Stuttering Joe – My true life story (#001)


My earliest memory is where I am running down a street on a very hot day … bare feet on the hot tar road … the huge frame of Aunty Stinkalot chasing after me, shouting all the way that I should stop and go back home. I was only five at the time, but a feisty five at that. I maintained a good ten-metre gap between myself and my pursuer … until I got fed up with her efforts to catch me.

When Aunty Stinkalot showed no signs of giving up the chase, I stopped in my tracks, picked up three rocks from the pavement … and attacked! 

The chaser became the chasee.

When the first rock flew past her huge frame and Aunty Stinkalot saw me advancing, like I meant business, she lost all her nerve and fled. Without thinking, I might have thrown a swear word in there … just to show her that I meant business. 

Rude and disrespectful, I know. But that was the kind of language and behaviour I was exposed to at that time; I simply didn’t know any better. I grew up on the wrong side of the track and we were bred rough and tough in downtown Despatch. Ask anybody from nearby Port Elizabeth and they would tell you that the Despatch people were a species on their own. We were known as “klipgooiers.” In English that would translate to “rock throwers.” Even the people from the other side of the railway lines, looked at us with a wary eye. We were all Despatch people … but there was a clear social class divide between the downtown Despatch people and the uptown Despatch people. I guess Hillbillie would be a good way to describe us downtown folk. Where there was a fight, you could be sure a Despatch downtown resident would be involved. I am sure things have changed over the years, but back then Despatch people – particularly the downtown bunch – were a fearsome bluecollar community.

I cannot recall that I stuttered at all when I used swear words to get rid of Aunty Stinkalot, but then, that became a lifelong trend for me. To this day, I stutter on all words… except swear words. For that simple reason, I began to employ swear words to help me get through difficult sentences or circumstances.

Amusingly so!

Paradoxically, swear words became my safety net that I used – not to deliberately swear or express my anger – but to make communication easier for me. Luckily, most people realised it.

Even Reverend Charl found it very amusing at times. He would even encourage me to use swear words when I got stuck on a word. He found it very endearing and he understood why I followed that route in an effort to communicate more fluently.

Back to Aunty Stinkalot: 

Being as big as she was, her escape happened in slow motion. I could walk casually and still keep up with her. I remember finding her huge fleeing bum amusing … drilling from fat and rhythmically moving from side to side in an over exaggerated fashion with each step she took – like two giant bags filled with water. I was tempted to land a rock on her bum. I knew I could not miss, and I dare say she would not even have felt anything with all those layers of fat as protection, but sanity prevailed and I deliberately aimed the next two rocks just to her left or right … just enough to scare her off.

My tactic worked.

Even at that young age, I instinctively realised that attack was the best form of defence. Aunty Stinkalot promised me a hiding when I got home later … and I did get that hiding. Not from her, but from my mother, Ma Molly. But that didn’t prevent me from doing the very same thing over and over again. Let’s be honest, a hiding from Ma Molly was not something any child would have feared. You would pretend more than actually feel anything.

Was I a naughty child?

No, far from it.

I was actually a very good boy.

I regularly ran away from Ma Molly’s house simply because I missed my father and nothing would stop me – not Aunty Stinkalot, nor regular hidings and threats. When I missed my dad, I didn’t wait around, think about it or allow anything to prevent me from going to his house. Yet, strangely enough, I do not have any memory of my dad during this time. The reason for that will become clear as my story unfolds.

I am told that my father and Ma Molly got divorced when I was four years old. Apparently, one of our neighbours suffered from cancer. Ma Molly – being a simple and good-hearted farm girl – went out of her way to help them and make their burden easier to carry. Amongst other things, she regularly cooked supper for them. To cut a long story short, the neighbour eventually died and Ma Molly was rewarded in the cruellest of ways for everything she did for them, when his widow, Aunty Belinda, stole my father from her. So much for doing good deeds….

My father gave new meaning to ‘love thy neighbour’.

My broken-hearted mother was forced to move to my father’s other house some three kilometres away, with her five children. My father stayed behind in his house and Aunty Belinda moved in with him. Ma Molly’s world crumbled around her; she was devastated. For Ma Molly, it was tears and heartache every day, while, for my father, it was butterflies, passionate sex and the excitement of a new love in his life. To rub salt into Ma Molly’s wounds, I ran away to the very people who broke her heart, and all that meant was that she had to see my father and his new girlfriend more than she needed or wanted to, thereby increasing her pain and trauma tenfold. I was totally ignorant of the pain I caused Ma Molly. For this reason, Ma Molly asked Aunty Stinkalot – who was home all day – to be on the lookout for me and to prevent me from making unscheduled visits to my dad’s house.

I remember employing various tactics to get past the ever vigilant Aunty Stinkalot, who even recruited her more mobile domestic worker to try to stop me. At times, I simply walked casually down the street. I had to go past Aunty Stinkalot’s house. When she saw me coming, she stumbled to the pavement and ordered me back to my house. The sight of her formidable frame blocking my way didn’t put me off. I confidently walked right up to her, and, when I was about three metres from her, I suddenly exploded into action by taking off as quickly as I could. I was quite fast and agile as a child. 

It was a total mismatch.

Aunty Stinkalot had no chance. 

Before she could even think about reacting, I was past her and on my way to my father. All she could do then was to call after me, plead with me and threaten me … none of which worked. She quickly learnt to stop chasing me after I attacked her – and her domestic worker – with rocks on a few occasions.

On other occasions, I started running as soon as I stepped out onto the pavement in front of our house. I easily covered the fifty metres to Aunty Stinkalot’s house before she could cover the eight metres from her porch to the pavement. It became a big joke to me. I often laughed loudly as I sped past her.

Sometimes, I had no intention of going to my father’s house, but still pretended to do so just to have fun with Aunty Stinkalot. I often used the low boundary walls along the street as cover to stalk up to Aunty Stinkalot’s house. Then, when I got to her gate, I waited until she nodded off, where she sat on the porch, before I crept up to her and shouted, “Bah!

I was so paralysed with laughter that she almost caught me on a few occasions.

I loved having fun with Aunty Stinkalot!

Neither she nor her domestic worker ever succeeded in catching me or prevented me from going to my father’s house. They had the bulk – I had the mobility – and they simply didn’t stand a chance, more so, because I was so fearless and confident.

***

Ma Molly is a very simple person. She grew up in the farming community of Steytlerville, where my grandparents, Grandma Fran and Grandpa Jacob, farmed all their lives. Not being academically inclined, Ma Molly struggled through school – always in the special class – and dropped out when she was sixteen. Jobs were very scarce in the small town of Steytlerville, so Ma Molly moved to Uitenhage (adjacent to Despatch), where she quickly found a job. As luck would have it, she met my very handsome father on the train, while both were travelling to Uitenhage. They eventually got married and had five children. I was born on 7 December 1965. I was the second youngest of the siblings.

Neither my younger brother nor I have any memory of Ma Molly and my father being together. When we were old enough to comprehend what was going on, we were living with Ma Molly and only saw our father every second weekend – apart from me, of course. I spent a lot of time with my father and Aunty Belinda, because I made it happen with my running away sessions.

I am told that my father was the only one in his large family who had a stuttering problem, and that I somehow inherited or developed the same problem, although to a much worse degree than he ever had. I really do not know when I first realised that I stuttered. I guess it was just part of life for me at first, and I certainly cannot remember that it bothered me during those early years. Two of my siblings also have a very slight stutter, while the other two are totally fluent. I was the one that got it really bad.

Although my father had a new love and bed-warmer in his life, he wanted his bread buttered on both sides. He played mind games with Ma Molly by promising her that he would come back to her and the kids.

She believed him.

Her resistance crumbled.

They had sex.

He never came back.

This scenario repeated itself over and over … and over again. 

Every time, Ma Molly’s hopes were raised by my father’s empty promises and, every time, he didn’t honour the promises he made to her in the heat of passion.

In this way, my father kept both Ma Molly and Aunty Belinda’s beds warm simultaneously. He might also have kept a few other beds warm at the same time – after all, he was a very handsome man … and rumour has it that the women made it clear that they adored him. 

***

At age five, our immediate neighbours formed a big part of my life; in fact, they were the only people I knew, apart from my family. 

Aunty Stinkalot and her family lived two houses to our left. The family comprised of Aunty Stinkalot, the huge mother with the foul, sweaty stench. Uncle Tiny Tony was her very small husband. He was half her size. Being a railway worker with absolutely no ability to get promoted, Uncle Tiny Tony earned a very low salary. They were the poorest family in the neighbourhood. They never had a car, and walked or took a bus to where they wanted to go.

Aunty Stinkalot was treated as if she had the plague by everyone in the neighbourhood, because of the stench that accompanied her. It was rumoured that God was punishing you for something when Aunty Stinkalot plodded her huge frame down next to you in church. Many breath-holding records were attempted in this way, and many unofficial world records were set, but, sooner or later, you had to breathe … and, when you did, the pungent smell threatened to make you faint. At such times, it was impossible to concentrate on anything the reverend was saying. Your survival instincts just naturally kicked in … and getting through the sixty to ninety minutes spent in church – alive or barely alive – was all you could focus on. Nothing helped … not even the most sincere promises to God if he could just make the smell disappear or render you incapable of smelling anything for an hour and a half, or if he could miraculously make you disappear and re-appear elsewhere in the church – very far from Aunty Stinkalot. 

There was no such luck. 

When God decided he was going to punish you, he made Aunty Stinkalot your ‘church buddy’. Suddenly, she started to search you out week after week in church, wherever you might be hiding.

First, you heard the shuffling footsteps … then you saw the big shadow … then everyone moved out of the way or suddenly had to go to the toilet … until only you were sitting there totally at her mercy, alone and God-forsaken. Then the benches creaked as she squashed through them until her huge frame plodded down next to you, making you bounce up a good ten centimetres or so … and, when you landed back on the bench, Aunty Stinkalot shifted closer to you and made herself comfy and cosy, with her one huge breast on top of your head, pinning you down for the duration of the church service. This position gave you maximum exposure to her appalling smell. 

You knew God had a quarrel with you when this happened … big time!

Needless to say, I very often found myself in this horrible situation. 

It was as if Aunty Stinkalot favoured sitting next to me because they lived close to us and because Ma Molly was one of the few people who were friendly to her. Or maybe I just deserved to be punished for something, like running away to my dad’s house.

God didn’t seem to be very amused that I prayed to him to make the church service pass by quickly, either. For this, he seemed to punish me by letting Aunty Stinkalot make a nuisance of herself at our house too. There simply was no escaping or hiding from her; not even the safe haven of our house offered any protection or shelter from Aunty Stinkalot.

Apart from her appalling smell, Aunty Stinkalot also had the very irritating habit of rolling her eyes when she spoke. Not rolling as you think – rolling until only the whites of her eyes showed. For much of the conversation, the people she was talking to had the misfortune of having to stare at the whites of her eyes only.

What?

Why?

Being a friend to Ma Molly, Aunty Stinkalot knew all about how my father was toying with her feelings to get sex. Thus, whenever she saw my father pull up at our house with a huge bulge in his pants, she would ‘quickly’ run over to confront him and tell him to leave Ma Molly alone.

But my father simply lost his temper and ordered her off his property. She was told to never set her feet there again … much to my relief.

But God was much stronger than my father; he always made Aunty Stinkalot come back when my father’s back was turned….

There simply was no hiding when God had some beef with you. I learnt that very early on in life.

Aunty Stinkalot and Uncle Tiny Tony had three children – Elvis Crisphead, Snotty Sylvester and Round Julie.

Elvis Crisphead was the oldest. He got rid of all his teeth as a teenager, roots and all, and rumours had it that he had probably envisioned getting a toothache at some or other stage in his life, so he took the proactive approach… prevention is better than cure, after all.

Elvis Crisphead certainly was a man who planned ahead.

He never bothered to replace his teeth with false teeth and he walked around with a toothless mouth as if it was the most natural thing to do. Having no teeth in his mouth naturally changed his appearance quite a bit. Apart from having no teeth, he also had naturally crisp hair, which he wore in a thick bush in the same way that many black Americans did at that time. The combination of a thick bush of crisp hair and a toothless mouth was quite a sight to behold. It looked freakishly like an ostrich with a bush of very funny looking hair.

Downtown Despatch was accustomed to the many strange characters who walked around, like Silly Ed, who firmly believed that he was driving a car while he walked around the streets clutching his steering wheel. He even ‘parked’ his steering wheel in parking spaces … and beware the car that parked where his steering wheel was already ‘parked’.

There was major drama!

Even in a place like this, Elvis Crisphead stood out. He was quite a strange-looking individual. 

But, at the same time, he was also quite a nice and decent chap. The unsettling truth was that he was also the most ‘normal’ person in the family. His idol was Elvis Presley and he soon became an active Elvis impersonator, although he didn’t look or sound anything at all like Elvis, particularly not with that big bush of crisp hair and the flat, toothless ostrich mouth. Elvis Crisphead soon became Sunny Valley’s own Elvis, much to everyone’s embarrassment. However, he did miraculously make it onto a television programme and numerous radio programmes.

Incredible, but true.

Needless to say, the quality of programmes on radio and television was very dodgy at the time.

Snotty Sylvester was Elvis Crisphead’s younger brother. His trademark was a perpetual stream of snot running from his nose onto his lips, where he would wipe it clean with his tongue every few seconds, much like a car wiper would do. To the disgusted onlookers, it appeared as though Snotty Sylvester quite enjoyed his snotty treat every five seconds. Snotty Sylvester was almost a carbon copy of his father, Uncle Tiny Tony. Although he was slightly bigger than his father, they looked very much alike. They were also competing to be the dumbest in the family. I instinctively felt sorry for Snotty Sylvester from an early age. This shy, withdrawn, incredibly stupid person with absolutely no hope to achieve anything in life was an easy target for bullies. They loved to bully and mock him simply for who and what he was. 

So intellectually challenged was Snotty Sylvester that he stuck his foot under the wheels of an oncoming bus one day. The heavy load of the bus caused such damage to Snotty Sylvester’s foot and leg that he struggled around for some time after the incident with a heavily swollen foot and leg that looked blue and sick. When asked why he stuck his foot under the bus, he simply replied, “I just wanted to see what would happen.”

He certainly saw what happened….

Having no capacity to think for himself, he had to learn the hard way.

To the best of my knowledge, Snotty Sylvester was never taken to a doctor to tend to his leg. Whether it was his punishment or a lack of money or medical aid, I do not know, but Snotty Sylvester struggled with that medically unattended leg for a very long time afterwards.

When Snotty Sylvester comes to mind, I automatically compare him to Ed from the cartoon series Ed, Edd n Eddy. They are equally intellectually challenged.

As if this family was not a strange lot already, the worst was saved for last: her name was Round Julie.

Round Julie was shorter and fatter than her mother. Miraculously, she never had the same sweaty stench as her mother, because she was more conscious of personal hygiene. But she was a very strange individual nonetheless. Her favourite pastime was to pull her hairs out of her head one by one and then suck on it like it was some kind of favourite treat. This gave her endless hours of pleasure, and she indulged in this strange activity regardless of where she was or in whose company she found herself. When she was in Grade 8, she even got engaged to a man in his mid-twenties! At that time, she was semi-bald as she continued to snack on her hair….

The last time I saw her, she only had a few strands of hair left on her head.

Strange, very strange.

Their collective intelligence was lower than that of one very intelligent person. What their purpose on Earth could possibly have been was totally unclear. Their life was one of constant struggle and poverty, being ridiculed, treated like rubbish and absolutely no hope to improve their circumstances. Yet, they were given life… and at least they made Sunny Valley an interesting – albeit strange and embarrassing – place.

At least their presence in my life, makes my story very colourful.

To be continued….

***

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Published by Gerhard J. Loots

I am currently completing my Bachelor of Architectural Studies through Nelson Mandela University. I am the published author of Stuttering Joe - Part 1 (Growing up in Sunny Valley). I have also recently launched my blog, called Stuttering Joe, which is based on my true life experiences, personal growth and adventures.

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