“Don’t close the door,” the mother said.
The three year old trundled up the grass banks to the ablution block, chose a stall, and closed the door. It was a door with a staple handle and a ball and socket closure. The three year old was not inclined to sit and perform with the door open. Who knew who might wander into the cavernous caravan park ablution block?
Safe behind the door, relieved, and carrying less of a load, she was ready to return to the family caravan. Standing on the tips of her tiny toes, she could just reach the handle. She curled her fingers through it and pulled.
The door would not budge. It was not locked; the three year old had that much savvy. She stood, barefoot, on the cold floor in a flutter of panic, staring at the door. Her head dropped.
“Mum’s going to be very cross…” A terrifying prospect.
That desolate dropping of the head was her saving grace: like with so many public bathrooms – especially fifty five years ago – there was a gap between the bottom of the door. Instantly, the little girl realised that it was her way out.
Through the gap she wriggled, and happily skipped her way down the grassy bank, back to the caravan.
Ditties and real life
I don’t think I ever told my mother about having been locked in that lavatory: it was, as I mentioned, 1966 and not long after we landed in South Africa. My father was working for the parks’ department of the then Port Elizabeth (now Gqeberha) municipality. Accommodation was part of the deal, but not available. Details elude my memory other than that we lived in a caravan for about three months and where my sister turned two. The caravan park is no longer there. It’s been engulfed by a casino and hotels. One of which I stayed in when I was at a conference in Port Elizabeth about ten years ago.
It was a peculiar sensation: that three year old’s memories remain vivid. As intense as that lingering memory, is the lifelong discomfort associated with not having privacy for personal biological functions.
I never confessed. Not even when “they” trotted out that ditty about three old ladies getting locked in a lavatory, did I ever confess that as a little girl, I had been locked in a lavatory. Least of all to my mother.
No-one, of course will believe I have, in my nearly sixty years, been locked in a lavatory twice more. Forty four years later, I got locked in the lavatory. Again. Twice in relatively quick succession. In 2010. I remember the year because the third incident is memorable not because of the incident, but because I was on business – working for the same client that had me staying “in” the old Brooke’s Hill Caravan park.
The second time
The Husband and I, when we used to holiday, would often take ourselves down to Sedgefield. We had honeymooned there and loved it. We still do although we’ve not visited for a while.
We had heard about a walk around a water body that had extraordinary bird life and some historical significance. It’s on the edge of an adjacent seaside town and by the time we’d finished the walk, it was mid-day. We’d heard of a new, boutique hotel in the area: perched on top of sea cliffs and with a magnificent view.
“Let’s check it out,” I said.
Arriving in the car park, we really did feel a bit like the hot, sweaty walkers we were. We were not quite kitted out for a place that was crisp, pristine, shiny bright and new. The view was breathtaking.
It would have been a sin no to stop a while. Mercifully there was a more casual outdoor dining and seating area. I have no photographs – they disappeared thanks to mixed instructions from Kodak and the least said about that, the better. I do remember that, venturing to the balustrade, there was a precipitous drop to the waves below. The view was breathtaking. The media reports and photos had not lied.
The restaurant was aptly called Sails. This lady wasn’t glowing; no, I was perspiring. Retiring to the restroom was essential before any other indulgence. They were everything one would expect from a luxury and new hotel. Suitably relieved, I grasped the door handle to open the door to the stall.
It came off in my hand. The door stayed closed.
For some reason best known to the universe, I had actually taken my handbag (purse for my American blogpals) with me. Had I not, The Husband might still have been sitting and waiting for me to emerge…
This time round, I instantly saw the funny side of things. I fished my mobile phone out and rang The Husband. Somewhat startled, he heard:
“I’m locked in the lavatory!” I giggled.
“I. Am. Locked. In the loo. The handle’s in my hand.”
“Oh hell. I’ll get hold of someone. Hang on, love.”
Ahem…clutching the useless handle, still laughing, a short while later, the hastily summoned maintenance man and a very embarrassed day manager set me free.
The last time: I hope…
A few months later, and in the throes of the 2010 Fifa World Cup, my Australian university client required that I attend gatherings hosted by its business and diplomatic presence in the country. South African patriotism was at fever pitch. We, along with many others, literally flew the flag. I duly went along to the first such gathering.
The Australian contingent had hired a restaurant space in the heart of Cape Town’s iconic Waterfront and a stone’s throw of the stadium that has now become an equally iconic element of the Cape Town landscape.
The husband joined a little later as my plus one. When he arrived, I was in professional schmoozing mode, and when the front of house folk – all lovely, friendly Australians – realised who he was, they delighted in telling him that his wife had got herself locked in the lavatory.
“Again?” he asked…
I met a saint
It was 1988 and it was Mother Teresa‘s first visit to South Africa. At the time I was a volunteer leader in a street kids organisation in Johannesburg. One of the members of our committee was Irene, a Sister of Nazareth. She had joined the order at 18, in Ireland. That, however, didn’t entirely tame her: she was full of mischief and wasn’t beyond sharing the odd (very) naughty joke. After a meeting, early one evening, and standing on the curb outside my ground floor apartment in Johannesburg, and before she took her leave, she quietly said to the lingering, chatty committee members…
Let me explain: our committee was an eclectic and cosmopolitan group. At the time, and at the grand old age of 25, I was at the helm: a backslidden protestant and an as yet unavowed agnostic; there were at least two Jews, a Catholic priest and an Athiest or two. We were all driven by a combination of social justice and a need to do something meaningful to help [black] children that had ended up on the streets of South Africa’s biggest (and richest) city.
Back to Sr Irene –
On the wonky pavement under the large jacaranda and in her Irish lilt, shifting uncomfortably from one foot to the other –
“I don’t know if you’d be interested. I don’t know if you’d be wantin’ to, but would yer like te meet Mother Theresa? She’ll be stayin’ with us [at Nazareth House].”
It was as if you had knocked us over with a feather. Who would not want to meet one of the world’s foremost role models in caring for the ill, infirm and poor? Protestant and backslidden bedamned, she was a one of my heroes.
From the three of us, the “protestant”, Jewess and Athiest, it was an unequivocal yes.
The day arrived and we presented ourselves at Nazareth House at the appointed time. Sr Irene was all of a dither – as was not her wont. She told us that everything was running late.
That Mother Teresa was expecting us.
We were to wait. We waited. It seemed like an eternity – in a carpeted hallway – and while Sr Irene told us what it was like having Mother Teresa stay with them.
Then. A door opened and out came the littlest, biggest person. We all felt her before we saw her. As I write, I know that it sounds crazy, but that is how I remember it and I remember that feeling – of tingling energy. Impossible to describe.
“Hello Mother. These are the people I was telling you about.”
“Oh you help the street children? Thank you for your work.”
If she said anything else, I don’t remember. She, thanking us for the little we were doing, in comparison with her global efforts was breathtaking and humbling.
Next, her hand delved into the pocket of the black cardigan she was wearing. When she withdrew it, it was full of Miraculous Medals. She kissed them, blessing the medals and charged us:
“For the children”.
I still have one.
Last word or three
These are “stories” I don’t often tell. I don’t know why, but they don’t often come up in conversation. The loony loo tales are probably the most told. Lavatorial humour is a fact of life.
I rarely tell of my meeting Mother Teresa. When I have occasion to mention it, it’s generally met with a
No! You didn’t, did you? Really?
She died a few months before Princess Diana. The news hit the headlines and she was remembered for a while. The grief and lauding of her work was nothing like that for the Princess. Both humanitarians. Both in their own ways controversial. And saintly. Only one, and the one whom I met, beatified and canonised in 2016. Her death profoundly saddened me.
The opportunity to share these stories is thanks to a two-weekly community initiative on Hive, a cryptoblogging platform. This edition’s prompt was inspired by fellow Hivean, @traciyork, and who also blogs on WordPress. Pop over and take a gander? That’s not all: she’s got a bunch of us doing a Blog Post a day for the Month of November, and this is one of my contributions.
Until next time, be well
The Sandbag House
McGregor, South Africa
If this post might seem familiar, it’s because I’m doing two things:
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- and “re-capturing” nearly two years’ worth of posts.
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