Thursday, April 8, 2010

Good morning, blog, do you remember me? I'm sorry I've been neglecting you. Let me try to make it up with some new yada yada.

These pix are of a few of my greeting cards, now available at Oceanside Museum of Art for the trifling sum of $5 each. And I'm astonished to find they're actually selling. Good grief!

My manuscript is just about ready for the next step. Queries to agents. Oh boy, everyone tells me hooking an agent makes the actual writing seem like a walk in the park. Thick skin required - we're talking elephant thick. But nothing ventured, nothing gained. And while I wait with bated breath for a response or two, let me ramble on with another vignette from an African childhood.


At the official entrance to the mine property where we lived, there was an impressive brick and iron gateway guarded by an African in a smart khaki uniform. As we entered or left, he would click his heels together, salute and wave us through with his wooden knobkerrie.

Within the property there were workshops for the blacksmith, the welders, and the carpenters, as well as a compound that housed the African workers. All this enterprise used a lot of coal and a coal heap two stories high towered against the side of a two-storey building on the property’s edge.

I and my buddies, Keith and Peter, would race each other to the top of the sloping pile of coal, slipping and sliding all the way. At the summit, we would stand triumphant, panting, grazed and very black. From there, we had a great view over the wall onto the railroad track on the other side.

There was a huge shovel stored at the bottom of the heap and often we dragged it to the top with us. One of us sat on the shovel, clinging to its curved edges while the other two pushed on the handle, sending the rider bouncing to the bottom of the pile. Struggling to keep balanced, we screamed in exhilarating terror all the way down.

But the loudest I ever screamed was the time the shovel went missing and we tried this maneuver using a piece of wood instead. I positioned myself in the middle of the wood and Keith and Peter gave me a great shove from behind. The wood stubbornly stayed put, wedged firmly into the coal, while my body scooted forward. My behind gathered a great harvest of long wooden splinters. I wailed all the way home and had to lie quietly, sooty, snotty and bleeding as my mother carefully tweezed the splinters one by one, scolding me all the while.

Along the outside wall of the property next to the coal heap, the great black steam engines puffed and hissed, loaded with equipment for the nearby gold mines. My mother hated the trains. They would set the ground rumbling and turn her lace curtains grey with toxic soot. Often, when she took them down for washing, they disintegrated in her hands.

But we kids loved those engines. They were so big, so loud, so powerful. We stood silently as they passed by, our necks craning to watch the engineer, naked to his waist and shiny with sweat, shoveling coal into the gaping red mouth of the fire.

When we were flush with pocket money, we would place pennies on the track as the train approached, and then hold our breath as those huge steel wheels flattened them into flat wafers of copper.

In the evenings, African workers walked home along the tracks, weary from their shifts on the mines. They would pick up any stray chunks of coal that had fallen from the train, to help heat their huts and cook their food. All winter long the smell of smoke hung heavy in the air, drifting from the braziers in these huts.

But there were not many stray chunks to be found. So when the evening sirens sounded to end the day’s shift, and the sun sank low in the west, Keith and Peter and I would station ourselves at the top of the coal heap and toss coal over the wall to the grinning Africans. It was just a game to us, but it was probably an unexpected stroke of luck for those tired men heading home to cold and draughty huts.

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