100 years ago, on 23 April 1913, my mother was born in Edinburgh, Scotland. She was the eldest of 10 children (five boys and five girls), all born at home, four of whom died before reaching the age of 10. It was a tough life for the family, with very little money and cramped living conditions in a very small, one-bedroomed flat in Craigmillar, Edinburgh. All the males slept in the bedroom, with the females in the other room; there was no hot water, and having a bath was a once-a-week affair on a Friday night, in the same tub that was used for washing the clothes. Heating came from the coal range used for cooking, although gas heating and lighting were installed later on.
The relationship between my mother and her father, particularly once she left school, appears to have been a stormy one. At the age of 20, she had to be in by 9pm or she would be locked out for the night, and there was one incident in which he threw her clothes in the fire one night because he didn’t want her to go out. (I understand she threatened him with a flat iron after that! 🙂 )
She met my father at a dance at Edinburgh University in 1932 and they married in 1936, eventually moving to England where Father worked as a vet for the Ministry of Agriculture, and then as a researcher with Boots the Chemist, while Mama stayed home to look after a growing family.
Five children were born in England, and then in 1949 Father was sent on a work trip through Africa, from which – according to family folk lore – he returned and told my mother to “pack up everything, we’re emigrating to Southern Rhodesia!”
Going from post-war Britain, with all its food shortages, to sunny Rhodesia must have seemed like going to heaven! Food was plentiful, in particular meat, sugar and fruit; the weather was great; and life was definitely easier. Such was their enthusiasm for their newly-adopted country that they persuaded my aunt (one of Mama’s sisters) to join them from Edinburgh, ostensibly as a live-in babysitter for soon-to-arrive child no. 6, being me (to be followed three years later by my younger sister).
We had a wonderful life in Rhodesia, and I have many, many special memories of growing up there. After leaving the country in 1973, I managed to return 7 or 8 times over the next 23 years to spend time with family and friends. Present-day circumstances in Zimbabwe, however, make me very thankful that I no longer have any family living there: Mama passed away in 1986, and Father in 1994. My final visit in 1996 coincided with the death of my beloved aunt; all my brothers and sisters had either already left the country, or did so not long after my last visit, and I haven’t been back since.
Our last house in Zimbabwe
The view from the house at sunrise
So, here’s to you, Mama: thank goodness for your (and Father’s) pioneering spirit, and thank you both for giving me a fantastic childhood in a lovely country, for which I will always be grateful. Many happy returns! 🙂