There are places that remain in our memories, the details may become slightly blurred, nostalgia may colour our thoughts, but they don’t fade. And how those places made us feel at the time is the one thing that remains.
Today I’m welcoming Robbie Cheadle, someone I’ve known and admired as an online friend for many years.
Thank you, Judith, for inviting me to talk about my memories.
As a little girl I was quiet and self-contained. The oldest of four daughters, my mom was often busy with a new baby and so I spent a lot of time alone. I do believe I was a lonely child and passed my time reading, listening to Broadway musicals on my mother’s record player, and doing numerous artistic projects.
By the time I was eighteen, I’d lived in twenty-one houses and attended fourteen schools. Twelve of my school changes occurred before I was twelve and once, I changed schools twice during the same academic year.
I never developed lasting and strong friendships with other girls which may have been a consequence of all these disruptions. Instead, my sisters and I played together. Their births were the highlight moments of my younger years.
My time as a baby and a toddler are grey mist to me, but the first powerful memory I have is of the entrance of my sister, Catherine, into my life. She displaced me as the only one and I wasn’t pleased about it at the time.
I wrote a short story about Catherine’s birth, she was born prematurely at 32 weeks, and the subsequent turmoil that ensued. The story is called The New Baby and is included in an anthology called Memories of Mom: Rave Soup For The Writer’s Soul Anthology, 2022 available here: https://www.amazon.com/MEMORIES-MOM-Rave-Writers-Anthology-ebook/dp/B09ZRK4L6B
The following extracts illustrate how I recall feeling about my new sister:
“I prayed: “Thank you, God, for sending me a sister. I don’t mind being an only child though, so would you please take her away and give her to another girl who really wants a baby sister?”
My prayer went unanswered, and my mother continued to visit the hospital every morning.”
“On the morning Catherine came home from the hospital, everything started to change. I no longer went to school as my mother didn’t want to risk me picking up a cold or other illness. I stayed at home and helped Mom look after my sister.
The baby was a disappointment. She was nothing like the baby in my nursery rhyme book. That baby was pink, with golden curls and fat, dimpled hands, and feet. My new sister was pale and almost translucent looking. I could see blue veins under her delicate skin, and she had bruises on her head from the drip. Her hands were tiny and clenched and she had no hair at all. When she cried it came out as a faint mewing and I couldn’t see how she would ever be any fun at all. She also took up nearly all of Mom’s time with her numerous feeds, nappy changes, and other needs.”
The entrance of Hayley into my life was unremarkable. We were living on a plot in Honeydew, Johannesburg, and my life was filled with exploration of the tracts of veld that surrounded our house.
Hayley was a howler and I remember my mother walking round and round the sitting room with her while she cried and cried. Her endless crying is how I remember Howling Hayley. She did, of course, grow out of it eventually and became one of my living dolls.
A defining memory I have of Hayley as a baby is one evening when I took the screaming bundle and walked her around to give mom a break. She went to sleep in my arms and Mom and I watched an episode of the television production of She (by Rider Haggard) together. It contained the scene where Ayesha goes into the fire and ages from a young and beautiful woman into a hideous, shrivelled 2,000-year-old woman and then disintegrates into ash. I have never, ever, forgotten that scene and I’ve read the book several times. It is a favourite of mine.
Laura is the youngest and she arrived when I was nine, Catherine was five, and Hayley was one.
Laura’s birth coincided with my family’s relocation from Johannesburg to George in the Western Cape. My grandparents on my father’s side had moved to George a year previously and they had persuaded dad to move to this beautiful city.
Dad drove Catherine, Hayley, and I to George. It was a fourteen-hour drive as frequent “wee” stops had to be made with three small girls in the car. We were driven to George ahead of my parents moving as Mom was heavily pregnant at the time with our new sister. The new baby would be born at the hospital in Johannesburg. We three girls would be cared for by our grandparents for two weeks until my mother was able to make the long car trip.
I loved George. It was totally different from dry and dusty Johannesburg with its violent thunderstorms and frightening lightning and thunder. George was green. There was an abundance of trees, flowers and bushes and it rained a lot of the time.
My grandparents lived in a cottage near the outskirts of the town and their tar road suddenly ended about 1000 metres from their house and became a dirt road and then a dirt track that led into the forest.
The forest was dark and mysterious. Full of huge, tall trees and thick bushes and foliage. We were forbidden from going into the forest on our own as it was easy to get lost amongst so many trees that all looked the same.
Along the sides of the dirt road were trenches where the municipality had been digging. I don’t know why they were digging there but the trenches were so much fun. Catherine and I climbed into the trenches and walked along them, hidden from view.
The bottoms of the trenches were covered in clay. It was deliciously squelchy and sticky, and we loved the feeling of the clay between our bare toes.
One dinner time, I told Granddad Jack about the clay. He said you could make things from it and dry them in the sun. The sun would bake them and make them hard.
What a delight! The very next day, Catherine and I went into one of the trenches and mined for clay. We scooped the clay into a plastic bag and hauled it out of the trench. Very soon, we were sitting on the back doorstep and making all sorts of pots and figurines out of clay. It was a happy time for me.
One morning, Granny Joan said that Mom and Dad were in the car and on their way to George. Catherine and I were excited, but Hayley was too young to understand what was happening.
Eventually, late in the afternoon, the car arrived with both my parents and a very funny looking, wrinkled, and red baby. I got such a fright I ran away. I thought that Laura was the ugliest baby I had ever seen.
Poor little Lu! She looked like that because she had become dehydrated during the long drive.
In retrospect, I was fortunate to grow up in a family with three sisters. We all still live in Johannesburg and our families spend the high days and holidays together.
Thank you, Judith, for giving me this opportunity to share about my memories of my childhood. I’d like to close with this poem I wrote about my sisters for Catherine’s fortieth birthday.
A sister is … by Robbie Cheadle
|a thief, stealing attention that is rightfully yours;||a port in a storm, when your house of cards falls;|
|a fountain of knowledge – your problems, not hers;||a megaphone whose voice is louder than yours;|
|an expert on everything you try for the first time;||a comedian who’ll dance and make you laugh till you cry;|
|a cloths horse, ‘specially when she’s borrowed your clothes;||a home where your children are always welcome;|
|a confidant with whom you share secrets and hopes;||a purse to help you out of a bind;|
|a competitor who always shines brighter than you;||an advisor when your spirit is battered and bruised;|
|a shoulder to cry on when life lets you down;||a beauty queen, who’s face is fairer than yours;|
|a diary of shared memories, the old and the new;||a voice of reason, when yours has taken a day off;|
|a provider of wine, in good times and bad;||an embarrassment who recalls your drunken antics;|
|an artist, who’ll make up your face, if you beg;||the best thing anyone could ask for.|
From Open a new door, a collection of poems by Robbie Cheadle and Kim Blades available here: https://www.amazon.com/Open-new-door-collection-poems-ebook/dp/B07K4RRC4W
Author CV – Roberta/Robbie Cheadle
Robbie Cheadle is a South African children’s author and poet with eleven children’s books and two poetry books.
The eight Sir Chocolate children’s picture books, co-authored by Robbie and Michael Cheadle, are written in sweet, short rhymes which are easy for young children to follow and are illustrated with pictures of delicious cakes and cake decorations. Each book also includes simple recipes or biscuit art directions which children can make under adult supervision.
Robbie and Michael have also written Haunted Halloween Holiday, a delightful fantasy story for children aged 5 to 9. Count Sugular and his family hire a caravan to attend a Halloween party at the Haunted House in Ghost Valley. This story is beautifully illustrated with Robbie’s fondant and cake art creations.
Robbie has also published two books for older children which incorporate recipes that are relevant to the storylines.
Robbie has two adult novels in the paranormal historical and supernatural fantasy genres published under the name Roberta Eaton Cheadle. She also has short stories, in the horror and paranormal genre, and poems included in several anthologies.
Robbie Cheadle contributes two monthly posts to https://writingtoberead.com/, namely, Growing Bookworms, a series providing advice to caregivers on how to encourage children to read and write, and Treasuring Poetry, a series aimed at introducing poetry lovers to new poets and poetry books.
In addition, Roberta Eaton Cheadle contributes one monthly post to https://writingtoberead.com/ called Dark Origins: African Myths and Legends which shares information about the cultures, myths and legends of the indigenous people of southern Africa.
Follow Robbie Cheadle at:
Follow Robbie Cheadle at:
TSL Publications (paperbacks)
Lulu.com (paperbacks and ebooks)
Amazon US (paperbacks)
Amazon UK (paperbacks)