The black Saab is packed to capacity as we roar off in the dead of night to Kestell, that mecca of silence and stillness and, uh peace, I guess. Or was that Vrede? We aimed to fix that in our 1961 black two-door Saab 93. Riiing! ding ding ding ding Riiiiing! – that’s the two-stroke engine you can hear.
Steph, Larry, Pierre, Tuffy and Me. Warmly dressed against the Harrismith winter chill, we’re packed shoulder-to-shoulder, hardly able to lift our elbows to down the 455ml can of beer we each have. Black Label. It’s 5.5% so better value than Castle 5%. The sixth one of the carry-pack we’ll share. Tuffy’s empty can goes clanking along the tarmac before Steph has even hit third gear. Glugged. He’s focused. He knows the object is to get that stuff circulating in the brain soonest, to provide fun and courage and laughter.
When the Saab goes quiet we stop briefly to tap the fuel pump with the half brick kept under the bonnet for that purpose and we’re off again. Riiing! ding ding ding ding Riiiiing!
After cavorting on the gravel main street of Kestell and losing a tyre off the rim on one of our laps drifting – did I mention we invented drifting? – around the biggest thing in Kestell, the Groot Klip Kerk, we pick up the car to change the wheel as there’s no jack. Come to think of it, the word ‘domkrag’ might have been invented that night!
The guys at Jakes Grove’s garage kindly fix things for us and we’re away, heading for Jan van Wyk’s place on the way home.
Jan’s farm is a turn-off to the left on the way back home. He’s the sitting hoofseun at Harrismith se Hoer, 1970 edition. It’s 3am and there’s something we need to tell him.
Tuffy tackles an ox en-route
Driving down the farm road with its middel-mannetjie the passenger-side door suddenly flies open as we drive past a few cattle blinded by our headlights. Next thing we know there’s a dust cloud and some concerned moo-ing. Tuffy has launched himself into a flying tackle of one of the cows / bulls / oxen. We stop and Tuffy gets back into the car dusting off his khaki grootjas with a smug look of “that’ll teach them” on his dial. Long toms always went straight to the clever-witty-and-brave lobe of his brain, especially when he downed them in seconds flat. We didn’t know it yet, but he was practicing to be a parabat and a recce.
Arriving at the homestead all is in darkness. The dogs sniff us as we tiptoe into Jan’s room and wake him. Maybe we aren’t quite as stealthy as we think, as a voice comes from down the passage ‘Jan, maak tog vir hulle tee.’ His Ma. Ma’s. They always know what’s going on.
As we leave we spy pa Hertzog’s big Chev Commando parked in the open garage with a few big sacks next to it. Mielies, probably. Takes a bit of effort but we manage to raise it and push the sacks under it, leaving the rear wheels just off the ground. The beer is obviously still circulating, making us innovative, witty and irresistible. Oom Hertzog van Wyk probably had a good chuckle as he heaved his car off the sacks, we felt sure.
Larry left for home – Cobleskill, in upstate New York – soon after, missing the school photo session. We sent him this: Pierre, matric; me, Std 8; Steph, matric; Tuffy, Std 9
Vrede – peace; the name of a town; dorp, really; misnomer
dorp – village; hamlet; no metropolis
Groot Klip Kerk – see the action picture of us drifting; It’s the building in the background;
middel-mannetjie – hump between the tracks in a rustic road to tickle the undercarriage;
domkrag – car jack; literally ‘stupid strength’; Us;
hoofseun – head boy;
Harrismith se Hoerskool – Place of learning; but without an umlaut: place of ill repute; place where you could learn some tricks;
grootjas – greatcoat issued by the army or bought 2nd-hand from army surplus stores;
parabat – parachute battalion; mal ous; jump out of aeroplanes
recce – recconaissance battalion; mal ous; jump out of helicopters
‘Jan, maak tog vir hulle tee’ – Give these drunks something to sober them up, would you? Moms always know what’s happening
Mielies – maize, corn;
drifting – right foot flat; steering wheel turned full lock; hold till you cannot see a thing from all the dust; turn the steering wheel to opposite lock; rinse and repeat; any passengers present should be yelling advice at the driver, telling him they should be driving;
Update: R.I.P – Jan van Wyk died in a car accident ca.2010. Shit.
Update again: R.I.P – Steph de Witt died in a car accident 2015. Shit.