Between the ages of three and a half and seven I grew up in the harbour city of Port Elizabeth and attended Sub A and B (nowadays Grade 1 & 2) at the Summerwood primary school. My dad had an early retirement at the age of 55. He worked for a great part of his working career for the insurance company ‘General Accident’. A few years before his retirement he purchased a piece of farmland (a few hectare) in the Elands River Valley, situated between Uitenhage and Port Elizabeth in the Eastern Cape, South Africa. The farm was called Skuilhoek. We used to spend weekends on the farm starting to renovate the four room dwelling into something bigger and more livable. This was +1969. Those years the farm was sans electricity and I can remember clearly how terrified I was of moths. The oil/paraffin lamps and candlelight did not aid in this fear of mine. The story of how a candle attracts a moth – definitely was ultimately proven in this case.
No hot water – unless a fire was made underneath a tank of water outside (called a ‘donkey’), from where the hot water was channeled through copper pipes to the tiny bathroom. No telephone (the invention of mobiles still to come decades later) either, and look I have survived!
After my dad retired we moved to the farm permanently in 1971. Dad loved plants, animals and building. He was forever building another section onto the house by way of his beautiful stone work. When he was not building he was planting another tree or vegetables in the garden, or nursing a cow/sheep/pig which was about to have young ones. Dad also taught me all the plant names. The farm’s mountainous areas were covered with various Protea species, Watsonias and Cycads, the Protea is still my favourite flower. Our house was hardly ever without a huge vase filled with Proteas or Watsonias. We often would sit down for lunch or dinner and dad would realize that everything on our plates were off the farm, except for the salt and pepper. He used to be so proud of this. That is what subsistence farming is all about.
My mum being a primary school teacher, taught at various farm schools. Amongst other I was in my mum’s St.1 class in 1972. Wow, was this a tough call. I had to take the brunt of the class’ hidings – the teacher’s daughter could not be seen as the ‘Teacher’s Pet’. I must say I was a real chatterbox when I was a little girl. In those days, we were still slapped with a ruler on our hands, the number of slaps depending on the degree of the offence. Unruly scholars’ ears were pulled until they stepped in line again. This has become taboo in today’s school/home environment.
A vivid memory of primary school was how I use to shoe the hens away from their nests on the farm to collect their eggs. These collected eggs were then hard boiled which I sold the next day during tea breaks. It was a hit with the kids. The proceeds went to the school fund. While my egg trading was hitting a boom – it hit a sudden snag. Whilst trading one tea break – the eager purchasers came running back with their half eaten eggs, disgustingly pointing at, yes you guessed, half eaten chicks inside the eggs! I was abruptly removed by a teacher from my trading post to never appear again. There were a few very sad hens out there.
I attended five primary schools, trekking along with mum who was always on the move helping out the small farm schools in need of good teachers. The primary schools I attended were: Summerwood Primary School (1970 to 1971) (Sub.A & Sub.B); the first term of St.1 in Ankervas, the rest of St.1 and St.2 in Albatros Primary School. The first six months of Std.3 in Charlo Primary School in Port Elizabeth and the second six months we visited my sister, Hiletje (mum and dad’s biological daughter) and husband in London for two months and thereafter we toured Europe for four months in a Kombi Camper. I passed St.3 on six months of school and two months of home-schooling by mum in London. St.4 and 5, I attended Ankervas Primary School again where I was head girl in St.5. I played tennis and netball in primary school and reached Eastern Province Trials with netball. I attended High School Brandwag in Uitenhage from 1977 to 1981 where I was in boarding school in St.9 and St.10. These two years of boarding school was the best thing that happened to me. I grew up as an only child and boarding school was a great opportunity for me to interact socially with other children of my own age. Our headmaster at Brandwag was Mr Potgieter, who was fondly referred to by all pupils as Gironkey which means a cross between a Giraffe and a Donkey. Mr Potgieter was a very tall thin guy and hence his nickname.
In High School I played netball, tennis and took part in discus and shot-put during athletics.
I would say that the teacher who stood out for me during my school years, must have been my Mom who was a very strict, but dedicated teacher who enthusiastically used her ‘Japtrap’ reading method (which she developed herself) to teach even dyslectic children to read fluently. She always said that there was not such a thing as Dyslexia. Mom gave remedial reading lessons, after hours, at the farm.
Abba, the Bee Gees and Queen were my favourite music stars (and are still today). I use to idolize the lead singer of the Bee Gees, Barry Gibb. I loved any mystery books i.e. Nancy Drew, etc. I was not a fan of love stories and I still don’t read soppy love stories.
As far as fashion is concerned, I was not fashion conscious at all. As long as I felt comfortable in what I was wearing, I was content. Of course, my mom made all my clothes. She even made all my school dresses. She always took me with to material shops to select my own fabrics and patterns. The sewing was always done with lots of gusto, but never ever was anything done on a Friday the 13th. She was very superstitious about this day as she had real mishaps on this day in her younger years.
There were two major experiences during my high school years that I don’t ever want to go through again. The first was that my biological mother tried to make contact with me, without the prior knowledge/permission of my foster parents. This happened during St.7 when one day I was summonsed to the principal’s office, where I announced myself very nervously, as I was always an example pupil. In the boardroom a lady from the welfare was waiting to ask me whether I would be interested to meet my biological parents. At this stage I had no idea that they were still alive, although I always knew that I was adopted (never legally). Apparently they were interested in meeting me. I was shocked and hurt, and immediately refused to be contacted I boarded for the two winter terms during St.7 and during this time I received a letter posted to me at the boarding residence. Not, knowing from whom it was, I opened it and only read the first few words and glanced at the ending to see who it was from. I realized with a shock that it was from my biological mom. I tore the letter up and threw it away. A second letter came with the same handwriting which I did not even open, but threw away immediately. Although I did not want to contact them, I was deeply hurt by this event. I only told my foster parents a few months later about this. They were of course very upset about this. They knew that my biological parents were still alive, but never told me specifically before this event. They did however, gave me the freedom to contact my biological parents, upon which I said that I don’t want to make contact ever. They immediately got hold of the authorities to prevent the above from happening again.
The second awkward experience was that one of my classmates in High School, turned out to be a lesbian, and was actively hunting me down. To make matters worse was, was that she was also boarding. I use to plan my route to, during and from school daily, as to avoid bumping into her, with no one around. This was quite a constant stress, but seemed to quite down during matric.
Matric exam time was the best time to be at boarding school, as you were treated like royalty. With special meals prepared especially for you. The curfews were also lifted and we had a little more freedom as to our comings and goings. The secret midnight parties during this time were one big ‘jol’.
Mom also made my matric farewell outfit and the day of the farewell was the very first day I was allowed to go to a hairdresser. Mom always cut my hair herself. This was also the day that I had my first and last blister ever (to this date) on my lip – can you believe it.
I attended Tygerberg Technical College (Cape Town) in 1982 where I completed the first year of my Executive Secretarial Diploma. Thereafter I attended Port Elizabeth Technikon for my second and third year and received my National Diploma the end of 1984. During 1983 and 1984 I resided at the University of Port Elizabeth’s Veritas student res and met my loving husband Conroy on Valentine’s Day, 14 February 1983 (I was 19 years of age). My ladies res, Veritas and his men’s res, Xanadu went out together on a beach party celebrating Valentines Day. It was probably love at first sight as we got engaged on 13 December 1983 and married a year later, on completion of our studies on Friday, 30 November 1984. Note: Conroy has never stopped studying and still is a part time student. Me on the other hand, have discovered scrapping therapy.