The first year after we left dad was one of turmoil and havoc emotionally. We lived in five separate places: first with my grandmother, where at least we had familiar surroundings and people. School was okay there. Then we lived with the retired schoolteacher where mum was the housekeeper. He was not fond of girls, only boys. So as long as my sister and I kept out of his way, we were all right. He had all sorts of books and some of them were in the common rooms so I had a feast, discovering Biggles which soon became a firm favourite. But others of his resources were for boys eyes only. We were well fed and well housed. My brother had a horrific time in that place. I was powerless to help. We never talked about it.
Our next place was an unfinished little shack by the river. The owner came and went as he pleased, doing ‘repairs’. Here we had our first taste of real hardship. More than 3/4 of mum’s pension income went to rent. Dad had his own issues and we found out later that because he didn't know where we were he didn't pay any child support at that time.
Food consisted of whole ground wheat porridge, milk and brown sugar. No lunch. Dinner was always curried mince and rice. The only vegetables were onion and grated carrot mixed in with the ground meat. No fruit. Yet here I was relatively happy. I loved the sound of the foghorns on the river; I loved being by the water, and I loved the horse that was grazed in the yard.
The owner had collected a lot of soft drink bottles and stored them under the house. We traded these at the local shop for bread and milk. A boy from school took pity on us and brought us a bag of guavas off his trees. We’d moved from the mountains down to nearer the coast, so winter time wasn’t too bad for us, luckily, as there was no money for shoes. Clothes were from the St Vincents de Paul or City Mission charities - one wash and most of them fell apart, they were already threadbare.
Then we moved to a condemned building complex consisting of several buildings each with several ‘apartments’ in it. No curtains so the street lights streamed in. No walls to the ceilings, only partitions. In the light we could see the big black cockroaches crawling along the top of the walls.
Schooling was difficult for my brother and me because we’d moved so much. He was very philosophical, feeling the burden of the big brother and being as cheerful as he could. I dwindled inside and finally succumbed to rheumatic fever, the same disease that we think took our two aunts. But I was lucky as I didn’t get the severe health effects that one of my cousins did. I missed a lot of school at this place. And to be honest, I wasn’t sorry. I hated being singled out as a ‘ward of the state’, called to the front to collect our state provided book supplies and being called to be first in line to be checked for head lice every week.
All this moving was a strategy that I was never aware of. Only by being in the worst of accommodations could we qualify for a state provided house. And thankfully the strategy worked and we finally moved into our house that was to be our family home for the next ten years.
We were settled there, with good caring neighbours and lots of children our own age. Money was still scarce but mum got a job she enjoyed and my brother worked at the supermarket.
Then when he was 17, my brother left to join the army. I left to get married when I was 15. And my sister stayed until mum decided she wanted to leave as well. My sister was 15 and working and was out to fend for herself.