It never occurred to me as a child that I was different; I lived it every day.
We did, my siblings and I. It was the way we spoke, dressed and even the fact that we were held so close to the family nest. Nevertheless we were lucky because our home was gentle and kind; warm beds, hot food, home baked cakes and love, loads of love.
We had a Mum who served our lunch when we came in from school, dried our tears and bought us special ‘well making’ chocolate when we were ill.
The Winchester Castle first brought us to our new home in South Africa. A choice not taken lightly by the young Irish couple but nevertheless they made it, all for the benefit of a better future for their children. It changed the course of their lives forever. Our first home was in Port Elizabeth, but soon moved on to Gumtree, near Ficksburg in the Orange Free State.
I grew up in Africa, an Irish girl who spoke the Queen’s English in an Afrikaans school. We were so unique at the first farm school we attended in Gumtree, that in the play ground during break, my older sister was made to recite or sing in English standing on a chair. Of course my command and grounding of the Afrikaans language stems from those years. As children we saw no barriers, we got by with very little confusion, each speaking our own language.
They came to school barefoot when it was hot. We were made to carry raincoats in the bottom of our schoolbags, just in case of bad weather! Her heart was sometimes back in Ireland dreaming of a ‘grand soft day’, our Mum. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky for months at a time, but the coat had to stay. In the age of hand-me-down clothes, my younger sister always had a special, ‘as new’ raincoat passed on.
Saturday afternoon to the heavenly smell of shortbread baking in the oven and the thought of fresh hot scones for afternoon tea, we gathered around our father’s chair and sang Irish songs from the Community song books. My sure bet today is that no other children in South Africa did this! But we weren’t to know this and I am glad.
School days did become more normal in time, after we moved to a new home near Pretoria. But there were exceptions, you understand. We wore big bunches of shamrock on St Patrick’s day on our school uniforms, which was sent all the way from Cork in Ireland in moist butter paper.
My Dad wrote my name in Irish Gaelic on twenty new school books that I had freshly covered in brown paper, because he ‘saw no harm’. I cried all the way to school the next day.
Cried, because I was ashamed? No never. I cried because of what they may say, as I was still often perceived as different by other children, who are sometimes the cruellest little beasts alive.
Now, living back in the U.K., thoughts run through my mind daily. In fact, I was privileged to have had my African adventure.
There is no possible way that I could have had a drop, of a drop of southern hemisphere blood in me at birth, but some part of me will always be there in South Africa; a yearning that is unexplainable. The beautiful sunsets, taken so for granted, night calls from the bush and the blue, blue waves crashing down and foaming up the sands will live on in me forever.
I was different, but how fortunate!