Smashing open my childhood piggy bank showed me how to live courageously


This First Person column is written by Anna du Plessis who lives in Calgary. For extra details about CBC’s First Person tales, please see the FAQ.

My mother and my brother eyed my chubby ceramic piggy bank. I met their gaze and nodded my head. Even at roughly six years previous, I had a robust sense of obligation towards my household. It had to be finished. I bought to do the honours — SMASH!

My little piggy was in one million items. 

This appears like a tragic story — like we hit all-time low. But it wasn’t unhappy for me. I felt hope, the opportunity of freedom. 

That smiling piggy I haggled for at a flea market taught me that I had company, that I may change my circumstances. It was the place my journey of independence, optimism and braveness started.

I grew up poor in an abusive, alcoholic family and fought my means from dingy bars in South Africa into boardrooms right here in Canada.

The form of poor I endured isn’t the form of poverty you would possibly see on the worldwide information from a war-torn village plagued with illness and deprivation however reasonably a self-inflicted shortage. The mismanagement of cash fuelled my dad’s habit and maintaining appearances had dire penalties.

My mother and father had been lecturers with modest salaries. But all our cash went to my dad’s booze buddies — drinks had been all the time on him or lending somebody this after which owing somebody that. As a baby, I spent many hours within the bar with him. But when the ingesting stopped, that is when the shouting and combating started. His anger was aimed toward my mother.

My mother tried her finest. She cherished us and saved us fed. She took on my dad’s debt, hid his ingesting downside from everybody else and labored further jobs.

I didn’t need to be a martyr like my mother.

Anna du Plessis on her first Remembrance Day in Canada. The classes she realized from her childhood piggy bank assist her thrive right here in a brand new nation. (Submitted by Anna du Plessis)

The first time I noticed that piggy bank on the market, it was sitting on a desk amidst every kind of different second-hand items from kitchenware to ornaments. I used to be solely about 4 years previous, however by some means I had the thought that it was going to make issues higher and that is why I had to have it.

Then for 2 years, I saved — all the pieces from my birthday cash from my granny to fishing out leftover cash in slot machines on the bar to cash I used to be supposed to put within the assortment plate at church. In my kid’s thoughts, I figured Jesus knew we had been poor, too. 

We smashed the piggy bank in the course of winter, when our electrical energy had simply been lower off once more and the pantry cabinets did not have a single cracker or soup can left. My mother did not inform me to do, it however I volunteered.

A child with curly blond hair looks at the camera while a slightly older boy plays with her hair behind her.
Anna du Plessis and her youngest brother of their residence in South Africa. (Submitted by Anna du Plessis)

I keep in mind wrapping the piggy in a rag and smashing it on the kitchen desk. I do not keep in mind my mother’s face, however I used to be proud. It had South African rand roughly the equal of $200 CAD in the present day — sufficient to put fuel within the automotive and purchase groceries, plus some candles for gentle. 

It modified my life, as a result of it modified my outlook. I out of the blue believed my scenario was non permanent, that I used to be ready to face any problem and I may make my life higher.

But life was nonetheless arduous. At 14, I survived being hit by a automotive whereas strolling exterior our home. My dad was the driving force and he was drunk. I had a concussion, however by some means I bought up, walked into the home and handed out once more. When I showed up bruised in school the next Monday, I instructed everybody precisely what occurred and spoke my reality with out shying away from it.

I used to be teased about it. I did not care. This was non permanent.

In my closing faculty 12 months, this braveness additionally helped me persuade my mother to transfer out. I could not shield her from my father’s rage once I wasn’t there. And then I discovered the braveness to transfer even additional away.

My associate and I had a long-term objective of shifting to Canada — a rustic that is a lot safer and the place we might have the liberty to live with out judgment. So in spring 2020, we packed up all the pieces we may and offered the remainder.

A woman looks back at the camera while standing with her bike.
Anna du Plessis explores Calgary’s bike paths after shifting right here in 2020. (Submitted by Anna du Plessis)
A woman on downhill skis stands at the bottom of a ski hill.
Anna du Plessis takes ski classes in Calgary at Canada Olympic Park. (Submitted by Anna du Plessis)

Two weeks after we bought to Calgary, the entire world went into lockdown. I finally discovered the job I wished, however misplaced it a month later when the corporate went bankrupt. Another dream smashed briefly.

But I may rebuild. I’ve realized that. I work within the aggressive trade of retail. Applying the talents of frugality and persistence that my piggy taught me, I labored my means up to be a senior service provider.

Despite financial setbacks throughout the pandemic, I’m proud to say that I now work for my dream employer doing what I like. I pitch clothes and different product traces in government boardrooms and it feels up to now faraway from these dingy bars and the house I grew up in. Still, I’m grateful now for the childhood I had and particularly for that piggy bank. It helped form me into the individual I’m in the present day. 

I’m a fighter. I’m scrappy, and I look ahead to no matter is subsequent.

Telling your story

As a part of our ongoing partnership with the Calgary Public Library, CBC Calgary is operating in-person writing workshops to help neighborhood members telling their very own tales.

Read extra from this workshop on the theme Shifting Work:

To discover out extra, counsel a subject or volunteer a neighborhood group to assist host, e mail CBC producer Elise Stolte or go to


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