I almost burnt the house down one Christmas Eve. We had made crepe paper trimmings and also had frilly fringed, colourful Christmas wrapper cake paper, which our dad used as a baker confectioner, which we were using as decorations. I was standing on the dining room table collecting all the ends of the trimmings handed to me by my sisters and tying all the ends together with bits of string around the ceiling lamp shade that left excessive lengths of string hanging down to be trimmed off. Asking to be handed a scissors that they took too long to find had made me become impatient, so withdrawing a box of matches from my pocket, yes I was smoking then already, and holding the string ends together, I struck a match to burn them off. I also burnt my fingers in the process, and letting go of the burning string set the fringes on the frilly cake paper alight. The flames continued to run to the dining rooms four corners, along the picture rails and around the trimmings draped, enlarged framed family portraits. We just stood and watched in frozen fascination. On the other hand when seeing the flames licking the portrait of me as a pageboy I jumped off the table, grabbed a blanket and smothered all the flames. Luckily my parents weren’t home so we touched up the ceiling and the walls with left over paint, trimmed of the burnt paper, handmade more trimmings, hung balloons to hid imperfections, and our parent’s when they arrived home complimented us on a marvelous job of decorating. Needless to say who received another spanking when it was discovered later on? It was also around that time when my parent’s sent me to Cape Town for Christmas purchases. I had spent some time selecting a tie for myself as a last purchase, and on leaving the shop a man came up to me and remarked that he had observed my discretion at selecting a tie. He also said that as a tie salesman he had a large selection at his home that he was going to dispose of and that it could be all mine if I wanted it. Knowing that all my friends wore ties on Christmas day got me to consider which of them would be receiving one as a Christmas present from me, and how much I would get by flogging off the rest. He was tall, white, blue eyed and blonde, and told me to go with him to his apartment to collect them. On approaching a high apartment building he advised me that it would be improper for the two of us to be seen entering his apartment together because of the apartheid laws, meaning my olive skin, and having given me the floor and apartment number he ascended in the lift. Following later and finding his door ajar I let myself in. He called out for me to close the door and to make myself comfortable on account of his collecting the ties in his bedroom. I though began to have a queasy feeling for something didn’t seem right. On entering further into the lounge area my glancing through a gap in his bedroom door, which was ajar, gave me a glimpse of a reflection in a wardrobe mirror that made me do a double take. I froze and stopped dead in my tracks, for what seen filled me with anxiety and panic. His stark naked reflection showed him draping ties over his long white erect penis. My feet couldn’t get me quick enough out of his place, and been really scared never even considered taking the elevator down as I ran down all those winding stairs and kept on running to the railway station to take the train home. That was my first encounter with the gay community but not my last because of other occurrences that eventuated later in my life with both sexes.
My stage career by then had long come to an end when I first outgrew my pageboy outfit followed by my voice breaking, and others who were more talented than me. My mother didn’t let on but she was a bit disappointed. My regrets though were the accustomed perks of extra ‘shoe’ money, traveling and performing at outlying neighbouring church and school concerts, and my adoring schoolgirl fans. Most of all though was the sexual consciousness experienced at the free mixing amongst the girl performers at concerts in the changing rooms. At times I was the only boy amongst them, and although averting my face respectively there was always an array of schoolgirls puberty breasts, bums and fannies. With giggles they would remove their blouses, there were no training bras then, followed by the skirt and panties. It was like a chorus of strip tease artists and that continued going and coming off stage for different costume changing acts. At night because of the outside darkness the inside electric light reflected off the windows, and when averting my face towards it supposedly looking out was like looking into a mirror with everything occurring in the changing room revealed to me. I thought that would put an end to my private peep show; on the other hand, it was not yet to be. When not climbing the spiral staircase to the lofted church bell tower I would be climbing the many types of trees in our neighbourhood. Sprawling Paul Jackson’s, gnarled oaks, weeping willows and majestic pine trees. In those leafy hide a ways of concealment and dizzy heights, the surrounds to my youthful imagination took me to either as Tarzan in his domain of the jungle or as a big game hunter in his hide. Passing people became prowling jungle animals with Africans as black panthers, non-whites as zebra, whites as rhino and children as monkeys. Some of those trees grew in close proximity to houses in the neighbourhood and they became unintentional observation platforms of viewing the neighbours going about their daily business. There was one cluster of trees that I frequented more than the others because they bore fruit and I didn’t have to fantasize about a free feed. They bore an abundance of fruit (quince, apple, orange, fig, loquat, and pear) and a vine with grapes, and it had an easy access into the neighbour’s garden without getting seen. The branches over grew the property’s low wall, and once on it, the leafy branches acted as concealment. It was an easy climb from tree to tree branches to where I would clamber to the top where the ripest fruit received the most sunlight. It was also at those times that through over stuffing myself I wouldn’t go home for lunch. It was also by sheer fluke on one of my fruit picking excursions, after not going straight home after school that while munching away in one of the fruit trees near the wall, I observed the fruit trees owner’s next door neighbour’s daughter, who was three years older than me, arriving home from school.
Her mother who was a widow worked days so she was the one who kept house. She was never one to play much in our group because of that, and when she did I always found myself tongue tied in her company. Her mannerisms were very mature in comparison to the other girls of her age and I found myself having an almighty crush on her. Because I was shy in her company and times at a loss for words I would at most times observe her from a distance with love sick puppy dog eyes. That day I was doing the same from my concealed perch in the tree as she passed beneath me down a pathway that divided the side of their house from the wall. Unlocking and entering the house from the backdoor she proceeded to draw open the curtains and open the windows to let fresh air and sunlight in. I then almost fell out of the tree and chocked on the apple I was munching as she then appeared in a room directly opposite to me and began removing her school clothes. My first reaction was my usual turning shyly away from her, but on realizing that I couldn’t be seen my puppy dog eyes became bulging as I sneaked a peak. She was completely undressed by then and my lingering gaze took in her body, perky breast and pubes, and then she disappeared from view. On adjusting my position so as to see further into the room I discovered that it was her bedroom, and while my heart was doing flip-flops at what I had seen my whole being was wishing and urging for her to come back. She did come back and must have gone for a bath because all she had on was a towel wrapped around her head. My eyes were then riveted on her naked body assuming different positions while drying her hair. Dressed in house clothes she began doing house chores and I sneaked ashamedly away. I soon found out that it was her daily routine because I just couldn’t keep away from that peep show. What it also did was to give me more confidence in her company and it created closeness to her even though it was by sneaky means, and we became quite chummy. Wanting to get closer I devised another sneaky situation. It was a simple matter to ask her to assist me with my homework at weekends when her mother was home, particularly after telling me that her many chores during the week kept her too busy to help out then. I didn’t actually need help; nonetheless, when telling me that she aspired to be a teacher it saw me using that as an opportunity to boost her ego. Our closeness with the sides of our bodies touching thrilled me no end except for one thing that kept me distracted from my homework, and that was because her every action reminded me of her unclothed movements and at times I visualized her naked through her clothes, but it sufficed.
My dad when I was becoming pubertal had not only caught me masturbating but also kissing and touching up a girl, but he had the good sense not tell me that it was wrong as other parents would have, instead I received a book called ‘What every young man should know’. It was not only anatomically about both sexes; it was also explanatory about sex. My dad though did advise me to keep any knowledge obtained from the book private, as there were those parents who kept their children in the dark ages about anything sexual and would have been furious if had I instilled any of it in them. Although having no experience of sexual intercourse didn’t mean that I had no knowledge of it, for the how and why was studiously soaked up through reading, and I knew that all the information gathered would suffice to do me in good stead when it would eventuate.
My mum and dad had a different attraction to me though because they were real churchy. My mum for her Lenten penance as she put it would polish out the whole of St Mary of the Angel’s church from the sanctuary to the choir area at the back. That also occurred before Christmas, and as the eldest I was the one she took along to shine up behind her where polishing then consisted of using a scrubbing brush and clothes, and although tying the clothes around my shoes and sliding down the aisles didn’t impress her, to me though it was quicker and more fun. Because I was the eldest it sure played havoc with my lifestyle at times though. With my mum houseproud, I became very domesticated and was taught all household chores and more. Sweeping, dusting and polishing furniture, scrubbing and polishing floors, cleaning windows, washing by hand and ironing, darning socks and sewing on buttons, with my all-time favorite of crocheting and knitting. She was a crack at that and I was drawn by the fascination of the intricate designs she formulated. My dad was the artistic one, and he would construct the Christmas crib in one of the side church alcoves of that church. Again as the consequence of being the eldest it became my task to assist in the construction. He not only framed the whole alcove to look like a manger he also lined the outsides with crumpled greyish hard paper to show the humbleness of the birthplace. The inside of it featured a heavenly radiant glory that consisted of a blue backdrop with stuck on tiny white stars and cherubs that dangled from the rafters with Michael the Archangel in the forefront. The Nativity figurines were placed in loving joyful adoration and a single star spotlight focused on the crib lined with straw. Over the years my dad either added to or altered the design. That though didn’t distract anything away from it because it always had the same effect of wonderment on children who flocked and crowed the front of the manger at Christmas time.
When my dad became extreme ill and unable to work for four months, our landlady not only deferred our rent but also at times exempted it. That’s when my domesticated abilities became an asset, and the consequence was that every week I would scrub and polish their home as reciprocation for her outstanding kindness while my dad was incapacitated. What I didn’t expect though was what was thought to be appreciation shown by one of her older daughters. I had at times delivered letters by hand to different men over a period of time secretly for her. She would give me their address, bus fares to get there because of the distance, and ask me to bring back a written reply. Although there was never a written reply she always kept on with the letters, swore me to secrecy and would always give me a big hug and a couple of pennies. Because her bedroom was kept tidy and shiny through the chores I was doing, which gave her more leisure time, I was then given smothering hugs and sloppy kisses, which I detested even from my aunts, whenever she came into her bedroom to admire my handy work. I would have been more thankful if there were extra pennies given, but that wasn’t forthcoming. I assume that her many rejections caused her to ‘take the veil’ because she eventually became a nun.
A Nativity Crib in our home made by my Dad for his first two grandchildren.