I have had many memories throughout my life, some happy and some sad.
During the 1970’s growing up I remember we used to look after a beautiful female fox terrier who belonged to our next-door neighbour, her name was Suzi. This was my first best friend and it felt like she was my own dog as we used to take her in quite often when our neighbours went on holiday.
One sunny day it was late in the afternoon and the neighbours facing our front door had a red brick wall next to their house I was over by the neighbour playing with their kids outside in the garden. I decided I was going to climb this wall cos being a young small boy I was always very curious and up for a challenge to find out what certain things would be like after exploring them. I climbed the wall and found out in no time that this wall was not sturdy (cement plastered) and gave way as soon as I climbed it. It collapsed in an instant and I had a fright but only sustained some minor bruises on my leg. My ego was the biggest injury.
At the age of 4, I had an accident after falling into the hot tub in Youngsfield military base and sustained a fair amount of burns to my body as described in ‘my life story’.
I also had a great fear of heights and at the age of 11 or 12, I went to a school friend’s house and his dad was also in the military. They had a huge trampoline in the backyard and always enjoyed playing and jumping on it as a kid the few times I did visit them. They had a big old tree in their backyard with a wooden platform fitted between the tree branches (tree house) high up in the tree. I climbed up the tree and attempted to step across to another tree branch and my hand slipped off the tree branch and fell to the ground flat onto my back approximately 3 to 4 metres down. I had some pain but it was more so the shock of that moment as I could not believe what had just happened. I swiftly got up and walked home crying.
Whilst living in Kenwyn, Santa delivered my first BMX bicycle. I was so excited, about my first personal transport. I was independent, I was free, and I could explore. I planned all my day trips carefully. Mom prepared me a picnic of sandwiches, cold drinks and of course the much-required stack of sweets and chocolates.
Sometimes a friend would join in the fun and sometimes I went alone. My trips were as far afield as Kirstenbosch, Constantia and Newlands swimming pools. Travelling all the way from Wynberg was a good distance for a child
Other day trips that I remember were the train rides to Town (Cape Town) with mom and brother. These trips were always filled with excitement for a young little boy, a train trip followed by the smells and sights of the big city itself followed by lunch at a restaurant in The Golden Acre
My family often planned long trips to Eastern Cape or the Transvaal. Mom would always have a huge hamper of roast chicken and potatoes with rice and other veggies. The special treat was the instant puddings and jelly we ate if we were good in the 20-hour car trips
Originally as every young child, I was very close to my mom, as a typical rebellious teenager, dad was my hero and comfort. I clashed with mom for many years before our bond grew close again. Today, I think back in horror at the words I spoke to mom, but realize that I was naïve and had to learn about life.
My dad was a very strict straightforward person and did not stand for any nonsense whatsoever. If you didn’t listen, he would merely lift his big hands and take a good hard swing at us and you know what you have done wrong and believe me, it did not tickle. It hurt like hell. Those were the good ole days and I never regret my upbringing ever.
It taught me to respect and improved my character as a person.
I often climbed into dads car to play with the car switches until one day, I snapped the cable that unlocked the bonnet. My dad was very enraged and he gave me good hiding as a result. Ever since that day he always kept the car locked whilst parked in the garage.
He had to spend money to have it repaired. As a ruling because of similar events that resulted in things breaking, I stopped fiddling with other people’s property as I was always extremely curious about what a button on a radio or some or other piece of equipment would do, had I pressed it. I would always end up breaking something or something would fall and break, so I eventually learned my lesson as a kid and stopped messing with stuff that either did not belong to me or did not apply to me.
I was born Christo De Flamingh on 29 April 1971 in the early hours of that Thursday morning. Our first home, after I was born was on a military base as my dad was an artillery instructor in the SADF.
I was about 4 years old and I remember, one night we had visitors over and my mom sent me to run a bath for myself. I placed the plug into the bath trap and opened the hot water tap. After a couple of minutes as a lot of kids do, I got bored waiting for the bath to fill up with water. I decided to lie on top of the edge of the bath and after a couple of seconds I lost my balance and fell into the bath half-filled with hot water and almost immediately I let out a blood curling scream.
My mom appeared in an instant as she ran to the bathroom after my screams for help. She picked me up out of the bath and covered me with a blanket and my dad rushed me to the military hospital in Wynberg military base. I had suffered severe burns over the upper part of my body and my legs and my one foot. After a long period of time my wounds had healed and with time I was able to have the bandages removed. This was my very first encounter when I experienced trauma and this was a very frightening ordeal for me at such a young age.
Since I can remember, I used to have a very cheeky temper tantrum in me and if I couldn’t have my way or wanted to make a point, I would throw a tantrum.
We used to look after the neighbour’s dog when they went on holiday. It was a fox-terrier female named Suzi and was like having my first experience with owning and playing with my best friend (first dog). We used to play outside and I remember running as fast as I could and going through the front door after running around the house then closing the door quickly after entering the house. That used to be such a rush of adrenaline and an exciting thrill all at the same time. I remember my brother starting school in 1975 as a first grader (Sub A).
In 1977, exciting news, not only did we move into a new home in Wynberg, dad purchased our first TV, the first in South Africa a black and white.
Our new home in Wynberg military base was a whole new and exciting experience for me. I met and made new friends although some of our neighbours also moved to Wynberg as the old military houses from our former home was to be converted to single quarters/rooms for single military staff members. We lived a total of approximately 8 years in Wynberg military base. During my stay in Wynberg, I had some fun times with my friends and family as a child growing up in a military environment things are considerably different to kids whose parents would be employed in the private sector.
Life felt a lot safer back in those days than in the 21st century. But nevertheless, those were good years in the seventies (1970’s) right through to the early nineties (1990’s).
In 1978 we had a next-door neighbour that lived in the flat right next door to us and they had two sons named Francois and Deon. Deon and I became very good friends even though he was at least ten years my senior. He was like a big brother to me and we did a lot of things together over the years.
After finishing high school, Deon joined the military. He had the love of his life, Alida, a beautiful gentle lady. Deon was madly in love with her.
One night late It was raining very heavily and Deon and some of his mates left the military base where he was doing his military service and came home to see his parents. He walked past my window when he left I saw his face for the last time as he made his way back to the car downstairs. He smiled and waved as he walked past our kitchen window that night. I think it was August 1978. He was killed in a car crash when they drove back to Youngsfield military base. The accident occurred on Ottery road not far from Youngsfield Military Base.
We attended his funeral as a family and I felt so shocked as I didn’t quite understand what was really happening as I was only seven years old at the time.
Years later I would find his grave and then I really cried my eyes out and understood and comprehend what had taken place in terms of my emotions. I had lost my best friend that was like a brother to me. Memories flash as I remember the rides on the back of his motorcycle his dad bought Deon. Remembering the excitement I felt every time he came home from school, as I anticipated the adventures and exploring we shared.
I miss him still up until today as I have never forgotten him. We were quite close and his mother knew and could see he had quite an impact on my life. His death was a huge loss to his family and friends. His parents remained in their flat for many years after we had moved out.
In 1982 I had changed schools as I was diagnosed with being dyslexic. I was now in a completely new and different type of school as it was an enormous change and I faced numerous challenges, struggling to adapt and fit in with the rest of the school and curriculum.
The first three years were the most difficult as the class teacher was a very emotional destructive person and turned out to be very damaging to me as a person as it made me feel very insecure and frightened. I didn’t know what it was like to have fun anymore as I was scared and felt anxious for most of that time but nevertheless, I did make very good friends over the years at my new school.
Feeling so emotional and vulnerable at times had me landing up in detention after school as I became despondent and I didn’t know how to deal with the issues at the time. I had my friends that would keep me grounded over the years as well as my mom and dad. I would look to my friends for fun times in terms of my situation at school.
I did suffer a lot of mental anguish under my first teacher at the new school but over time things got better as I advanced to higher grades. In the tenth grade (std 8) 1988, I decided to drop out of school and join the military to complete my military service. My dad was adamant that I complete my military training, even if decided to go back to school the following year but my mind was made up not to return to school.
Joining the military I felt it was a huge change in my life and adapting to military life was not easy at first as I wasn’t the type to fit in very easily with big new changes and strangers etc. By the second month, things seemed easier and I felt more relaxed. I managed to get a transfer to my dad’s unit back home as I initially did my basic training in Kimberly over 1000 km away from home. I was very happy to be back in my hometown.
Later that year I applied to Technical College Cape Town and was granted a sleep-out pass which allowed me to move back home as I was compelled to live in the military base due to my military training. I started studying at the college by attending classes at night after work two to three times a week. I was determined to get my national senior certificate but as luck would have it, I lost interest and didn’t complete the following year at college. So I ceased all studies especially after I left the military service in July 1990. I found myself unemployed and looking for work for the first time at the age of 19. I found a job at a motor company where I worked as a driver for the first 8 years then as a parts manager after which I was retrenched in August 1999.
In 1993 my dad fell ill with having complications with his heart and as a result, he passed away three years later on April 7th, 1995. I was devastated after losing my dad. For years I wore black; mourning my dad’s passing and important dates like the date of his passing and burial as well as his birthday were very sad days for me. I struggled with great difficulty processing my dad’s passing. My dad didn’t have any life insurance and we were forced to sell the house where I grew up. Mom and I purchased a flat jointly just down the road from where we used to live.
After being laid off in 1999, I spent three years looking for work. My mom covered all the bills for those three years and I thought I would never find employment. In late 2003 I found employment with a service station and I was put in charge of their car wash. It didn’t pay much at the time but I was very grateful for the opportunity as it covered my bills and my mom could breathe a bit. Money was always tight but we somehow managed and made it work. 23 years, a lifetime full of lessons. Lots of good memories with some sad days as well.
In 2000 I met a neighbour who lived across the road from me in a house. Her name was Cathy and she was 18 years my senior. I fell in love with her and she was my rock for a short few years. She used to listen to all my trials and tribulations. We spent a lot of time together and went out quite a number of times. I felt wanted again and she meant the world to me. In 2001 she fell ill after being hospitalised for a hip replacement and passed away shortly after. I was once again left in a state of shock but I was able to process Cathy’s death much easier than my dad’s passing.
My brother left for Dubai in November 2003 and shortly after I found employment at the Engen service station where I was in charge of the carwash. He used to send us money which was a great help financially. As life got more expensive with time I found employment with a paper vendor and left in 2012 to venture out on my own as an entrepreneur to start my own business and make a living for myself to try and have a better quality of life.
Due to my mom’s health which was also on the decline, it was the best decision to work from home as mom assisted me in taking calls for the first 3 to 4 years. I later approached friends of mine who were unemployed as the business had now grown considerably and needed help keeping up with the demand and service I was offering to clients.
In 2018 the business failed due to the economy and I had closed the business and lost my staff also as a result. I continued to get the odd call for business but eventually died off completely. I found myself once again unemployed and at the mercy of debt collectors and by now my mom’s health had deteriorated considerably and I could see the stress of losing our home started taking its toll on her as well as on me as I found myself very depressed many days and didn’t know how to deal with this situation.
My brother had also lost his job in Dubai and came home and was living with us due to him also being unemployed. Things would get rather tense and stressful as money was little to speak of. We were forced to put our flat up for sale to get out of the financial predicament we found ourselves in. My business which once provided for me and my mom’s needs was also up in smoke and I felt like I had also nothing left to live for any longer.
In March 2019 we signed the transfer documents for the sale of the flat but before the transfer would take place, my mom passed away on April 28th, 2019, one day before my 48th birthday.
I was once again dumped into absolute devastation and depression. By now I had been on anti-anxiety and anti-depressants for some time prescribed by my doctor to help me cope with all that was taking place in my life.
It’s been a few years since my mom passed away, the flat has been sold, I moved out and life happened. My health has declined, but live to fight another day every day. Each day is a challenge for me; I thank God each day that I am still alive. I don’t always have the physical strength to get out of bed but I do my best as each day is a new challenge.
I miss my parents dearly and wish I could turn the clock back to have some more time with them. But I would never stop loving them because they brought me up in this world and I would always be thankful to God for the time I had with them on earth.
God is the only real rock I can lean on as I don’t have my mom or my dad to fulfil that task for me anymore. I feel lonely many days but take each day as it comes. Right now I just fight to survive and to stay alive mentally, emotionally and financially.
As we approach Mother’s Day, I thought I would share a bit about my own mom, along with some poems I wrote for the cards I made to sell. With lockdown and loss of income I thought part of my sharing would be the poems, for anyone who would like to copy them to make their own cards. Mom 24/4/1935 – 29/4/ 1988 (†)
Mom was the youngest of 3 sisters in Lake Como Italy, Dervio to be exact. Growing up, she was very much a free spirited, tomboyish type of girl. She went up to grade 5 (Quinta elementare), Which was normal in those days. Her passion was knitting, and she would make and sell things on the knitting machine my grandfather had bought for her. She was also excellent at knitting by hand and would recycle old wool to make new things.
When she was young, she also worked as a maid for neighbours as the umbrella factory in Dervio where her sisters worked, was not hiring people when she left school. She met dad in 1957 and they married in 1959. She became a housewife and I remember holding wool and helping her pull old jerseys apart as she sorted out the wool to make new ones. When dad opened his salon in Bellville there was a little shop nearby that would buy some of her knitting.
Mom loved animals and the birds would nest in the trees in our garden and allow her to see the babies. She was extremely sensitive, e.g. one day I had to vacuum the lounge but as she was speaking to the milkman I stood waiting for them to finish, only to get a mouthful when he left, because she said he was a poor man and asked if I was I trying to show off with what we have because we had more than him. She was also strict; my youngest brother often tells the story of when he faked to be sick one day to skip school. When my other brothers and I left for school, he wanted to get up, but mom made him stay in bed all day! If I spoke badly about anyone she’d tell me who was I to judge because I wasn’t and had never been in that person’s shoes.
When dad opened his last salon in Parow, things didn’t go well as he was sickly. As a result, mom started going with him to help. She worked on the till and would wash people’s hair and help out where she could with the odd things. On the 29th of April 1988 as my parents were leaving the salon in the evening, a car came speeding along and hit her and she died instantly .Mom had an extremely high level of intuition. On her last day she was very happy and singing beautifully .My question is, did she feel or anticipate something? My poems
1st Poem You are a wonderful mother your smile is so bright, You love unconditionally morning, noon and night You listen and care you wipe away tears. Thank you for being our sweet mother dear.
2nd Poem To a mother so sweet so loving and caring Who shares her love and her time. Who gives of herself without tiring I am so glad that mother is mine.
3rd Poem A Mother is a shoulder to cry on. A friend to talk to Someone who always listens She’s patient kind and loving All this and so much more. Thank you, mom, for always doing your best.
4th Poem Mum you are a pillar of strength a tower of love A source of inspiration Everything a mother does is done with dedication. A mother helps us through our trials and all our tribulations We’re so lucky to be blessed with the best mum in the nation. Happy Mother’s Day & thank you for everything.
Language problems can be frustrating however, when you look back you can have a good laugh.
My mom used to tell a story about a time when she wanted to buy a broom, and my paternal auntie who had been in South Africa for a few years already, had told her it was called brush. So off she went asking the salespeople for a brush, and as you can imagine, they showed her all kinds of brushes. Eventually out of frustration, she ran out the shop, grabbed a broom out of a street sweeper’s hands and went back in with the poor guy behind her shouting, “madam my broom!!!”.
Another time, when I was 8 or 9 years old my mom woke us up late for school one morning. As we attended a catholic school (Nazareth House), she told us to tell the nun that the clock had stopped, and she hadn’t realised the time. As if the original message getting translated from a second language English speaker wasn’t bad enough, try getting a child to relay that message. The result was, “Mom said the clock went backwards”. Just imagine the look on the nun’s face!
Initially, my dad also didn’t have much luck in that department. He was a hairdresser and would often tell stories of getting into trouble at work. People would ask for a perm or a tint and he’d pick up a scissors to start cutting their hair instead.
Mom loved reading and started reading English as much as possible. She’d read romances and anything with pictures that she could find. Over the years she just about perfected her English. Poor dad was a talented man, but maybe not so much when it came to languages however, it did improve to a point where he could at least communicate. I also loved reading like mom. It was one of the subjects I was good at, and I feel this is what helped me with spelling over the years. Writing was of course more difficult for my parents as they needed help if they had to write anything down. “Culture Differences”
Off course the culture was also different as suddenly we had to call all adults “aunties” and “uncles”. In Italy only true aunties and uncles were called that, other adults were addressed with Mr, Mrs or Miss. So as you can imagine, I was confused and kept asking mom where all these relatives were coming from, but I don’t think she knew how to answer. One day I went to the library and addressed a woman as “auntie.” Surprisingly, she gave me a mouthful, and said she was “coloured,” so I shouldn’t have called her auntie. Understandably, I had no idea what she was talking about, which resulted in me ending up even more confused than before. I’m not sure how old I was, but I couldn’t have been more than 10 years old. At this point, I didn’t know who to address as auntie and uncle, or when I’d get into trouble for doing so. I didn’t tell my parents because if I had done something wrong then I would have been in trouble at home as well.
“Not an issue”
In my family race was never an issue. No matter who visited us, we all sat at the same table and ate together. It didn’t matter if it was a just a visitor or someone who worked for us such as the gardener, the maid or a hairdresser at dad’s salon. Regardless of race, everybody was invited to our house at one point or another. In fact, people of all races came to offer their condolences when my parents passed away. My final thought is that we need to look beyond our cultural and linguistic differences in life. This could mean something as simple as just accepting or appreciating another person’s language or culture. Ultimately, our language and culture determine the way we see the world and is what makes every one of us unique. Keep laughing, keep smiling and thanks for reading.
April 1967: My mom went into hospital to have a baby. I already had 2 younger brothers and 2 older male cousins next door; it was time for a sister. However, when my mom phoned from the hospital, I was told that I had another baby brother instead.
“A brother? Noooo, it just isn’t fair,” I said. I felt that the doctors had to change him for a girl, or why couldn’t the stork bring me a sister rather? (In those days we were told that the stork brought babies)
I was adamant that there were enough boys in the family already. I was the only girl and it just wasn’t fair. I don’t think she knew how to answer me because I just wasn’t calming down. Soon after, dad went to fetch her, and they came home with the new bundle of joy. I soon grew to love the new arrival, and I would even help mom with him. However, I still wanted a sister.
The following year my aunt next door gave birth to a little girl, finally there was another girl in the family. I spent as much time as I could by their house. If I couldn’t have a baby sister, then a cousin had to be the next best thing. Despite my sentiments towards my baby brother when he was a child, I rely on him a lot today. He helps me with repairs around the house and he is also generous with his time. (He is quite handy like my dad was, and like my other 2 brothers are, but unfortunately my husband is not). As for my cousin, she now lives in Sicily with her family. In short, I love my baby brother and I would not trade him for the world.
We have all watched those movies, you know the one where disaster strikes and the world as we know it changes overnight. We’ve watched in disbelief as people carry on their daily routine, catching the bus, eating the ice cream while behind them a wall of water is crashing into the city, wiping out buildings and sweeping cars aside like dust balls from beneath the sofa. We sat and silently wondered how they could not see that coming. But the truth of it is, we know what’s coming because the movie title gave it away.
As I walk through the streets of town on my way back to the office after getting my morning coffee, it struck me, the irony of the scene playing in my head – I was the ‘seemingly’ nonchalant thespian staggering across this global stage we all are now reluctantly finding ourselves in.
Don’t get me wrong, there is a quiet that is unsettling, there is a stillness that does not compute on what should be a bustling cityscape. People are distancing themselves from work, from friends, from each other on the streets and ‘normal’ social behaviour is being reshaped, redefined. An invisible wall of water is closing in around us and we are all trying desperately not to let it envelop our psyche.
Here is the thing, and it’s a big one so hear me out.
The nature of the human experience in its essence is to put a face to an experience, a visual impact that drives home the message or the lesson to be learnt. Poverty has a face, HIV Aids, has a face, greed has a face, we are all familiar with what these things look like. The coronavirus, COVID-19 does not! Those that are being shown to people are all seemingly healthy looking individuals. Despite testing positive, they look just like you and me, like your neighbour, like your colleagues – and therein, I believe is the greatest danger of all.
I have started to see it creep across the face of the person standing next to me in the lift, or when the lovely lady who normally greets me at the bus station looked for another seat instead of sitting next to me. I sense that as many of you read this you may feel the same sense of foreboding that I did when this came to me. But here is the thing, and it is equally, if not greater than the last thing.
I am, you are, your neighbour is, and so is your colleague – the face of COVID-19. Not because we fear it, or have it or may have been exposed to it, but because the image that will drive home the greatest message, or lesson learnt during this, and I will use the term on everyone’s lips – unprecedented – time we find ourselves in should be one that reveals our truest capability as humanity. It is our ability to care about the well-being others. It is our ability to look past the possible, the probable and even the likely and still reach out to the next person, because when someone looks at me in fear, I don’t want to be their mirror.
Within these, the deepest depths of foreboding I am convinced that time has slowed down, not the proverbial tic-toking of the clock, but in the quietness within. It feels as if the earth has held its breath and we are all waiting to exhale. We are being gifted time, to reconnect to self and others and to remember. It is when we remember that we will recognise that the facelessness of this experience was not there to create fear, but was meant to reconnect us.