My mother was not well educated; she most likely never went past the first or second grade of high school; she fell pregnant at the age of fifteen with her step-father’s child. Her mother forced her to give the child up for adoption (just as well!). She fell pregnant again barely two years later and this time she was allowed to keep the child as the child was not her step-fathers; she then met the monster who was my father three years later, fell pregnant again and married him! She had three more children (I was her fourth child but his second) and had three or four miscarriages due to violent beatings.
I think that my mother then started living in a fantasy world as an escape mechanism (it took me many years to realize this). She never worked but loved to visit the neighbors and gossip about other neighbors. She knew everybody’s business and when she didn’t have enough information about them, she would make up stories. I think that this helped her cope and if she could get the neighbors thinking about other neighbors, it would take the focus off her own misery. She would also cause trouble between the neighbors by telling this neighbor that the other neighbor had said this or that about them. She was a real busy body, gossip and trouble maker!
My mother resented having children and would frequently say, “If it wasn’t for you kids…”, but would stop there, like we had been responsible for coming into this world to make her life miserable! She also took my self-worth away by giving away any gift that I received, no matter from where! It was like I wasn’t worth anything so was not permitted to have anything! Even when she had gone begging at the different church organizations and they had brought Christmas parcels of food and a toy for each child, very shortly after that my particular toy would be given to a neighbor’s child, or to her sister’s toddler. (For years I harbored extreme resentment towards my aunt and her daughter!) My oldest sister was working and I was still at school; it was the year before high school and we had to have a sewing box and a piece of material for a sewing project; my sister bought a sewing kit and a piece of material for me out of her meager earnings; my aunt took a fancy to the material as she thought that it would make a perfect dress for my little cousin, my mother gave it to her!
My father’s parents lived with us in the house where Minah had been, but when we moved away from there, they did not come with. I don’t know where they went to, but life got worse; when my father had not come home by a certain hour of the evening (especially Fridays as my father received weekly wages), my mother would gather us together, grab some blankets and we would go and sleep in the veldt (open field with long grass), even if it was the middle of winter and freezing (the cold was easier to deal with than a drunken violent man! One particular night I will never forget, for some reason it is burned into my mind and even now, decades later, I feel guilty; my mother had packed us up to go and sleep in the veldt, but there was a van parked in our yard, a private job that my father had been working on, and as it was rather cold out my mother decided to put us all in the van rather than go to the open veldt, it wasn’t easy keeping so many young children quite and my baby brother started crying, the crying baby must have alerted him and he came looking for us; we were all marched back into the house; my mother sent us all to bed, I shared a single bed with my older sister, I lay quivering behind my sister trying not to listen to his shouting, wondering when the thuds would start, indicating that he had started beating my mother, suddenly she came into the room and over to our bed, she asked me to come and see if I could get him to calm down, I was terrified and immediately wet myself, she looked at my terrified face and left the room. The beating started! My mother never ever screamed. We could always only hear him shouting and then thuds. I still feel as though I should have done what she had asked that night.
He was a monster! My sister wasn’t his child and he made sure that she knew it; my brother would ask for a piece of bread and jam and he would give it to him, my sister would then ask if she could have one too, he would agree, spread jam onto the slice of bread, and then grind it into her face! He would also call her round the corner of the house and then bang her head against the wall, or sexually molest her! If she didn’t go when he called, she would get a hiding. (Years later, when were adults my mother told me that she knew that he abusing us, I was shocked, but more about this and what triggered her revelation in a later chapter).
My father was now riding a small 50cc bike called a mo-ped; he was on his way home after he had been out drinking, when he drove over some wadding (grey fluffy stuff), this apparently caused the front wheel to get jammed and he went flying over the handle bars and broke his jaw (that was his story anyway); he was in hospital for a couple of days and they had wired up his jaw; when he came home from hospital, he claimed that my mother had tried to kill him! He then took out his .22 rifle (he was very proud of this possession and used to brag and threaten with it frequently), lined us all up next to him in the front garden, told my mother to sit on the front bench and then he aimed the rifle at her; my mother remained perfectly calm (I know better now), and she asked me to go and fetch her hairbrush, saying that if she was going to die that she may as well be neat and tidy; I fetched her brush and had to go and stand with the other kids again, out of the line of fire; she calmly brushed her hair; I think one of the neighbors must have called the police, they came and took him away, kept him overnight, and then sent him back home the very next day, with his rifle!
My mother went to a church looking for assistance; a pastoral couple was sent to befriend us as a family and offer some support and counseling; they invited us over to their house once or twice for a meal and took us to church; my father didn’t go with; they had two children, a girl my age and in the same school as me, and a younger boy; the girl would come and talk to me at school break and offer one of her sandwiches to me; I tried to say no but she insisted, so she gave me a sandwich every day for a while, then trouble struck! They had a full time maid who supervised their children after school every day; the girl had eaten her lunch when she arrived home from school, but later, about an hour before her parents had arrived home and supper would have been served, she had wanted a snack, the maid refused as it was close to supper time, the girl threw a tantrum and when her parents were informed, she told them that I had been asked for her sandwiches every day and so she had been hungry (I was a nervous, bed wetting wreck and tried to make myself invisible when anyone as much as looked at me, where would I have found the courage to ask someone for their food??) Her parents turned up at our house (my father was sober), and asked if they could have a discussion and that I must be present; they then told my parents that I had been eating their daughter’s lunch; my parents turned to me and said that if I had wanted sandwiches for lunch, that I should just have asked. I was speechless! We never got breakfast and were lucky if there was bread when we got home from school, where were these sandwiches going to come from? I stayed away from her at school after that; not too long after that the pastoral couple decided that we were not worth their attention anymore.
We had to move in the night again due to unpaid rent; this time the meager furniture we had was left behind! We had a couple of mattresses and threadbare blankets; we moved into a house about four kilometers from where we had been, to an even poorer area; at night you could hear shouting, screaming and bottles breaking; the walls in this house were spattered with blood marks, about the size of my small finger nail; my mother said that the previous tenants must have been squishing bed bugs on the wall! (Like nightmares weren’t already a problem)!
We had no food; one of the church organizations brought a huge bag of samp (dried white corn), coffee and sugar; we lived on samp and black coffee for the next nine months (my sister says that it was nine months); we used candles and a paraffin stove as we had no electricity; luckily water was free in those days, or we would have been much worse off! The house came with a gardener (I don’t recall servants quarters at this house, but there must have been, or he would not have been there); he barbequed grasshoppers and offered us kids some to taste; they tasted good.
I missed Minah.
Next Chapter – Abandonment