him that he wasn’t.  Going to the beach was a nightmare for me.  I would watch Peter like a hawk and at the end of the day, his arms were black and blue from all my squeezing.   I was his protector and he wasn’t allowed anywhere near the sea.  When he was about 3, I heard that peanut butter was good for toddlers so I forced tablespoons of peanut butter into his mouth.  He would gag and throw up but I would just shovel more in.

He was also very accident prone.  In his fifth year of life he fell out of the car on the way home from the Drive-IN.  I was in the back of the car with him and didn’t notice that he had pulled the handle.  He dropped out and onto the road.  I went hysterical and Val had to slap my face to bring me round.  He was fine;  just a few cuts and scrapes and he loved the fuss and the big bandage around his head.  He also fell onto the BBQ with all the meat.  His hands were burnt in a grid design.

When he was 9 he would take on anybody the bigger boys dared him to take on.  He would wrestle and punch and fight until he was pulled off.  He was also dared to down a bottle of Old Brown Sherry which he did.  He was VERY sick.

Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-Tail and Peter were taking strain.