Mom, Dad – My Freedom Heroes…

My very first memory of my mother is of me, a 6 year old child, being shouted at and rushed to get ready for school. This my very first memory of my mother. How sad that as an adult, I have no recollection of being raised by my mother even though I know that she was there…

She was there, working long 12 hour shifts, often at night. She was there spending weeks in hospital when my brother took ill as a toddler. She was there, doing what she had to do for her family.

My earliest memories of as a child growing up is that of my father washing my hair, using a lice comb to get rid of the creepy critters that I picked up at school sometimes. My father holding my hand, walking me home from school. My earliest memories is of my dad helping me with homework.

My fondest memory is that of working with my dad on a school project about the area where I lived,  Ocean View. I was stunned by his knowledge – this poor man, this poor smart man – his knowledge astounded me as a child, I remember getting a very high mark for this project about Ocean View and what made it so unique…

I grew up poor, we had very little, but when I think back to my childhood it conjures up feelings of happiness, love and being cared for.

Often when we’re with old family friends, stories are told of my parents when they were younger. Mom, the stunning woman who took my dad’s breath away – the nurse who worked so hard, the lady with the kind heart. The young woman who was literally rejected by her mother. Her stepfather did not want to raise another man’s child. Mom, being moved around as a child living with her grandmother where her older sister took care of her. Later meeting my dad in Ocean View where, finally, after years, she felt a sense of belonging, a sense of family.

Stories are told of my dad growing up in a family of 6 children, reared by a mother who became a single parent over night when her husband took a hike. I hear stories of hard working folk, my granny working for neighbours, local family folk – cleaning, ironing, washing, cooking – all to put a few slices of bread on the table. My dad an intelligent child, having to leave school to find a job and help support his mother in order to provide for his siblings and hopefully ensure a better future for them.

After my birth we moved around A LOT! My parents drank, especially my dad who use to drink A LOT! Often while mom was at work, he would wrap me up in his long coat and go on his walk-about with his soccer friends. Drinking. Sometimes he would go to the local pub, ‘Oaks’, and ask the bar lady to put me down behind the counter while I slept. Many a night my aunt or a family friend had to come fetch me and dad from the pub. I remember being in the care of my dad, always feeling safe.

My last memory of my father’s drinking is of me, a 5 or 6 year old, carrying his flagon up the steps to our flat. Dad, too drunk to even walk straight.

Some may say that this must have been a horrible way to be raised. But one must remember, back in the day  our community was a safe place, people could walk around late at night, children could play outside, no fear of gangs or drugs. Back in the day, this was the way people lived. These were what many today would refer to as perhaps the happiest period of their lives. We look back at these memories with fondness.

This, my last memory of my dad drinking; probably because soon thereafter my brother became seriously ill, pneumonia – they weren’t sure if he would survive, today he still has the scars in his body where he laid in hospital for weeks coupled to machines…My parents gave up alcohol and they prayed and prayed for my brother’s recovery.

He recovered and my parents stopped drinking – mom continued to work long hours. I started primary school and dad found more “permanent” employment  as a “houseboy”. He worked for a wonderful family in St. James, a family who embraced him as one of their own. This family would travel to Canada annually and we would housesit for two months of the year, early morning walks on St. James beach, playing with the dogs, exploring each nook and cranny of this gigantic house with 4 living rooms, 6 bedrooms, 2 dining rooms, massive garages 6 bathrooms, a massive kitchen and big gardens. Lots of food and COLOUR television.

I remember the stares we would get as a coloured family, standing up on the balcony overlooking the ocean, the stares when we took the dogs for an early morning walk on the beach “what are those people doing in that big house”.

This family really took my dad in as one of their own. When my dad found another job as a General Worker at the local healthcare facility, they still maintained contact. On weekends my dad would visit, we would still house sit when they went to Canada. They helped our family with building our house.

This gentleman has since passed away, but today we are still in contact with his wife, who now lives in Simon’s Town, a Botanist, frail and stubborn. She always gets so excited when my dad visits, an opportunity for her to talk about her husband and the good old days…

My mom, besides her job as a nurse, also worked as a domestic worker for a few hours in the morning when she finished her shift. She was also embraced by some good families. Often during school holidays my brother and I would go to work with her, playing with our “white” friends, experiencing a world which otherwise we may not have experienced if mom didn’t have to work so hard…

One of the ladies my mom worked for also owned a house in St. James. I loved putting the dirty laundry in the laundry shoot and running down the steps to the laundry room to make sure it fell into the basked. This fascinated me, the way other people lived. This lady, an author of children’s books, always had such fascinating stories to tell. It was always so exciting when she had a signed copy of her latest children’s book for us.

As a child, I was exposed to a diversity of life experiences and cultures. I never felt left out or different, to me people were just that, people. It was only when I went to a “Model C” high school, where I became aware of racism. It is here where I realised that it is the reaction of parents towards others, towards people of different cultures, social status or religious believes, that ultimately shapes their child’s reaction to diversity and the acceptance thereof.

I  really enjoyed English poetry, learning about oppression, cultural diversity, our democracy, our past. It is this knowledge of poetry (which I have by now forgotten) that made me look at my environment at school and the realisation that many children were being brought up in homes where they were still seeing themselves as lesser than/more than…The social dynamics were obvious.

I am grateful to my parents for not raising my brother and I with a view that there is an us and a them. In 1990 we all sat in front of the TV witnessing the release of Nelson Mandela, the epitome of freedom – I never understood what the fuss was about, but today I understand the significance of that moment.

How sad then is it not that children are still being raised to see others as different, less than, more than. My parents, my heroes of modern day parenting, raising children to understand the concept of diversity, acceptance and the notion that all people are equal irrespective of race, gender or social status.

As a child, I never felt less than or more than anyone else. As a child, I experienced democracy by way of which my parents employers treated them – they were treated with respect and dignity – they were never made to feel as if they were lesser. The colour of their skin was just that, a colour. This before our new found democracy and freedom.

How wonderful is it not that my very first best friend and I, a friend that has a very special place in our lives, were able to withstand the racial prejudices we sometimes experienced in high school since mix race friendships were frowned upon (to put it mildly) by some of my classmates.

The reality is that there are racial inequalities in our country, it is a given when looking at our history, but this should not mean that we cannot raise our children to be accepting of diverse cultures.

Why should we hold our children prisoners of our mindsets based on historical injustices…where is the freedom in that?

My beautiful mom and gorgeous son.

My dad, a wonderful grandfather to my son.