Tag Archives: short stories

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.

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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.

Post 8. Survival of the fittest

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The Moroney family in the upper right corner from us were fascinating.  There were 5 girls and a boy.  All had nicknames like Annie, Tishy, Birdy and Lorky and all of them had wild curly hair.  No-one ever spoke of their absent mother and their father was a mystery.  He seemed sad.  In our minds they were the “poorest” family in the circle.  We saw poverty as having no mother. No-one could imagine life without a mother, but deep things were never discussed between us.  We loved, played, laughed and fought with the Moroneys.  We loved, played, laughed and fought with everyone.  It would change from week to week.  Gang fights broke out regularly in the park.  No weapons, just our tongues and fists.  A week later we were friends until someone said something about someone’s family and the “rought” was on again.

When Debbie Moroney got too wild for us, Sue got Ivan Corvin to beat her up.  David took on Annie.  I can’t remember who won.  It was so traumatic.  They both lost a lot of hair.  Then Debbie upset Lynnie Schwegmann and she went home crying.  Two minutes later, Hildegard Schwegmann marched across the park, pulled Debbie out of the bath and only they know what took place.  One rainy day we were looking out of our lounge window across the park.  Sue walked into the circle and as her feet touched the grass, Bridget Coppin came running out of her house and wrestled her to the ground.  We watched and cheered from our window as our brave sister fought tooth and nail in her raincoat and school uniform.

Our battles were many.  Our favourite was the Battle of the Bands.  One household would put their music on and then another and then another; louder and louder until the circle was a battle ground of genres.

Old Mr Menzies was one to stay away from.  He was mean and surly. We loved ordering things for him and watching his responses from our windows.  From each home we ordered taxis and legs of lamb. It was fun to watch him trying to get rid of 5 taxis and 5 different butcheries who arrived on his doorstep. Rolleston Place was not a place for the faint hearted.

“The Circle” was built on a slope.  We had bicycles and home made go-karts and went as fast as we could down those hills.  The biggest scar I have is on the top of my left foot.  The accident happened when we were all racing each other. None of us wanted to back off or give up, so we ended in a heap of kids and cogs and wheels.  That injury put me out of all the fun for months.  I can’t remember who won the race.

Under the park were big storm water drains and we discovered that we could take the lids off the man-holes and climb down the little steel ladders into the pipes.  One was outside our house and the closest one was across the road and the other one was just two houses away.  It was pitch dark down there and there was always the fear that water may come flooding in and we would be washed away.  That didn’t keep us out.  The older kids found another man hole at the entrance to the circle about 60 metres from our house and only the bravest did that one; all the way under the circle in total darkness.  It was too narrow to turn around so once you were in, that was it.  Us little ones ran to the end and listened to the girl’s echo-ey screaming and the boys shouting that they could hear water.

The fun ended when Dave started  putting the lids on the steel man-holes and refused to let us out.

Post 7. Smoking banana leaves

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No. 28 is the one in the middle.

No. 28 is the one in the middle.

When Peter was born, he was the 100th child in “The Circle”. It was a cul-de-sac with only one way in and out with a “huge” park in the middle.  The similar looking houses faced the park all the way round.  Our house was directly opposite the entrance and the highest number; number 28. I’m pretty sure it was known as the house whose owners just couldn’t get the colour right.  Green sounded great until the deed was done. Wilf and Val blamed each other until it was re-painted and they again discovered that choosing paint just wasn’t their thing.

There were children everywhere and in every house.  We knew the inside and out of every house and every garden and “under the house” where there was one.  We had one.  It was dark and low and full of all kinds of junk and piles of sand.  We could creep all the way under the house into all the rooms. Some parts were just enough to lie down in.

In the park there was a frame with three swings and next to it was a see-saw.  When we were tired of spinning and parachuting off the swings and bouncing each other off the see-saw, we spent hours in the big “Kaffir-Boom” tree near the Schwegmann’s place.  We would find broken pieces of beer bottles and glass under the tree and spend hours high up in its branches, carving the names of our boyfriends and girlfriends, with arrows and hearts, deep into the bark. (Trees didn’t have a voice then).  At the end of the day our hands would be cut to shreds but we were happy tree dwellers.

After school we would meet in the park to play rounders (a simple version of softball).  The Kaffir-Boom was home base and the two smaller trees were the bases.  There were many tennis balls lost and many windows broken.

The mango tree in the Moroney’s garden was also one of our favourite spots. We ate green, hard unripe mangos with salt, pepper and chilli powder until our tummies ached.   It was a great way to be able to bunk school the next day.  We also turned the mango tree into a space ship. It was so real that we had the little kids running home to get food and their bags before it took off.    It was in that same garden that I smoked my first and last banana leaf.

Post 6. The Avocado Tree

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The tree house

The tree house

In the big avocado tree in the backyard, was a Dad-made tree-house.  Many a battle was fought up there.

When I was 9,  the garden near the back veranda was dug up and a small swimming pool was put in thanks to our granddad, Papa.  We watched for months as diggers dug and concrete was poured.  It was late in the afternoon when we started to fill it up,  and we were too excited to sleep.   We lay awake all night listening to the water gushing in.  Val gave us permission to jump in early the next morning even though it wasn’t even half full.  Wilf, the Englishman, who couldn’t swim to save his life, came out in his pyjamas, pretending to be sleep walking, and walked down the stairs and into the pool, much to our delight.  From then on, only on extremely hot days, we would see him doing a very awkward “doggy paddle” across the pool.

The pool, the garage, dance floor and is that the avo tree I see?

The pool, the garage, dance floor and is that the avo tree I see?

There were two pools in Rolleston Place; The Schwegmann’s and ours; both were full of kids.  It was hard to get us out of the water.  We jumped from the garage roof and the walls that surrounded it. We made tidal waves with ten kids all holding onto the edges and swaying backwards and forwards until there were “huge” waves.  We went through myriads of lilos, tubes and blow up chairs.

Peter’s 6th birthday party was  memorable.  Ten eager 6 year olds stood around the pool in excited anticipation.  My mother asked in a loud voice “Can you all swim?” All raised their hands straight up in the air and nodded. “Ok, party’s starting… now!”  Into the deep end jumped ten 6 year olds, and all of them proceeded to drown. Peter and all the other caught-off-guard spectators started fishing them out. That was quite a party. We learnt then that 6 year olds don’t know the difference between “can” and “can”.  All they knew was that their mum said they could!

Dad got fed up with the avocado tree shedding its leaves into the pool, so despite my mother’s pleading and our tearful protests, down it came, along with the tree-house and our childhood. Our bottom-length long hair also had to go, but that was a price Sue and I were happy to pay for the benefit of swimming at night.  Midnight skinny dipping was fun with all the girls as long the good looking Rushton boys weren’t peeping.  We spent hours at the Rushton’s house, until David was caught holding their cat face down in their toilet and until Mr Rushton in his  playfulness, picked me up and bit my belly button.  From then on, I stayed on our side of our small white concrete fence.

When we were entering our teens, dad laid a dance floor near where the avocado tree had been.  With the pool and dance floor came endless days and nights of swimming and partying. There wasn’t a better place to be, so that is what we did one holiday after the next;  well into our young adult lives.

Post 5. Honky Tonk

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Concert nights.  Sue REALLY got into it.

Concert nights. Sue REALLY got into it.

Dad built a closed-in veranda onto the back of our little house. It was his pride and joy.  It hosted many a sleepover of boys and girls, lined up on mattresses and in sleeping bags.  When it was a girl’s sleepover, Dave and his friends would climb through his bedroom window to join us and we climbed through ours when the boys were around.  It was all good, clean fun which usually ended with someone kissing someone.  BUT, our main goal was to see who could tell the scariest story and of course they all started with.. “Now, this is a true story…”

“The back veranda” was also home to an old piano; our very own honky-tonk piano.  It was slightly out of tune but perfectly in tune when dad played ragtime and honky-tonk.  It was just slightly awful when someone tried a Richard Claydermann number.  Our favourite style was “bums”.  We would put our feet on the stool and our bottoms on the keys and bounce up and down the octaves with a great sense of creativity and musicianship.  Of course that had nothing to do with it being out of tune. We also loved opening it up and watching the inner workings of the hammers and strings. Dave got into honky-tonk and blues and would bash it out with great gusto.  Once a mouse got into the piano and snuck out and bit his toe while he was playing.  All of us learnt to play “by ear” and “by bums”, just because it was there, available and open for abuse.

Our house was filled with music. We were a singing family, except for Dave who preferred to do the Zulu dance.  Nothing like the Von Trapps but did we sing. We sang from the moment we could and if we couldn’t we had to anyway.  Whenever friends or family came around there was a concert and the Lowe kids were always on show. Sue loved “My favourite Things” and Peter was born to entertain.  He would sing “In the Good Old Summertime”  “I’ll Be Loving You, Always”  and many other golden oldies.

The big French windows of the veranda looked onto our backyard.  Until I was 9 it was a place for Dave’s white rats and snakes, our 2 dogs Kim and Lady, one cat called Peanuts and rabbits.  The names of our rabbits came from Beatrix Potter: Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton Tail and Peter. It was the perfect Lowe song, since our names were Susan, David, Linda and Peter.  No matter where we were, and no matter how tired he was, whenever we sang that song, little Peter would stick out his little neck and belt out the last line and have the last word:

We’re a happy fam-i-ly; yes a happy fam-i-ly

And we live at the foot of the big fir tree

Flopsy, Mopsy, how could they be sweeter

And funny little Cotton-Tail…. (BIG PAUSE)

“AND PETER!”

Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-Tail and... not sure where Peter was.


Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-Tail and… not sure where Peter was…