THE FEAR AND CONFUSION IN AN ABUSED CHILD’S MIND – READ MORE
Again I felt the confusing urgency to escape although I understood not from what and to where.
After all had become silent I slipped from the bedroom, went into the garden and slowly started turning, doing a weird dance of irrational well-being under the moonlit sky. Perspiring, I twisted and turned as my hysterical mind battled the turmoil within it, as I surrendered to my sudden paranoia.
For no reason I entered my own twilight world and danced, swirled again and again as my dance became the bizarre pirouette of the insane.
Starting my first turn, I thought the name of an evil adult, associating it with a decadent or violent act. On the next, I whispered a name, again associating it with some act that had been perpetrated upon one of us, on the following I spoke one, whilst another action blazed through my disturbed mind. Gradually the names were shouts and eventually my wildness culminated in me screaming out the hated names of my tormentors.
I was reaching the point of final psychological defeat and fell to my knees and ultimately down to my elbows as well. There I lay, while perspiration ran down my neck and onto my chin, which I rested on my balled fists and in that very position, exhaustion claimed me under the mild, cool breeze.
Silent footsteps whispered over the grass and a compassionate arm went over my back as my gentle brother Georgie, who understood my pain so well, wordlessly joined me in my position.
Together we stayed there, until the indigo velvet blanket of night slowly gave way to the liquid golden glow of the rising sun, which cast a mystical and glorious backdrop to the dark silhouette of the surrounding koppies.
My wonderful brother had fallen asleep during the time that we were together, but his protective arm comforted me and belayed the emotionally charged madness that I had experienced.
I had no particular reason for being so happy, but from that balmy night on, I enjoyed my own childhood world in secret, creeping out almost every night and dancing, humming and playing in the darkened world alone, whilst everybody else was sleeping peacefully.
The Place and the People
Gold had been discovered on the Witwatersrand during the month of March 1886 and coalitions, corporations and conglomerates were hastily formed, consolidating the mining industry and employing many settlers who were lured to the region by promises of high earnings and great riches. It soon developed into a thriving city which was mostly populated by miners in search of elusive fortunes, adventurous immigrants who had come for the same reason and farmers. The city was named Johannesburg
During 1925 world trade slumped and many members of the agricultural industry fell victim to loss of trade and were soon unable to meet their financial responsibilities. Most were unable to repay their mortgages on their overcapitalised farms and were soon among the long rows of jobseekers that held great and rowdy demonstrations through the streets of Johannesburg in demand of employment.
Additionally, the worsening political upheaval which led to white labourers in the thriving gold industry being replaced by lower-paid black workers ignited a slow-burning fuse of racial hatred and eventual segregation.
Despite the severe difficulties caused by the great depression of 1931 and the slow economic recovery afterwards, people with certain critical skills were nevertheless required to continue the vigorous construction of mushrooming business-administration and governmental buildings. Artisans in all fields of construction were therefore among the most eligible contenders for employment.
Among the many candidates in the long lines of angry and jostling job seekers who crowded outside the Goldfields labour office in Fox Street in the city, was a young carpenter and cabinetmaker by the name of George Panaino who, although having recently completed his apprenticeship, was becoming a master in the art of French polishing.
His remarkable craftsmanship was soon noted and highly sought after by dignitaries of the time and it was therefore that he became a member of a team which had secured a lucrative contract for all of the woodwork for the recently constructed Magistrates’ Courts. The contract was to last until July of 1941.
At his age, he was earning a considerably higher wage than many of his colleagues and because he lived thriftily, he was saving most of his earnings.
For four years he had been deeply in love with and courting Edith, a vivacious late-teen nurse who, because of the high demands for professional health staff was also excelling in her career at her workplace, the Johannesburg Hospital.
Edith was a dedicated professional nurse who was well loved by all of the patients under her care and she soothingly attended them with compassion and kindness. Her sparkling blue eyes would brighten when she attended elderly patients, because her sympathy for them was boundless and her better knowledge of their true condition, made her extremely sensitive to their care. Her emotional attachment to them was intensified by the presence of their distressed families.
In her private life, she understood that the economic situation of the time did not allow for the commitment between her and George to proceed to any greater level, since neither were able to afford a home of any reasonable status, but her love for the wonderful man that she had met and been with ever since their meeting would not wane and she was prepared to wait.
At last they were married during 1932, when they were both in their late teens and then, with their combined savings and a little assistance from their parents, they were among the earlier families who had bought properties and settled in the quiet Johannesburg suburb, Bez (uidenhout’s) Valley.
The first two children born from their marriage were a daughter whom they named Pamela and a year later, a son whom they named Cecil, but rumours of looming war in Europe and the possibility that George may be called upon to do military service prevented them from having more children at that time.
It was during the 1939 conscription campaign for WWII which erupted in Europe that George was diagnosed with diabetes and was therefore excused.
Until then he’d had no idea that the illness had already started affecting his vision and was gradually making his work more difficult. Characteristically, he did not divulge his condition to anyone and continued working meticulously.
As the end of the war was rumoured, George and Edith resumed the expansion of their family and as 1944 ended, they had another son whom they named George (nicknaming him Georgie), followed by a daughter named Trixie* during 1946 and then during December 1948 I was born, named Francisco and nicknamed Frankie. Their last son whom they named Barry*, was born on 3rd February 1950.
The suburb was growing fast and consisted of a grid of jacaranda-lined avenues and oak-lined streets, the Avenues running from First Avenue in the north to Eighth Avenue in the south and the Streets running from First Street in the west to Tenth Street in the east.
The southern perimeter road was Kitchener Avenue along which the tram tracks ran until it branched off into the more affluent suburb of Kensington, whilst the tracks continued on along Broadway, which became Airport Road at Bedfordview.
It was part of the major thoroughfare from Johannesburg city to Jan Smuts Airport and was the main road separating Bez Valley from Kensington.
The west-to-east avenues parallel to Kitchener Avenue started at Eighth Avenue and were numbered to First Avenue, which was the northern perimeter road in Bez Valley North and which finally became ‘The Curve’, separating Bez Valley from Observatory and terminated in Yeoville.
The western perimeter road of the south to north streets was First Street, which separated Bez Valley from Judith’s Paarl, Bertrams and Doornfontein and the parallel streets numbered up to Tenth Street which was the eastern perimeter road separating Bez Valley from Bedfordview.
The topographic features of the suburb were two koppies or rocky but well vegetated ridges, one in the north, conspicuous by the Observatory dome, a beacon of technological advancement that was visible for some miles in all directions. The southern ridge was distinctive because the Marymount Maternity Hospital with its two magnificent spires had been built upon it. As children, we referred to it as the castle.
The koppies both sloped down in gradually lessening gradients to meet in a shallow fold where in the deepest part of the valley, between Third and Fifth Avenues, ran the Braamfontein Spruit, a slow-running stream that occasionally flooded the vegetable fields of José, the Portuguese greengrocer in Sixth Avenue.
The stream was straddled between Third and Fourth Streets by the Hofland Park, a popular and safe meeting place for the many children of the suburb.
It boasted a slide, swings, a roundabout, a shallow swimming pool and an entertainment centre which was attended every afternoon by a children’s social worker from the Department of Child Social Services.
Understandably, the three-metre-high slide seemed huge to us then and the merry-go-round much bigger, but the main attraction was of course the swimming pool, where children from every street in Bez Valley gathered and so came to know each other.
At four o’ clock every day, the social worker closed the entertainment centre and sent us all scampering off to our homes, where we would play in the street and the surrounding yards until dusk.
We instinctively sensed when it was almost five o’ clock and the younger children would scurry along to the corner of Eighth Avenue and Fourth Street where most of our parents would just be rounding it, having all alighted from the same scheduled tram.
Other landmarks were the Catholic Church at the corner of Kitchener Avenue and First Street in front of which stood two magnificent date palms. The Church’s convent was surrounded by well tended gardens within which grew huge karee, pine and eucalyptus trees.
The local priest was Father O’Connor Ferreira, a young and compassionate man who was keenly aware of the needy people in his congregation.
On the corner of Second Avenue and First Street stood the Catholic convent school, which was run by nuns of the Cathedral of Christ the King, the Catholic Archdiocese of Johannesburg, in Doornfontein.
Bez Valley was one of the poorer suburbs in which each of the blocks were made up of two rows of houses separated by a night lane which was so called because most toilets were no more than crude wooden boxes that served as commode seats and had buckets placed beneath them.
The buckets were only accessible through a hatch in the wall bordering the night lane and late every night, a tractor and trailer drove up and down each lane as municipal labourers exchanged the used buckets with empty ones.
At that time, flushing toilets were a convenience meant only for people from the more affluent areas such as Kensington, Observatory and Yeoville.
It was however an area where property was affordable and where homes were bought rather than rented, therefore it became a local community essentially divided into one of stable, salt-of-the-earth, no-nonsense, poor but decent folk on the one hand and an element of drifting, excessive, desperate and unstable individuals and fragile households on the other.
Since domestic labour was within the means of the average working-class family, almost every household had a black house-servant but although our parents had no housemaid, our mother’s sister whom we knew as Aunt Kitty allowed her house servant Florence, to attend to both households.
Fifth Street was the bus route for the green Putco buses that these black workers used from their homes in the locations to reach their distant places of employment in the white suburbs. It was because of the socio-political and socio-economic conditions at the time, that the locations were situated several miles away.
The growling, labouring monsters belched great clouds of black smoke and because of the excessive loads that they carried, hung lazily to the macadamised side of the street. They were the only available means of public transport for the black people whose meagre income was more often than not, largely spent on transport to and from their workplaces.
The last bus departed at six o’ clock each evening and no black people remained in the suburbs after that time because a curfew was in place and a bomb raid siren wailed its mournful but meaningful message soon afterwards.
Any black person who was by any misfortune still in the suburbs after curfew and who was not armed with a letter of excuse from his or her employer, was soon arrested and cruelly manhandled into a police van which carted them off to spend the night in the community jail cells.
Woes betide any black person who suffered that indignity because they would appear before a magistrate on the following morning and would usually have to pay a fine which would devour any money remaining of the pittance that they had received for their weekly labour.
Quite naturally, we were more familiar with our Eighth Avenue neighbours and had formed a circle of close friends with them.
Directly across the road from our home lived a kindly old widow, Mrs Kelley. After being widowed some five years earlier, she had raised her son Ginger, who was fifteen and two daughters, Linda at six and Tammy at eight, alone. Her children were well cared-for and were always neatly dressed, well mannered, friendly and stable. Mrs Kelley had raised her children strictly and fairly but she had become known as a fierce protector of all children in the community especially her own.
A quiet, middle-aged, Italian couple, Mr and Mrs Petroncelli, lived in the house beside the Kelleys.
Living in the home beside us, were Mr and Mrs van Vuuren and their six-year old daughter, Margaret. They owned a small clothing factory in Jeppestown (Jeppe) and were a fine and generous family.
Living only six houses away from ours, was my mother’s sister, Kitty. She was the concubine of Timmy Thompsen, a World War II veteran whose wife had run off to Germany with her German lover, leaving him to care for Valencia, their nine year old daughter.
Kitty, with her two sons, fourteen year old Paul and nineteen year old Michael, had moved in with him into his three bed-roomed cottage.
Kitty’s elder daughter Ellen and her husband Gert lived On the corner of Fourth Street and Eighth Avenue, raising their nine year old daughter Cathy whilst her younger daughter Maria, lived on the corner of Fourth Street and Kitchener Avenue with her husband Tony and their two children, six year-old Isaac and twelve-year-old Tammy.
Every morning, all of the neighbourhood parents gathered and walked to the tram stop on the corner of Kitchener Avenue and Fourth Street for their journey to their various places of work in the city.
Accompanied by Kitty’s sons Michael and Paul and our eldest brother Cecil, who were all in Athlone High school, the children of Eighth Avenue would walk down Fourth Street as far as Hofland Park. Whilst the high school boys continued up the hill, the younger children turned off to the Bez Valley Junior School in Fifth Avenue.
Our eldest sister Pamela rode on the eastbound tram to the terminus at Tenth Street and then walked the two blocks to the Queens High School at the end of Cumberland Avenue.
Being the youngest of the children, Barry and I remained at home under Florence’s watchful care.
When we were at play in the street, adults rarely needed to pay us any attention because there was little traffic on the quiet streets of the suburb and the sound of a car would easily attract our attention.
The speed limit was only 30mph and any driver seeing the children in the street, would start sounding his horn from a block away so there was little risk of an accident.