A TOWER AND A TREASURED TANNIE (Aunt)
Many children growing up in rural and remote areas in Rhodesia spent a good portion of their schooling attending government run Boarding Schools. This was the case for my elder brother, sister and me. Thankfully I did not have to spend as many years in Boarding school as my elder siblings did. By the time I reached school age, (1950), we had moved from the remote Gobatema Mission, to Rufaro Mission which was near the village of Chatsworth. The closest school for us to attend was in a town called Umvuma. If my memory serves me right, Umvuma was about 40 miles from the Mission. When the school year started Rhodesia Railways would send a school train from Fort Victoria through to Salisbury, picking up children heading to Boarding School and dropping them off at their respective destinations.
I was a feisty 6 year-old about to experience my very first separation from my parents, thankfully my nervousness was tempered by the fact that my elder sister was also attending the same school. After a tearful good-bye to our parents at the station, Sue began to prepare me for what I should expect. I wasn’t too happy to find out that I would not be in the same dormitory as she was but she calmed my fears by assuring me that I would see her at meals and recess etc.
My induction seemed to go from bad to worse when my sister told me that I had to remember how to make my bed with the mitered corners as she had been showing me at home. She warned me that if the dorm Prefect was not satisfied, my bed would be stripped plus I would have to go to the Matron for punishment. This usually meant several sharp smacks on the back of the leg with a ruler and a stern warning!
Needless to say Sue accomplished one thing with her “information over-load”, as by the time the train pulled into the station at Umvuma, I was ready to run as fast as my trembling legs could carry me, back to the welcoming safety of the mission station. Then the feisty red-headed temperament rose to the surface; I was not going to let tales of unpleasant encounters with a stern matron intimidate me! With a toss of my unruly red curls, I jammed my new school hat on my head and climbed down onto the station platform. My adventure had begun!
We were met at the station by a school bus with an African school driver. It was a short ride to the school and the imposing dormitory building that would soon become my home for many months of the year, quickly loomed into view! My sister was allowed to accompany me to the dormitory room I would be assigned to. Two long rows of beds with a wooden chest at the foot of each bed stood in perfect order. The room was a symbol of the rigid, unwelcoming, discipline that a group of 5 and 6 year old children were about to become acquainted with! It did not taken me long to see that the only way I could possibly make my bed was to stand on my foot locker as I was too short for the high hospital type beds. I determined I would lick this “bed making” challenge and that I did………..with the help of my trusty locker that I pushed around the bed and made it.
The first night was a tough one! When the school bell sounded for “lights-out” and our dorm Prefect checked that we were all in bed; the long dormitory room became silent except for muffled crying of many very scared and homesick little girls! I lay listening to the sounds around me; it was a hot night, so all the windows were open and the sounds of the African night mingled with the heart-breaking sobs from my new found friends. I drew comfort from calls of the night animals as I was familiar with them, they represented a world I was well acquainted with and loved.
It wasn’t long and the school instructors and prefects had whipped us “newbies” into the daily routine of boarding school life. We learned quickly who we could trust not to tattle on us and who we made sure did not learn of some of our pranks! It was the survival of the fittest and sharpest!!
Sundays were always a day to look forward to; a picnic lunch was packed for each child, we were loaded onto busses and taken to a landmark Kopje which had a 40 foot Chimney rising like a beacon that could be seen for miles. It was constructed by Falcon Mine in 1913, then the largest gold, copper and silver mine in the country. Now it stood a relic of an industrial era that long had been abandoned. We would picnic in the shadow of the towering Chimney that was in various stages of decay. Then we were allowed to play among the rubble and ruins until the shrill whistle sounded indicating it was time to line up at our busses.
Twice a month on Saturday afternoon we would all be marched into the dining hall to watch a movie. Having grown up on a mission station I had never seen a movie until this time. My young vivid imagination found most of the movies they showed to be frightening and unsettling. My sister and I used to sit together and whenever a scary scene was being shown I would bury my head in her lap! My total discomfort with these Saturday events came to a head when they showed a movie called “The Red Slippers”. The plot was about a young girl who wore beautiful red slippers to dance in. Then a “villain” was worked into the plot and a chase ensued, culminating in the girl trying to flee across a set of railway tracks in the face of an on-coming train. At this juncture I had my head in my sister’s lap and was sobbing in abject terror. The movie actually had a happy ending but I never saw it as one of the prefects removed both my sister and I from the room. As “punishment” for my not being appreciative of the movie day, both Sue and I were told that in future, on movie days, we would have to report to the Matron who was the school cook and she would give us manual labor to do! I did not win any “high-fives” from my sister for bringing that punishment on her head, but I figured scrubbing a floor or washing pots was far better than being scared witless by Hollywood’s version of entertainment!
When the Saturday rolled around for movie time, Sue and I reported to the cottage that the Kitchen Matron lived in. We knew her by name; Mrs. Meyer-Hoffer but that was about all we knew about her, so we had no idea what fate a-waited us. Timidly we knock on the door and “our keeper” opened it with a big welcoming smile and hug for both of us. We stood unsure of what to do or say as this was not the reception we were given to expect! Mrs. Meyer-Hoffer was a gentle grandmotherly lady that radiated a warmth and love to these two frightened missionary’s kids! We spent a delightful three hours with her baking cookies together and munching them down, with a glass of cold milk while she regaled us with fascinating stories. We repeated this wonderful interlude in a rigid environment, every Saturday a movie was shown, until the end of the school year. Mrs. Meyer-Hoffer became our special “Tannie” (Aunt) who we came to love and treasure.
Yes………………God had smiled on two missionary girls and provided us with love and comfort just when we needed it the most!