Well, I'll start at the beginning.
I was born in Sweden. My dad was a diplomat stationed in Stockholm. I don't
remember very much about Sweden. I left when I was two. But later when I finished
high school, I went back to stay with my godmother who took me fishing for eel.
My dad was transferred to Paris. I shared my room with my two brothers when they came home from boarding school in England. My room was lovely and sunny during the day but I remember sometimes being quite scared when I had to go to sleep there by myself. I slept with my bear and blankie. One day my Mum washed blankie and I made such a fuss when she wouldn't let me take blankie to bed that she finally had to cut off a little piece for me to hold. But even with bear and blankie I was still sometimes scared, so I mixed up magic potions and painted them all around the window to keep the witches out.
My first day of school, withbrother, Greg and Mum on the banks of the Seine. Picnic outside Paris. More about the cottage later.
I began school when I was four and spoke fluent French, but I don't really remember this. I just remember one day in the playground the teacher asking me, "Do you speak English?" and my saying, "Yes." I also remember my first day of school. My mother left in me in a great hall with a lot of other children. I didn't know what to do so I just sat there. When the little girl next to me started crying, I started crying too. I thought that was what one was supposed to do at school.
One day, I got all dressed up in my smartest dress. I was going to meet the Queen of England with all the other children of Commonwealth diplomats in Paris. We had to wait for a long time on the steps in a very grand ballroom. My friend Simon was standing next to me and he kept pinching me and saying "The Queen is coming." A lady in a suit arrived. She smiled and we all curtseyed and bowed. But then we were ushered down the steps and out the door. "What's going on? Isn't the Queen coming?" I asked Simon. "That lady was the Queen, you clot," he said. What a disappointment. I had imagined a queen with a long gown, ermine cape, diamond crown and scepter at the very least.
Another vivid memory I have as a small child was having terrible earache. One day the doctor arrived with his nurse. She was a nun who wore one of those Flying Nun sort of hats. The doctor said that he needed to pierce my eardrum, and that it would be much kinder just do it then and there rather than take me off to hospital. They wrapped me tightly in a sheet and my Dad held me down and I screamed and screamed! I never forgave my parents for that. My mother bought me the book Madeleine, which I still have, to try and mollify me. It was a big mistake, because Madeleine got to go to the hospital where she got lots of chocolates and other goodies.
Every Sunday we used to drive to the country for picnics. We also had some lovely beach holidays in Spain and St. Tropez. My favorite game was finding the beach ball which we took turns hiding under pyramids of sand. We always ate watermelons on the beach, so for years I believed that watermelons grew in the sea.
One evening, my Dad came and sat on my bed and told me we were going to South Africa. He said that at night sometimes when it was very quiet and the wind blew the right way, you could hear the lions roar! I was terrified and started to cry. I wanted to stay in Paris.
Everyone traveled by boat when I was little. Our voyage to South Africa took about ten days. My brothers and I had a great time. When we crossed the Equator, Neptune came aboard and they caught and dunked everyone who hadn't crossed the equator in a big tub of water. I was terrified and wouldn't let my Dad take me off his shoulders the whole day. I guess I was a bit of a wussy kid.
I hated South Africa at first. The neighborhood children came to meet me, and I just glared at them. "Ne touche pas la voiture de mon papa!"(Don't touch my Daddy's car!) I remember ordering them. And when they laughed at me I shouted "Vous etes un cochon!" (You are a pig!) Which I reckoned was about the nastiest thing anyone could say to anyone else.
Then I got a puppy, made friends with the neighbors and soon forgot all my French. We had a big garden with a little stream (when it rained). There was also a cave on the neighboring property where someone had excavated for gold!
I had swanky cousins in Johannesburg who had a Cadillac with windows that
rolled up and down when you pushed a button and wonderful grandparents who packed
a big hamper of goodies and took me and my cousins to the drive in on Friday
nights. It was especially great if the film was scary, because we had to drive
over a dark wooded mountain to get to the drive in and rumour had it that the
Panga Man was on the loose there. A panga is a machete, and the Panga Man would
sneak up on lovers parked on the mountain and chop them into little pieces.
After four years in South Africa, we moved to New Orleans.
I had visions of living in a "ranch" with horses, and canoeing down the Mississippi to school. So I was pretty disappointed to find that my life in America was not that different from Europe or South Africa. The first day at my new school, all the kids asked me things like "What did you eat there- lion?" and "What did you wear- animal skins?" and "Did you live in a tree house?"
(To continue click here...)
Click Home or About Catherine or Books to go back