A Stray Little Tale by Justine Sachs
Justine Sachs is a Year 12 student at ACG Senior College. She recently participated in a memoir writing workshop with Dr Deborah Shepard, where she wrote this small anecdote from her early childhood in South Africa before she immigrated to New Zealand in 2005.
I’m in the back of a brilliant green Audi without my seatbelt on. My mother is driving, her mass of curled hair peaking above the car seat. My five year-old sister is asleep on the seat beside me. My mother and I are quiet, each of us immersed in our own thoughts. Today is the day. I’m excited, nervous and sad. The Johannesburg highway whirls by and I stare out the window, watching intently. Sometimes I would imagine it was the trees and plants that were moving on a conveyor belt, not the car.
Today is an important day. Our family is getting a dog from a Boerboel breeding house in Pretoria. It should be a joyous occasion but it is not. Our dogs, Beethoven and Blue, have been poisoned by our gardener. Perhaps I should be feeling happier because this means we are moving on but I’m not sure I am ready.
I’m having flashbacks of that dreadful day. Lifeless bodies lying strewn across the stairs, blood trickiling out their mouths, things no eight year old should have to see. I’ve been keeping the uneaten cans of food secreted away in a drawer in my room. I couldn’t bear to see them thrown out, discarded like nothing.
“Are we nearly there yet?” I ask.
“Five more minutes, to the turnoff.” My mother begins humming an Eric Clapton song. My sister’s eyes flutter open. There goes my peace. I plug in my brand new CD Walkman, as a pre-emptive strike.
We arrive at the dog breeder’s house. My sister is excitedly jumping up and down in her seat. An ancient woman, about forty years old answers the door. My sister and I hide behind my mother, clutching at her skirt suddenly overcome with shyness as they exchanges pleasantries. The woman’s name is Ilene. She motions us warmly inside.
Two hours later we’re back in the car. Sitting between us on the back seat is a mass of brown fur, with two dark eyes staring intently out the window as the Johannesburg highway swirls by. Her name is Amy.
One Summer’s Evening by Beverley Morris
Wellington born Beverley Morris spent her childhood in Western Samoa. She has an MA in Education and was a primary school teacher, and a lecturer in Child Development and Family Relations at Continuing Education, Victoria University of Wellington for 22 years. A regular contributor to the Children's Page of the Evening Post, she has published two books on child development. Married with four children, now in retirement she is enjoying writing memoirs.
The sky glowed orange behind the dark silhouette of Kapiti Island. In the foreground the sea appeared unruffled while out on the southern horizon the South Island was a mere smudge.
We were strolling back along Paekakariki beach, having turned at the creek which trickled out of Queen Elizabeth Park. We watched two late swimmers stroking towards the shore, their arms lifting gold sparkles as they neared the water’s edge. Their dog was leaping ecstatically at seagulls that were wheeling round a dead fish. The tide was high in places, lapping against the eroded grass strip so we were forced to jump on to the coastal road. This did not stop us, however, from admiring the lingering sunset and the path of orange light zigzagging across the water of Cook Strait.
As we drew near to the Surf Club we noticed a large gathering of people on the beach. Some had left their parked cars. Everyone was looking out to sea. What were they looking at? Two kayakers drew close to the shore but there was nothing unusual in their paddling. A loud murmur spun round the crowd “There they are!” “Can you see them?” “Where are they?” Some were pointing to the southern end of Kapiti where three islets merged into the darkness of the island. Then Peter spotted the whales.
A pod of humpback whales was travelling from the warm South Pacific Ocean, where they had given birth, to the colder Antarctic. They were making leisurely progress down the inland side of the island. Old hands knew that it was an annual event but this season they were more numerous and the flaming sunset made their passage more dramatic.
“Can you see the babies?” asked Stephanie, Jacqui Baxter’s granddaughter. But the pod was too far away to distinguish their little, dark shapes. Once the leading whales had spouted, they drifted again into shadows. The crowd on the beach sighed and dispersed, shepherding the younger children round the departing cars.
The sky was now drained of colour and misty black clouds fringed Kapiti Island.
A Particular Chair by Betty Chamberlain
Betty Chamberlain spent her child hood on a farm out of Waimate in South Canterbury. She now lives, retired on a beautiful farm in Ellesmere, Canterbury, plays the piano, has tinkered with a bit of composition, trained a church choir, published two educational books for five year olds and brought up four children, with her husband Peter.
I was seven and my sister Joan fourteen when my Mother said, ”I’ve bought two new chairs, in autumn colours for the living room and I’m also going to replace our worn carpet with a leafy design.” The autumn theme was the latest ‘hot fashion.’ My excitement was intense and I began daydreaming about the new look and eagerly anticipating the arrival of the new chairs.
The day came when we arrived home from school and with wide eyes viewed the room, dressed in its brand new finery. The two chairs sat invitingly beside the fire place. They had wooden armrests, one with elegant curves and the other flat and slatted and they were upholstered in a hard wearing abstract patterned moquette in browns, oranges, olive green and yellow that blended beautifully with the leafy carpet. Immediately, for every reason, and now when I think of it, for no reason at all, both my sister Joan and I favoured the chair with the curved arms.
It is evening. Picture us both, out in the kitchen washing a formidable mountain of dishes created by our family of six children and two parents. It was our job to wash, dry and put away before retiring to the living room where the big open fire crackled invitingly and the radio serials were about to begin. In those days we followed an Australian story, "Dad and Dave from Snake Gully" and later in the evening a very scary thriller called “Phantom Drummer,” so terrifying that afterwards I would dive straight into bed, with all my clothes on, to escape the horrors lurking beneath.
My sister and I had created a set of dish washing rules and the critical one went like this: if the drier was too slow then the washer could leave the final bench wipe to the drier and get to the living room first. Now remember my sister was seven years older and infinitely faster, so after being left with the bench wiping too many times I came up with the idea of quietly washing all the dishes and then calling, “Ready!” Waiting, comfortably on the favoured chair, Joan would be out in a flash and my pre-washed dishes would tumble recklessly out of the sink onto the drying rack, confusing Joan, but assuring me of success. First to the living room, I was the smug custodian of the round-armed chair for the entire evening.
The victory was sweet while it lasted but Joan was older than me and it wasn’t long before another rule emerged, “No pre-washed dishes allowed.” And thus my cunning little ruse came to an end.
Carpe Diem by Meret Berger
Meret Berger is the nom de plume of a German native speaker now living with her New Zealand husband and children in the French-speaking part of Switzerland since 2004. She describes herself as a family event organiser.
It was a fabulous winter’s day for a family adventure. We packed a picnic basket and drove up to the Lac de Joux, the largest lake in the nearby Jura mountains.
Our children whooped with excitement as the lake came into view, its frozen expanse thronged with people skating, walking, revelling in the sun. The two of them hurried to put on their skates and zoomed off almost out of sight while we set off tentatively after them, arm in arm. Every man and his dog seemed to have ventured on to the ice - disabled persons in wheel-chairs, children on bobsleds, couples Nordic walking, model plane pilots simulating Arctic take-offs... only the ice catamarans for hire found no takers on this windless day.
The further we dared venture out on what seemed an endless ice shelf, the more the crowd dispersed and the more crystal-clear and captivating the surface became. Clumps of red algae and fish were encased in this glacial, emerald green crypt and we heard that further out a young drowned fox could be seen caught in the lake’s icy embrace.
It felt eerie to be high and dry in the middle of the lake but the presence of other exhilarated people helped reassure us. We noticed a whip cracking sound: was it caused by skate blades and hiking sticks striking the surface or was the layer of ice actually creaking and fracturing? Inspired by a recent local theatre production of Hans Christian Andersen’s Snow Queen, our son was executing adrenalin-fuelled jumps and sudden, scraping stops on his skates while our daughter performed slow, swirling pirouettes. Sometimes they skated completely out of sight but then happily reappeared, faces flushed from exertion.
Near the shore, the lake was dotted with ice sculptures and stalls, selling hot drinks, soup, runny raclette cheese on slices of bread or potatoes … It seemed natural to picnic in the middle of the lake but unusual enough for a photographer from a local newspaper to take our photo, thus preserving the moment. It’s not every year that the lake freezes over to such an extent.
It took me 45 years to experience anything like this. It was an absolutely mesmerising outing.
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