Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia Family

Drunken Revelry

OK, not really; more a reverie on drink – a nostalgic lookback on a bottle store. Platberg Bottle Store / Drankwinkel in Harrismith, the Vrystaat. The Swanepoel family business. We all worked here at times.

We were talking about the trinkets, decor and marketing stuff. Like those big blow-up bottles hanging from the ceiling. Turns out big sister Barbara kept some of them from way back when:

Younger sister Sheila has some whisky jugs; and I had found an old familiar brandy-making figure online:

..

This is where they were displayed, along with the statues of Johnny Walker whisky, Dewars White Label whisky’s Scottish soldier ‘drum major’, Black & White whisky with their two Scotty dogs, Beefeater Gin’s ‘beefeater’, etc. Spot them below:

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
8_Nostalgia

Lunch for Two

Have lunch with anyone of your choice.

A famous thought experiment. Who would you choose? Besides the world-famous people – of whom I’d definitely choose Charles Darwin, maybe Rachel Carson, maybe Noam Chomsky, maybe some of the early Southern African explorers like Francois Levaillant or Adulphe Delegorgue, certainly Aloysius Smith and maybe his wonderful biographer Tim Couzens – I’ve not given this any time yet – I’d really like to have lunch with these three luminaries from my little home town Harrismith, Free State, South Africa:

Stewart Bain; my wonderful gran Annie’s Dad, Scottish immigrant, fisherman, railroad bridge-builder, hotelier, who became mayor of Harrismith and the prime mover behind the building of a town hall fit for a city in a Free State dorp; ‘Oupa’ Bain he was called by family, and The Grand Old Man of Harrismith by some towards the end of his life, maybe only at his (lavish) funeral?

Dr Anna Petronella ‘Nell’ van Heerden; pioneer general medical practitioner in Harrismith, Pioneer gynaecologist in Cape Town; then pioneer cattle farmer in Harrismith; lesbian cattle farmer in Harrismith, Vrystaat in the fifties and sixties – courage and self-confidence.

Dr Francis William ‘Frank’ Reitz; son of a state president; brother of the famous Deneys Reitz of Anglo-Boer War and WW1 fame; specialist surgeon who practiced as a general medical practitioner in Harrismith Vrystaat.

Be amazing if they all told the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Be fascinating to know how much corruption there may have been in the building of the town hall – were there any rigged tenders? Who benefited? How long did the building take? How involved was he, onsite? What was the ribbon-cutting day like? Who opposed this lavish project? Did he acknowledge them and their concerns?

Be fascinating to know exactly what all Nell’s relationships were and how she treated her live-in companion Freddie Heseltine; about farming amongst toxic, confident, powerful masculinity; attending cattle auctions; her relationship with her staff; what protected her? Was it her National Party connections that made her immune from slander and attack? Was she immune?

Be fascinating to hear about 1920’s to 1960’s surgery and chloroform anaesthesia; about pioneering surgical techniques; about the successes and some failures on the operating table; and about sport in the early days – rugby, polo. Personally, I would wonder if Dr Reitz remembered – among his many patients – putting a wooden – bamboo? – hoop over my face, covered with a cloth, sprinkling chloroform on it and saying, “OK, Kosie, now count backwards from ten.” I loved mathematical challenges like that! I could do it! But I don’t think I got to six.

Of Charles Darwin I would ask way more about his wonderful voyage, and also lots about his amazing, stunning insight into how the fact of evolution happens; but all his other lunch guests would ask him that, so I’d be interested in his five years circumnavigating the globe aboard the Beagle; imagine living on board a small wooden ship for over 1700 days – two months short of five years – living cheek-by-jowl with a fervently religious captain with a hot temper whose quarrels ‘bordered on insanity.’ I’d also want to know about his inner struggle with ‘coming out’ with this powerful scientific insight in the face of self-righteous religious ‘knowledge.’ But only if he was comfortable to talk about it – he was a sensitive man.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia Family school sport

Ancient Movies

The old man bought an 8mm cine film Eumig camera and Eumig projector. Made in Austria. This was ca.1963, I’d guess. It once did a bit of – potentially – famous footage!

Later he bought a Canon SLR camera with a 50mm lens like this, and a 300mm telephoto lens. An FT QL like this one. He used Agfa slide film. Had to be Agfa, not Kodak! Agfa had ‘better greens and blues.’

We went on a trip down Normandien Pass to photograph Black Eagle chicks on their nest. I think Wally and Robbie Sharratt had told of them. Wonder where those pics are?

Once I heard Dad had been present when I won a 100m race at the town’s President Brand Park athletic track. I didn’t know he was there – found out later that he had been taking photos. At the finish, in my lunge for the tape, I fell and somersaulted, skidding on my back. I won or tied for first – not sure which, but one of the two. Never did see a photo of that finish – !?

Once – 1967 – he took a photo of the all-winning U/13 rugby team holding a trophy. We won all our games except one that year – a no-score draw against Bethlehem Voortrekker (we beat them later); and we beat a team from Virginia that had claimed in the Friend newspaper that they were Free State Champs – unbeaten, 140 points for and none against; we beat them 3-0, a De Wet dropkick; we also beat the representative Eastern Free State team 17-0 cos they only chose four of our guys for the team; and then we challenged and beat Bloemfontein’s Grey College U/13 8-3. Our fame had grown and grown throughout the season and the number of spectators grew with every win. Funny, some people will support a team; but many more will make an effort to witness winning! I know not what that trophy De Wet is holding was for? Still, there was one photo a father took of his son’s school sporting career!

~~~oo0oo~~~

We saw other ancient movies too – those were 16mm.

Categories
3_USA 6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers 8_Nostalgia sport travel Wildlife, Game Reserves

Road Trip Out West

First we went west from Oklahoma, to New Mexico. I went with the Manars in Tom’s luxury (I really should know what that car was) towing their blue Willys Jeep, quite a recent model. We drove to Red River, to Granma Merrill’s cottage in the valley south of town.

– Granma Merrill’s Cottage outside Red River –

After a wonderful stay with a huge gang of the very best people, Jim n Katie Patterson took me and Dottie Moffett to Las Vegas from Red River, New Mexico in their silver-grey Ford LTD.

The LTD, with Dottie Moffett, Katie and Jim Patterson

We drove via Colorado where we caught a steam train from Durango north to Silverton.

Then we drove through Utah, visiting Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park:

In Vegas we stayed at The Stardust on The Strip. It boasted (natch) the ‘biggest neon sign in the world’! I learnt to gamble. I learnt to win. I battled to lose. Dottie was a good luck charm! I kept on and on gambling, determined to lose. Finally as dawn approached we were $10 down. We’d paid our dues and could go to bed.

Jim n Katie took us to a show! We saw Joan Rivers being delightfully rude and Petula Clark warbling away – also Joan warbled a bit and Pet told a joke! I saw Jim slip the doorman a cri$p note to get us good seats! We got great seats.

StardustSign1973

After Vegas we stopped off at The Grand Canyon: We stared down at this awesome sight from the lookout on the south rim. We only had a few hours there, so we were just look-see tourists. Suddenly I couldn’t stand it! I just had to get down there. I started running down the Bright Angel trail. Dottie joined me; she was fit – Oklahoma’s number 2 tennis player! It’s about 10km to the river. I’d give us an hour to get down, I thought. The run was easy on a well-maintained track with the only real obstacle being the ‘mule trains’. Every now and then we’d have to step off the trail and let a bunch of mules pass, sometimes with a steep drop inches away. We made sure we were always on the upside!

Bright Angel trailhead
Bright Angel Trail seen from the South Rim. Grand Canyon NP, Arizona.

At first it was all open desert trail, but at Indian Gardens I was surprised by the amount of greenery in the Canyon. From the rim it looks like all desert, but in the protected gorges there was water, green shrubbery and even some tall trees.

Indian Gardens Grand Canyon.jpg

In about an hour we got to just above the river. I stared in awe at the swiftly-moving blue-green water. I had never seen such a large volume of clear water flowing like that. Our South African rivers mostly run small and muddy and I wasn’t expecting clear water. Right then I thought I MUST get onto this river! I’d been kayaking for a few years, but if I’d been asked I’d probably have said on a raft, little knowing that eleven years later I would kayak past that very spot, under that same bridge in 1984 on a flood-level brown river! *(see below)*

bridge grand canyon.jpg

The hike back out was steep, but hey, we were 18yrs old! Cross-country running had been my favourite obsession the year before, so no (or an acceptable amount of) sweat!

Then we headed home by and large followed the old historic Route 66 – the new I40. Flagstaff Arizona, Albuquerque New Mexico, Amarillo Texas, back to Oklahoma. To Apache, and then Katie and I drove the delightful Dottie on to Ardmore.

I learned later:

  • They tell you Do Not try to hike from the rim to the river and back in one day!
  • The 10km climb down Bright Angel is about 1000m vertically, and every metre down you’re going back about 100 000 years in geological time!
  • The name Colorado was for its muddy colour and its clarity is in fact an undesirable artifact because of Glen Canyon Dam upstream;
  • Jim Patterson has since hiked rim to rim through the canyon a number of times – he made it an annual pilgrimage. The last I heard was when he was 70!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Footnote – Eleven years later, in ’84, I arrived under that bridge in my kayak:

GrandCanyon'84 Greeff (27)
– our group’s accompanying rafts under the same bridge, eleven years later –

The level was high, and the Little Colorado poured brown floodwaters into the Colorado, so the water wasn’t running clear.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
3_USA 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia

Smitten, Forgotten

We went to a dance in Red River. Beer. Music. I danced with a tiny little girl. I was smitten, she was a gorgeous freestyle hippy, having fun and dancing with gay abandon. How old ARE you? she asked when I told her I was repeating matric for the third time. Well, she had asked what I was doing and I’d said Senior in High School. Again.

Eighteen, I said.

I don’t believe it, she said.

And you? I asked – I was suddenly getting good at this wooing stuff. Makin’ small talk, I was.

Twenty seven, she said. What? No way! I do not believe that, says me.

She whipped out her drivers licence: 1946. She was 27. I didn’t even know you got people that old.

I was still smitten.

Come round to our place in Arroyo Hondo tomorrow, she invited. It’s an adobe house right on the road to Taos, you can’t miss it, she invited.

We were there like a shot the next day! Me and Jeff in his blue Willys Jeep. Talk about me being young: Jeff was fourteen. We’d only got back to Granma’s cottage in the wee hours, so it was after midday that summer day when we found the house that looked about as my new focus of fascination had described it.

Sitting on the mud wall of the porch watching the daily non-stop broadcast of the Nixon Watergate hearings on a small black and white TV was a fella with long hair and a scraggly beard, with a fag hanging from his lips. He was filing away at a flywheel. We learnt a few minutes later that it was a Chevy flywheel and he needed it for his old Ford. Or a Ford flywheel and he needed it for his old Chevy. It was too big, so he was filing away one tooth at a time. When it fitted he was going to move on.

But first we said Hi! Is ___ (I really should remember her name for a love story like this, should I not!?) around?

Ah, she went thataway about eleven this mornin,’ he said, flicking his head over his shoulder indicating the road South to Taos. ‘Said she wanted to catch a concert in Cali.’

California!? Where . . ?

‘Some rock concert.’

How . . ?

‘She threw her thumb out and somebody gave her a ride.’

Heartbroken, we drifted back to Red River. Took me ages to recover. About as long as the romance had lasted. Hours.

But hey! it’s 47yrs later and I can still remember how she felt and smelt dancing, and what the top of her head looked like, so there was true love involved too.

~~~oo0oo~~~

– Granma Merrill’s Cottage outside Red River –
– Red River – Arroyo Hondo – Taos – New Mexico –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia sport

Harrismith Mountain Race

Mountain-Race site - Copy
Way back in 1922 a Pom army major sat in the gentleman’s club in Harrismith and spoke condescendingly about our mountain, Platberg, as “that little hill”. What was ‘e on about? It rises 7800 ft above sea level and he was from a tiny chilly island whose ‘ighest point is a mere 3209 ft above sea level! Being a Pom he was no doubt gin-fuelled at the time. Anyway, this ended up in a challenge to see if he could reach the top in under an hour, which led to me having to run up it years later. Because it’s there, see.

mountain race harrismith_crop
– at this point I wished I had done some training! –

I had often run the short cross-country course and twice the longer course, which followed the mountain race route except for the actual, y’know, ‘mountain’ part. I had also often climbed the mountain, but strolling and packing lunch. When I finally decided I really needed to cross the actual mountain race proper off my list of “should do’s” I was larger, slower and should have been wiser.

Here’s some 8mm cine camera footage taken by Dad Pieter Swanepoel of Platberg Bottle Store of the start and finish in front of the Post Office – 1960’s I guess:

The race used to be from town to the top of the mountain, along the top for a mile or so and back down. Sensible. That’s how I ran it in 1979. The medal then had a handy bottle opener attached!

HS Mtn Race badges, medal
– mountain Race badges and medals – these are the legitimate four – where I actually finished in the allotted time! –

I recently found some old papers which told me I once ran the race in 79 mins and in 85 minutes another year.

We also walked the race for fun a couple times:

The 12km distance was enough. But no, some fools decided that wasn’t long enough! Apparently a cross-country route needed to be 15km to be “official”, so they added three kilometres of perfectly senseless meanderings around the streets of our dorp causing fatigue before I even started the climb when I ran with Jon and Dizzi Taylor one year.

The finish at the Groen Pawiljoen grounds
– run to A then to B and back (who added three km of tar road!?) –

Oh by the way, Major Belcher did get to the top in under an hour, winning the bet.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Some history from friend Ettienne Joubert, who has also trotted the course:

The Harrismith Mountain Race held annually since 1922, was described as the ‘toughest in the world’ by Wally Hayward, who won five Comrades marathons, the London to Brighton Marathon and the Bath to London 100-miler! (I once spent a wonderful day with Wally).

It originated when, in 1922, a British soldier, Maj A E Belcher, returned to Harrismith where he had been stationed near 42nd Hill during the war. He was referring to Platberg as ‘that small hill of yours’, one Friday evening [lots of silly things are done on Friday evenings] and one of the locals (a certain Van Reenen – or maybe the chemist Scruby) immediately bet him that he could not reach the top (591 metres – just under 2000ft – above the town) in less than an hour.

The major accepted the challenge and set off from the corner of Stuart & Bester streets outside the old Harrismith Club near where the Athertons ran The Harrismith Chronicle the very next day. He reached the summit with eight minutes to spare.

During a later visit to the town, Major Belcher (now a schoolteacher in Dundee, Natal) found out that his record still stood so he took it upon himself to donate a trophy to the Harrismith Club to be awarded to the first club member to break his record to the top.  In 1929 the Club management, as the organizers of the race, decided to open the race up to the residents of Harrismith and a Mr Swanepoel won the race to the top of the mountain in 32 minutes. (The last record time I have is 22 minutes and 9 seconds – from town to the top of the mountain! Amazingly quick).

The race route has changed over time – starting in Piet Retief Street outside the post office and police station for some years. Nowadays it starts at the town’s sports grounds, passing the jail, then through the terrain where the concentration camp (second site) once stood, up the steep slopes of Platberg to the top via One Man’s Pass, close to where a fort was built during the Anglo-Boer War. After traversing a short distance along the top, the descent is made via Zig-Zag Pass, and the race is completed back at the ‘Groen Pawiljoen’ sports grounds.

Our friends Steph and JP de Witt’s Mom, Alet de Witt became the first lady to complete the race. She ran in the year her husband, JN ‘Koos’ de Witt died tragically suddenly in January 1967. She then donated a trophy for the winner of the newly allowed (!) women’s category, which was awarded for the first time only in 1986.

Later the apartheid ‘whites-only’ ruling was dropped and as soon as McDermott* stopped winning, the race was won by black athletes, including Harrismith locals; starting with Michael Miya who holds the record for the newer, longer 15km course at 1hr 03mins 08secs.

*McDermott won sixteen times consecutively from 1982 to 1997 and in 1985 established the “short course 12.3km” record at 50mins 30secs.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia Family

Knives are Out

The ole man gave me a knife quite recently. Well, in the last ten years or so. He told a story in a rare letter to his darling son, written on the back of a Maxprop invoice and folded into the special PUMA green and yellow case:

– PUMA knife – model 3585 – serial no. 29771 –

Let me tell you about this knife, he writes. I first saw it in Rosenthals, a big safari shop in Windhoek more than 30 years ago. This on one of his family holidays he took in the family car. Without the family.

When friends of ours, the Maeders, went to Germany on holiday, he asked them to get the knife for him in Austria, where it is made, by one man, whose name appears in the brochure – a small 50-page brochure that comes with each knife.

– PUMA knife model 3585 – with skinning tips – can also sagen through knochens –

The letter continues: Anyway, the knife arrives by post in Harrismith. Uproar!! Urgent meeting: Me, the police and the postmaster – in his office. I had imported a dangerous weapon – the blade was more than 4″ long – illegal!

The postmaster unlocks his safe in the presence of all concerned, removes the knife, makes a tracing of the blade. This is to be sent to the SA Police in Pretoria. Meantime, the dangerous weapon goes back into the safe.

I told them not to be bloody silly; I could walk over to the OK Bazaars right now and buy a butchers knife with a 12″ blade!

After all the dust had settled and all charges paid, the knife cost me R64.00

The ‘over the counter’ price at Rosenthals in Windhoek – which he refused to pay, knowing he could save money by ‘getting it direct’ – had been R63.00!

And I’m always trying to get a better price, to save money! Love Dad

– PUMA knife – 50-page brochure – even a song! – ‘beating of the blade’ –
PUMA knife 3585 details – made by senior forester Frevert, I think –

~~~oo0oo~~~

As a kid way back in the sixties, I took over my Dad’s much bigger dagger; also with a bone handle. One day the duP’s came to visit and Pierre and I were playing with it, stabbing it into the hard Vrystaat ground on our side lawn on the aviary side of the house. I plunged it down with all my might, not seeing Pierre was still tamping down the ground and lawn from his attempt! I just about cut his finger off! Typically, stoic Pierre said Shh! and kept it quiet, going straight off to show his Ma Joan, who cleaned and bandaged it!

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
8_Nostalgia

Food Glorious Food

We used to buy our groceries from Freddies Cash Store, straight across the road from our bottle store, seen in the picture. Freddies was owned and run by Grace Schimper (round as a beachball, thick glasses) and her sister Edna Bisset. Grace unmarried, Edna divorced with two special kids a bit older than us – Petra and Ray. Rey?

Milk would be delivered in big tin cans on the back of a grey Morris Minor pickup by Joan and/or Vera Simpson; they were unmarried, lived on their dairy farm, Joan slept on the open veranda year-round. Later in glass bottles – who delivered that?

Our meat we would buy from Paul Raath, then from Louis Schoeman, ex-dashing, polo-playing bachelor – thought he was the Prince Imperial, says my Ma! Now he was the father of five wonderful kids, the older ones our age, and good friends of ours. Dad says Louis once snorted to him, speaking of his lovely wife Cathy, ‘Hmph! All that woman wants is babies, babies!’ I think he was probably just bragging!

Food was also available at the big Ross general dealer store – a forerunner of the supermarket? – where friendly Charlie Ronalds was the grocer. Later Harrismith got Sonop, our first supermarket.

~~~oo0oo~~~

I thought of this old-time food shopping while reading an article on supermarkets in The Atlantic. How supermarkets have changed the way we shop for food. I thought this passage was very good:

At the very least, you have to marvel: How did we take something built to satisfy the simplest human need and make it so utterly baroque? The supermarket does not “curate.” It is a defiantly encyclopedic catalog of our needs and desires, each and every one of which it attempts to satisfy. With nothing but a can opener, you can get a “turkey dinner in gravy,” “chicken shrimp and crab stew,” “saucy seafood bake,” “chicken and turkey casserole,” “prime filets with salmon and beef,” “bisque with tuna and chicken,” “ocean whitefish dinner with garden greens in sauce,” or a “natural flaked skipjack tuna entrée in a delicate broth.” And that’s just in the cat-food aisle.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 3_USA 8_Nostalgia

Above and Beyond

I have written about our lonely little, short-lived Boy Scout troop in the vrystaat and how wonderful it was, how much we learned and how much fun we had, but as I find more and more material in my Big Garage Cleanup, here’s the thing that strikes me most: How incredibly dedicated our troop leaders were and how selflessly they gave of their time and resources. Take this one incident, a memorable hike to test our map-reading and navigating skills:

Father Sam van Muschenbroek was the Scout leader (what’s that called?) and we met at his house at 6:30 on a Friday evening, got into his car and he drove us off. He stopped for petrol and while his car was being filled he blindfolded us – me and Greg Seibert, Rotary exchange student and American Boy Scout, as we were not to know where our hike started, nor did we know the end-point yet. All of that we were to work out from maps and compass readings.

Greg wrote: ‘We were hopelessly lost after a few tricky turns by Father Sam. After a bit of rough and out-of-the-way driving, we arrived’ at our campsite at 7:50pm. We cooked for Father Sam, his son Sam and ourselves and finished eating (spaghetti followed by a can of pears) at 9:35pm, wherupon the Sams drove off without lights (‘tricky, tricky’ wrote Greg).

All this in his own time and on – I would guess – not a huge salary as a rooinek dominee of a tiny little Anglican parish in a vrystaat dorp! I salute people like Father Sam, Dick Clarke and Charlie Ryder! They enriched and enhanced our growing up in Harrismith, going out of their way to ensure we had adventures and fun and did good stuff. Many, many men, far richer and much more influential than these three did WAY less for the kids in their town.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Oh: So what happened?

The next morning we rose at 6:20am – Greg sure watched the clock, he even said we fell asleep at 10:45pm the night before! – he took a picture of this sunrise on Saturday 29 April 1972, and I made a fire and attempted and failed to bake some bread over the coals. Then at 7:20am PAUL GOT UP! Who the hell was Paul?

We ate coffee, dried fruit, biltong and biscuits. The wind was whistling, and it musta blown page 3 away, so on page 4 the weather was still cold but warming. Still very windy from the WNW. At point C on the map we were obviously following ‘we were only 25 yards off of our calculations!’ We calculated and read the compass and left for point D at 10:15am.

Point E at 11:30am after detouring around a vlei and throwing my pack across a stream (!). Point F was some half-dead trees and some ruins and we rested there for ten minutes to 12:20pm.

Point G was a willow tree, a stone pillar and a little dam. We found it after a longish detour to find a place where we could cross the stream which was 4ft deep and 20ft wide. There we had lunch and a rest till 1:30pm. No mention of what we had for lunch but my guess would be coffee, dried fruit, biltong and biscuits. We ate in the shade while the mysterious Paul slept in the sun. Point H was an empty house and barn down a farm road. After a tricky crossing of a stream we were looking for a windmill. A glint of sun reflected off it revealed it and we headed up a rough hill, stopping halfway up for a rest and a drink. We reached the windmill, point I at 4:15pm and ate an apple.

When we weren’t sure of our position, we would seat Paul under a tree and Greg and I would go and check and then come back, so the mystery Paul wouldn’t get too tired, I suppose?

We were now headed for a Mr Blom’s farm. On the way we got our first glimpse of Platberg in the distance, so that was heartening. We reached Mr Blom’s house at 4:45pm and he invited us in for tea! We chatted till ‘about 5:30pm’ – HA! Greg was less accurate over tea! – when it started to rain.

We moved to camp, Mr Blom having kindly given us milk, apples, grapes and water! We cooked and ate supper at 9:30pm – spaghetti! But also beef stroganoff and oxtail soup. Paul went to sleep at 9pm! So, hike scribe Greg notes, ‘Pete and I gorged ourselves on the beef strog.’

‘We finally climbed in at 9:45pm. We we asleep ‘

It ends like that.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Greg called the adventure Operation Headache – and it occurs to me: Father Sam must have spent hours beforehand setting up the course! Taking compass readings, probably meeting Mnr Blom and getting his co-operation, probably other farmers whose land we crossed, too. What an absolute star! We loved those three days and spoke about the hike in years – decades – to follow.

As proof that We Wuz There, we got Mr Blom’s signature:

Greg’s notes in his unmistakable spidery handwriting:

. . . and I found half of page 3: It said we stopped at a spring and drank. We saw ‘several freshwater crabs, insect larvae and a frog.’

A map I drew of our first campsite:

– Campsite sketch – see the WNW wind howling –

~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal travel

Long Lost Letter

Donald Coleman was my good mate and older mentor and side-kick in Harrismith up to around 1964. He died in a car crash, alone in the car, around 1975. I have no detail of what exactly happened.

In around 2011 or 2012 I found a letter on the floor of my garage at 10 Elston Place.

It was from “your mate Donald” and consisted of one page. Probably page 2 of a 2-page letter, plus a scrap of envelope addressed to:
poel
rrismith
e Free State

A franked 2½c stamp in good condition is still on the scrap of envelope, but the date part of the franking was missing.

I was gobsmacked! HOW did it get here? I have lived a year in Harrismith after it was written, a year in America, four years in Jo’burg, a year in Potchefstroom, years ‘in the wild’ in Durban as a bachelor, then my first own home for fifteen years and NOW, after being in my second home for six years, a letter falls out onto my very untidy garage floor!

I’d love to know how it happened! I suspected it fell out of the old Cape Colony post office stinkwood desk Dad gave me, as I had moved it to give it back to him before it fell to pieces.

The letter, in neat, flowing cursive writing in blue ink, said (I have copied the line breaks as they were on his page):

This is slightly exaggerated but between points
0 and 1 it is 50 miles and between 1 and 2 it is 13 miles and between
3 and 4 it is 14 miles. Even if you go at 10 m.p.h all the
way you will make it in a day. Well don’t take
too much equipment etc because you’ll shit yourselves
coming. Don’t forget to take hats and plenty of patching
equipment. If something goes wrong and you reach
Bergville or Winterton after dark just ‘phone us our
number is Winterton 2412.

              Well I hope I’ve got everything down here, any-
way I still hope to run the Mountain Race
with you. I’m going to try harder this year.

              It’s a pity I won’t be seeing you fellows
because I’ve got some jokes to tell you.

                        From your mate
                             Donald

Not a single correction or spelling mistake (oh, one tiny one changing your to you).

So it seems he had sent a map as well as the (presumed) 1st page of the letter. Obviously we were planning to ride our bikes to Winterton!

I gave the page and the half-envelope to Donald’s mother Jean.

~~~oo0oo~~~

I must ask Dad about the old stinkwood desk. Was it a Harrismith find? From when?
That could explain how the letter got in there, I spose. A sudden suspicion: Did my folks open it and not pass it on!? Very unlikely.

UPDATE: I searched the old desk again and found the rest of the envelope! It was franked on 30 March 1971. I was in Std 9, and Donald would have completed his time at Estcourt High School.

20141130_081257.jpg

I asked the old man. He said he had bought the desk at Cannon and Finlay auctioneers in PMB some time well AFTER 1971. So I suppose the letter was put into a ‘new’ desk. Which raises the unlikely ‘they knew about it but chose not to tell me’ possibility again.

So the mystery remains. Well, I am SO glad I found it anyway. And glad I could share it with Donald’s family.

~~~oo0oo~~~

UPDATE 11 July 2020 – Another find! I found ANOTHER 3-page letter from Donald while clearing out old boxes in the garage, something I’ve been meaning to do for ages!

I was gobsmacked. If you’d asked me if I’d ever received a letter from Donald I would said No, I very much doubt it. Here it is:

I immediately started writing to his little boet Eddie, now in Japan, and while writing it the penny dropped: These three pages are from the same letter. This map is the map he refers to in that “one pager” I found eight or nine years ago.

Now I can rest content! I found a treasured memory from my past from a friend who was really really big in my life for the first nine years of my life and I’m glad to find out we kept in touch later on.

If I had ever got their farm, which Donald christened The Craggs, this would have been the view:

Here’s older boet Donald with sister Anne and lil boet Eddie back when they were in Harrismith; and a pic of four of us in Harrismith:

~~~oo0oo~~~

14 July 2020 – And now another letter DOES pop up: Dated 29 November no year, and the envelope franked 30 November 197_ (probly also 1971 – he gives his address as Eastside Hostel again, but says he’ll be going home soon).

– letter from Donald in November –

Here he says he hasn’t done any running ‘since the mountain race’ – so that means he came to do the Harrismith Mountain race in 1971? I can’t remember that.

~~~oo0oo~~~

I wrote to Sheila Friday, February 01, 2013
Long ago!!
What did Jean (Donald’s Mom) say about the letter? Did she recognise Donald’s handwriting?

She replied: Hi Koos

Jean and Anne loved the letter – I could see they wanted the original, so they made me a copy for you and I left the original with them. They recognised the handwriting immediately – said he always had a very neat writing.  He died in 1975 and is buried at their Winterton property – I think Ken is buried next to or near him. Love SS