Into the city: a memory

Digging around in the box of photos I found this one. It brought back memories of going shopping in town when I was a little girl.

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A trip into the city, or ‘going to town’, was an adventure. Mother would wear a hat, stockings and sometimes she’d wear gloves. ‘Town’ was Salisbury, the capital of Southern Rhodesia. The road from the farm to town was mostly a gravel track and if the  Makabuzi River was up over the drift, well then you turned around and went home.

This photo was taken by a street photographer. I’m not sure what the black streak is – probably ink. This is an old photograph. Mum, Graham and me walking down the street with the Christmas shopping wrapped in brown paper and tied with string.

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Graham is my oldest brother. I think going to town was not a popular occupation for either of my brothers or my older sister (my younger sister was yet to make an appearance). I was taken along willy-nilly being the baby in the family. I see my mother has a tight grip on my hand. I have been told that I would often make a dash for whatever took my interest and I had the road sense of a caterpillar. Of course I did! I lived on a farm.

In the shoe shop we put our feet in a strange looking machine and the shop assistant would peer down a tube to look at the foot bones. This was probably a form of X-Ray machine and may account for some of the foot pain that I suffer as an old woman. I’ve only just thought of that! Shoes were not high on my priority list, most of the time I was barefoot – but not in town. Never in town.

I did disappear on one shopping trip and was found under a rack of dresses. We were in Sanders, one of the original department stores in Salisbury. Mum must’ve been shopping for clothes for herself and, being thoroughly bored, I remember dragging myself around on the floor. I remember because one of the shop assistants said, “Oh, so you’re cleaning the floor for us!” I missed the sarcasm but heard something that made me want to hide. In retrospect, I think I enjoyed the fuss when nobody could find me because I did the disappearing act quite often after that, in town and on the farm.

Going home was the worst part of going to town. Mother would make us gargle with a Dettol mixture in case we had picked up any germs. I can taste that mixture just thinking about it.

 

Into the city: a memory

Random Memories and Identity

Memories are not something with which you can argue. Family memories are so deeply personal and individual that siblings sometimes need to agree to disagree. Memories can bond family members together. When my sisters and I are chatting about old times it seems that we engage in a game, telling stories and remembering. Is this a way of bonding our relationship as sisters and friends?

I question where our character and our remembering come together to shape our lives, our identity. Is this part of our worldview? Is it a slow process that brings us to where we are in the present moment? Sometimes it may be that a crisis takes place and the repercussions are only felt many years later.

In my own experience, I remember a moment of crisis that made me question and reflect on my identity, my image of myself, as a white woman and a member of a minority ethnic group, in Rhodesia. This was in 1976 on a tourist bus in Greece—somewhere between Athens and Delphi. An Austrian man sitting next to me on the bus was highly skeptical that any white people who were not of British origin or close descent had settled in Rhodesia. I remember how hostile and defensive I felt that this stranger could, so arbitrarily, dismiss my background. This bewildering sense of being unseen, feeling unseen, is an experience Adrienne Rich expresses as psychic disequilibrium: “When someone … describes the world and you are not in it, there is a moment of psychic disequilibrium, as if you looked into a mirror and saw nothing”.

I have to say, this experience triggered my interest in identity and, many years later, informed my research for both Honours and PhD.

Random Memories and Identity