Earliest Childhood Memories

Call it a positive affirmation from this private writer, but a few years ago I attempted to compose a poem, which I eventually left incomplete and cluttered, focussing on mostly happy childhood memories.

Those whose memories are not short and have shared the same environments with me in the past may recall happier days. I am in awe of my own self that I can remember such things all these years later.

The earliest memory is of my very first birthday in which I am shown a black and white photograph. There are the inevitable balloons, cone hats, ice-cream cones, cakes and cookies smothered in icing and marked with small, round chocolates. It reminded me of little swallows’ eggs.

I am surrounded by older children, all of whom are strangers to me. I remember only the boys with short, back and sides, uniform hair-cuts for its time. We are all seated around a large, long, heavy old oak table. I think it was Minerva’s table.

Of people, family, my fondest memories are reserved for grandparents who were all more than kind. There was a regular Sunday night meeting of epic proportions. Through the years I never lost my fondness for a piping hot bowl of broth, but in this case it was the traditional soup of barley of which Angelo can tell you more about. Often frowned upon by a stern father, we feasted greedily on heaps of buttered toast.

Fresh, strong cups of percolated coffee can keep a child up all nights, but on such occasions an exception was made. But we had to giggle as Giuseppe would eccentrically pour his coffee into the saucer and slurp it up just so.

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When at home, I would miss him. I remember him in his lane, on the corner, and then marching off alongside hordes of other men who would congregate along the cold, cemented terrace discussing the first half of the match. At home, we drank a glass of milk.

There were a few occasions when father would take me with and allow my life-long passion for a beautiful game to grow. Unnoticed by most, the child remembers the separation of that dubious categorisation of men. Africans, coloureds and Indians would cramp along the banks of the Liesbeeck River, while we retained our privileged positions on the grand stand. I was warmly wrapped in my royal blue and gold scarf.

The small railway stand was always elegant to me. It seemed to form a solid foundation of what I did not know at the time. Then it was razed to the ground. My creative imagination was already in full force as I imagined an arsonist doing the deed with conviction and in a misguided effort to emancipate himself. It was a small price to pay for all things colonial and for freedom, when it came.

My mother fried fish and chips on a Friday. I would let out a silent clap when she turned to the washing basin to peel still more potatoes. I would watch her silently as she carefully avoided hot fish oil spilling over newspapers scattered across her polished floor tiles. My reading habits were formed.

Some would say I was spoiled, but no matter. I relished the occasions when grandmother would take me shopping, first stopping at the fishmonger and gaining a warm, moist parcel of chippers. I can still smell the pungent vinegar and salt. I have not lost my craving.

Then, further down the lower main road, I experience generosity and kindness from a brown woman who always offered me a bright, bus-red penny sausage.

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On the Cape Flats I can be derided as the proverbial film-kop. But, my love for the bioscope started then. I remember the old Bijou, a skeleton of its former, glorious self still stands today. I remember music, not so much the lyrics, because I could not yet interpret them. They called him the King, and I watched as women screamed and then wilted under firm embraces from their jealous men. I know this much, it was always about love. Then he died, and the world stood still.

I remember school well. And as early as those days I could not understand why we had to address the groundsman and his elderly wife as Mr and Mrs Roberts, and why the cleaner was merely addressed as Awie.

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Some will remember the riots, but most still do not understand why it had to happen. A very young child remembers his first forays into adulthood, travelling on his own on a segregated bus with no windows, feeling the cold, sad morning from blasts of wind. At that time, it bothered me why other boys would disarm me in this way, but I remained curiously observant of their strength and courage.

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2 thoughts on “Earliest Childhood Memories

  1. Nice. Thank you for sharing some of your own memories which are not unrelated to my own. I, of course, have left much out, but now I remember too, that you lived only two doors down. I suppose you had long since moved on, but I am thinking too of one Auntie Margie, a lovely, shy woman and her life partner who were both in awe of your Auntie Sara. I suppose we were both on opposite sides, both physically and sentimentally down the road at Hartleyvale, since I never saw you there. Somewhere in the archives of my blogs you may find a story entitled The Greatest Game which may ignite more memories and also align you with your present habitue. Hope you find time to read the story, and thank you so much for your kind and nostalgic comment which raised a few goose bumps.

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  2. Hi Mark you have certainly rekindled my memories of Hartleyvale and my ra-ra (can never think of the name for the very noisy instrument) which I took on Fridays when I went to watch matches with my Dad and Uncle Joe. The Bijou is also such a strong memory. Going up to Obs shopping with my mom or with Aunty Sarah and going to the butchers and Hawkes and Findlay (general dealers did hardware). Great memories – Thanks x

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