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Me still wearing Swiss embroidered muslin. Age 10 or so.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 In the past weeks, I have been writing about Que Que’s pantomimes, highlighting a few of the townsfolk that made them the success that they were.  We could go on for quite some time with these tales, and perhaps I’ll return to it later.  However, I thought I’d switch for now and give you a bit of a child’s perspective on the freedom of choice my parents afforded us.

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An African gold mine has its own music.  Some sounds are continuous.  There is the hum of the overhead cocopans as they cast their shadow over our lawn carrying blasted rock from the hot bowels of the earth to the stamp mills.  The stamp mills too have their own continuous song while the wail of the hooter signals the change of worker shifts.  Seven days a week, the morning seven o’clock wail summoned Dad to Sick Parade.  These sounds were as much a part of us as the throb of our heartbeats.

All the same, Sunday’s were different for us.  After a special Sunday breakfast, Dad read the Sunday Mail on the verandah while I got dressed in my Sunday best for church.

He and I took off together.  He’d drop me off at St Luke’s Anglican Church on his way to hospital rounds.  Every family, it seemed to me, belonged to one church or the other and went as a family. But my best friend and I kept each other company at St. Luke’s.   She’d be waiting at the gate for me.  We went everywhere together.

The peal of church bells at ten from St. Stephen’s Presbyterian, St. Luke’s Anglican and St Edward’s Catholic churches overrode those elemental mine rhythms as we filed in.  The bright sunshine of Africa was shut out by these rock walls too, but here it was channeled through stained glass windows depicting the stories of the apostles.

It was always cool inside, and I shivered if I had not brought my Angora wool bolero.  Mom made all my Sunday dresses (and my other frocks too).  What she really enjoyed was buying yards and yards of beautiful Swiss embroidered muslin on her shopping sprees to John Orrs, Johannesburg’s most fashionable department store.  Once she got home she was faced with the hard part.

Every woman had a Singer and Mom was no exception.  Sewing was not Mom’s forte or favorite activity.  She had barely passed this subject at the detestable Domestic Science School that filled the year before she was old enough for Nursing School, which had always been her dream.  Now she had license to do things her way.  With the delicate  fabric on the floor she would pin the McCalls pattern pieces at the odd corner or two and chomp away with the pinking shears. Tacking was unnecessary in her opinion.  She’d slap the pieces together as she fed the machine with one hand and turned the handle with the other.  With rip and pull, gather and stretch she’d make it work.  The focus on embroidery would make up for any imperfections in the cut.  She was right of course.

But nobody had dresses like mine.  As we opened our hymnals and the organ pounded out:

All things bright and beautiful
All creatures great and small
All things wise and wonderful
The Lord God made them all…

The congregation joined in.  I knew the words by heart.  But still I wondered if everyone could see right through my sheer Swiss embroidered muslin and the holes in my eyelet petticoat to my unclean heart?  As much as I belly flopped and swam at our house my sins had not washed away like all those babies baptized with sprinkles of water.  They were protected with an invisible but indelible cross drawn on their forehead at the font in God’s house.  Their sins had not mounted up like mine.  Padre Mullet knew and so did everyone else.

12 Comments

  • Janet

    Reply Reply August 21, 2010

    Wonderful entry, Diana, wonderful. I can picture everything including the sheer Swiss embroidered fabric…reminds me of . ..

    • Diana

      Reply Reply August 21, 2010

      Janet,
      I’m glad it resonated with you. Everyone needs to bona fide belong to some religious organisation or other, even Eisenhower had to join a church (Presbyterian) before he could run for office.

      Thanks for being such a faithful reader.

      Diana

  • Caren Willoughby

    Reply Reply August 22, 2010

    Diana,
    I love your writing and after every little post I wish for more. The pictures you paint through words are amazing. Keep it up. I want more.
    Caren

    • Diana

      Reply Reply August 23, 2010

      Caren,

      I didnt know you were reading! Its so great to hear you are enjoying it. The going is up and down and need all the encouragement I can get! Thanks for the big boost!

      Diana

  • Betty

    Reply Reply August 25, 2010

    Diana, I loved this one especially! The sounds you described were priceless. I can just picture your mother with the pattern pieces all over the floor, cutting with pinking shears. I grew up with that(except it was on the dining room table) and have the same memories. But I was dreading the final product, because I always looked “homemade”, while my friends had beautiful store-bought outfits. What surprised me the most were your experiences with your friend at church and the fact that you knew the hymns by heart! Did your parents not go to synagogue? My best friend, who was Jewish, went with me to church every Sunday, but I also accompanied her to Schul (sp.) and formal services every Saturday morning, where I was referred to as the “Little Gentile” Did you ever get formal instruction in your faith, or were there no synagogues near by? I find all this fascinating…and I love the dresses that you wore. You have not changed at all…I would know you from these photos instantly….love the legs!

    • Diana

      Reply Reply August 25, 2010

      Betty,

      We are soul mates. (we knew this already!) You know the feeling exactly with the homemade dresses! At one time I got a prayer book for “best attendance” as a prize! No we didn’t get a Jewish Community Hall until 1953 and a Rabbi we shared with two other towns in 1956 for a couple of years. I don’t think we always had enough members to make a minyan each Saturday as most of the men had to work on Saturday mornings. We went through periods when we lit the candles on Friday with the Jewish blessing and Manischewitz grape wine at home. We said grace at Sunday lunch when we had our big Roast beef with all the fixings. I went to Sunday School after church. After we got the Rabbi he prepared the boys in Que Que for Bar Mitzvah. I dont think the girls had Bat Mitzvahs in those days. It was orthodox and my brothers couldn’t be Bar Mitzvahed as my mother was not Jewish. You had a great education!

      Ya! Glad you noticed! always had nice legs!

      Love your great responses.

      Diana

  • Betty

    Reply Reply August 25, 2010

    By the way, what did the Father know in your heart and why was it so black….dying to hear what made you so very evil 🙂

    • Diana

      Reply Reply August 25, 2010

      Betty,

      It was just that I wasn’t baptised and periodically the Padre (and throughout my life) I’ve been pressured to get baptised. As a kid, at every baptism I’d go through the same agony should I or shouldnt I? I never did.

      Diana

  • Sandy

    Reply Reply September 1, 2010

    Diana
    I love your stories. Your writing is so clear and I am able to picture the scene as I read. I also remember my mother cutting patterns on the dining room table to make my clothes. I dreaded it as they never fit well,usually too big , but she said “I would grow into them”!!! You wonder if anyone else thinks about a home that is no longer there, but I grew up in Ohio and I know my house and my street are gone and nothing would look the same to me. I believe “you truly can not go home again”. However, reading about your childhood brings memories of my own. I can’t wait to read your book and take a look into a life and a culture that is fascinating from a part of the world I have never known.
    SANDY

    • Diana

      Reply Reply September 1, 2010

      Sandy,

      I’m so glad my stories paint a picture for you. Whilst our situation was unique many themes are univeral and resinate around the world. I’m so glad this story brought back your own childhood memories in Ohio. Its only useful to look back when there is something to be gained by it. Otherwise we do have to look forward. There is so much to look forward to–like my next lunch with you!

      Thanks for checking in when I know you are so busy with family coming tomorrow.

      Cherish the moments with them they are all too few.

      Diana

  • Val Barbour

    Reply Reply May 15, 2011

    dreaded homemade dresses!

    • Diana

      Reply Reply May 15, 2011

      Val Did you suffer also. I think it was the war time austerity mentality. I think I was the only one in my class that had homemade school uniforms and mom was not the most accomplished seamstress. (The details weren’t a priority for her but a ‘necessity’. It showed.)

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