The old man inviting me to go someplace! How’s that!? I hopped into the old faded-blue VW Kombi OHS 153. This sounded interesting. We never went to the railway station. We’d go near there to the old MOTH hall and occasionally to the circus field when the Big Top was pitched there! But never to the station itself.
‘We’re fetching a family from Italy. The father is coming to work at the Standard Woollen Mills and they can’t speak English,’ says the old man. He picked up Italian in Italy around 1943 to 1946, first wending his way up the Adriatic coast in the Italian campaign and then later on involved in the post-war stuff armies do after the end of WW2, before flying home, having traveled the length of Italy south to north and into Austria. He kept up the language over the years mainly by fraternising with Boswell-Wilkie ** circus folk when they hit the Vrystaat vlaktes on the circus train and pitched the Big Top next to the railway line on the west edge of our famous dorp.
This exciting station trip was in 1965 or thereabouts. So we got to the stasie, the train rolled in and there hanging out of a window was a family of four: Luigi, Luigina and two sons about my age, fresh from Italy out. They were probably staring at my bare feet. But I’m just guessing.
I carried one suitcase to the kombi and then from the kombi into the Royal Hotel, where my great-uncle Smollie Bain was the barman. His Dad built the hotel and I think he stayed there all his life.
Soon Claudio and Ennio were in school, Claudio a standard below me in sister Sheila’s class, and Ennio a standard or two lower. They got a house in Wilge Park and so started many happy visits and sumptuous Luigina meals with the Bellatos – I can still picture her kitchen so clearly. And sundry happy adventures with Claudio.
The only time before this anything Italian might have rolled up at Harrismith stasie might have been these Italian things ca. 1914.
** Boswell-Wilkie Circus: Every few years for a while we would suddenly have clowns, lion-tamers and acrobats in our home! They all looked very ordinary, frankly, in their normal kit; except Tickey the clown. He and his daughter were instantly recognisable even without make-up because of their small stature and strong faces.