Monday’s Blog; The Wax Witch

Based on a story from when I was 5 or 6 years old 

It was early morning. Red roses and golden sunshine enveloped me. The rose wallpaper covered the walls lit by the sun that glittered in through the windows. I lay in my bed, sweating with fever, suffering from the flu. From my viewpoint in the bed I could see the trees blowing in the breeze as if bragging at the peak of their fall color.  They were translucent from the light and dazzling to my tearing eyes. I could hear my mother in the kitchen, humming to herself and I smelled the soup cooking on the stove. I lay quietly “suffering” in bed wishing I was outside jumping with my friends in the leaves piled on the curb or roller skating on the newly paved tree lined street.

The rose bedroom was my favorite in this early 1900’s style, two story house on Edgerton Street sporting a house-wide front porch leading to an entranceway with two doors to pass through into the parlor. Our upright piano sat in the parlor across from the staircase with a wooden railing, one of two staircases in the house. The back stairs were enclosed and fetching as a beloved play place for my fluid childhood imagination. The rose bedroom was large and bright, a corner room mostly reserved for guests or occasional renters in our home. The renters are another wonderful story. 

Of course when the rose room was occupied I had to move into another room; either the small back room not much larger than 5′ x  7′, or when my beloved older brother was away, (college or army) into his front room. My brother, a born electrical engineer, devised light switches mounted on the bed rail to engage or close the ceiling light so popular in that era, a fan to blow in hot weather and music system of some sort. These were bonuses easing my having to share the rose room with others. 

I also missed my dad, a Violist with the Philharmonic, the troup now on a 2 week tour in the Northeast. They still traveled by train, the favorite mode of the (mostly) men players before airline travel became available for touring. Dad was due home soon. As usual, I tried to color or play with my Alexander doll, but readily fell asleep, waking to find a PBJ or peanut butter and banana sandwich and glass of milk next to my sunlit bed. They were left untouched, not having an appetite. Perhaps it was the medicine I had to take that made me even sleepier and led to some vivid dreams.  I was in such a revery that when my dad walked quietly into my room, darkened by the deep night. I saw him in a blur, relished his hugs and kisses and promises to spend time with me the next morning before his next rehearsal. 

As he left my room, my head fuzzy with sleep, I noticed a package on the night table but was too tired to open it until dawn came and I awakened with the sunlight glinting in my eyes. I reached for the package, wrapped in newsprint with orange grosgrain ribbons. I ripped it open to discover a wonderful wax witch candle. 

It was a day before Halloween (and my dad’s birthday.) My eyes must have glowed with delight. The witch stood as close to my bed as possible and I held her on and off for most of the day making up stories and talking to her excitedly with my raspy voice. I knew that dad had missed me during the tour.

Through the window that mother had opened to freshen my room, I could hear the voices of my schoolmates skipping their way to school just 3 houses away. Was it the breeze I wondered as the wax witch seemed to quiver and to grow, sweeping with her broom and gesturing to me to climb aboard the broomstick.  I held on with all my might as we swept through the open window and flew above the tree tops, my eyes probably wide with wonder. I picked out my friends walking to school, rooftops of their neighboring houses and the volleyball and softball games crammed into the time until the starting school bell would resound in the clear air. How I wanted to call to those on the ground with a “look at me.” But we were too high to be heard.

Still holding fast to the broomstick, the upward draft pulled us higher and higher and further away from home. The clouds shimmered below us and the sky was the bluest I have ever seen. “Look there, it is Halloween Island,” the witch said quietly. We landed on a cloud full of wild looking creatures–chattering monkeys, big bats, slithering snakes, fiery dragons, blue and green monsters with ugly faces or many arms, some grabbing at me or pulling on my rose 
colored nightgown, my beloved ballet slippers or my curly long hair. I held on even tighter, feeling my eyes wide open with fear. The wax witch smiled and giggled as we swooped this way and that way to avoid the danger. A winged dragon with fiery breath that singed my eyes, pulled roughly at my foot wrenching me free from my grip on the broomstick. I could not hold on and the dragon ran with me to a forest. “Help. help I yelled,” trying to kick myself free, help wax witch help meeeee!” 

The dragons breath was hot, about to catch my hair on fire.  We moved deeper into the dark and dank forest. “Help, help” I cried again and again, terrified. The dragon stopped short. Three giant chattering monkeys grabbed me from the dragons burning arms and ran out of the forest. My wax witch swooped down and I grabbed the broomstick and held on until my hands ached.  Shaking and scared, I let out a big, shaky sigh. The witch gave me a hug with one arm and said, “My friends came to the rescue and I bet that shook you up a bit. What a good sport you are and you look unharmed except for missing a slipper.” I gasped, but was happy to be flying again. 

My friend announced, “Let’s visit my home sky island to see the excitement for Halloween.” We flew for a long time until literally out of the blue there appeared a colorful and waxy town with shiny houses, trees and flowers and other wax witches welcoming us to their home town. I heard cackles and chants, saw witches both ugly, scary, jeering and frightening, but some friendly and smiling like my friend. “Come, let’s have a treat.”  

We were met by ghostly characters appearing in and out of the mist, glaring or shimmering in and out of view and disappearing, frightening me until I could see the delight in their eyes and hear giggles in their throats. Fried donuts, corn candy, bowls of floating apples, cobwebs, jack o’lanterns, glasses of cider, broomsticks, witches hats and masks of all sorts floated around me for the taking. The fried donuts were delicious, the cider warm and the apples crunchy. I felt wide awake and happy. 

Lightening flashed followed by a long lasting clap of thunder. It grew very dark. I felt cold and shivered, I felt hot and sweaty. We swooped in the air once again until all was quiet but the thunder sounding in the distance. My eyes popped open, strange, I lay shivering in my bed. My wax witch was on the table as if we had not flown away. But, her wick was lit and shimmering before my unbelieving eyes. 

I watched the flame, mesmerized and full of wonder, perhaps hypnotized by the mysteriously lit candle light.  Dawn light was streaming through the window as I awoke. 

I reached for the waxy friend next to my bed. She was now a lump of melted wax, orange and black and sitting on the little broomstick that had been in her arms. Her witches hat perched burned and ruined on top of the melted pile of wax. I must have cried out because my dad came into my room alarmed and worried. He saw the melted gift, wondering how the candle was lit and why one ballet slipper missing.  I reveled in his warming and welcome hugs.  

Mom walked in adding her soft hugs and kisses and expressed sorrow for the melted witch. They sat and listened with glee to my tales of flying and the witchy adventures. “It could only have been magic” they both concluded and were delighted that I was feeling better, back to behaving more like their little girl. 

I dreamed I was flying for more many nights to come.

Monday’s Blog; Dancing Stripes

(A day late but life is full.) I can’t shake from my mind the memories in the aftermath of our visit to S. Africa, not that I want to shake them away. The wildlife is, of course as spectacular as the people. This is not a revelation. Last week, I wrote a bit about the people.  In conversation, the questions of favorites always arises and I usually side step the question because picking one of anything is daunting, So I ramble on and attempt to sum up what may be favorites. 

Truly, my lifetime of delving into photography, art, design and the visual world influences my every thought. The strong patterning, my lean toward the contrasting tones and my love for black and white and the beauty and grace of the Zebra (pronounced Zehbra in the areas we visited) is powerful to me. Supporting the intent of my blog to be brief but with a message to share, I will simply share some of my photos of the zebra as seen in South Africa. I learned that as with every species in nature, there are many sub species and variations. It is so with the zebra, sometimes displaying brown tones in the stripes and in other physical characteristics. However, they remain distinctly “Zebra-like” and easily identifiable unlike the antelope family for instance featuring subtle nuances of difference and variation; eye candy for sure.

Face to face with the residents of Zimbabwe

More about my travels to South Africa, this blog centered in Zimbabwe (formerly Rhodesia). After a total fill of the wildlife as I have written before, we enjoyed many hours of “face time” interacting with the people, to get to know them, learn first hand about their lives and to visit and observe life in the towns and villages.

OAT, (Overseas Adventure Travel) is noted, among other activities for offering a Day in the Life, a chance to visit people in their spaces.  At the school we were greeted by the total student body singing and dancing for our entertainment and admiration. We met with the principal and several teachers to hear about their full curriculum, full classrooms and how they meet the challenges before them.

We then visited various classroom where each of us met small groups of students for discussion and dialogue.  How very ambitious the children are, most hoping to attend university and enjoy a career that a few years ago would not be within their reach, especially for women. most often in the sciences, medicine or social services. 

 A drum circle in another community

The whole school sang and danced upon our arrival

More song

children sing for us

It is common for village children to attend schools that are distant, demanding long and grueling walks to and from school for children of all ages. We see them walking as we drive by carrying heavy backpacks in all kinds of weather.  After school, they must return home and attend to their chores in the village. 

Briefings were offered about life in a village describing the typical physical layout of the buildings and farmland, the political structure including the chief, his assistant and the roles of the men, the women and the children as they carry out their daily routines.  They all face the hardships, the terrible effects of the severe drought throughout much of the South. 

In Hwange village, we joined the villagers in the community common area–the BOMA, a round peaked roofed building where meetings, rituals and community events are held. Each villager starting with the chief, the assistant to the chief and then the woman and children spoke to us of their lives and wants and needs. We in turn shared our lives with them. Most of the men were out tending to their chores, the boys left to play soccer or tend to the goats.

The boma

Inside the Boma

demo grinding the polenta. We were next
Want to give him a hug

Some of the boys

He stayed at my side, clinging to me

Finally we walked around the village to see the animals, the chicken coop, the homes (children’s, parents and grandparents) and the silo. Sadly the silo was empty, sad as this is harvest time. They are plagued by drought, killing the plants they depend upon. Our group had raised enough funds to purchase and deliver staples to the community, including the precious polenta, flour, sugar, laundry
detergent, personal care items and more. It felt good to be able to help in this real and hands on manner. 

our gifts to the community

As photos tell more, I share images of the school children and the villagers we met in the boma. I can’t help but wondering what, especially the children, make of our visit, our gestures and our show of warmth toward them all. 

Digesting South Africa

The recent tour of South Africa lasted 27 days. Processing, ingesting and digesting the experience will last for a lifetime and hopefully include at least one return visit. The purpose of the tour was based heavily on
photo safaris through the major reserves in Botswana, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. Many of you have been on similar tours and I felt quite well prepared for the trip through conversations with travelers, my own study, the tour group (OAT) literature and an adult lifetime delving into the history, news and study about the region. 

Our group was so fortunate to meet and greet almost all species of the promised wildlife while nestled in the safety of the safari vans armed with cameras and binoculars. We encountered many unexpected creatures as well to our delight and enlightenment. I did not realize how many different “cousins” there were in the Antelope family, the bird or the reptile families. Statistics specify over 1,100 different species of mammals in Africa and over 2,600 species of birds.  

On several occasions, we observed the variety of behavior among the big cats, watching a mother lion adamantly defending her young from the abusive wiles of the daddy lion, the Black Rhino who kills his young to maintain his predominant male status. I relished the discovery of a small mammal, the Rock Hyrax, who is slated to be linked by genes and ancestry to the elephant. 

Sadly we observed the effects of the current drought in many of the regions we visited, depleting the food supplies for the wildlife and impacting the well being of the people in the villages and general population when their silos are empty after the harvest, food and fuel prices are sky high, unemployment is epidemic, and their currency worth little.  The impact of the most recent international economic downturn and political strife makes the news every day. With all of the hardships of life, I was astounded and struck by two attributes of the people of South Africa; their heritage being taught respect for others ingrained in their psyche from a young age and their innate sense of humor in the face of hardships they have endured. 

I observed this sense of humor almost daily interacting with staff in our tent camps, vendors in the markets teasing us as we tried on the phrases we had been taught in their native languages, children in school after their long walks from home to village schools

or the stern and official looking expressions, turned into a glimmer of a smile and welcome as the border guards loudly stamped our passports.  

I offer a poignant example and living proof of this sense of humor and courage felt during a home hosted dinner in a colored township near Capetown, S. Africa. Our hostess, Maureen, a widow, still working and avidly volunteering in her town along with her long time friend Wendy entertained us with a wonderful meal almost overshadowed by their steady comedic glee and almost show-stopping display of optimism and hope. They both acknowledged that moping and looking for pity was not part of their being and would only downgrade them to depression and hopelessness. Afterall, they now both enjoy having decent housing, food on the table and a comfortable life.

There are overwhelming hardships in their pasts and in their community, but they are proud to be able to give back to the community helping others. I will never forget the image of these 2 women vigorously waving goodbye to us as our van pulled away from their home until we were out of sight of each other, their faces bright with smiles, their eyes shining. For me, these faces are the faces of hope continuing to convey to the world that they are made of the same strength as the wild animals that are such a part of their world.