In todays life a lot of care and attention is paid to preparing children for starting school. Parents proudly boast about how well little Johnny can read and write. They sometimes take the poor child for psychological testing and evaluation. This is all done to see whether the child is ready to go to school.
This farm boy grew up very wild and free for the first nine years of his life. After breakfast, I normally went to play with my little black friends named Cheese and Kwatch Kwatch which meant rabbit in the Sepedi language. I doubt whether this was the correct spelling for Kwatch Kwatch. I usually spent the whole day with these two friends. We played all day in the veld while herding the sheep. We caught grasshoppers and snared birds which we cooked in tin cans or on the open flames of a fire and ate them. It was normally evening time when I got home, very tired and dirty.
The end result of this association was that I learnt to talk Sepedi fluently to the great detriment of English. It was later told to me that my mother would say, “Bertie, what is this child saying” My father is reported to have said, ” Mary you do not want to know” When visitors came to the farm I was so wild that I just plain disappeared for the duration of the visit.
It must have been in 1949 when my mother took me to town. She bought me my first pair of black shoes, grey stockings, white shirts, navy blue shorts and a navy blue jersey. No mention was ever made to me that I was going to school.
The day that I was taken to school I remember very well as it was quite traumatic. I was literally captured at midday, bathed and scrubbed from top to toe. My mother dressed me in my uniform and for the first time in my life put shoes and socks on me. I can remember my mother giving me a small block of camphor ice in a small rectangular tin, with specific instructions to rub it on my elbows and knees at night and in the morning.
The last of this story was also very unpleasant for me. I was handed over to the nuns at the Loretta Convent in Lydenburg. No mention had been made to me that I was going away from home and to boarding school. I was left screaming and kicking with the nuns. I hid under the beds and the nuns could not get me out. As they lifted one bed to nab me I crawled under the next one. They eventually just left me alone and I surfaced when I got hungry.
I spent two years at the convent where the nuns hammered the alphabet and numbers into me and gave me a pretty good grounding. No wonder I am so crazy mixed up today.