February 24, 2013 by talkaboutyork
This is a big decade. A lot happened. It’s going to take more than one blog post.
I was about to dive straight into my tweens and teens, but I found my old diary which contains some fascinating insights. I only got the diary in December 1983, right at the beginning of my second decade. The first glut of diary entries relate to a sailing holiday we had that Christmas in Hermanus (Western Cape).
It’s fascinating to see what goes through a child’s mind. My diary entries seem to center on the weather and what we ate (I was part British then and didn’t even realise it!)
What’s more remarkable to me, is how often I wrote about it being ‘my turn’ to make the meal. Like this: ‘I had to make lunch. We had bread, sausages, eggs and salads.’ I was 10 and I was in charge of making the meal for 8 people, in a campsite. I cannot imagine my son, now 9, being capable of making a meal for eight people in a year’s time. Note to self: time to increase domestic science classes at home forthwith.
The diary also contains a number of scruffy bits of paper stuck into the back of it, which I used as a way to record big life moments before I had a real diary. All the papers feature fairly naff pictures of girls with kittens, sad bunnies or baby lions. I remembered that they were once part of my ‘writing paper collection’. Remember collecting bits of writing paper and stickers and trading them? Simple pleasures.
Those bit of paper contain some of the saddest memories – like the divorce entry. Or sadder still, the day my dad flew to America for a trip when I knew that it would be the last time he and my mum would be together and not divorced (the divorce came through while he was abroad):
6 Oct 1983
Today daddy is leaving. I am so sad that I don’t no what to do with myself. Daddy is packing his stuff now. We bunked school today. By the time daddy is back from America, mommy and him will be divorced. Today is drastic. From Me. P.S. I am sad.’
I remember writing that and feeling that no words would be good enough, so instead I rated the day the same way I would an exam paper. It got an F-.
One final point before the story moves on. To reinforce what I wrote in my last post about treats being a rarity, here is the diary entry from my 11th birthday. When you read this, bear in mind what 11 year old girls get for presents these days:
Today is my birthday. It has been very nice. I got lots of presents. Charles gave me a towel, Vicky gave me two chocolates and Kathy gave me stickers. Gran gave me R5 and so did Mavis. David gave me R10. Mommy gave me a bag, a pen and a soft shoe tape. Fran gave me clips, a comb and three packets of bath stuff. This afternoon daddy and I went shopping and daddy bought me my present. Two pairs of slacks, one sleepshirt and one shirt. He spent R88.77 on me!!! Overall I’ve had great fun. That’s all! Bye!’
In today’s exchange rate, the R5 gifts equate to 37p. The R88.77 = £6.60. I had NEVER had that much money spent on me ever and was somewhat in awe and a tiny bit horrified that other people might find out just how extravagant we’d been. I remember the day well. My father sat on a chair flirting with the shopping assistant while I tried things on, like an early Julia Roberts on Rodeo Drive. I felt like a princess. Just me and him. I didn’t have to share him with anyone.
There is one other piece of paper in the diary that introduces the next chapter of my life. It goes like this:
I think that mommy is going to marry Uncle David. I have heard mommy on the phone. I have spied on them. I have seen them together they are happy. I didn’t want and don’t want mommy or daddy to get married again. If mommy does get married, I will try not to go to the wedding in case I burst out crying. Bye (with two small tear drops drawn)’
And then scrawled on the back of another piece of paper:
‘Mommy told me she was going to marry Uncle David’. No further comment.
So I guess, divorce did have an impact. It’s only reading those words that makes me realise that my 10/11 year old self didn’t just sail through it. But the first real challenge came midway through my 11th year when we had to move from my home to over 1000km away to the East Rand, a part of the world that couldn’t be more different to what I was used to. My (soon to be) stepfather got a job there and we all moved with him, leaving behind our childhood home and my father.
That was hard. I still remember the day we left, looking back at our house as we travelled on the road out of the village and seeing him sitting on the back wall waving. I think my heart broke in two that day.
I had to attend a school that had boys in it (a shock to the system). I had to make new friends. I had to learn to live with a new father figure. And I missed my dad and my home more than anything. Diary entries which I won’t post are evidence of that. I can’t imagine what my mother went through, but after six months of living there, we returned to the village. My mother and father were going to try and live together again for our sake.
I’ve never asked them what that was like but I imagine it can be summed up in a single word: Shit.
And my 12th year was probably my unhappiest as a result. We got what we wanted. To be back living in the village with our mother and father under one roof. Only no-one was happy. Everyone was tense. Even returning to my old school was awful. I was immediately treated like the new girl again. Every other child in Standard Five got a turn to be a prefect. Except me. Because I was ‘new’ having been away for six months. The unfairness of it made me cross. Very cross. It was during this year I remember fighting most with my siblings, ‘running away from home’ i.e. flouncing out during a meal time to sit on the street outside our house hoping someone would come get me, and getting the biggest hiding of my life for whacking my brother.
It was never going to work. So after a thoroughly rubbish year, we moved back to the East Rand. My mother married my stepfather and I started high school.
I remember saying to myself that it was a fresh start and that it would all be fine. And it was. I certainly enjoyed high school more than the last two years of junior school. But as my diary shows, it still wasn’t easy:
8 July 1986
I really miss my dad. At the moment I’m confused, upset and very angry. I don’t know what for. I think it’s because my mom keeps getting down my throat. Since we’ve moved up here to Joeys (that’s a general term for anywhere near Johannesburg) she has been in a bad mood. She is forever moaning and feeling sorry for herself. I do love her but really!’
My poor mother. Mom, if you’re reading this, I’m sorry if I was a monumental pain in the arse. I was going through puberty. My life was a mess. I know you guys did the best you could and David was a brilliant stepfather, even if in that particular diary entry I was less than flattering about him (I haven’t included that bit).
Despite the sadness about being far from home, we got to go back every holiday and had the most incredible holidays. The minute school broke up, we’d fly down and live not unlike the kids in Lord of the Flies for a few weeks. My father lived in a big house with very little furniture in it. All the more space for dance parties! He had a very fierce maid called Vivian who was training to be a witch doctor, and would make strange belching noises while cooking the dinner or washing the dishes.
We had about 20 children staying in the house at any one time. Hordes would decamp to the house and we’d spend all our time in boats, exploring the other side of the river, practicing the lift moves from Dirty Dancing in the water, listening to Michael Jackson’s Bad album, having entirely innocent co-ed sleepovers with midnight feasts. They were quite literally the best holidays ever.
Until the July holidays in 1987.
I’ll stop there. Too much to say about that in this post.