Phenomenal Childhood

I’ve lived through some fantastic natural phenomena. I am blessed  – some would disagree, but my heart beats to a small town rhythm – to be the daughter of a geologist, so was born in a dusty Free State town full of fresh air and surrounded by kilometres of mielie fields and huge blue skies, did part of my growing up there and then moved to another, slightly less dusty town, but still surrounded by mielie fields as far as the eye could see, even when climbing the tallest tree in the garden.

Beneath both towns lay kilometres of dug out rock tunnels, a dark, hot place with men drilling, sweat pouring, as they exploded out huge blocks of rock to be vomited up to earth and chemically treated and carefully sifted and filtered and heated by fire to bring out the molten gold of king’s crowns and princess’ rings. Well, that’s the childhood version of it, before the teen realisation of the ethics, the socially decrepit aspects, the hardship involved. I stray though, that’s another post.

This one is about the natural phenomena.

We always had tremors. Earth tremors, like rumbling monster’s tummies from deep below us, down there, where the men worked. Rockfalls or explosives, it was impossible to know as they happened. It was only when the news filtered up, of men trapped or hurt that one knew the difference between the planned and the disasterous. For us, above, they ranged between a slight feeling of misbalance to full-on glass-breaking, nerve-shattering ructions.

We only had one of the real earth shattering ones in my time. I was sixteen, and had a friend staying. A non-mining child. We woke in the middle of the night to the whole house rocking, back-and-forth, like a granny on a rocking chair on the stoep, north to south, and back and forth, for what seemed like hours. She was petrified (the friend, not the metaphorical granny), so was I. I stood up, forgetting our childhood-drilled-into-our-heads-instruction to “Stand in the doorway” (the strongest place in a house) and padded through to my parents to check they were fine.

We all survived. It was on the news, and my friend Trevor-who-lived-down-the-road’s wall fell down. Everything on shelves facing a North-South direction fell down, the East-West ones stayed safely in place. All rather exciting in the greater scheme of things.

Then there was the Red Storm of nineteen-eighty-something. I was about 10 at the time, and one afternoon in that Free State town surrounded by red-soiled mielie fields, the wind picked up to give us a monumental dust storm. We were used to arbitrary little ones that flew through town leaving a layer of dust that left our beloved Regina tutting and flapping with her duster. You could sometimes see them flying through the mielie fields – mini dust tornadoes. This one, however, was way beyond any imaginings we could’ve made up. It turned our little town dark, at 2pm, a beautiful red dusk, the streetlights were turned on.

It was surreal. I whirled and twirled in our garden, a child dervish in the red dust. My poor sister was stuck indoors with the scary nun music teacher at the convent down the road, missing out on the excitement. I thought of her, stuck inside, while I frolicked in this outlandish world. She probably didn’t care either way, being of teenage temperament at the time.

Oh to be that whirling child, wild imaginings running through my mind, in the red dust world amongst the mielie fields below that huge blue sky.

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