Available for Pre-Order!
I have completed my memoir of growing up in Africa (Rhodesia) during the Fifties and Sixties, and it is available for pre-order in Kindle. Publication date is March 31, 2021 and it will also at that time be available in paperback. In the meanwhile, I will post below the first chapter, since it does not yet appear in the “Look Inside” feature on Amazon.
I had so much fun writing this memoir, and for anyone who is curious about Africa this is a must-read book! Here is the first chapter for you:
MOM AND DAD
“Children learn more from what you are than what you teach them.” ~Unknown~
Fort Victoria, 1962
Like a leopard stalking a troop of preoccupied, garden-raiding baboons, Dad walks into the room while we are in the act of rifling through his bedside drawer. He points his stubby forefinger at us—the one that is missing its first digit, lost in an old carpentry accident. “I thought I told you to stay out of my stuff.”
My mouth drops open, and the white-blonde head of my younger sister, Butch, swivels toward me. “It was Pie. She’s looking for chocolates.” Rabbit, my eight-year-old brother, stares up at the ceiling. I have nothing to do with this either, his eyes seem to say. Queenie, still too young to understand we’re in trouble, giggles and points at me. “She did it!”
Dad’s blue eyes alight on the thing I am holding in my hand. Instead of chocolates—I should have known better; Dad does not have Mom’s sweet tooth—I am clutching a pelt of colorful feathers. I am a thief caught in the act. We are a family of chocoholics and behave like tweakers looking for our next fix, but Dad’s weakness is salted peanuts. We have just discovered the brilliant pelt hidden under his stash. Dad reaches out, and I hand over the pelt. “Dining room,” he says, jerking his head toward the door.
Dad smells of motor oil. His khaki shorts are stained with grease from the old Siddeley truck’s gearbox that he has been working on all day, hoping it will be in running order by Monday. Mom is out shopping. My eleven-year-old brain told me we had a few minutes of freedom to go digging through their bedroom drawers. How wrong I was.
We gather around the tarnished but solid mahogany wood dining table. Petina’s soft singing, a Shona lullaby, drifts through the kitchen door as she prepares our evening meal. Johnny, her baby, rests on her back, wrapped in a length of blue and white cotton. The occasional clatter of cups and saucers rise above the menacing but familiar hiss of our unreliable pressure cooker.
We—Butch, Rabbit, and me, settle into the dining room chairs’ worn seats. Queenie is there too. She hates being left out of our affairs, even if it involves a “talking to,” or worse, the belt. I sigh. At least Dad didn’t get the belt out. The ripped, green Naugahyde covers scratch my bare legs. I pick at a scab on my knee as I await the lecture to come.
Dad places the pelt on the table as he sits down. “Tea, Petina!” he yells, but Petina has already anticipated him. Her bare feet scuffing on the tile floor, she enters the dining room carrying a tea tray. Her baby Johnny gazes at us with round doe eyes from his kangaroo-like pouch. Placing the tray gently on the table, she scuffs out again. Dad lifts the beaded doily from the milk jug, pours a dollop of milk into his cup, then a heaping teaspoon of sugar. He waits a while, tilts the teapot, and a stream of dark liquid fills the cup to its brim. Petina knows how strong he likes his tea, and she never disappoints.
Sighing with satisfaction, Dad begins to sip. We wait. Tea is his pacifier, his soother of jangled nerves, of which lately, he has a jillion.
“This pelt is from a lilac breasted roller,” he says finally, placing the cup down and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand.
I gasp. I had guessed, though. The roller’s pastel plumage, pinkish-lilac breast, and brilliant blue on its wings mark it as one of Africa’s most beautiful birds.
“Listen carefully, because one day you may be in the same situation I was, and I want you to make the right choice.”
We look at each other. This may not be as bad as we’d anticipated.
“It was just after I’d received my very first paycheck on the mines. I’d bought a rifle, and I couldn’t wait to try it out. The man I bought it from promised me it would shoot straight, and I also wanted to see how my aim was. Shooting at unmoving targets seemed too tame. So, I went out into the bush to find something to shoot at. A splash of color in a tree drew my eye, and I lifted the rifle and took aim.” Dad pauses for a moment, and, sadly, I think, looks down at the pelt, then takes another sip of tea. “I squeezed the trigger. To my surprise, the bird dropped with a small thud, like a stone. I walked over, picked it up, and stared at the dead thing lying motionless in my hand. Its eyes looked at me, empty of life and consciousness.”
He looked up at us. “I thought I would be happy that my aim was so accurate, that I had hit my target, but I felt no joy in the act. I felt as if I had murdered the most amazing creature I had ever seen. This bird should have been alive, singing, making nests, and showing off its plumage; not lying lifeless in my hand.” He lifts the pelt, shaking it slightly. “I kept this to remind me that we don’t kill for sport. I kill so we can eat, not for pleasure. I get no enjoyment from killing a living creature.” Placing the pelt gently back into the drawer, he turns. “Remember that.”
Dad has hunted for a living. For many years he was forced to shoot meat for us and his workforce, to kill living things, but he tells us he gets no pleasure from it. To him, it is a necessity, not a sport. This is who my father is; his tough, he-man exterior hides a sensitive soul, but also one who can do the difficult thing when it becomes necessary. He can be frightening to us kids, using his belt on us at any infraction, but he only does it because he thinks it’s the right thing to do. It’s all he knows. Unlike Mom, who follows Dr. Spock like a religion, he knows nothing of the modern ways of child-rearing. His discipline is Victorian, and, thanks to his own upbringing, he finds it difficult to show that he loves us.
On the other hand, we have Mom.
Mom looks sideways at me as she sits in front of the old treadle Singer while at the same time, she expertly runs a seam. It is my school uniform, a blue and white gingham abomination that must be finished before Monday.
“You—Pie.” Mom pauses, takes a breath, picks up a small pair of scissors, and snips the thread. Holding the nearly complete uniform up for inspection, she frowns. Her dark hair is graying prematurely, but her fine-featured porcelain face is still beautiful. “You are responsible for all of my gray hair.”
“I know. You’ve said so before.” I think a bit, frowning. Mom and I are kindred spirits, and since she’s always busy with something, I value the little time we get to spend together. “So, why do you always call me Pie,” I ask. “It’s not my real name. It’s a stupid nickname. Why couldn’t you choose something like…” my voice trails off. I can’t think of what else I would prefer to be called. Princess, perhaps? Nope. I shake my head. That’s dopey. A dog’s name. I don’t even like my real name. I wish it was something…something French, perhaps, like Charmaine, but it isn’t.
“Because when you were born, I thought your face looked like a pie.” Mom gives her trademark hyena bark. She finds this hilarious. I do not.
“And Rabbit? He doesn’t look like a rabbit.”
“He’s quiet, like a rabbit.”
“What about Butch?”
Mom’s foot pumps the treadle again, her fingers flirting with the needle going up and down. She’s already caught her thumb once in the needle requiring a painful extraction and a swollen, bleeding thumb. “Dad gave her that name. She’s a rough and tumble girl, and I think she wanted to be a boy. She acts like one. She used to catch spiders and eat them.”
I shudder. “But…we both ate our poop!”
Mom nods and laughs again. “I was told by a psychiatrist that only creative kids do this. And you know how Queenie got her name.”
“Yeah, she thinks she rules us all! She gets away with everything, especially with Dad. She’s his favorite. But why do you always say it was me that gave you a gray hair?”
Mom puts aside her sewing for a while and folds her arms. “It was not only one gray hair. You have always been the most puzzling of all my children. You’re not like your brother and sisters who give me very little trouble.” Her smile, though, takes the sting out of the words. I have never doubted for a moment that Mom loves and values each one of us no matter what. I settle down to listen. Like Dad, her storytelling is often amusing, especially the tales about the things I got up to when I was still small, like…like…two years old. Or maybe four. Each time she tells them, I chortle as if I haven’t heard the same anecdote a hundred times already.
“You won’t remember that time you ate a whole bottle of baby aspirin,” Mom says, “but I do, and it was only a miracle you survived.”
“How old was I?”
I nod, and as Mom speaks, early childhood memories begin to flood back. Rich, vivid cameos. Snippets of memories begging to be told. What I can’t remember, my mind recreates in sound and images as if I do remember. But now, I don’t know if it’s my remembering or if it’s what Mom has always told me.
I will start at the beginning.
Preorder here: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B08KGWSY8W