Old Oak Desk

Long long ago Annie said to me I should get her beloved husband Frank’s oak desk. We never knew Frank. He died when Mom was just fifteen or so, still in school. Annie had five grandkids and I suppose her reasoning was the only grandson should get it?

So now Mom’s in Azalea Gardens and Dad will be joining her soon, so it was time to fetch the desk. Dismantle, ship on the back of and inside of my Ford bakkie and re-assemble in my office.

It looks good.

Very importantly, the key is in the top drawer, attached to a label ticket. Written in (I suppose) Annie’s handwriting: “Key of Frank’s Desk.” Interesting, as there’s no lock or keyhole in the desk, nor any of its drawers!

Tin Ceilings

A. Ross & Co. General Dealers in Harrismith had gone phut, sold out to OK Bazaars. Their big old building was being gutted. Dad enquired about the ‘pressed steel’ ceilings* and was told ‘You can have the ceilings gratis if you strip them and remove them within a week.’

He bought six ‘nail puller pliers’ like these:

. . and hired six men (not that he used a decent word like men), had them take down the panels, scrape them down, scrub them with wire brushes and seal them with clear varnish; then they painted them with a mix of glossy and matt white paint to get a lovely finish: not shiny, not dull.

He put them up in our huge lounge, our long passage and our spacious dining room of the old house at 95 Stuart Street.

Old family home 95 Stuart Street Harrismith

He sold the excess panels to someone in JHB who paid and fetched.

Dad says while he was fitting them, Ouma paid us a visit from PMB. She would sit up with him as he worked till late at night. When it got late she would encourage him to stop: ‘Kom my seun, nou moet jy gaan rus. Gaan slaap nou.’

I’ve no pics of the ceilings . . The feature pic and these are from the ‘net. They give a good idea of the look.

When I was taking pictures of his old tools I lined up these pliers and he said ‘Oh, those aren’t old. I bought them.’ Yeah, I laughed; Like fifty years ago! He saw the humour in that.

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*Tin ceilings were introduced to North America as an affordable alternative to the exquisite plasterwork used in wealthy European homes. They gained popularity in the late 1800s as Americans sought sophisticated interior design. Durable, lightweight and fireproof, tin ceilings were appealing to home and business owners alike as a functionally attractive design element that was readily available.

Important chaps like this one harumphed . .

. . that it was morally wrong and deceptive to imitate another material and blamed the degradation of society towards the “art of shamming” rather than honesty in architecture. Oh well . .

They were also popular in Australia where they were commonly known as pressed metal ceilings or Wunderlich ceilings; and in South Africa.

Many Marys

Sheila gave us the breakdown:

Mary Craig married Alex Caskie; they had a daughter

Mary Caskie, who married John Francis Adam Bland; their eldest son was

Frank, who married Annie Watson Bain; their second daughter was

Mary Frances, who married PG Swanepoel; their eldest daughter was

Barbara Mary, who married Jeff Tarr; their eldest daughter was

Linda Mary, who married Dawie Pieterse; their eldest daughter was

Mary-Kate, boss of the house, turning six this year!

Sheila has an old glass photo of Great-Great Gran Mary Craig and Great Gran Mary Caskie

Little Switzerland on Oliviershoek Pass

I asked Leanne Hilkovitz Williamson about Poccolan / Robinson’s Bush and this brought a flood of memories:

She takes up the story:

I was born on the farm De Nook which belonged to my grandfather Elias Hilkovitz and was inherited by my father Leo Hilkovitz after the 2nd World War probably round about 1945, two years before I was born.

Dad built Little Switzerland Hotel on the farm and we made pathways through the forest called Robinson’s Bush for guests to hike to various spots: The Wishing Well, Protea Plateau, etc. I named most of the spots, and one that meandered in and out of the forest edge I named Hilky’s Way after my grandfather who was affectionately known as Hilky.

We sold the hotel when I was in my early twenties but the various owners over the years have kept the use of the forest and the guests continue to enjoy its wonderful beauty – it is wonderfully exhilarating to either clamber down Breakneck Pass from the Wishing Well or climb up to it from the road below. The path twists and turns in amongst indigenous trees, true and mock yellowwoods, and lianas and ferns along the side of a stream full of huge beautiful boulders in all shades of grey & lichen & dappled shade. So one experiences the mountain air, the refreshing sound of the steam  and always the melodious bird song. I particularly loved calling up the Mocking Chats and Natal Robins that mimic other birds and have a whole repartee of calls, copying them and they’d call back. A wonderful game that Dad taught me.

According to my father, Robinson’s Bush is the biggest natural forest in the Drakensberg. I wouldn’t take that as gospel. I’ve come to be a bit circumspect about those sorts of claims that locals all over the world tend to lay claim to!

Robinson’s Bush abuts on De Nook and we treated it as part of our farm. Dad looked after it although it is part of government nature conservation; at one stage in my late teenage years there were  two nature conservation officers who lived in a hut on the edge of the forest and tended it but that did not last.

I was there for my 70th birthday in 2017 with my two sons and their families and we climbed up Breakneck Pass through the forest and I showed it to my granddaughters and taught them the things my Dad had taught me.

Some of my earliest memories are of picnics in the forest on the side of the stream with our neighbours Udo and Margo Zunkle of Cathkin Hotel fame when they lived on Windmill farm. Udo would put small pieces of raw steak on the river rocks and we’d be fascinated by the crabs that came from all sides to feast on it.

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Leanne again later:

Hi Again

I put together a Power Point family history together for the family and we had an evening when I showed it to them. It started with the great grandparents on both sides and their cars and the farm in the very early days and the beginnings of the hotel and its growth as I grew up & went to HS Volkschool & then boarding school, varsity, etc. and then our children growing up and then finally the grandchildren from babies to present. I can never leave the farm & the berg for long & return there often – even if it is just up and down in a day – and I climb a mountain, drink in the soul food and return home refreshed, invigorated and together. The families also love it and visit but we have never all been there together at the same time & so  took advantage of my 70th to ask this favour. So we stayed in the timeshare from 24-28 Dec & had a wonderful Christmas & my birthday on 27th. We had a wonderful time and I was able to share some of my favourite places & stories with them just this once as you know how short attention spans are when kids are having fun. Didn’t want to bore them!

Pic of me on my birthday in my most favourite place in all the world.

Hilkovitz Leanne Little Switzerland


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Famous shenanigans: South Africa’s most notorious bank robber, Trust Bank robber Derek Whitehead, was arrested at Little Switzerland in 1971 at 3am on Friday morning the 14th of May. They had arrived at 4.30pm the previous day. A team of CID detectives from Johannesburg, the Orange Free State and Natal were involved in the swoop. After the arrest, the Whiteheads were taken to Bloemfontein for questioning

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Drunken shenanigans: Omigoodness; You don’t want to know . .

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Genealogy:

Our Bruno the doberman was a Hilkovitz! A Little Switzerland doberman puppy! Dad Pieter Swanepoel told me Leo came to town one day, called in at the Caltex garage and said ‘Come and look!’  On the back of his bakkie he had a bunch of little black pups in a box. Dobermans.

Dad chose one – he says he gave Leo a pocket of potatoes! – and we grew up with ‘Bruno’ – I only now know he was a citizen of Little Switzerland! He grew up to be a handsome lad!

1955 Barbs Birdhaven tyre Dad

Did You Got A Licence?

When I got back to Harrismith in December 1973, we were moving house. The ole man had sold the old house . .

. . and built a new one in Piet Uys street uptown.

I filled the blue kombi with stuff – small furniture, paintings and odds – and drove it the kilometre or so down Stuart Street to Piet Uys street; then back, again and again. Load after load. I loved it, I had driven very little in the USA.

We had LOTS of stuff to go. Including Jock, the brindle staffie terrier.

Finally when I’d moved all the stuff I went for my drivers licence. Overdue. I had turned eighteen eight months prior. I drove myself there. After a short drive the traffic cop turned to me and said “You’ve driven before”. I said Um, Ja and he told me to turn round, go back and he signed on the dotted line.

As I was leaving he asked “Who drove you here?” Um, Me I said. He just grinned.

Virtuoso

Miss Underwood taught Mom Mary to play the piano and taught her very well; she then also taught big sister Barbara to play and taught her quite well, too; in my imagination this set off the following family discussion:

Let’s send little Kosie to her as well! He’s such a delicate little chap. If he also does well Sheila will want to follow and then we’ll have four musicians and we can start a band, maybe name it after some insects and become RICH!

Don’t laugh. This was ca.1959 and John, Paul and George were still The Quarrymen. Ringo hadn’t even joined them. There was a gap in the market.

I was dispatched to her house in Stuart street and suffered some torture of the ‘put this finger here and that one there’ kind; and then worse: ‘Take this home and practice it.’ One lesson, in my rugby kit, then I escaped and ran home, never to return.

When the next lesson time came around Barbara called me to the black bakelite phone in the long passage at 95 Stuart street. “It’s Miss Underwood!”

Yes Miss Underwood; Yes Miss Underwood; Yes Miss Underwood

SLAM!!

I’m NOT going!

Never did.

Koos Kombi

Today Mother Mary took a break from playing the piano. She suddenly remembered a time Mona du Plessis came to her after a ‘do’ at the town hall. These memories come and go so she must tell them as she thinks of them.

Mona said to me – says Mary – “While we were at the town hall Kosie took the kombi, loaded up the de Villiers kids and drove to Joan and Jannie’s where our kids were. Then they all got in – Mignon, Jean-Prieur, Sheila, everybody and they drove up and down Hector Street!”

Of course I remember doing stuff like this – I loved “borrowing” the kombi – but I don’t really recall any specific accomplices! I spose it looked a bit like this:

Koos Kombi full_2