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:
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.
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
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.’
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.
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.
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.
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:
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).
Here he says he hasn’t done any running ‘since the mountain race’ – so that means he came to do the mtn race in 1971? I can’t remember that.
Sometimes Umzinto would get kinda desperate, and after casting around far and wide would eventually consult telephonically: ‘Are you sure?’ ‘Fraid so. ‘OK, well then if there really is no-one else, ask your mate Swanepoel.’
So Glen Barker would say ‘Pete, can you play for us again this Sunday?’ And I’d always say Sure thing! cos . . LUNCH! The ladies of Umzinto and district and the staff of the Umzinto country club knew how to make lunch, and for a bachelor with buggerall to do that Sunday anyway, whattapleasure.
So I’d borrow white trousers, wear a white work shirt and drive south down the notorious South Coast, full of rokers, weed smokers, fishermen, retired Vaalies and dodgy farmers; and do sterling service for the 100yr-old august olde Umzinto Cricket Club. The usual: I’d get a duck in the morning, drop a few catches in the afternoon and enjoy a very good lunch with a few beers in-between. It was Win-Win-Win all round. Everybody was a winner: Me, the Umzinto team, and the opposition.
FINALLY clearing out some more boxes from the garage. It’s nine years since Trish died, fifteen years since we moved here, and some of the boxes haven’t been opened since even before that.
And I was to find out some haven’t even been opened since LONG before that! Like this one:
This was a bachelor box! That typed letter was the school newsletter – no, the school newspaper! – from 1971. A previous school newspaper ‘Die Kanêrie’ had existed. In our time was it edited by Francois Rope Marais. It died, like all good canaries. In matric Jean Roux and I decided to revive it, but we wanted a new name. We were in a big Beatles phase, so its new name was Let It Be.
Racy scandal, very much tongue-in-cheek, we were determined to be irreverent. The mielie cob was our emblem, the paper was a member of the ‘mielie groep,’ and although this issue of 19 February 1971 was the first and probably the only issue, we made sure to put “Established 1971” in the banner to give it an air of gravitas. You never knew, maybe it would start a publishing empire? I mean, it would have been celebrating the 50th year of its existence next year had it gone on a few issues.
Memories of the ‘roneo machine’ – you typed on blue wax paper, then you drew your pictures or wrote your headings in freehand with a metal stylus; then you carefully put your precious waxpaper koerant into the roneo machine. The ink ran into all depressions in the wax – hammered by the typewriters and tikmasjiene in Ou Rot se klas, or scratched by hand. We used typewriters for the Engelse stories and tikmasjiene for the Afrikaans stories. Then you turned something manually, and out came copies of what you’d done – reproduced by the magic machine. Any mistakes were permanent. And there were a number! Jean wrote the Pop Music Column ‘On The Knob With Roux.’ He was from a metropolis much larger than Herriesmif – Bloemfindyn, I think? – so more up-to-date with his music.
Someone wrote to the paper – an anonymous Letter To The Editor! It was a whinge. Someone had been applauding too enthusiastically at a debate contest! Gasp! They were applauding and stamping their feet! Instead of only giving contestants ‘their rightful applause!’ There was some question as to the character of someone who would let themselves go like that! Like Victoria, Nik and Nak were not amused. Well! There you go.
One article confidently announced we’d soon go international (it didn’t say that all that meant was we had asked the previous year’s USA exchange student to write to us).
We – the Std 9’s were also announcing a ‘Ritmiese Ete’ at the country club where one would get a full supper and music by the vdLinde Trio – at R2 a head – to raise funds for the Matric Farewell.
Military news of past-pupils was: Sparrow was in the lugmagkoor – and was even chosen as a ‘solios‘ – or so we said. Pierre was off to Bloem as a parabat. Steph was off to Walvis Bay.
A ‘kringleierskamp’ was held on Clawervlei, Casper Badenhorst’s farm, led by ds Venter, ds Smit, Eben Louw and Giel du Toit. ‘Besprekings’ of about an hour were held morning, afternoon and evening. The weekend ended on Sunday with a church service and a group photo.
Evidence of the rooinekkery of this koerant was a report on the dorp’s new Boy Scout troop: We had done swimming badges under the watchful eye of Cyril Nocton at Ralph Morton’s pool. Also a report on the Methodist Guild, who held a braai in which ‘all the members’ arrived dressed as tramps.
Some blerrie Eland – signing himself Phomolong – wrote the athletic day report and crowed about the Kudus winning, them second and us, the Impalas coming our usual third out of three – to which he said foei! Blurry hell! He would eat his words one year later when we, the Impalas, swept the boards! De Wet Ras broke the twenty-year-old pole vault record. At least he was an Impala.
A long report on a debate – the ontgroeningsdebat – is a bit faint to follow easily. Seems the debate decided history should not be a compulsory school subject. Ha! ‘Jammer Mnr Stander,’ said the reporter to the history teacher!
Costa Georgiou and Erika du Plessis were chosen as Mr and Miss Standard Six.
Fluffy Crawley wrote an article on Town Cricket, asking for players to join him in strengthening a sport which had been waning and was now being rebuilt. Forthcoming matches were against Old Scholars (Bethlehem?) and Frankfort. He also gave a report on a drawn match against Bethlehem Defence in which they scored 95; We managed to drag out our innings for two hours, forcing a draw; De Wet scored 25, Fluffy scored 14 and Dave Davies hung in to score 5 and achieve the draw. Our best bowler was De Wet, 6 for 25! Fluffy never gave up on cricket – he remained involved with Free State cricket for decades!
Tuffy Joubert was the swimming reporter, announcing the team going to Mazelspoort. Boys: Leon Blignaut, J Nel, Steve de Villiers and himself; Girls: Sonja du Plessis, Sheila Swanepoel, Jenny de Villiers, Marita Badenhorst, R vd Merwe (? Ilse?), J Eksteen and L Ros(?Lulu Ras?). Sonja duP was chosen for the OFS team and went on to win bronze in the 100m freestyle girls under fourteen at a national gala.
Under the commercial section there was one advertisement: A 15ft fibreglass canoe for sale by one P. Swanepoel. It would have been blue with a red deck.
mielie groep – maize or corn future publishing empire; ‘jou mielie’ was a popular insult at the time; it had . . connotations; hey! sixteen year old testosterone
on the knob – DJ’s twiddled knobs, and . . connotations
koerant – newspaper
tikmasjien – typewriter
Ou Rot se klas – the typing teacher’s nickname was Rat; pointy nose, bristly moustache, dodgy reputation with the ladies
Ritmiese Ete – rhythmic dinner – grub and dance fundraiser
lugmagkoor – airforce choir
kringleierskamp – ringleaders camp
besprekings – discussions
foei! – shame! or ag shame!
ontgroeningsdebat – initiation debate for Std Sixes, just entering high school
Careful readers would have seen a promise for this promising newspaper to go INTERNATIONAL! Well, I’m not sure we even made a second edition, but we DID receive the promised input from afar: from New York. Note the formal address: Die Redakteur, Laat Dit Wees / Let It Be!! I don’t know why he put our name in inverted commas? Would he have written “New York Times” – ? I must speak to him!
Dad’s car is missing. Old lady can see where he parks it – right in front of her sunning and exercise stoep of the frailcare section. And it isn’t there. Uh Oh! She’s worried. Later she finds out. ‘Oh, I went shopping. Don’t worry, I got permission from Sister Rose!’
And then again: This time, ‘Oh, my microwave packed up; Johan said he had an old one lying around that I could have, so I drove over to his place and fetched it.’
He’s about halfway through his current five-year validity period. He’s legal till he’s one hundred years and five months old.
Sheila has a lovely Mary Methodist anecdote from around 2012. Mary was about 84yrs old back then:
Her granddaughter Linda was telling her a story about a friend who had all his precious work stored on his laptop computer – ledgers, spreadsheets, emails, the lot. His work and his ‘whole life.’
Like so many people, he had no backup – none, anywhere.
Aware of the potential dangers, he was very conscious about the possibility of having it stolen, so when he had to go out one day, sans laptop, he hid it in the oven.
Well, you guessed it, his poor very embarrassed partner – unknowingly – had done the humdrum – pre-heat the oven to 220ºC – and the unthinkable. The precious laptop was melted, warped, done to a crisp.
– “Oh no!” interjects Mary ”He had cooked the books!” –
June 2020 Sheila reports: Today Mum has so many jerseys on that Sister Rose asked if she was going to the North Pole.
For her crossword Mom asked what Mexico’s biggest volcano was. I looked it up while we were chatting – Popocatepetl. I’ve never heard of it – but Mum knew / remembered it! She had asked a friend who was going to her cottage to look it up on her computer – but now, when this friend comes back with the answer – Mum will know it already – she liked that!
Mom Mary Swanepoel made costumes for a fancy dress event in the Harrismith town hall ca.1959. We were living on a plot Birdhaven in the shadow of Platberg just a kilometre east of the edge of town on the forestry road.
Some thirty years later, big sister Barbara in the middle on the left, made costumes for her kids Linda and Robbie in a re-enactment ca.1986. They were living on a farm Shukela Estates outside Greytown.
At the time our Oupa was visiting us from Pietermaritzburg. Paul Fouche Swanepoel, grandpa of Peter Frank – me.
Now we await Linda’s move – I’ll bet she’ll repeat the re-enactment with her two, Mary-Kate and Dawie VII – they’ll be third generation ‘gypsies.’
Once chosen as a Rotary Exchange Student in 1972, I had to get to Durban to get my passport done and – I think – some other paperwork; My big mate Leon Fluffy Crawley hitch-hiked down with me. On the way down – or on the way back – we called in at big sister Barbara where she was staying in the Pietermaritzburg YWCA. We met her friend Lyn there.
That’s about all I remember! Luckily, Fluffy remembers it too!
Other hitch hiking at school was to Witsieshoek with Claudio and Carlos.
The picture is the group of Rotary exchange students chosen in 1972 for 1973. It may have been taken at the airport, about to leave. If so, it was students from all over South Africa, leaving for all over the world. Kneeling next to me is the guy who went jolling with me in New York; Seated next to him is Eve Woodhouse from Durban, who ended up in a village Fort Cobb near mine – Apache – in Oklahoma; Right behind me is Lynn Wade from Vryheid.