Growing up in South Africa in the fifties as a child was no walk in the park. Our grandmother, a stern Muslim woman, saddled with three children when our parents divorced. She was a good woman with a hardworking tailor for a husband and one awful day our mother told us that she was leaving our father and was going out to work; could my grandmother look after us during the day. My grandmother said yes.
Grandmother as babysitter
Discipline was number one in the house. There were three of us; myself the eldest with a younger sister and brother. Oemie we had to call our grandmother. Oemie was a strict disciplinarian. On a hook at the side of the kitchen dresser was a leather belt to remind us that we'd better behave. The rules were simple; no noise in the house. Oupa was the grandfather of 62 and a tailor. He had a factory which produced blazers for sports clubs and when he and the other tailors fell behind with a larger than usual amount of blazers we were all called in to help by pulling out the loose threads. Oupa downsized his business and moved his tailoring outfit to a big room in the house. The room had a cutting table and several heavy-duty sewing machines. When Oupa was home he did not want a peep out of you.
Rules by which we lived
* We could play in the park, which was next to the back of our property for an hour and then come inside. As children we were bathed and in our pyjamas by six o'clock. We had a nice girl called Susan, about 17 or 18, who went with us to the park and who ironed our school uniforms. As young as the age of four we learned to wash our own socks.
* We had to sit still at the table and not talk. We were not allowed to listen to the conversations of adults. If we wanted another piece of chicken or meat we had to ask politely. We were not to get up until everyone had eaten.
* When we started attending school at the age of six, we walked straight to school in the mornings and did not dawdle on the way home. We walked together with the other kids to school.
* After a year at school another activity was added; in the afternoons after school we changed out of our uniforms, put on a scarf and walked over a mile to Moslem school where we had to listen to stories of the Prophet and learn Arabic.
* When we came back from Moslem school we had to wash up, play for an hour and come in. Sometimes the sun still shone when we were in our beds.
* Swearing was not allowed and if you if caught using bad language that was a licking with the belt.
* On Friday afternoons we had to wash and polish the floor and clean the windows. We hated these chores and wanted to play with the other kids but it was Friday and on this day our mother brought home comic books, sweets and fruit. We all had hot chocolate after our bath.
Today I am a parent myself and value the words of wisdom of the past. My kids are well-mannered and my daughter is raising two little girls of her own. I have never had to use corporal punishment with my kids.