My father and mother met in Primary School. He apparently came home and
told my Granny that he’d found his wife. She had red hair and was beautiful,
and Granny would have grandchildren with red hair, like she’d always
They were star-crossed lovers, and called Romeo and Juliet by everyone at
school. He was rich and Jewish, she was ordinary farming folk, and Irish
Catholic. Every afternoon he’d ride out to visit her at the farm, and pay his
future brothers-in-law to wipe out his bicycle tracks with a leafy branch.
At the ages of 17 and 16, their plan to be together forever produced a
planned pregnancy. They were finally allowed to marry just weeks before
their daughter was born. She died almost immediately.
Theirs was a happy marriage and produced 3 live children; myself, my sister
and brother. I was born 2 years after Charmaine, and we share the first part
of our names. We emigrated to South Africa when I was about 7. Terrible
tragedy struck in February 1969. My 27 year old mother was brutally
murdered at the front door of our home, by an unknown intruder. My father
came home to find her lying in the entrance hall, while we were asleep in
My father was accused and arrested for her murder, and refused bail while
awaiting trial, as a “flight risk”. My Granny had taken us home with her to
Zambia. Meanwhile, the truth was witheld from us. We were told our mother
had suddenly become ill, and been rushed to hospital. Shortly later, that she
had died. We were told our father was selling our home and belongings and
would be with us soon.
Dad kept a diary in prison. Strictly forbidden, and very carefully hidden for
all those months. In it he recorded daily prison life; stories of other awaiting
trial prisoners, visits and visitors, letters and news, lawyers and advocates
advice. He wrote of his intense grief at not simply losing his soul-mate, love of
his life and mother of his children; but of the anger and fear and horror of
being accused of killing her. He wrote of their love and reminisced. 43 years
later I am still trying to shape it into the book he wanted to write as a
testament to their love. It is still so painful.
After 9 long, tortuous months of fear, confusion, grief and cruel separation,
he came home. The Verdict was that she’d opened the door, thinking it was
him. Instead, her jaw was broken by a punch, and she was stabbed 14 times;
so viciously, that the wide-bladed knife snapped in two. It was a huge relief,
but still so sad, so awful.
Dad was a complete madcap, in many ways a child at heart, always
laughing, always playing and teasing. He loved children, especially his own.
He never tired of playing board games or cards, making up stories or, our
favourite, reading to us. When Mom died, he was reading Lassie to us. Every
night we would all climb into an arm chair in the lounge. A tangle of arms,
bodies, heads, legs. All dreadfully uncomfortable, but enthusiastically leaning
over, turning a bit, whatever was needed so all could see the pictures, and
Dad could see the text. Mom would curl up on the floor and lean against his
legs and ours, her head on a lap or knee, arms entangled with ours. And he
would read until someone started nodding off.
We tried it again when he came home. But everything was wrong. Our chair
was gone, we’d all grown, our book with the pictures was gone. Mom was
gone. It hurt too much and we just hugged and cried for a long time.
Dad remarried, and I did not get on with my step-mom, Val. I was angry that
she’d usurped my mothers’ place. I was angry that my father had betrayed
my mother’s memory by marrying again. I was a typical teenager, rebellious
and angry, and made everyone’s life difficult. The only bright spot was the
birth of my half-brother. I adored him.
Soon after that, we were sent to boarding school in South Africa. I hated
every second of it. We went to my uncle for mid-term break. My step-mother
was visiting too. I ran away from home. My uncle was in the police force,
and one of the neighbours, a cop in his unit, saw me sneak out. I was under
observation before I left the house! I flew home alone. Dad and I sat down
and had many heart to heart, no-holds barred talks that week. I opened up
completely to him, and he treated me like an adult. I needed to know what
had happened to my mom, the truth had never really come out. I’d heard
bits and pieces over the years. He gave me the transcript of the trial, with
descriptions of her injuries removed, as well as the photographs. He also gave
me his diary. From then on, my Dad and I were very close. It was a very
good thing in the end. I was 15 years old.
The whole family, Granny too, emigrated back to South Africa when I was
almost 16. Dad was almost immediately transferred to Botswana. I did not
want to go with the family. He and my step-mom were having problems, and
I didn’t want to be there. We discussed it at length, and with family living in
Johannesburg, and he agreed to let me stay.
He came through once a month, and we’d spend the weekend together.
People watching over breakfast, having great fun at their expense! We’d
always go to a bookstore, browsing around deliciously. Dad always had 3 – 4
books on the go at once, I’m the same! We’d read bits out to one another and
leave with new reads for the month. We’d visit friends and family. We’d see
movies, eat out, talk and laugh and be delighted to be together.
The marriage eventually broke up. 4 years later Dad moved back to South
Africa, about 2 hours from Johannesburg. My sister went home to finish
school. He married again, to a woman with two children.
3 months later he died suddenly. He was 39 and 1 month. It was 33 years ago
today. I love you and miss you so much Dad. X@