A Little Silver Trunk of Life

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From time to time, I receive messages from people around the world who have been helped, inspired, motivated or simply enabled to take another step through a challenging period in their lives, as they’ve heard bits of my story or read my words.  We are each doing our best on this planet, and we are each facing different things as we negotiate our way along our paths, but it is always encouraging to hear that one’s own journey has acted as an example to others of what is possible and to hear that hope has been restored in the life of another.  Here, I’m sharing another little piece of my jigsaw, as an open hand to any other who might need a little strength …

I have a little silver trunk, where the few remaining contents of my life before marriage are filed … in some ways the trunk is a little substitute for the roots of family home I don’t have.

Late last night I climbed up to the attic, negotiated papers and packages strewn across my studio space to reach it, prized open the wonky lid and extracted some of my old journals ~ teenage and early adult snippets of “life” … Can’t recall why I went up there in the first place, nor so resolutely climbed obstacles to reach my private little trunk, but the gems contained within the pages of the first tome I opened are emotionally immense ….

Clearly it was meant to be, but I’m not sure why.

Poetry reading, words of times past pouring out of my pores now, saturated and awash with memory … and gratitude … for a life well lived …

Potent moments recorded there.

I am grateful that these have survived so many moves. God is good. He has a plan. One day at a time …

Whoever you are, whatever you’re going through, just remember: it will make you and mould you and you’ll be so much richer as a result.

“Never, never give up.”   ~ Sir Winston Churchill

With love,

Holly x

Swing Low, Sweet Chariot – A Motherhood Memory

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Cooks Hill, NSW, Australia ~ 1993/94

 

“Swing low, sweet chariot …”

This picture … me ‘n my girl … in the garden of the first home that we owned, where we spent many glorious hours in Nature together, had lots and lots of parties and get-togethers, with friends and family frequently coming to stay.

The garden was a ”postage stamp”, whose every inch I knew, into which I poured my love and learnt all sorts about Australia. Gardening became the therapy for a very homesick heart, a heart that missed people in two countries, two continents called “home”, but with that came a grateful connection to the earth and so much that reminded me of my beloved Africa.

In order to be a parent, I had to learn to listen deeply to the rhythms of real soul, such as I had seen in the ways that African people cared for their young … My journey was an otherwise blind one, based only on what I felt to be right, and most of the time I could not see further than my nose in the process. I read LOTS of books.

I called that home “Tintinnare” … which is Latin; it means the ringing of bells. It was and still is, I’m sure, a very special place. We lived there five years, sold it to move to “Rosewood”, when my son, four years younger than his sister, was a year old.

Holly x


[This post was written for another platform originally, hence the brevity of script.]

The Gift Of A Mandela Book

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This morning, whilst drinking my early morning cup of tea, something prompted me to look across to the little bookshelf beside my bed.  As I glanced up to the top shelf, a book almost spoke to me to lift it down and open it … this book … “Mandela. My Prisoner, My Friend”.  I obeyed.  I held it, I stretched out my hands and looked at the cover, I drew it close to my chest and hugged it, as if to feel the warmth of southern hemisphere sunshine … and then I opened the covers and peeped inside.

I knew that I was taking a chance by opening the book, potentially exposing myself to pain, at seeing evidence of things about Nelson Mandela’s life which I know were brutal, creating uncomfortable feelings of despair and utter shame, coupled with longings for the country of my birth, and yet I knew that it really was time to face whatever the pages contained … but I was only going to peep.  A little.  It was not my intention to spend too much time on the book today, with a list as long as the proverbial piece of rope of things demanding my attention, but I felt that I was being guided to read some of it and to at least make myself acquainted with a little of what the text contains.  The book had been given to me some time ago, a surprise gift, and it was time I gave it my attention, bravely.

As so often happens, I feel intuitively that I should do things and, instead of questioning the prompts, I usually tiptoe or stumble forth in the direction where I am led. And so I prised open the unread book, and I recalled the immense sense of amazement that I had felt when it had first been given to me, as I read the handwritten inscription inside:

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“To Holly,
Nelson Mandela was / is such an inspiration for me, as are you!
Keep shining your light and doing what you do.
Kirsti   x  “

[gifted to me on 28 April 2016]

Once again, as when I had received the book, which had been a complete surprise, I felt a wave of humility mixed with pleasure, at being thought of so highly and in such a wonderful way.  I cannot imagine anyone on the planet not being touched to be associated with “Madiba” in any sense at all … what a tremendous honour that I should be so blessed to remind someone of him, so much so that they would give me this book with open handed love.  It’s no small thing to have received this, and I remember at the time I could not comprehend why, nor quite take it in.  I still cannot see how I bear any passing similarity to Nelson Mandela, but life has been incredibly challenging to me as well, starting with a turbulent and at times heart breaking childhood, and has taught me so much through those challenges.  I suppose this gives a tiny reason to feel that Mr Mandela and I might have, had we ever met, been kindred spirits.  Each of us, people acquainted with harsh reality and at times extremely unfair judgement, both very much in love with Nature, people and the African soil, giving some vague reason to believe that perhaps we might have had some things in common while he lived.  I would have loved to meet that real, power filled man – as many would have, I know.

And so, I turned another page, to see what I was being led to read.  The few pages that I opened spoke deeply to my consciousness and, whilst I could not face reading into the detail, what I read was enough for today, enough to make it worthwhile to have opened the book – almost a year since it had been given to me, in April 2016.

In the Prologue, these words by the author, Christo Brand, struck my soul:

“Nelson Mandela spent his boyhood in the green and golden hills of South Africa’s Eastern Cape.  There he ran wild with his friends in the village of Qunu.  He has told of the happiest years of his life – shooting birds out of the sky with a catapult, gathering fruit from the trees, catching fish with a bent hook and drinking warm milk straight from the cow.

Just like me, he sometimes looked after flocks of sheep and would go home to his family’s little house after playing till dusk, to eat supper and listen to his mother’s stories around the fireside.

As a young boy, he had no immediate knowledge of apartheid.  In his small, safe world there was no obvious menace.  His childhood was secure in the rural Xhosa community where he belonged.

I also knew nothing of the cruel racial boundaries in our country as I grew up.  My father was a farm foreman in a fertile part of the Western Cape.  All my young life I played with black and mixed-race children who lived on the farm with us in Stanford, many miles from the city.

Looking back, Mandela and I both enjoyed childhoods full of innocence and charm, although many years apart.  We were both brought up in the Christian tradition, our lives ruled by strict but loving parents who taught us right from wrong.  All that mattered was home and family, with rewards for good behaviour and punishment for bad.

He and I, in contrasting worlds, came to know in our different ways the full cruelty of the apartheid laws, and those worlds collided only many years later when we both found ourselves on Robben Island, the bleak maximum security prison where he was serving life and I was his warder.

I was 19 years old when I came face to face with Nelson Mandela.  He was 60.  Until that day I had never heard of him, or his African National Congress, or the deeply held reasons that meant that he and his comrades were prepared to die for their cause.

I found a man who was courteous and humble, yet at the same time the powerful leader of many of the political prisoners serving time on Robben Island.”

and

“He wrote of his ‘long walk to freedom’, and I walked some of that road with him, an incredible journey that defines my life today, as well as his.

In truth, my life began so much later than his.  A white Afrikaans boy born into the very culture that created Mandela the revolutionary, I’d had no idea it was going to lead me to him.”

~ * ~

Unlike Christo Brand, whose childhood and life story are also described in the book, I did not grow up in a Christian household, and my home and background influence were very definitely liberal British / generally English ones, but I too experienced the times of friendship with ‘forbidden’ others, and the wildness of living free during part of my childhood in the African countryside.  In this way, I suppose one could imagine that each of these aspects makes us plaited and pure South Africans of the apartheid era, kindred spirits in all sorts of ways.  There are aspects of imprisonment which Mandela experienced, that I could identify as similar in various parallels with my own life on other continents where, despite appearance to the contrary, I have also experienced the sheer despair and discomfort of being contained, misjudged, overlooked, misunderstood.  It is in the nature of some of us to express ourselves openly and to put our gifts to use with excellence and generosity; when we are constrained, those energies can be directed inwards and threaten to overwhelm us … Nelson Mandela showed that they and the opposition he faced would grow him, instead, and indeed they did.

As I turned to a few more pages, before getting up and on with the day, I came across a page that struck me as special to share, and so I took a quick photograph (a bit blurry, given the time of day!) ..

On one page, two human beings whom I have a huge amount of respect for, both having been at the receiving end of unimaginable condescension and criticism, both heroes of their day, despite (and perhaps because of) it all, both educated, civilised, philosophical giants, with warm hearts and the grace of forgiveness in the fibre of their make-up: Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama.  Each man a legend, in his own right.  Each man someone I look up to as an example of a fine human being.  Each man with roots in Africa. Each a leader, against all the odds.  Each man a lion-hearted soul.

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At the front of the book, US President Barack Obama’s message in the visitors’ book on Robben Island, dated 30 June 2013, is quoted and reads:

“On behalf of our family, we’re deeply humbled to stand where men of such courage faced down injustice and refused to yield.  The world is grateful for the heroes of Robben Island, who remind us that no shackles or cells can match the strength of the human spirit.”

These words deserve a moment …

I am one of those people who will often read the final pages of a book, and then go back and absorb the detail, quickly, or pausing to comb through the fine print, savouring each page like a morsel of delicacy.  Thus, confining this one quick comb through my precious gift of “Mandela.  My Prisoner, My Friend” to another ten minutes or so of perusing the content for now, I turned to the last couple of pages, where I read the words of co-author to this story, Barbara Jones:

“It was soon after dawn on Sunday, 15 December 2013 when Christo Brand walked through the ancient fields of Qunu village and past the river where Mandela played as a child, on his way to a sad but fitting ceremony, the last goodbye to the great Nelson Mandela.  Security guards noted his damp and muddy shoes and insisted on brushing them clean for him.  He continued alone right up to the burial place and looked into Mandela’s empty grave.

‘I thought to myself how he would now be able to look over the whole of that green valley he loved so much.  Madiba had come home, just as he always longed to,’ he said.

Christo was greeted warmly by a group of military generals, every one of them an ex-prisoner from Robben Island.  Film producer Anant Singh, whose “Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom”, had recently received huge critical acclaim, persuaded Christo to sit nearby, along with actor Idris Elba, who took the lead part.

Mourners started up their beloved freedom songs dedicated to Mandela, and Christo felt proud.  Close to tears, he listened to Mandela’s grandson Ndaba giving his moving speech.  ‘I closed my eyes and I could hear the man himself, and see him in his youth’, he said.  Granddaughter Nandi was also impressive and talked of Mandela’s warmth towards his family.

Daughter Zindzi saw Christo, gave him a special smile, and thanked him for being there.  The singing stopped and everyone stood.  It was the moment for Mandela’s coffin to be carried solemnly past the mourners.

‘The coffin was close enough for me to touch but I didn’t think that would be right,’ said Christo.  ‘And it was enough to know that our lives had touched for so many years.  I said a silent goodbye to the best, strongest and most honest human being I have ever known.’ “

I don’t think I have spoiled the story by sharing these last few lines in the book … most of the world was watching the procession of Nelson Mandela’s coffin on that day, we all know how the story ended … I, for one, was glued to my television screen, candles lit and with tears pouring down my cheeks.  Scotland, where I write this from, is a long, long way from home.

God bless you, Madiba.  You, Lion of Africa, gave eloquence and elevation and grace to the people and to the country I am now so proud to call my real home.

To the friend who gave me this book so unexpectedly, your generous gift has blessed me with a renewing, an additional and special link to a country I left thirty two years ago this December, two weeks after my twenty third birthday, a country that was in turmoil … leaving a country and a people whom I miss with heart and mind and soul.

Holly x

The book was published by John Blake Publishing Ltd, in 2014.
ISBN 978 1 78219 743 0

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Being A Blogger Is A Process

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It has been two years since I began the journey of technically building a blog, and writing one.  My first ever blogging experience began with the process of creating “The Holly Tree Tales” on WordPress, something that was completely and utterly unfamiliar to me, in every sense.  It was early in January 2015, the first to be precise, when I gathered my two children together at my computer, in order to consult them where possible, and set off cautiously into the jungle that has been my complicated technical process of setting up and managing this website.

For many years I had been told, by all sorts of people, that I ought to write my story, communicate my philosophical thoughts, share about my experiences through childhood, describe my journeys in new places, reveal my trepidatious steps through parenting my children into the great humans that they are, discuss my gardening exploration and tips, reach out by telling others about my life in foreign environments, share my love of Nature that has seeped into my soul on three continents, speak out about my innermost dreams and learnings about leadership, business and ethics, and that I should share with others my poems and recipes, created over decades, a little at a time, and sometimes all at once.  The project of writing on a public stage was a daunting one at the start … there have been many hiccups since, and now I’m back on the writing stage to say again: “I am still daunted by it all.”

When I look, as I infrequently do, at other websites and blogs, I feel mildly intimidated by the seeming ease with which so many appear to have established expansive readership numbers, umpteen likes on their posts, and in many cases income through their ‘blogs’ simply being online.  At the outset, I knew that I did not want to have my website / blog vulnerable or susceptible to the screeching distraction of advertisements, and the random intrusion of brands with which I was potentially distinctly uncomfortable … so I decided to invest money in setting up a ‘premium’ WordPress blog, instead of going with a theme that would be provided free of charge.  I do not regret this choice, but am mindful of the investment that I have made annually since 1 January 2015, an investment which is not insignificant in my present phase of life.  There have certainly been many times when I have wished that The Holly Tree Tales’ presence on the internet would magically manifest a fabulous income, alongside the many other things that I do with my life under current circumstances, mostly non-incoming earning as I write these words.  The internet is not an arena that I have tapped into as a source of wealth, but no doubt those vast stores of potential await, by some means or other yet to be explored!

Being a Blogger is a process; establishing a website (or blog by any other name) and learning to drive the engine of spectacular technical complexity (no matter how simple it may seem to those people several decades springier than I am) has come with immense challenges for me.  There have been days, like yesterday, when I have purposely set aside the time to concentrate (as ‘solely’ as possible) on My Blog, with a clear purpose in mind, when I have achieved absolutely nothing … I lie: yesterday I managed to alter the date on the copyright bit at the bottom of each page.  All by myself, and in record time.  Nothing else happened … no matter how long, how hard, how disconsolately, how cheerily even, I stared at the screen … nothing went in, nothing went out, nothing improved, and all remained clouded in a veil of foggy tomfoolery.  I could not, simply could not, find my way back to what had once been a familiar screen with black background, where I had hoped to re-visit my previously unsuccessful attempt at tidying up the “Categories” of the Blog.

This morning, having wasted several hours getting nowhere fast, I decided to allow myself only ONE HOUR in front of my WordPress screen … one hour to do whatever I could possibly do to make things more streamlined, more logical, more attractive, more like honey to bees … the objective, clearly, is to make an excellent impression, regardless of the audience, wishing to tailor the entire thing so that it is fresh, crisp, chic, intelligent and simple to navigate at will.  I have a goal, I had that goal on the 1st of January 2015 too, and I am still trying to reach it!  Well, this morning my one hour produced little, again … and then suddenly a ‘lightning bolt’ hit!  With two minutes to go before the 9.30am cut-off time allowed for this frippery, my cursor reached the very bottom line on the “Customise” screen … and my eyes fell on the sight of “WP Admin” … I gingerly pressed down on the mouse … et voila!! Shrieking “Praise the Lord!” to my startled hound, causing my suddenly awake teenage son to come bounding down the stairs, I dropped my head into my hands and gave thanks … I had finally found something that looked vaguely familiar … my screen with black background was there …

Or so I thought.

After describing to my son the reason for my shout of adulation, which he very kindly indulged me in by smiling unpatronisingly down at me slumped in my chair, I started to direct my mouse (computer species) towards the destination I’d been trying to head in for hours previously … “Categories” … only to discover that the whole format, despite its familiar black background, has actually changed since we were last acquainted in this deeply meaningful and hot-headed pursuit. Erk.  Breathe.  Head up.  Back straight … let the fingers do the crawling all over again …

Oh my, is Blogging ever a process!  Technological mastery of a beautiful blog is one thing, writing the words is quite another, and then there’s the business of streamlining how you make sure that other people can find the words once you’ve had them crawling all over your site.  I currently have about 75 (yes, that says seventy five) Categories listed, and heaven only knows how many Tags … which desperately need tailoring, tidying, organising, shaping, parenting (yes, that’s a WordPress blog design term, I think) … and I’ve been at this for months – off and on – hence the scarcity of written work, while I try to housekeep the collections of words somehow.  Of course, in the meantime, Life itself has been taking place too … but all that must wait, until I have managed to tailor this jolly blog.

If you have feedback, dear Reader, please feel free to comment below this post and let me know your thoughts on The Holly Tree Tales generally.  I value the presence of every Reader, value the ones who have signed up to follow the blog immensely too, and ask everyone to continue to bear with me, as I continue to hone my live media skills.

With perseverance and onward striving determination,

Holly x

 

First Anniversary of The Holly Tree Tales Blog

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What a lovely surprise to receive this message from WordPress last night:

“Happy Anniversary with WordPress.com!
You registered on WordPress.com one year ago!
Thanks for flying with us. Keep up the good blogging!”

It is indeed an auspicious occasion, and I am very grateful to have readers and followers of the blog, on this writing and publishing journey with me.

Thank you for the support in this first tentative year of getting my words out into the public domain, taking shaky steps into the challenging technological space that exists as a stage without a visible audience, as I slowly build the jigsaw of my memories, my life story, things I have learnt, and my thoughts along the way.

Thanks, WordPress, for making this worldwide platform possible. With over 100 posts now logged, the first year of novice ‘blogging’ has held many lessons, many moments of confusion in the writing and technological process, and multiple blessings have come my way too. May the second year of this particular journey reap even greater rewards, with the basic blog site’s structure now (almost) all in place, building on that which has been created thus far.

I look forward to seeing the writing reach its zenith, as well as a wider audience, this year! Every small step is a step in growing confidence and validation for that already hard won.

Thank you, everyone, for the great encouragement to keep ‘blogging’. I am very grateful that the work here is so valued.

 

Holly x

 

 

 

Ek Wil Huis Toe Gaan – An Ode to South Africa – With Translation

A Power of Prosperity moment.

A Kwa-Zulu Natal house martin, resting on a telephone wire at the Author’s home in Berwickshire, UK.

In my previous blogpost, I explained the writing of this poem, which seemed to write itself one chilly evening in Britain, during October 2013. I have now cobbled together a translation, which appears below the original, for those who do not speak Afrikaans nor know the South African lingo …

Ek Wil Huis Toe Gaan

Ek wil huis toe gaan …
Weg van hierdie koue plek;
Weg van hier, waar die mense kan nie lag nie;
Weg van die grys en die vreeslike ys,
Daar waar die hemel dikwels blou is;
Waar die mense lag en speel,
Waar die vriende warm is,
En die blommetjies baie is;
Waar die dikdikke dik,
En die blomme lekker ruik;
Waar die koppies loer my in,
En die pad lekker warm onder die fiets is;
Waar die biltong smaak,
En die boerewors kraak;
Waar die sonskyn soos parfum op my vel voel,
En die wind so lieflik oor die veldt grassies ‘skyn’ …
Ja, ek wil huis toe gaan.
Ek moet huis toe gaan.
Ek kan nie langer wag nie,
Ek moet huis toe gaan.
Die pyn is soms vreeslik koud.
Ek moet huis toe gaan,
Voor alles is vergeet en ek is baie oud.
Draai my huis toe nou,
Op die wind en die voel se rug,
Nou, asseblief, gee my ‘n bietjie verlig,
Ek wil huis toe gaan.

Asseblief. Net huis toe. Nou.

~ : ~

 

And in English, a rough translation …


I Want To Go
Home

I want to go home …
Away from this cold place;
Away from here, where the people cannot laugh;
Away from the grey and the terrible ice,
There where the sky is often blue;
Where the people laugh and play,
Where the friends are warm,
And the flowers are many;
Where the dik-dik call,
And the flowers smell divine;
Where the little hills entice me,
And the road is hot under the bicycle;
Where the “biltong” tastes delicious,
And the “boerewors” crackles;
Where the sunshine feels like perfume on my skin,
And the wind shines so beautifully over the “veld” grasses …
Yes, I want to go home.
I cannot wait any longer,
I must go home.
The pain is sometimes freezing cold.
I must go home,
Before everything is forgotten and I am very old.
Draw me homewards now,
On the wind and the back of the bird,
Now, please, give me a little relief,
I want to go home.

Please. Just home. Now.

~ : ~


Explanation of Words used

Boerewors :  a spicy South African sausage.
Biltong : a dried meat, often spiced with coriander seed.
Dik-dik : a very small type of antelope, named for the sound  that they make.
Veld or Veldt : the wide open spaces of natural African grasslands / meadows.
Verlig : literally translates as someone who holds progressive or enlightened views, in this poem used with liberty to describe a sense of relief, lightheartedness, or respite from continual care or burden.

Holly x

The original poem, written in Afrikaans on 26 October 2013.
Translation on12 August 2015.
~ by Holly Maxwell Boydell

An Ode to South Africa

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The Author amongst plants on a family journey between Kwa-Zulu Natal and the Cape, stopping somewhere en route, possibly Namaqualand … A child adoring the exquisite floral beauty, simply growing wild and free all around her. Circa 1973.


Written in moments, straight onto my Facebook page one homesick evening …
The ‘poem’ below wrote itself, it took no time at all to release … I walked up to my computer, sat down at the keyboard, and just let the words flow, as tears streamed from my eyes. I did not edit it, simply hit return and ‘published’, once the flow of words had ceased.

Strangely, there had been many years in between my leaving South Africa in December 1985 and sitting down to let this poem ‘escape’ on the evening of Saturday 26 October 2013. The strangest thing of all was that, for many years, I had completely forgotten every word of the second language of my country of birth, a language that was never ever used in my ‘very British’ home. Somewhere deep in my subconscious, however, the longing thrashed about and translated itself into the language of the land that I longed for.

At the time of writing, as now, I did not know whether the words made any grammatical sense whatsoever … yet somehow my teenage son, who speaks not a word of Afrikaans, picked up the emotion and the significance of this poem. I think the trauma of leaving, readjusting, and the difficulties encountered in a new country, not once but thrice since 1985, caused my subconscious to block much that I had taken for granted before. 

Is it a poem, I wonder? It certainly is a work that came from (or beyond) my deepest self, all of its own accord. Mine were merely the hands that typed it …

~ : ~


Ek Wil Huis Toe Gaan

Ek wil huis toe gaan …
Weg van hierdie koue plek;
Weg van hier, waar die mense kan nie lag nie;
Weg van die grys en die vreeslike ys,
Daar waar die hemel dikwels blou is;
Waar die mense lag en speel,
Waar die vriende warm is,
En die blommetjies baie is;
Waar die dikdikke dik,
En die blomme lekker ruik;
Waar die koppies loer my in,
En die pad lekker warm onder die fiets is;
Waar die biltong smaak,
En die boerewors kraak;
Waar die sonskyn soos parfum op my vel voel,
En die wind so lieflik oor die veldt grassies ‘skyn’ …
Ja, ek wil huis toe gaan.
Ek moet huis toe gaan.
Ek kan nie langer wag nie,
Ek moet huis toe gaan.
Die pyn is soms vreeslik koud.
Ek moet huis toe gaan,
Voor alles is vergeet en ek is baie oud.
Draai my huis toe nou,
Op die wind en die voel se rug,
Nou, asseblief, gee my ‘n bietjie verlig,
Ek wil huis toe gaan.

Asseblief. Net huis toe. Nou.

~ : ~


End note: Two years hence, I think I have remembered sufficient Afrikaans and South African ‘lingo’ in order to be able to vaguely translate this piece.

I have not travelled home to South Africa since 2007, and only twice briefly before that. This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of my leaving South Africa, very reluctantly, during incredibly unsettled times in that beautiful country, still struggling to find its peace.

Holly x

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Ifafa Beach, on the South coast of Kwa-Zulu Natal, during the 1960s. A place very dear to my heart, much-visited and very much loved as a young child. A place I long to visit, often.

 

A Letter To My Brother

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To my darling brother,

Whom I have known for fifty years today,

A message that is on my heart to share with you,

On your special birthday far away …

 

I am not sure how to write this, nor how to best begin, and so am going to pretend that we are in the same part of the world and this is my speech for you, as if standing before you, amongst a crowd of well-wishers. I wonder how many know how lucky we are to have you with us still?

When I woke this morning, unusually early at 5.50am, I immediately knew that today was your birthday and the enormity of this realisation hit me like a boat paddle across the head. Thoughts flooded my mind, memories of our childhood – sweet, adventurous, challenging and complex all at once – and tears tumbled out as I recalled how we so nearly lost you. I cannot tell you how grateful I am that you did not die … and that you survived each additional time that you heroically diced with death …

The fact that you are here today is, to me, nothing short of a miracle. Does anyone else know this, I wonder?

It was such a long time ago, and yet even today I cannot bear the smell of chemotherapy. I recall as if it were moments ago, visiting you in your hospital ward, climbing up onto your bed, and you handing me your beloved ‘real rabbit skin’ koala bear … which I took back to my convent boarding school with me, stuck my head into every single night, and cried into as if my heart would break.

You had no hair, your leukaemia treatment had been fierce and your battle was being lost … only one in ten children were able to survive back then, if that, and you were fast fading away. The smell of chemotherapy was powerful in the hospital, and it followed me powerfully everywhere, captured in the fur of the little koala bear. My pain at our separation was unbearable; our broken family disintegrating before my eyes, and the thought of losing you too was inutterably painful. I could not understand what all the words meant which described your health challenge and treatments, nor why I had to lose you, but I knew that I would not be able to go on if you went away forever. With my fervent little girl prayers, I prayed my heart out to the God that I knew and trusted, and I begged him to let you live … I can’t remember what I offered in return, but I begged for my brother not to leave me.

I was in a convent for two years from the age of seven, separated from you from when you became ill aged five, and cannot remember how long the treatment went on for, but every day was like forever. I know that we were hardly ever able to see one another in that time, and much about each other’s life then has been lost to both of us, but I remember the relief when I heard that you would live. You were dying. The doctors had done all that they could to save you. It was just a matter of time … and then one night, bruised and completely spent, you suddenly (miraculously) turned the corner, and your body began to heal. To this day, I believe that God granted the miracle so fervently sought, and that you were supernaturally healed. You were not strong physically, although clearly your spirit was phenomenal, and we had to take the utmost care with you … by then your and my childhood rough ‘n tumbles together had completely ceased. Your body had to be protected, and we were taking no chances with it.

How you got from there, aged five, to where you are today with a beautiful family of your own, amazes me. I am in awe of what you have survived, thrived despite all challenges to do so, overcome and risen above. The thing that I find truly astounding is that, not only did you stare the demon in the face and overwhelm it, but you then went on to tease the darkness several more times, coming out on top each time. Do you remember how, not long after surviving cancer, you climbed up into and then tumbled out of a huge fig tree … hitting your head on the concrete ground below? How did you walk away from that? Fervent prayers again, I wonder?

Do you remember the time, in about 1973, when we went on an adventure to find out where a swarm of honeybees had built their nest? We climbed up a narrow metal rung ladder in the garage, up to an attic space above … I remember clearly telling you to walk along the rafters (how did I know that, aged ten?) … but you disobeyed, and promptly fell through the roof. Your arrival into the living room was so dramatic: not only had you blasted through the ceiling like a super hero, but your steering skills went slightly awry … you took the brass candlesticks with you, as you flew past the stone mantel piece, thrashing your skull before you crash-landed onto the stone-flagged floor below. Why did you do that, my brother? Why did you have to go and crack your head open yet again, and on the day that we were due to travel in a group to Ifafa Beach? Do you know that, while your body was being put back together in hospital, yet again, none of the adults would speak to me? Do you know that they all thought I must have been trying to extinguish you? If only they’d known. What a sad, lonely time that beach ‘holiday’ was … but, thank the Lord, once again you survived.

We had so many adventures … did so many things that most children would not dream possible … our escapades colourful and inventive. I remember watching you, a tiny boy aged ten, swimming across the Vaal River in flood, to collect a dassie or mongoose that had been offered to us, so that we had something to cook on our fire. Our little African friends thought you were Superman, I’m sure. How did you survive that, my brother? Where do you hide your cloak?

You were such a brilliant companion and you have been such a clown all our lives, that I would not trade you for all the world. The times when our joking banter would bemuse others, and your dry humour infuriate them, are so innumerable that I have lost count of all the jests. Perhaps if people had known about your ability to overcome beasts and dragons, as I did, they would have shown you more compassion, as well as much-deserved respect? You certainly have mine.

As I think back over just those few incidents in the fifty years that I have known you, my brother, I see how much I have been blessed to be a part of your life. I have known for a long time that you stand head and shoulders above the crowd. What I did not anticipate, aged fourteen and you aged twelve, was how quickly you’d fall head-over-heels in love with all the Bob Marley music I played. Having rocked to the Reggae beat consistently for several years, disinterested in any other beat whatsoever, you finally gave in and increased your music collection, and yet to this day you remain an avid, loyal and dedicated fan. Rastaman vibration, yeah.

Happy Birthday, my brother. You are a truly bright, shining star and you have been my one rock, one constant, for a full half a century, through treacherous seas, through thick and thin. Here’s to the next half, and may you continue to be blessed.

Congratulations on reaching this fabulous milestone …
No … more than that … THANK YOU.
I do not know what I would have done had you left me behind.

With love, positive beats and admiration,

Your sister always,

Holly x

 

 

Holly & Rhett - matching outfits - enlarged - THTT signed

 

 

 

PS.

Holly & Rhett - Arundel Road (enlarged) - THTT signed

 

Trepidatious Booksteps

DSC08074 - A Shropshire Lad - rose open in kitchen today - 30.6.2015 - THTT signed


*****

When you have a huge story inside of you, waiting for its natural time to be carefully birthed, and then discover in a moment that part of your story has been written about and published by someone else …

I am feeling rather peculiar today, and am not at all sure how to process news of a just-released book.

Within me, known only to a very few, is a story that lasts over more than half a century and which few, if written down in full, would quite be able to believe. Perhaps that is one reason why it has not yet come fully into the light, but also I know that before it could be birthed, the story had to become one that was possible for me to fully face. I have stared a lot of frightening things fully in the face and have demonstrated extraordinary courage that not even I knew I had within me, over many, many years … but I have also been broken and have fallen down, unable to get myself back up again, and have had to start to find my way from scatch, time after time. I know what it means to completely snap, for the load to become too great to bear, and for endurance, adaptability, fluidity, fluency and strength to become instead utter exhaustion and sheer despair.

I believe that anything is possible, and I believe I have seen miracles take place, but I also know that there is such a word as “can’t” and that it is possible to push a human being too far. I have had the rug pulled out from underneath me from a very early age, and this pattern continued throughout my childhood, into adulthood, marriage … I know it full well. I know what it feels like to have one’s spirit completely broken by the mindless attitudes of others, and then to be expected to perform regardless. I came up with the phrase a while ago “You cannot break a person’s knees, and then expect them to dance!” Those words came from deep within, from a place inside me that knew the full truth of their meaning.

I have a story to tell. It is a big story. My story is too fantastical for words. I hesitate to share much of my story, for fear of hurting others in the revelation of the parts that they have played. There is another side too, and that is that the story hurts me. It hurts me when I remember certain parts of it, it makes my voice and body tremble when I speak of some of it, and the lion-hearted courage with which I do indeed speak out about certain things, comes from a place within me that is sometimes hanging on for dear life, clinging at many times to a “heavenly father”, God. I could not have walked this path had God not come into my life as a young child, nor survived it, to still be here today. The effort it has taken to keep upright has been immense, and I use no crutch. No drugs, no alcohol, no cigarettes, no harmful addictions … all dealt with and despatched a long time ago. Instead, sheer and utter determination to live in the light, for the light, guided by the light, is what has brought me through some bizarre and outrageous circumstances, throughout much of my life.

I have learnt to laugh and joke about all sorts of things … do you know that many clowns cry behind the stage curtain? I have developed the strength to speak out plainly and clearly, simply and authentically, about what really matters – to my own eyes … and yet, I did not expect to feature in someone else’s story, on someone else’s difficult journey, in someone else’s newly published book. It has come as a shock, although not completely unexpected, as I have known for some time that the process was happening.

So, today, with all sorts of plans for this week that I can now see I shall not be adhering to, I am trying to process the little knowledge I have about this new book, before even considering ordering or reading a copy. My friend who wrote the book I refer to, was an adult when she met me during my early teens, and came into our lives at a key time for my immediate family in the 1970s. Yesterday I learnt that her book was being launched, had been published, is available to buy … and then received a private note to let me know that I am one of the (renamed) characters in it. The book is a memoir, one that needed to be voiced, and I am aware that it carries a lot of pain in its own story for the author who wrote it … but, I am not sure that I am ready to read what someone else has written about a painful and confusing time in my and my family’s life, a time that completely and utterly shook my world. As a result of massive tragedy and trauma, I was thrown into a challenging situation that no child should have to witness, nor ought to have to explain, nor be forced to have to rise above. As children, barely in our teens, we suffered enormous grief and loss (not for the first time, by any means), while all the reeling adults around us considered my brother and myself too young to be aware of what was going on.

I know that the friend who has written this book needed to do so, and I am  proud of her for having achieved it. In her note, my friend told me that she holds me in “high regard” and yet, whilst grateful for this, I do not know how I will feel nor receive that head knowledge when I read the words that describe her experience of our shared story, at some later time.

Over the past few years, I have had a lot of reconnecting with people who have been out of my life, some for decades, due mainly to my various and huge life changes along the way. Every special reconnection (as most of them are) has brought with it big emotion, memories, renewal of some loyal bonds, and also a sadness that we were unable to maintain contact in the intervening years, which would have helped much along the way. At the same time, each reconnection has brought immense gratitude that we are now in touch, can easily find and communicate with one another again, and this has meant that pieces of my life’s broken jigsaw slowly, and sometimes speedily, gets put back into place. There is still a very long way to go, and a lot of healing to happen yet … and I am thoroughly exhausted by it all … but I know that the journey is far from over and I have to keep going on. Perhaps my friend’s book will act as validation, and maybe even a step towards revealing some of the most bizarre parts of what might one day come to light in my own story – who knows?

In the meantime, I sit here tinkling at my computer’s keys and wondering whether I ought to mention the name of the book … and wonder, too, today whether it is in fact time to fully reveal my own name, not leave it to the internet and chance discovery by online detection, to provide my full identity and authorship in several places.

Coming right into the present moment, I notice too that the sun has reappeared from behind the clouds, so I shall go out and sit with a lunch of salad, on a bench in my organic garden, and see what inspiration follows …

I have reached a stage where I honestly do not know how to proceed, nor how to think about anything any more. I am going to go quietly within and see what God shows me to do next.

With faith, hope, and no small amount of trepidation on a journey that, at times, feels as though it has only just begun.

Holly x

Poem: Caught Betwixt

Ifafa Beach - rescanned - 1960s - THTT signed

 

I came across a journal containing a few of my poems yesterday, scribbled down in pensive moments many years ago. This poem was written in September 1986 … less than a year after reluctantly leaving my beloved Africa. I cannot recall whether this was personal or a reflective observation, but have no doubt that I would at some time have known the emotion.

~ * ~


Caught Betwixt

Beating on the shore of a sensitive ocean
Lashing waves of tumultuous emotion
Deepest feelings, passionately wild
Rhythmically drumming in the heart of this child.

Great gusts of hurtling, mixed desire,
Tingling dramatically, searing like fire.
Tumbling like flames through veins vulnerable
Affecting this child, young, green and gullible.

Coming together, the fire and the sea
Warmth and coolness of sweet discovery.
This child torn apart, not knowing direction
Wary of love, afraid to meddle in reflection.

One will win through to dictate the outcome;
One will show strength and weaken the other one.
Which will be victorious – the fire or the ocean,
Crashing and beating on the heart of this child
In this storm of glory so emotionally wild?

 

 

 

~ Holly x

 

 

 

© Holly Maxwell Boydell
All rights reserved.