“What’s the best age to be?” Intelligent Life’s Big Question (Sept/Oct 2013). It’s too much a coincidence that I would read this big subject on the eve of my birthday (yesterday); and it would make absolutely no sense if I didn’t blog about this. So here goes;

Growing up, my mother was very strict. My siblings and I were not allowed to play outside or attend any parties/functions that were not family related. That made it awkward every time the ‘Home Time’ school bell rang, because I was caught in between wanting to play more with friends and running home to watch Gargoyles, my favourite cartoon of all time. Mum’s rules also restricted us from inviting friends at home. The only ones allowed would never exceed two; and they would have to come from the same class as the host. In addition, she would have to have known of their class performance and parents, prior to giving a green light. This is exactly the life you live, when your mother was a teacher and a school head teacher for that matter. Because of those high principles, I would be afraid to introduce my friends to my mother, in fear that they wouldn’t be good enough or pass the test. It would be worse, if you had friends who literally failed class tests.

So I resorted to my books, friendships that existed just as far as the school gate and my siblings company, that’s why my three sisters are by far my closest friends. Because we didn’t get out much, we kept ourselves busy with movies, music and cooking. Because I am the last born, nobody would have me cooking. I would just stare at the rest of the girls and mum making magic and if given work, it would only be to make salad, prepare the dining table for meals or change the music playing in the background. Staying indoors too much made music our sole escape.

The 90s was all about “Makarena” versions, Tupac, Brandy, Monica, Whitney Houston, Boyz II Men and R. Kelly music. I remember vividly Tupac‘s “Me Against the World” album (in tape). The one we had was yellowish in colour and released around the time Tupac had jail drama. After seeing Death Row inscribed on the tape, I remember feeling sad thinking he had been jailed for life; little did I know it was a label. At the time, my family owned a video library that stocked all sorts of movies and music videos, the likes of recorded episodes of MTV Base music countdowns and classics like Michael Jackson’s Thriller, Sound of Music and Boyz N Da Hood. Some of my earliest favourite music videos include “Break Up to Make Ups” by Method Man & D’Angelo, “Young Thug” by Bone Thugs N Harmony & Ice Cube and “Be Careful” by R. Kelly & Sparkle. We would listen to songs, over and over, till there was nothing left to do other than start to play/pause music videos, to write down lyrics (there wasn’t Google Lyrics then, trust me) then play to sing over. And when we were done with that, we would play the audio on the big radio (I remember it was a GoldStar make that had an LP on the top) and then try to play the video of the song on the VCR, so the both would run simultaneously—just for kicks!

My sisters, especially Emma and Jackie, probably baked a cake every fortnight and holiday. We had cakes for everything, from birthdays, Christmas to whatever we felt like. We would stay up late, mixing ingredients while chatting about everything and nothing. I can almost still smell and taste that yucky mixture of flour, blue band, sugar and eggs. We would bake the cakes in the big jiko oven, that mum bought specifically to bake cakes, which would make breakfast the following morning, so much more awesome. I still haven’t eaten a cake half as good as what my sisters made back in the day, maybe that’s why my last memory of loving cake, was then. I hate cake. My eldest sister, Pollyne, recently bought a ready-to-bake cake mix at the supermarket and it just made me sad at how dead all those lasting memories are today.

My earliest memory of our household coming alive was times when my mother was away and my sisters invited their friends over for dinner or a chat. But these times, didn’t matter much to me because I would be asked to go sleep and if I stayed up, I wouldn’t understand half the things they talked about. The only other time I recall, was around my 13th bday celebration merged with my sister Emma’s 19th bday (Our bdays fall 10 days apart- Sept 4th and 14th). That was the only time in my childhood that my mother allowed us to hold a party at home. It was fabulous! There were lots of food, drinks, music, decorations and people (lots of them) in the house. I remember inviting all my friends from school, including a boy (whose name I can’t remember) I was crushing on. But the best part of it, was sharing a bday party with someone I was very close to (at the time and now). Of all my sisters, I took after Emma’s hobbies and interests. Apart from our identical laughter, we love the same food, music and movies; she even named her first daughter after me! Shucks. Now, looking back at that day, it wasn’t so much about the party but the joint effort and having to share a special moment with someone special. I have never had another bday that left me as content as that one did. At that point in life, I didn’t know that my sister would, in a few years, leave Kenya, to permanently settle in the USA.

Later in life, we look back and appreciate memories afresh. I now appreciate my mum’s severity, as it made for a few golden moments, as opposed to too many nondescript memories. Every fortnight, mum would take us out to Highlands Hotel, formerly owned by the late Njenga Karume. An image of the grandiose white hotel with cathedral walls and larger than life sparkling windows surrounded by perfectly manicured green lawns will forever be engraved in my mind. An hour or so of horse riding and endless table tennis games at the hotel used to be my favourite sport. The only horse I rode was called Shadrack. He was coal dark, shiny and stout. The riding instructor said that Shadrack would go wild sometimes and throw riders over, but we were forever friends. Well, till one day, after schools closed, when mum took me over to ride, and they broke the news that all horses had been sold off or taken by an Association, can’t remember much. I miss that home away from home. The other day, while at Karen Country Club I got sick of déjà vu. The place is a mirror of Highlands Hotel and left me so nostalgic for my childhood days. The last time I inquired about the hotel, I found out that it had been given over to the Internally Displaced Persons following the Post Election Violence. A lot of people were left homeless in Molo. They are now planting maize on what used to be Highlands Hotel golf course.

Before my vagabond and full-of-life father died, I am told, things were very different at home, as he would take the family out to trips and the like, out of town. When you grew up in a little town like Molo, there weren’t too many places to visit or so many things to do. So when I think about my best years so far, it would have to be between around the age of eight and sixteen. Even though I lost my Dad then, nothing else mattered but cakes, good music, horse riding, playing tennis and spending time with my sisters. I am a little frustrated today when I turn on the radio and stupid pop comes blaring out; I miss that good old school hip hop and R&B music. I miss eating that fresh not-too-sweet homemade cake. I miss a lot.

Which of your successive selves do you look back on most fondly, with a sense of being most in harmony with the world? As Intelligence Life’s six wise heads pick the best age of all, this September, some went for the octogenarian and middle ages, with others touting teen years as the rock of ages “poised for a brief moment between innocence and transgression—we had it all,” Edward Carr stirs up his debate on why being 12 was the best. Just like him, when I look back, I miss the days when we didn’t have a lot, of freedom and friends, yet we made the best of it all. A lot is yet to come but those were certainly my best years, so far. Happy Birthday to me and my late Dad (Yes, we share a birthday)!

BONUS: Happy Birthday Emma, miss you and love you.