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















 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.


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.