By Linda Stewart
Yesterday’s post set out the blog plan for 2015. Today is the first Monday to post an excerpt of my personal history. If you would like to play along on Mondays and share something from your life, as memoir or reminiscences, you are welcome to post the link to your post in the comment section of this post. A link back to Memoir Monday would be nice too. Play nice … unrelated posts and random blog links will be deleted.
Fellow blogger WangiWriter joins me today to write about the 1950s.
Between August and December 1959 I attended my first school in Durban, South Africa. The blue and white gingham uniform with matching bloomers were standard issue for Westville Primary School.
In the final years of my schooling, while attending a school in Pretoria, South Africa, the uniform was once again blue gingham, without the matching bloomers. Black lace up shoes and white socks were required footwear and the schools I attended did not permit sandals in summer. By time I reached home after the long and dusty walks home from school on hot summer afternoons the souls of my feet were burning. I still enjoy the relief of kicking off socks and shoes and wriggling my toes about in the fresh air.
My parents’ laissez-faire parenting style caused me to become self-reliant at an early age. At the time I had no awareness of the strained relationship my parents had or that my father had walked out on his previous family, never to see his two sons again. Throughout childhood there was an uneasiness that I did not belong. In later years I came to understand that the introvert child is often misunderstood and viewed as shy, surly and sulky, which I could not understand.
I reflect on those days and how I was made to feel different and now realise the uneasiness had more to do with my father’s projection of his expectations for a ‘well-adjusted child’ than any short comings of my child-like self. My own company was always preferable to that of other children. The solitude in my own company with a book, pen and paper remains intrinsically me. As now, reading and practicing writing and playing on my own, where my fantasies took flight, were the best times of my young self.
If I became tearful, or angry, when pushed into social activities, my father would become exasperated and then withdraw, emotionally. It was a form of discipline I came to know well. The silent treatment.
As an adult and parent, I understand wanting the best for your child and seeing them spend so much time alone can feel like one has failed. Nothing could have been further from the truth in my case. There was so much to entertain me at home and my parents took care to ensure I was surrounded with an assortment of books, educational toys and 78rpm records filled with nursery rhymes and children’s classics. I did not know the meaning of the words boredom or loneliness.
At the beginning of each school year the stationery and text book lists arrived in the mail and my mother and I spent a morning, a few weeks before the start of the first term, shopping. Little did I realise that these shopping sprees, were the birthing of my on-going love affair with all things stationery. Notwithstanding the limited selection in the 1950s, I spent more time than my mother had patience, choosing the right set of coloured pencils or embossed pictures with which to decorate the book covers, both exercise and text. New stationery was a big deal and I took care to look after them. Recycled cigar boxes, from father, were my standard pencil cases throughout my school years. It was not until years later that snazzy pencil cases came into vogue but I became fond of the cigar boxes and enjoyed decorating them each year.
If Mum was well enough, after the morning out, we spent the afternoon covering books, shaving off the top part of the pencil for my name, and labelling everything. Once exercise books were covered with a thin waxy brown paper, Mum, in her beautiful cursive handwriting labelled them and I pasted an embossed picture on the cover. We did this for each subject which was time-consuming. When Mum became too ill to accompany me on these new school term stationery expeditions I went by myself although they were never as enjoyable. When she was well we had a lot of fun as we shared a similar sense of humour and regaled one another with anecdotes bordering on the ridiculous.
Back in the 50s, school children did not carry backpacks to school. We had suitcases, usually born and made from strong cardboard, with a metal handle and two spring locks with small keys, and when new were, attached to the handle with string. The inside covering was usually a plaid design. It was into a similar suitcase that we packed my stationery ready for the start of term one in the school year.
I was not always the overachieving personality I became in later years. Early school years were filled with mediocre report cards bemoaning my inability to concentrate or grasp the fundamentals of times tables. My handwriting was as free-spirited as the child I was; lacking direction and conformity. That I graduated from any class in primary school was a wonder.