Tag Archives: New Zealand

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.

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Post 14. Fire

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Our cousins Beverly, Karen, Raymond and Margaret Cale lived in Westville.  We thought they were rich and we loved visiting them in their big house in Renown Road.  Their pool was the big attraction before we got ours.  It was another world for us.  Uncle Wally was a drummer and he gigged with Wilf in his Dixieland band.  There was a free flow of alcohol in their house and their parties were slightly wilder than ours.  When the adults were happier than usual we would go into the bedrooms to play.

Their granny, Mrs Buckley had funny big, square teeth that clicked and moved when she spoke.  She always had a cigarette in her hand and she smelt funny.  Val had to regularly tell us to “Stop staring!  It’s rude”.  Well rude or not when Val wasn’t around, Mrs Buckley had us all right there in her face.

There was a big fire in the field next door to their house and I was terrified.  I had heard from the Schwegmanns that the world was going to end in fire and that I would be going to hell when I died.  I thought that was it.   It was huge and it was hot.  I went hysterical and when I realised that I couldn’t save myself, my family or the world, I sat in their pool and cried.

I wouldn’t even light a match in case I started the end of world.  From our front veranda where my grandfather Papa stayed, we could see the oil refinery on the Bluff.  The flame that burned all day and all night was a constant source of anxiety for me.  I would sit on Papa’s bed and look at it out of the window. He told me over and over again that it could never reach our house, but I never believed him.  It was over 15 kilometres away but I would sit at that window and watch and wait for it to consume the world.

Fear wasn’t a stranger to me.  I feared Dave jumping out at me in the passage, and I feared that Peter would die.  I feared the Zulus and the white men that may drive past me and pull me into their car.  I feared fire, hell and the end of the world. I was also scared of dying and I was reminded of that possibility every night when we said our prayers.

“Now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray the Lord my soul to keep,

If I should die before I wake,

I pray the Lord my soul to take,

God bless Mommy,

God bless Daddy,

God bless everyone I love AAAAAAmmmmmmmennnn.”

Dave started to add “and God bless the Zulu boys” which made us all giggle. Soon after that, our family prayers stopped.  Dad felt we were being sacrilegious.  Nothing was sacred with David the clown there.

Post 13. Dancing Queen

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Brenda and I on the Riverboat Shuffle

Brenda and I on the Riverboat Shuffle

When I was 11,  I had some really good friends.  Our girl “gang” consisted of four shorties and two tall-ies. Brenda Blench, Bridget Bauristhene, Deidre McGregor and I were the shorties.  Colleen Sutton and Karin Garcin were the tall-ies. There were other friends, but we were tight. We fought each other and then fought for each other.  We all met in Class 1 at Woodlands Infants School.

Holidays were spent by the pool and in the sun.  We would cover ourselves with cooking oil and when we felt we weren’t brown enough, someone suggested that we lie on tin foil.   Someone (maybe it was that same someone) had the brilliant idea of cutting band-aids into the initials of our boyfriend/girlfriend. After a long day in the sun, the plaster would come off and there were the very white initials of the one we loved.  By the next weekend, if we didn’t love them anymore, we would just tan over it.

This was when David Attrill asked me to go out with him.  We “went out” for two and a half years.  He was cute, mischievous and full of energy.  I remember him coming down the hill on his bike to Brenda’s house one day after school, flapping his arms like a chicken and singing “Oh Mammy, Oh Mammy, Mammy Blue, oh Mammy Blue.”

Wilf organised “River Boat Shuffles” on the Durban harbour.  Two ferries were filled with jazz fans and a jazz band was set up on each one. We danced for hours and then met in the middle for a “Battle of the Bands”.  That was the first time I saw Wilf slightly tipsy.  He was in his element.

Parties were mainly for dancing, practising our kissing and having fun.  Brenda Blench and I were the “dancing queens”.  We created dances and then introduced them at the next party.  We would walk in a big group of girls and boys from Woodlands to Montclair, Yellowwood Park and wherever else there was a party.  Dave and I had issues and it really came to a head at the party held at the Murray’s house in Nagle Square.  He got fed up with me going out with his friends and I got fed up with him flirting with mine.  He started pushing me around and got me in a grip I couldn’t get out of.  I head butted him and gave him a bloody nose and that was the end of that.  The fight I mean. We still stole each other’s friends.

Brenda was my best friend. She was a red-head and short like me. Her parents were heavy drinkers and loved the horses.  Brenda told me her mom had lost 7 babies. Six of them were boys.  Something about her mother’s blood and boys.  Her sister Rosemary was much older and lived far away.  Every now and again she would come and rescue Brenda from the roughness of her life.  We spent a lot of time at her house because it was always flowing with soft drinks and nice food.  After a bad drinking bout,  her dad would shout “Brenda!” and she would go in and clean him up.  My heart hurt for her but she was so brave.  She had an uncle called Uncle Bill who lived with them.  He was sweet but had very bad eating habits.  One day Brenda and I were kicking each other under the table and giggling at the way he was messing and gobbling his food.  When we looked under the table, we realised that we had both been kicking Uncle Bill.  During the holidays we would listen to music and dance any time of the day.  Her mom taught us various card games in case we ever wanted to make more money than our careers would bring in.  I also learnt a lot about the horses.   It was during those days that I made a decision that alcohol was never going to be a part of my life. It cured me forever.

Post 12. Books and Jazz

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Val - dad's favourite model. Wilf Lowe - Tru- Life Studios

Val – Dad’s favourite model.
Wilf Lowe.  Tru- Life Studios

There was always something to do at home.  I would spend hours sitting on the fluffy carpet in front of the bookcase in the passage.  Books were to be treated like people; gently and with respect.  We weren’t allowed to touch the ones on the top shelf but there were two shelves just for us.  Enid Blyton and Beatrix Potter took up a lot of the space.  Then there were the Bobbsy Twins and all the Annuals of our favourite magazines; Lucy Attrill, Topper, Beano, Dandy, Thunderbirds and of course Black Beauty, Rupert and Paddington were all there.   I read them all numerous times.   There was a picture book about a little boy on the Amazon River that I read over and over again.  I was fascinated and dreamt of going there one day.  Reading was my favourite thing to do.  Val would catch me reading under the blankets late into the night.  The torch told on me.

The passage was also for practising gymnastics. It was perfect for headstands against the wall, backbends, splits and forward walks; just too small for cartwheels.   I loved that passage and hated it too.  Dave loved to hide and jump out at me from the rooms.  I was a nervous wreck.

There was one bathroom with a tub and washbasin and a separate room for the toilet.  It was tiny.  We all tried to get in there before dad and his newspaper did.  They were immovable until the paper was finished.

The bookshelf on the back veranda was piled high with, “World of Knowledge” and “Look and Learn” magazines.  They would arrive in the post every month and there was a fight to see who could read them first.

When we got too old for family concerts, dad would play dictionary scramble with us.  We each had our own Little Oxford Dictionary. He would say a word and we raced to see who could find it first.  I loved words and spelling was my forte. My favourite word was the longest one in the dictionary and we learnt how to spell and say it: floccinaucinihilipilification.  I loved that it meant “meaninglessness”.

Then there was our wooden “Flick” board.  It was square and there was a pocket on each corner.  We each got a red “goon” and we had to flick the black and beige discs into the pockets.  There were a few rules and they were usually broken; especially the one about having to stay in your seat.  We got at those discs in whatever position we could.

Getting ready for an evening at home.

Getting ready for an evening at home.

When we were bored we would open the fridge door and stare into it and if dad wasn’t around we drank out of the milk bottle.  Val hid the tins of condensed milk on the top shelf of the highest cupboard.  She should have known that nothing was hidden from us.  We got the tiniest nail from dad’s workshop and banged the tiniest hole into the side of the lid.  Whenever she wasn’t around, we each took the tiniest sip and put it back on the shelf.

At night we would go to sleep listening to the Jazz greats crooning away. Big Bands were our lullabies.  Dad’s jazz collection covered one of the walls in the lounge and that was his favourite place in the evenings.  We would sit and listen to the drama about Porgy and Bess or anything else dad thought might interest us.

TV was banned from our house until we all grew up and left home.  Family concerts, dress ups, singing, dancing were much more fun than sitting around watching other people doing it.

Post 11. Fatty Allan

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One of our favourite comic characters.

One of our favourite comic characters.

The Schwegmann family consisted of 7 children; 5 girls and 2 boys.  They were the Pentecostal family in the circle. They were the ones who kept us all feeling guilty for any bad thing we thought or did.  Movies, parties, jeans, make-up, jewellery and anything else the Lowe’s loved, was “sinful”, but they did join in our escapades when it was convenient.  Their mother, Dawn, ruled the house and kept everyone on track. Gary Snr was a South African boxer and a non-church-goer.  He was like one of the kids.  Dawn preached to him from the moment his eyes opened to the time he went to sleep.  He just wasn’t interested.  He was a lot like us and we liked him.

Gary Jnr was the first boy I kissed and “spin the bottle” was the game that made it happen.  A bottle was put in the middle of the circle of boys and girls.  Someone spun it and if it pointed to you and you were of the opposite sex, you had to go into the cupboard and kiss them.  Most kids flew out of the cupboard wiping their mouths in horror and disgust.  Others were quite happy to keep kissing even when the game had stopped.

There were many sleepovers at their house.  I loved their big bedroom with 5 beds lined up next to each other, one for each girl, from oldest to youngest.

The Allan family lived near the entrance to the circle.  There was Old Mr and Mrs Allan, Gregory Allan, his sister and his mom, who we called “Fatty Allan”.  We felt the reasons were obvious.  One afternoon, Gregory came huffing across the park with an envelope in his hand.  5 minutes later, Val was marching across the park to his house.  Fatty Allan was fuming mad and inconsolable.  Someone had cut up a Little Lotta Comic and written some pretty ugly stuff about her and Fatty Allan being related.  We were all called in and interrogated and Val was convinced that her kids had NOTHING to do with such an awful incident. Every child in the circle was blamed and every one of us was innocent.  Susan Lowe and Glenda Schwegmann owned up months later when they thought it was too late to get disciplined for it.  They were wrong.  Val and Dawn made sure they felt very sorry.

We got to the Schwegmann kids and then they got to us. It took years of preaching and telling us how sinful we were, but when we finally came round, the Lowe family was changed forever.

Post 10. Running away

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The prodigal

The prodigal

For some reason, we were always threatening to run away from home.  It was usually after getting disciplined for something.  We would plot and plan together but there wasn’t ever anywhere to go.  The circle was all we knew.  If Val heard of our plot she would ask us to get our school suitcase out and she would offer to help us pack.  That really scared  us.

Peter almost pulled it off.  He was about 6 and he was running away from home.  Mom, trying not to laugh, calmly helped him pack his tiny brown suitcase with some small white jockeys, a shirt, some shorts and his toothbrush.  He kissed us all goodbye more than once, and he walked out of the front door, down the stairs and out of the gate.  We all watched him from behind the lace curtain at the lounge window.  He was so cute and chubby.  He had big red cheeks, lots of dark hair and short stocky legs.  He walked really slowly across the park and kept looking back at the house.  He got to the end of the grassy park and he stopped.  He turned around and started walking back.  Two minutes later there was a little knock on the door.  When mom opened it, he looked up at her and said, “I need to go to the toilet”.  That was that.  The prodigal had returned.

Us kids thought we were pretty poor and we made jokes about it.  Dad did what he could and we never went hungry or naked but it was often tight.   We would lie awake at night and jokingly pray,  “Thank you for the straw above our heads” and , “Thank you for the mud under our feet”.

Sue and I shared a room and so did Dave and Peter. When it was way past our bedtime, Val would shout down the passage, “Susan, David, Linda and Peter, stop that giggling, turn over and go to sleep!”  “Turning over” meant away from each other to face the wall.  Sometimes that worked and sometimes it made things worse.

Sue was fastidiously neat.  Her things were always in place and her bed was made army style.  She would sit on her pillow and slide her feet between the sheets.  If the sides came loose she would get out and start all over again.  They had to be tucked in so tight that she couldn’t move.  Sue would blow dry her hair until every kink was straightened.  If she discovered a kink, she would wet her hair and start all over again.  Dad was convinced she was going to lose it all.

I was fastidiously untidy.  My things were all over the place and my bed was my cupboard.  At bedtime I would push everything to the end and climb in.  It did help that I was short so I didn’t need the whole bed anyway.  My hair was full of kinks and waves and I just bunched it into a pony tail.

The thing we agreed on was that the new red-head twins at school had the most beautiful rosy cheeks we had ever seen.  We couldn’t stop staring at them.  One night in the bath, we came up with a brilliant idea.  With our shower caps on, we got our soapy face-cloths and started rubbing.  By the time we got out of the bath, our cheeks were raw and bleeding. When we woke up the next day our cheeks were far from rosy.  They were big brown scabs.  The red-heads couldn’t stop staring at us, and they weren’t the only ones.

We  seldom bathed alone and the water was often left in for someone else to use.  Our bathtub was small but its capacity was large.  Four small girls could bath at a time or three bigger ones.  We kept filling it up with hot water and we would stay there until our toes and fingers were wrinkly.  We giggled and talked until someone knocked on the door and told us to hurry up.  David discovered he could climb up on the bookshelf on the back veranda and peep into the bathroom window. He wasn’t the only one.  Dad caught quite a few boys on that bookshelf.

Post 9. Mischief

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Off to school in the Holden.. before we had an awareness of what was cool and what wasn't.

Off to school in the Holden.. before we had an awareness of what was cool and what wasn’t.

We all started at Woodlands Infants School and then moved onto Southlands Primary.  I loved Mrs Chantz in Class 1.  She was so kind and her writing was really round and neat.  There was a girl called Cornelia who loved to play with my long hair and I never complained.  Brett Taylor liked me and kept leaving money in my little wooden desk.  I was happy to keep it until Val found out and I had to give it all back.  That was the end of a deep relationship.

Southlands Primary was a 1 1/2 kilometre walk from our house and we always made sure that the trip there and back was eventful.  We picked cherries, went in and out of people’s gardens, threw stones on roofs and sat somewhere to eat/get rid of any left over lunch.

We preferred to walk to school, rather than be taken in the red Holden, so we tried our hardest not to be late. There was nothing more embarrassing than chugging and spluttering up that hill right where the kids were lining up to go into assembly.  We would all slouch down in the back seat hoping not to be seen but knowing that we were definitely being heard.

“Marbles” was my favourite season. I beat all the boys and I would go home with my bag full and my heart happy. We played during every tea break, lunch time and until the sun went down.  On our way home one day, the time just got away and I got carried away with my winnings.  It was almost dark when I heard Val shouting my name from the top of the stairwell that joined two roads.  I knew I was in trouble.  I grabbed my marble bag and my small brown suitcase and ran as fast as my little legs would go up the 100 stairs.  I got pushed into Pappa’s badly painted red and blue VW Beetle, and all the way home I was making up stories, but I knew she wasn’t listening.   I rushed inside the house, holding my behind,  saying, “ No Mommy, No Mommy.”   That was before the brush had even found its target. I knew I deserved it.

Then there were always after school “roughts” (fights) to attend.  As the school bell rang someone would shout out, “Rought on top field!”  or “Rought on middle field!” We would grab our bags and run for the best viewpoint.  Dave and I were just 16 months apart.  One day on my way home from school, I saw some boys in a dusty scuffle and I realised that two of them had taken Dave on in a rought.   I ran down the hill to the little grass verge in the middle of the road and climbed in.  My little brown suitcase was my weapon and I made sure those  boys felt it.  Dave was furious that I had embarrassed him and we all had to appear in the Principal’s office the next day.  Dave got caned and he took note of it in pen on the small space left on the back of his tie.  I got away with having to write “I will not fight after school” 100 times.  Writing repetitive lines never did make an impression on me.

If Val didn’t know who did something, we would all get it.  One time I got a hiding I didn’t deserve and my mom’s response was, “Well that was for all the times you didn’t get caught”.  She always made sure whatever she used hit the target and she also made sure we couldn’t sit for at least a couple of hours.  We never felt beaten up but she gave us something to remember.

Dave somehow found out that dad kept his coins on the top shelf of his cupboard.  We all plotted how we could get it to buy sweets.  We closed the door and I was elected to be the spy.  Sue held Dave’s legs and he reached up to feel for the money.  We were all shaking.  I heard footsteps coming down the passage and I panicked.  I opened the door and shouted “Susan and David are stealing your money!”  They got such a hiding and I stood outside the door pleading for dad to stop. I never got the job as a spy again.

Mum believed we were good kids. She proudly told the children in the neighbourhood that she would give them a million rand if they ever heard any of her kids swearing.  There were many knocks on her door with children saying, “Mrs Lowe, Linda said ^&$*#(@)*,  or Mrs Lowe, David said @*#&$(#.  Well, Val refused to believe them, so no-one ever got their million.