Tag Archives: childhood

Post 23. Changes

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Papa and Mom- my grandparents on my mum's side.

Papa and Mom- my grandparents on my mum’s side.

Billy Graham was coming to town!  I had no idea who he was.  I guessed he was a great man because there was a great fuss.  Lindy’s mum had been asked to play the piano for the crusade. She was really excited.  Lindy was going to turn the pages for her so she would also be on the stage.

Somehow I managed to get my whole family there.  Dad literally dragged Sue into the car; almost kicking and screaming.

We arrived at the Billy Graham Crusade with thousands of others.  I was amazed that so many people had come and I wondered if any of my old Sunday school teachers were there.   Papa came with us under a lot of duress.  He was rolling his home made cigarettes and mumbling about a fly that had flown into his eye.  “Of all the thousands of people here, why did it choose my eye?”  There was a lot of complaining coming from Sue and Papa.

From way back in the stadium, Dave and I could see Lindy on the stage. We told Wilf and Val that we needed the toilet and made our way to her. We stood behind the stage messing around and talking to friends.  We didn’t hear a word Billy was saying. Before we knew it, thousands of people started coming towards the stage.  Dave and I were caught up in the crowd.  Two counsellors asked us if we wanted to become followers of Jesus.  We both nodded.  Dave closed his eyes and so did I.  It was a short prayer and I knew what it meant.  I wasn’t sure Dave did.  I was really nervous that he was going to add, “and God bless the Zulu boys.”  We gave the people our address and that was that.

We drove home with such tension in the car.  Dad and Mom couldn’t find us in the crowd and Sue and Papa were really playing up.  Over the next couple of days we found out that each one of us had gone forward at the end of Billy Graham’s preach.

After that night with Billy Graham, one of the first things that changed was my temper.  I was more patient.  Somehow I didn’t want to hurt people with my words anymore.  The fear of fire left me and I was secure, knowing that when I died, I would go to heaven.  I knew then how to answer Lindy. My only answer to God would be, “Because of Jesus.”

Wilf and Val were NOT happy.  Suddenly religion became the main topic for discussion.  During an argument I told them that they needed to be born again otherwise they wouldn’t go to heaven. For the first time in my life, Val slapped me across the face.  “How can you say that?  Don’t you know your father is the superintendent of the Sunday school?  If anyone deserves to go to heaven it would be us.”  I told her I didn’t say it, Jesus did.  From that night on there were to be no religious discussions in the house; especially not at the table.  There was more tension than ever.

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Post 21. Zulus and Indians

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Fear wasn’t a stranger to me.  I feared many things. My biggest fear was the Zulus.  I thought one day they would come into our circle with their spears and shields and that would be the end of us all.

There were some black people around but they were different. They worked for us.  They lived in the kaiyas (small rooms) in the back of our gardens. We called the ladies “girls” no matter how old they were. The men were “boys.”  Many of them were “John.”  Some had funny names like “Hyacinth” or “Garden Boy.”

When I was really small, Margaret was our first “girl.” She was older than Val. She wore a uniform with a matching apron.  She had her very own aluminium cup and plate which she drank and ate from.  We never asked what she wanted for lunch.  She always got 2 thick slices of white bread with mixed fruit jam and she had coffee with two big teaspoons of sugar.

They were so quiet and un-demanding.  Their families weren’t allowed to live with them.  Angela came after Margaret left.  Her son Lucas used to come for the holidays and we loved him to bits. We loved his curly hair and white teeth.  He was one of David’s best friends.  We never really understood why he couldn’t come to school with us. He always had to go back to the village.  Angela missed him and she missed her husband.

Amos our gardener was David’s weed smoking buddy.  He loved to tease Kim, our little fox terrier.  One day she had enough and bit him. Amos waited for the right moment to get her back.  Dad was looking out of the window one day and saw Amos creeping up behind her.  She was doing her doggy-doos and the last thing she was expecting was a kick in her bum.

Maids and gardeners were part of our lives and we saw them as friends.  Dave played soccer with the gardeners in the park after work.  He was the only white boy.  They got pretty rowdy. One of the neighbours called the police to report them for disturbing the peace and for playing soccer in a “white” park.  The police van arrived and the “boys” were piled in.  They didn’t touch Dave.  We dropped our bicycles and ran to call dad.  He marched across and told them to take Dave, since he had also disturbed the peace.   They got the point and the gardeners were let off.

It was different with the ones we didn’t know.  We were scared of them.  There was always the feeling that they weren’t happy with us.  They lived their own lives and we had no idea how they lived them.  They had their own toilets and buses.  We never saw them at the movies or concerts. That’s just how it was.

Indians were different.  Maybe because they looked like us,  except for their colour. The only Indian who came into the circle was “The Sammy”.  He used to drive around in his open van full of vegetables.  He was friendly until he caught David and I stealing handfuls of French beans and peas from the van.  He warned us over and over again but we kept doing it.  One day there was a knock at our front door and it was a policeman.   David and I hid under the bed on the front veranda and listened with terror to the conversation between my mum and the policeman.

Policeman:  The Sammy has reported that your children have been stealing his vegetables.

Mum: Are you sure they were MY children?

Policeman: Yes,  David and Linda.

Mum (who saw us hiding under the bed):  Well, what do you want to do with them?

Policeman: (Wink, wink) Well if they are caught again we will have to arrest them and put them in jail.

Mum: Ok that will be fine with me.  Thank you, officer.

Our eyes were huge and we were white with fear.   Mum dragged us both out from under the bed and we got the hiding of our lives. That was the last time we did that.

Life for us white kids was good.  We never asked how or where our helpers lived.  We had no idea what their “village” was like and there was a quiet belief that somehow we were helping each other.   I was ok with that.

Post 20. The Pentecostals

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“They swing from the chandeliers and turn off the lights and chase chickens,” Dave told us.  Of course we believed him.  The Woodlands Full Gospel Church was just down the road. We would take a short cut past the cute Hendicott boy’s house, over a small wall, across the church parking and onto Brenda’s house.  We ran like someone was chasing us across that parking lot.  On a few occasions when things got really noisy, we threw stones on their roof to see what they would do. 

I was surprised Lindy went to THAT church.  A bit disappointed too.  She was such a nice girl.  We were given a school project to do together and she invited me to sleep over at her house.  It was love at first sight.  Her family loved me and I loved them.  From then on I slept over as often as I could.  She had the most amazing parents, Bill and Miranda. 

They were a singing family like us.   Bill was really funny.  He once told me that I was the bubbles in his soda water.  Coke more like it.  He drank a lot of Coke.  Miranda played the piano and there was always music in their house.  Bev was nice and Lindy was so much fun.  She loved swimming, diving and dancing (just not the party type) and she had lots of energy.  

The Stuthridges started to fill the emptiness in my life.   They talked a lot about what they believed, which my family never did.  It wasn’t long before they asked me to go to church with them.   

It was so noisy.  I sat and listened and watched for any signs of swinging or chasing.   There was a lot of clapping and loud singing and the women all had to cover their heads. Old “Brother Clancy” would speak in a strange language.  He always started with, “Corianda ba shandai!” I noticed that as soon as he started, everyone sat down.  He went on for 15 minutes calling down hell fire and brimstone on all who were listening.  There weren’t many.

There were some unusual people there.  David Overall talked to himself and touched his hair all the time and the loud, throaty singer Dicky Thomas seemed to think he was the main attraction.  Gavin worked in a chewing gum factory and he sneakily snuck boxes of gum to all the girls.  The pastor’s son Billy took a liking to me.  He would keep me a seat and get really upset if I didn’t sit in it.   He was special.  He walked around slapping his inner thigh really loudly, shouting “Billy Nanaaaaaas!”   There were also some lovely people who were very friendly and made me feel comfortable. 

With all that went on, I’m not sure why I kept going back.  I loved the Stuthridges but I wasn’t sure about their church.  I knew they weren’t perfect. That was obvious.  But, they had something my family didn’t have and I was starting to think I wanted it. 

I had lots of questions but I never thought to ask them how they got up to the chandeliers or what they did with the chickens when they caught them.

Post 19. High School

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Sue and I went to Mitchell Girls High.  Unfortunately Sue’s reputation went before her.  I didn’t think that was fair. I never asked how that happened, but she was in trouble from the day she arrived.  One of my teachers made it clear that I would not be allowed to follow in my big sister’s footsteps.

Well, I really put on a show to make sure they enjoyed it.  The older girls loved me and dared me to do all kinds of things. I was always ready for some fun.  We started a false alarm fire drill and before we knew it, the whole school was on the field.  No-one owned up.  We bunked classes and met behind the pre-fabs where the big girls had their smoke breaks.

One day Lindy, Diane Stone and I decided to meet in the sick room.  We were having a great time laughing and chatting until we heard Miss Odell’s knocky shoes coming down the hallway.  We covered our faces with the sheets and waited for her to go past.  I nearly died of fright when she pulled the sheet off and marched us off to her office.  We had been there many times so she didn’t have to lead us.

Miss Beasley was our extremely thin, bug-eyed, lanky, black haired French teacher.  I don’t think she was well, but we didn’t think to ask.  We made her life hell.  We tied invisible cotton to both sides of the chalk and as she went for it, it was pulled from one side to the other.  We let off stink bombs, locked someone in the cupboard and told her we had no idea where the key was. The pranks were unending. She hated our class.

Michelle, the Australian exchange student was white blonde and red faced, especially when she blushed.  She did a handstand against the wall. Her dress hung over her head and her panties were displayed for all to see.  Mrs Beasley came in and commanded whoever it was to come down.  THIS instant!  She shouted and ranted and we laughed until we cried.  Michelle eventually came down, blood red and dishevelled.  Poor Miss Beasley was in tears once again.

During winter we had to wear black hats, ties and stockings.  They were awful.  The first thing I did was to cut the wire rim off my hat and moosh it until it was soft and floppy.  I had a real problem keeping my stockings from getting laddered and I was always getting caught for having my tie undone.

Getting home from school wasn’t easy.  We had to catch a bus into town and then one to Rolleston Place.  It would take more than an hour.  If I had detention or any activity after school I would miss the connection and arrive home after dark.  I often arrived home crying and full of fear.

Fear wasn’t a stranger to me.  Growing up in South Africa there was plenty to be scared of.

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.