Tag Archives: childhood

Child, Paper, Scissors

25 Apr

I am participating in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I publish a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

April 25 – Third person post: Write about a memory you have but describe it using the third person. Use as many sensory images (sights, sounds, textures, etc) as you can. Don’t use “I” or “me” unless you include dialogue.

The little girl struggled with her craft project and prayed for the bell to ring. Unlike her classmates, who were happily making creations out of coloured construction paper and bits of glitter, she didn’t really know what she was supposed to do. She didn’t want to ask Miss H, the teacher, for help. Miss H hated her and would only yell at her.

Sighing inwardly, she picked up her scissors and tried to cut a triangle out of a piece of bright yellow construction paper. But the scissors were too blunt – made that way for the safety of ten-year-olds like herself – and they were hard for people like her to use. Sometimes it was hard being a left-handed person in a right-handed world.

The little girl found herself close to tears as she tried to get the scissors to comply. She had a hard enough time at school. She had “learning disabilities”. She didn’t know exactly what that meant, but she did know that she had to work really, really hard just to keep up with her classmates.

Sensing someone standing behind her, the little girl looked up and saw Miss H regarding her sternly. She started to quiver. She was afraid of Miss H. She almost cried with relief when the bell rang, signalling the end of the school day. But when she started to gather up her things, Miss H pinned her to her seat with a glare and said, “You’re not going anywhere until you cut that piece of paper properly.”

The little girl watched helplessly as her classmates filed out of the room. I can do this, she thought. It’s only scissors. I’ll cut this paper and then I’ll be allowed to leave.

Under Miss H’s hostile gaze, the little girl picked up the scissors with her left hand and prepared to cut.

“The scissors go in your other hand!” barked Miss H.

“But I’m left-handed,” said the little girl timidly.

“Not in my class! Now pick up those scissors – in your right hand – and cut!

The little girl tentatively held the scissors in her right hand. She tried to cut but the paper just bunched up awkwardly. The little girl looked up imploringly.

“My mom is waiting for me,” she whispered.

“She’s just going to have to wait! You’re not going until you get this right! Are you so stupid that you can’t cut a simple piece of paper?”

The little girl tried again, but this time she was shaking so badly that she accidentally ripped the paper. Miss H whipped the paper away and slapped a fresh sheet down on the desk.

“Do it!” she snapped.

As the little girl tried desperately to use the hand she was not designed to use, the pile of discarded paper grew. Fat tears started rolling down her face and plopping onto the paper.

All of a sudden a new voice pierced the terrible atmosphere: the little girl’s mother had come looking for her and was witnessing the events with horror.

“Miss H!What is going on?” asked the girl’s mother, furiously.

Miss H, caught off-guard by a mother protecting her young, said something incoherent about acting in the best interests of the child.

The little girl’s mother lowered her voice menacingly and said, “Now, you listen to me. My daughter has a learning disability that you are well aware of. And you have just destroyed five years of confidence-building work in fifteen minutes. I hope you’re happy!”

With that, the mother swept up her little girl and whisked her away to safety.

She took her home and immediately started the process of building up her broken child.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)

The Man On The Train

26 Jan

By the time I got onto the train I was exhausted. I’d been up until almost midnight finishing my packing, and when I’d woken up I’d forgotten where I’d packed my passport. The cab had been late and there had been an accident on the highway. I had made it to the train station with seconds to spare.

I  was so tired it hurt. As the train started pulling out of the station I relaxed gratefully into my seat and closed my eyes. I was almost asleep when I became aware of movement near me. I opened my eyes to see an old man sitting down opposite me. He was tall and skinny with long white hair and the bluest eyes I had ever seen. As I said good morning to him, he stared at me in a disconcerting way. I closed my eyes again.

A couple of minutes later I opened my eyes to see the old man still staring at me.

“Can I help you?” I asked, feeling distinctly uncomfortable.

He kept staring at me in silence – the kind of silence that gets louder and louder with each passing second.

All of a sudden, he spoke in a deep Southern accent that I really had concentrate on to understand him. What he said took me completely by surprise.

“My maw was making gravy for the chicken when my paw died.”

“Oh,” I said hesitantly. Then, because I felt that I had to, I asked, “What happened?”

“Well,” he said, in his peculiar gravelly voice. “I was just a boy then. I just come in from the fields with Paw. The chicken and the potatoes and all was already done, and Maw had the gravy in this jug, beatin’ it with a wooden spoon like she was trying to punish it.

“All’s a sudden, the dog barks outside, right outside the window. Maw gets a fright and drops the jug. The jug bounces on the counter, and gravy goes everywhere. Some of it splatters on the cat that’s sittin’ on top of the ’fridgerator. The cat gets a fright and jumps right onto Paw’s back. And Paw is spinning round and around, tryin’ to get the cat off his back. He loses his footin’, topples over and hits his head on the corner of the stove – one of them old cast-iron stoves. By the time he hit the floor he was a goner.”

As he finished the story, the old man buried his face in his hands. I felt a stab of compassion for him. What a terrible thing for a young boy to witness. But then the old man looked up again and I realized he was laughing.

“It was the most ridic’lous sight,” he said, slapping his knee with mirth. “My old man, drunk as a lord, spinning around with a cat on his back. Butt-ugly cat it was too!”

The old man was laughing so hard that he was choking and wheezing, and tears were streaming from his bright blue eyes.

“Wow,” I said, genuinely taken with the story. And then, because I’d been watching Murder Mysteries while packing the previous night, I asked, “What did the police say when they came? Did they believe you and your Mom when you told them what happened?”

“Well now,” the old man whispered conspiratorially as he leaned forward. “We never actually called the ’thorities. We couldn’t, you see. Far as everyone in town was concerned, Paw had already been dead for years.

“You see, he had one of them fancy life insurance things. So when we was down on our luck one year, he burned out his tractor and Maw reported him missing. Last seen drivin’ off in the tractor, that’s what she told the sheriff. They didn’t have no fancy ways to prove nothin’ back then, so they just assumed he was dead. Maw got a pile of cash and Paw just stayed hidden. No-one ever came to see us, so as long as Paw was in the house or on his fields, we was OK.”

“So when he died, what did you do with – um – you know, him?” I asked. This story was unreal.

“Down past the apple trees, there was a big clump of dogwood trees, belonging to the neighbours. There was all kinds of bushes and plants growing under the trees. The bush was so thick under there, it was like a jungle. When I needed someplace to hide as a boy, I’d go there. No grown person could get in through all of those bushes and trees and stuff.

“We waited until nightfall, then Maw helped me put Paw on the wheelbarrow. He kept fallin’ off, but finally we got him to that clump of bushes and trees. We got Paw off that wheelbarrow, and I climbed in under them bushes.  Maw pushed, I pulled, and we got him in there. No-one would ever find him there.”

The old man paused. He seemed to be immensely proud of his story. Clearly, his conscience was not bothered by things like insurance fraud and the concealment of human remains.

“But what if your neighbours decided to cut down the trees?” I blurted out, suddenly worried on behalf of the small boy from long ago.

“Why would they do that?” asked the old man, incredulously. “If they cut down all the dogwood trees, where will the raptors live?”

For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, pamela challenged me with "If they cut down all the dogwood trees, where will the raptors live?" and I challenged Seeking Elevation with "In the Canadian city of Toronto, it is illegal to drag a dead horse down the street before midnight. Tell a story – real or fictional – about how this law came to be."

The Story Of A Dog In A Cat’s Body

23 Nov

Today I want to tell you a story about a dog, or rather, a cat who thought she was a dog.

Her name was Tushka and she was a black tabby. She came into our family when I was so young that I cannot remember her arrival. At that time, we also had two big “pavement special” dogs named Judge and Kentucky, a fat Fox Terrier whose name was Bianca but who everyone referred to as “The Bionic Watermelon”, a neurotically insane Fox Terrier named Twiggy, Megan the Siamese cat, and a hamster named Antoine.

Tushka was intended to be a companion for Megan, but while she didn’t exactly shun Megan, she definitely identified more with the dogs. At animal feeding time in the kitchen, my mom would always put the cats in one corner and the dogs way over on the other side. Tushka would neatly use her front legs to push her bowl across the kitchen floor until it was among the dogs. She would eat her meal there, surrounded by slobbering canines, while poor Megan ate by herself.

At the time, we were living in the Cape Town suburb of Tokai. Our house was across the road from the Tokai Forest, which was a popular dog-walking spot. On Saturdays, we would put the dogs onto leashes and venture out into the forest, where we would let them loose to romp around. We were always accompanied on our walks by Tushka. She would romp right along with the dogs, who seemed to accept her as one of them.

She even had a dog-like temperament. Oh sure, she did the odd cat thing, like purring and climbing trees. But she lacked the aloofness often displayed by cats, she always came when you called her name, she rushed around like an overexcited puppy, played with the dogs, and I swear she wagged her tail when she was happy. She was loving and loyal.

Megan was also loving and loyal, I’m not saying she wasn’t, but she was loving and loyal in a cat kind of way. Tushka was loving and loyal in the same way the dogs were. She would jump onto my bed in the mornings and lick my face with doglike enthusiasm.

By the time Tushka was about ten years old, we were living on the outskirts of Johannesburg. Several of the animals had moved onto higher plains, including Antoine the hamster and my beloved cat Megan, but Tushka still remained. One summer, we went on a family vacation to the coastal town of Ramsgate. We took our little dogs with us: Twiggy and The Bionic Watermelon were long gone, but we had another Fox Terrier and a wiener dog. Tushka stayed home with a new generation of cats and the two big dogs we had at the time. My cousin, who had a special bond with all of the animals, house-sat during our absence.

This was all in the day before cell-phones and the Internet, so when you went on vacation, you were pretty much out of circulation. You called home once a week to make sure everything was OK, but beyond that, there was no contact. Looking back, I wonder how that vacation would have turned out if we had had email or Facebook.

As it was, we arrived home after the vacation to find my cousin in tears (and this is not a gal who cries easily).

“Tushka’s missing,” she sobbed.

Our dog-cat had wandered into the yard after being fed three days previously, just as she always did. That was the last anyone saw of her. Ads were placed in newspapers, signs were taped to telephone poles, vets were notified, rewards were offered. With the help of the neighbours, we searched every inch of every yard on our street. We spent weeks scouring the banks of the river opposite our house.

No trace of Tushka was ever found. To this day, we don’t know what happened to her.

She is no doubt romping around somewhere in Dog Heaven. Because that’s where she belongs.

This week’s Indie Ink Challenge came from Head Ant, who gave me this prompt:Write a standalone, original piece on a lost dog.
I challenged Supermaren with the prompt:Write a story that includes an old copy of “Macbeth”, a strand of long blonde hair, and a footprint from a man’s boot.

Home Ec 101: What Not To Do

8 Aug

This morning I came to the conclusion that I need to learn how to sew.

There are some women who always keep a sewing kit handy, and more importantly, actually know what to do with it. These women have no trouble sewing on a button, turning up a hem, darning a sock, or turning a collar.

I am not one of those women. I don’t even know what “turning a collar” means.

I was educated at a girls-only Catholic school, the kind that believes that girls have to be clones of Martha Stewart in order to find a husband. And so I learned how to knit when I was ten years old, although the term “learned” is a bit of a stretch. Teaching someone like me how to knit is a bit like teaching a giraffe how to fly.

My first project – the one I got at the tender age of ten – was to knit a scarf. While all of the other little girls happily clicked their needles together to create long, tidy scarves, I struggled mightily to get the needles to cooperate, and the wool pulled and strained as I tried to loop it over the needles. Every time I completed a row I had to take a breather.

The other kids completed their scarves and started attaching the tasseled fringes onto the ends. I was still working away with my needles, trying desperately to come up with something that would go around my neck at least once. In the end, one day after school I simply finished the row I was on, and deemed the scarf to be complete. Since I had a scrap of knitted material that would barely wrap around a pencil, let alone a human neck, I resorted to artificial scarf-lengthening means. I soaked my scarf in water to make it wet and hopefully stretchy, and then I took it out to the back yard and secured one end to the ground with a croquet hoop. I pulled on the other end with all my might, and when it was stretched as far as it would go, I went to work with the hammer and a second croquet hoop. Then I went inside, blissfully under the impression that if my scarf were left to dry in that stretched-out state, my problem would be solved.

Pretty resourceful for a ten-year-old.

By the time I checked on my scarf a couple of hours later, it had indeed dried. It looked impressively long. I removed the croquet hoops and stared in disbelief as, like a strange alien creature undergoing a metamorphosis, the scarf writhed and contracted back to its original size. So much for my resourcefulness.

I would rather have set my face on fire than actually started knitting again, so I decided that the length in the scarf would just have to come from the tassels. I can honestly say that when I handed the scarf in for marking, the surreally long tassels completely took focus away from the quality – or lack thereof – of the knitting.

We will not discuss the next craft project: a knitted Humpty Dumpty. Mine was definitely a Dumpty.

Nor will we discuss the apron I made in seventh grade, that the home ec teacher awarded me a grade of 12% for.

We will just skip right ahead to this morning’s fiasco…

At Christmas, one of my gifts from my husband was a lovely light gray suit consisting of pants and a jacket. Although it fitted, it was just too snug to be comfortable. I mean, I don’t want to be sitting on the subway wondering if my pants are about to split open at the seam. So I hung the suit in my closet and resolved to wear it when I had lost a few pounds.

Thanks to the more-or-less liquid diet that I have been forced to follow of late, that day came today. I took the suit out and put it on to find it comfortably loose while still being stylishly fitted.

Just one problem – the pants were too long. I couldn’t wear them like that, because I would have dirtied the bottoms of the pant legs, and I probably would have tripped and fallen on my face in the process.

I couldn’t take them up, because – well, I just don’t do sewing. But that resourceful ten-year-old in me has never gone away, so I came up with a solution that any resourceful ten-year-old would think of.

I decided to staple the bottoms of my pants.

With my five-year-old quizzically looking on, I carefully measured out the length that looked right, and then went to work with the stapler.

At first, I couldn’t get the stapler to work properly, and I figured that I would probably have more success if I wasn’t actually wearing the pants while I stapled them. I took them off, laid them flat on the ground, and tried again. Ten minutes later, I put the pants back on, and went to the full-length mirror in the hall to survey my handiwork.

The fact that one leg was now an inch shorter than the other was the least of my problems. One of the staples wasn’t holding properly, so one side of the pant leg was drooping down sadly. On the other leg, the staple had bunched up the fabric in an intriguing manner. And my assumption that the staples wouldn’t show against the gray fabric turned out to be hopelessly misguided.

With resignation, I gave up on the gray suit. I took it off in a huff, and then stomped off to put on my blue pinstriped suit instead, a suit that was ready-to-wear and staple-free.

Now, with the benefit of several hours of hindsight, I can think of the utter ridiculousness of trying to staple pants and I can laugh about it.

But I really should learn how to sew. And giraffes should learn how to fly.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/stevendepolo/4312354135. This photo has a creative commons attribution license.)

Letting Go Of The Old

2 Aug

Yesterday afternoon, I found my living room floor. It had been missing for several years, buried beneath layers of toys that the kids have, over the years, played with and outgrown.

On several occasions, I have made efforts to organize the toys, painstakingly separating them into categories and storing like with like. But these toy organization systems that I have spent hours creating have lasted, on average, for about an hour. My older son sometimes copes with his autism meltdowns by picking up boxes of toys and dumping out the contents. Even as I wistfully watch my hours of work come to naught, I recognize that I would rather see my son throw toys around than bang his head against the wall hard enough to put holes in the drywall.

Quite apart from the side effects of autism, kids under the age of six don’t really get that the cars should go with the other cars, or that the Legos should be in the same container, or that the gazillion Mr. Potato Head parts are meant to stay together.

This weekend, me and my husband – ably assisted by our five-year-old son, took another crack at organizing the toys. But there was a difference in the way we did it this time.

A big difference.

This time, we actually got rid of stuff.

I thought getting rid of toys would be a nightmare, but once we had the buy-in of our younger son, it was actually quite easy. It was never going to be a problem where our firstborn was concerned. As long as he has his Lego, his gazillion Mr. Potato Heads, his measuring tapes, his alphabetic fridge magnets, and his math workbooks, he’s happy.

After a day of sorting, storing, and being bossed around by our five-year-old, we had reduced the volume of toys by a staggering amount. All of a sudden, we had enough toy boxes to contain all of the toys that we kept, without them spilling over onto the carpet. We rediscovered the concept of walking from one end of the living room to the other without getting Lego-shaped dents in the soles of our feet. It was an incredibly liberating experience.

There’s just one thing…

These are the toys that my kids played with when they were babies. The little teddy bears. The Winnie the Pooh ride-on toy. The blocks, the nesting cups, the First Words books. Getting rid of these remnants of my kids’ babyhood was like saying goodbye to a phase of my life, and acknowledging that my babies are no longer babies, that they are little boys.

As sentimental as I felt about the toys, what really made my breath catch in my throat was sorting through the little shoes that my kids wore as babies. It was the shoes that served as a physical reminder of how tiny they once were. As I held the shoes in my hands, the memories washed over me.

My older son’s very first pair of baby slippers, given to him by my Dad when he was just a few days old (no way am I getting rid of those).

Feeling my boy’s fingers grasp my hand with absolute trust as he tentatively walked in shoes for the first time.

My younger son’s face, alive with excitement, as he wore the shoes that were a miniature version of the ones his Dad wore.

My two boys laughing together as they splashed in rain puddles, wearing their new galoshes.

Their joyful oblivion as they tramped snow into the house in winter, leaving tiny wet footprints all over the floor.

The memories fade out and I reluctantly come back to reality, sitting there on the floor holding these tiny shoes in my hands. All but a couple of extra-special pairs must go. It is time to allow to the old to make way for the new, as my boys enter new and exciting phases of their lives.

Just because it has to be done though, that doesn’t make it easy.

It represents a letting go, and that is a bittersweet pill for any Mom to swallow.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ophilos/2564467134/ This photo has a creative commons attribution license.)

Why I Don’t Eat Lentils, And Other Stories

2 Jul

My grandmother

It is the mid-1980’s. I am fourteen years old, in ninth grade, and I am sleeping soundly. In the early hours of the morning, I suddenly wake up with a jolt. Somehow, I just know that my grandmother has died. I know this with the same certainty that I know the sun rises in the east. Granny has had a cold, but her health has been as good as can be expected for a woman in her 80’s. There has certainly been nothing to indicate her impending death. And yet, as I wake up, I know for a fact that she is gone, but I don’t have a clue as to how this knowledge has come to me.

As I lie in bed wondering what to do with this knowledge, I hear the phone ring. I listen to the sounds of feet running to answer the phone, followed by the muted tones of conversation. My door opens and Mom comes into the room. She seems surprised to find me awake so early.

“Granny has died,” Mom tells me.

“I know,” I say. Mom looks at me a little oddly, but lets my remark go, probably putting it down to just-woken-up bleariness. I sit up in my bed and Mom and I hug one another. She has lost her mother and now has no surviving parents. I have lost my grandmother, a woman I had loved dearly.

This loss is going to be hard on both of us.

One of the earliest memories I have of my grandmother is her lentil soup. The woman was a marvel in the kitchen – not so much because of the quality of her cooking, but because of her uncanny ability to create full meals with virtually no ingredients. She had raised three kids on her own while my grandfather was fighting in World War II, and lack of both supplies and money had made her very inventive and resourceful.

She used a lot of lentils. Lentils were cheap and nutritious, and there was apparently no problem getting hold of them during the war. Old habits die hard, I suppose, so thirty years after the war had ended, when supplies were plentiful and the economy was strong, my grandmother was still making her lentil soup.

It was, without any doubt whatsoever, the worst lentil soup. Ever. Granny would dish out these bowls of the stuff for her seven grandchildren, and make us sit at the table until we had finished it all. I mean, I know it was good for us and everything, but it just tasted so – horrible.

To this day, my friends, I cannot eat lentils. Not in soup, not in salad, not in anything. Those dark days of lentil soup tyranny ruined me for lentils forever.

Fortunately, there was a flip side to the lentil soup. My grandmother made the BEST banana fritters in the whole world. Let me tell you how good these things were. I don’t like bananas. I hate the taste, and I hate the texture, and I’d rather set my face on fire than eat them. But Granny’s banana fritters? I could eat those things until the cows came home. And she was the only one who could make them. She did give me the recipe, and I tried, but she just had that magic touch. When she died, so did the fritters.

I was quite an accomplished pianist in those days. I was very serious about it, and every year I would do practical piano exams to advance another level. I was always allowed to take the whole day off school on music exam days, and when the exam was done, my mom would drive me straight over to my grandmother’s place, where there would be some freshly made banana fritters waiting for me, made in honour of that day’s accomplishment.

Every summer, I spent a week or so with my grandmother. She lived on a large property off the beaten track, and there were acres of open space to play in. She had loads of dogs (including an ancient fox terrier named Chaka Charlie who always made me feel a little freaked out), and a coop full of pigeons. My cousins lived just down the road, and together we would play elaborate adventure games in Granny’s massive yard.

And in the evenings, after dinner, Granny and I would spend hours playing checkers. We would drink our tea and eat chocolate-dipped shortbread made by my aunt, who lived with my grandmother and still lives in the house today. And we would play endless games of checkers. Granny was a master at the game, and although I did win from time to time, this was very, very rare.

The last time I stayed over at my grandmother’s place, she asked me if I would teach her to play chess. Immediately, I agreed. This would be fun. My grandmother definitely had the mind for chess. She would have been fantastic at it.

As it happened, though, I woke up one morning when I was fourteen, and before the phone had even rung, I knew that my grandmother was no longer with us. I never got to teach her how to play chess.

I’ll always have the memories, though.

I just wish I could figure out how to make those banana fritters.