Never ones for orthodox, disciplined, organised affairs – or maybe: having grown out of enjoying organised affairs, a small group of us started running in the early mornings. We’d meet and run the short course above the hostel, past the jail and back. We called ourselves Mossies cos we got up at sparrows-fart to run. Tuffy Joubert, Louis Wessels, Fluffy Crawley, myself – who else? We were in Std 9. 1971. It was summer; daylight came early.
We chose a bird name as the organised runners were being coached by a teacher called ou Makou, so they were the Makoue. Muscovy ducks. Their star was Stefan Ferreira.
After a while, a match-up was arranged; a challenge. We were determined to win this showdown: Us vs The Establishment! At the last minute a third team was entered by Dana Moore; he said they hadn’t trained, so were calling themselves the Pikkewyne. Penguins.
The course chosen was new to all: Up, around and down Queens Hill. Only about 3,5km google earth tells me. That was probably a standard distance for school cross-country, as Oosie was in charge. Oosie always made sure things were done right. The maths teacher! White coat, black glasses . . something like this. Oh no, wait, that’s not Oosie: That’s a science lab, so that’s Oscar Boehmer, our science teacher.
The Pikkewyne were given a good head start, and good thing too, as we soon caught them while still on the climb. They were huffing and puffing! The pace seemed way slow so I soon moved to the front and started pushing harder. On the way down I saw Kevin Crawley watching. He must have come back to town on leave as he had finished school. He said, ‘Good going, you’re lying second!’ and that surprised me. I thought I was well ahead. ‘Only Dana’s beating you,’ said Kevin. Ah! Of course! How could I have thought Dana was among the huffers n puffers!? His ‘unfit’ was always better than most people’s fit! I pushed harder down the hill. The finish was now visible ahead. As I got within a few hundred metres another surprise: I caught a glimpse of Stefan Ferreira just behind me over my right shoulder! He stayed a metre back as I pushed again, even harder, nearing the finish. A number of cars had been parked on both sides of the road and the straightest line to the finish was hard against the cars on the right, but that would mean ‘scraping’ Stefan off against them. Dilemma. I moved left to make room for him to also run past them. Well, longish story short: he pipped me at the post! I came second. Damn! Consolation prize was: WE came first. The Mossies won the team competition.
Our next big X-Country day was an inter-school event on the slopes of Platberg. A far more serious course – about ten km and a lot more climbing. It was the route of the famous annual mountain race except for y’know, that actual ‘mountain’ section.
The start and finish was on the tar road outside the high school and the girls hostel.
As we got to the first steep section, where the yellow arrow points, the pace slowed right down. Once again I was impatient. I didn’t want to go ahead, but this was too slow! I went ahead. Soon after we turned down I noticed there was one guy near me, the rest had dropped back. At a barbed wire fence I glanced back as I hopped through and noticed he was barefoot. Ah! I thought, I have a plan for that! I pushed hard and aimed for the donga where the blue arrow points; I knew it well, it was very rocky and uneven. I planned to make a getaway there. I was wearing my asics tigers. I loved those shoes with their thin hard soles and super light tops. When I hit the donga I pinned my ears back and ‘put foot,’ leaping from rock to rock and flying down, leaving my pursuer in my dust.
Or so I hoped. As I emerged from the donga onto the flat veld leading to the country club road he was half a metre behind me. Uh oh! I knew I had a problem. I had run those 800-odd metres as fast as I could go, and – barefoot – he had absorbed the surge. Respect! He stayed just behind me on the gravel road and drew level with me as we turned left onto the tar road. We ran shoulder to shoulder up the gentle incline.
When we first appeared in sight of the finish I heard a disappointed groan from the crowd. They were hoping to see one of our distinctive orange vests. They thus thought the two leaders were not from Harrismith. They didn’t know my rebellious nature had me wearing my own favourite white vest that I’d sewed a Scout badge onto and painted a peace sign on. Then they started recognising me and an encouraging shout went up. ‘Dis Peterrr!’ Once again there was ear pinning and I let rip with everything that I had.
And got left in the barefoot fella’s dust. Second again. To make it worse, he was from Vrede, our main rival dorpie! When I got my breath back I went looking for him to congratulate him. I joked ‘Oy! Couldnt you see I wanted to win in front of my mense?!’ He grunted and scowled and turned away. Oh well. Vrede humour is probably different to this rooinek’s!
Leon Fluffy Crawley wrote: Yep great memories… Lovely piece on your blog.. Confessions… I was part of the early morning run… I was staying in the hostel after Mom Pollie moved down to Ladysmith.. Std 9….that’s where we met at the hostel.. early morning and did a stint before school…. I did not do the races…. You were the athlete… Great athlete… I must have bailed out at some stage… Great to see Kevin’s name there as well. We had a great youth period in Harrismith… I pity not going back there more often after school as Pollie stayed in Ladysmith – which then became my “home town.” I missed a lot of that period of my life in Harrismith!!!! Well keep safe… At least the keys are in the lock waiting for stage 3 – Fluffy
Sheila revealed her 1971 diary: Our winter trip to Pennington, where Dad had bought a plot of land and was having a cottage built. Or as South African men often say, ‘building a cottage.’
I remember trees and dirt roads and that we were near a boundary. On the other side of that was ‘Umdoni Park’ said Dad. The cottage was on a corner plot at a crossroad. The road that ran towards Umdoni ended a short way past the corner. A shorter way down that dead-end road a big tree stood on the right with a branch stretching out over the dirt road. On that branch sat a Nerina Trogon. And that’s all I remember from that trip to Pennington.
But Sheila kept a diary. It was a nine-day holiday. We camped in the half-built house; We met six young guys on three 50cc buzzbikes and had a great time buzzing around the empty dirt roads on the sparsely-built sub-tropical coastal village of Pennington,. three-up per bike!
We walked to the beach, we swam in the rock pool, we walked on the beach; we drove further south to Margate and (fill in here from Sheila’s diary in my whatsapp) – to be continued . .
The Narina trogon of Africa utilises a wider range of habitats than any other of the world’s fifty-odd trogon species. It can live in habitats ranging from dense forest to fairly open savannah, and from the Equator to southern South Africa. It is the most widespread and successful of all the trogons.
Sister Sheila returned to me letters I had written to her and to Mom and Dad back in 1973:
4 July 1973 – Aerogram to Sheila with apologies for being late for her seventeenth birthday. We had been out in the sticks camping in Canada, north of Lake Superior on her day 26 June, next to ‘one of the most beautiful white-water streams I’ve ever seen.’ Then we had canoe’d and camped in Quetico Park, west of Thunder Bay – caught in pouring rain. Then to the Lake of the Woods, ‘absolutely fantastic, unbelievable.’ Five in a VW Bug, three Oklahoman lasses, an Aussie and I. I rave in the letter about what perfect traveling companions they were and hint – shh – that Dottie is ‘sort of the girlfriend’ – adroit with the lasses as always! Sigh!
The blue aerogram – postage 15c – was written from Dubuque, Iowa, where the Okie lasses and Kneebone the Aussie had dropped me off with my last host family Don and Jackie Lehnertz, who would ferry me back to Apache. ‘Fraid I mostly slept in their car, after the excitement of drinking, camping and jolling with that great first-class team of friends. We did go up the stainless steel arch in St Louis, I remember that. Cramped up in a little cocoon and then a narrow view from 630 feet above the Mississippi. Cost a dollar and I wouldn’t pay a dollar to do it again. ‘Course I was way too polite to say that then.
29 July 1973 – Nine-page letter to whole family. 21c postage. Written in Durango, Colorado where Jim and Katie Patterson had taken me and Dottie Moffett after two weeks in New Mexico. One week with the Manars in a lodge in Red River, The Ponderosa; and then a week in Granma Merrill’s cabin in Pine Valley outside town. The rest of the Apache ‘Bunch’ then arrived en masse – so now we were five couples with five 4X4 jeeps and lots of kids! The Paynes, Hrbaceks and Mindemanns joining to make a party of twenty nine, nineteen festively crowded into Granma’s double-story cabin!
We jeeped up steep, rough switchbacks, stopping for beers and bloody marys; we hiked up the Sangre de Christo mountains to 12 682 feet above sea level, still the highest I have ever climbed.
Saw mule deer, a badger, a weasel, squirrels, chipmunks, lizards, rabbits, groundhogs; also many hummingbirds, blue jay, stellar jay, cardinals, western tanagers. Dottie and I played tennis at a Taos ski resort. She was a really good tennis player, ranked as high as No.2 in Oklahoma; she toyed with me, but I recorded the score; I got one set off her! (yes, she probly let me!); 4-6 8-6 6-3 and 6-2 she whipped me.
We visited a hippie commune in Arroyo Hondo. We visited Taos pueblo where some famous characters would hang out and bail out of the rat race. Crazy actor Dennis Hopper – 1969’s Easy Rider – was one, around about that time.
Off to Colorado – Durango to Silverton on a steam train – spectacular
Ouray – ‘Switzerland of America’
On to Arches National Monument, Utah
Bryce Canyon, Utah (passing a turnoff to ‘Koosharem’!):
Zion National Park, where we hiked and swam:
Las Vegas. We all gambled till 5am, Dottie and I continued to 9am. I immediately lost $11, then recovered till I was $12 up, continued, refusing to go to bed till I’d ‘paid my dues.’ When I was down a dollar or two we quit. Meantime I also had $5 from Odie Mindemann which I increased to $11, tipped the dealer a dollar and when I got back to Apache I gave her $10. She immediately gave me $2.50 – ‘commission’!! The second and last night Dottie and I gambled till 7:30am.
On to Hoover Dam where we took the tour down into the depths of the wall. Then overnight at the Visitor Centre at South Rim, Grand Canyon, Rose early to see sunrise on the edge. Dottie and I decided to walk the eight miles to the Colorado river at the bottom along the Bright Angel Trail. After 4.5 miles we got to an oasis, ‘big trees, birds, squirrels and chipmunks; and a drinking fountain.’ 3.5 miles later we were looking down at the river flowing ‘clear and swift and strong over great rapids – I’d love to canoe it’ I wrote. Seven and a quarter hours later we were back – and I had forgotten to take a picture of the river!
Drove to Albuquerque to overnight with Jim’s sister Pat; and the next day back to Apache. The day after was the Rotary meeting and I ‘gave the program,’ whatever that means – spoke to the good people of my sponsoring club, I guess. (Which was better than I did fifteen years later on honeymoon! Trish and I were out birding and clean forgot about the weekly meeting! Really REALLY embarrassed about that unforgivable slip!).
Soon Dottie had to go home to Ardmore near the Texas border; Good ole Katie – she who had organised that we had this amazing three weeks together – drove us there.
A while later Jim took me to Dallas to watch the Dallas cowboys beat the St Louis Cardinals.
29 August 1973 – Letter home. Moaning about the heat in Apache – practicing football in two layers of clothing, knee, thigh, hip, bum and shoulder pads; helmet with chinstrap and teethguard. ‘I’m playing fullback on offense and safety on defense and still don’t know much about either!’ At school I’m taking typing (‘my wrists ache’ – !?) Annual Staff, producing the school yearbook, Ag Shop, learning to weld, Oklahoman history and P.E! Then I’ll be helping the science teacher with one of his younger classes. School is from 8:30am to 2:20pm and then football starts and continues to 6:15pm, so I don’t have time to get much done, I moaned! Lots of moaning!
Went to Ardmore to visit Dottie; met her folks and her twin sister Dale. Her Dad, Dr Denny Moffett, gave me a lovely book, which, the more I’ve read it, the more I think Dottie’s Dad was telling me ‘The history you were taught is not the true history of how things went down.’
I had broken my tennis racquet strings in Cobleskill, New York on our trip up north and Dottie had it restrung for me in Ardmore free-of-charge! In Ardmore she entered me in a tennis tournament. Lost in the 2nd round to the eventual winner. Dottie had sent a Las Vegas photo of me to Mom Mary (I said Good! It cost me $7) and Mom – thinking maybe a daughter-in-law was in the making? wrote back to Dottie. Katie picked me up and took me home to Apache after a visit to her folks down in Shreveport. The next time I saw Dottie was at UCT in Cape Town, two or three years later.
Back to Dallas with Bob and Carol Crews. Watched the Texas Rangers beat the New York Yankees at baseball; saw the grassy knoll where John Kennedy got shot; spent the rest of the day at Six Flags over Texas amusement park. ‘Breathtaking and hair-raising rides.’ Two hours in the queue for the biggest ride!
After that back in Apache, football season was starting, we had practice matches or ‘scrimmages’ against Cache, and Temple, then our first game against Snyder. Lost. Lost. Lost.
19 September 1973 – Short letter to family at home. Mom had written saying Jock was going to be given away. I pleaded for him to be kept.
23 October 1973 – Letter to family at home. Busy – four Rotary talks in four days: Lawton’s Lions Club; Apache Rotary Ladies night; Boone school; Anadarko Women’s Club with Eve Woodhouse from Durban and Helen Worswick from Marandellas, lovely and popular fellow exchange students. Someone would have driven me south to Lawton, west to Boone and north to Andarko – they were all so kind to me! In Lawton an elderly man came up to me, greeted me in Afrikaans and sang My Sarie Marais at the top of his voice! His mother had moved to Oklahoma in 1909 and taught him those few words and that one song all those years ago!
Played golf in Fort Cobb, Eve’s town, with Andy Claborn, then went to Cameron College with Andy, Robbie Swanda and Jay Wood. Then to Norman with Junior school principal Jim Stanton to watch Oklahoma University beat Colorado University 34-7 at college football. Katie fetched me in Norman and we drove down to Dallas again to meet her folks, Mama and Papa Hays. Went to the Texas State Fair; then Papa and lil Jimmy and I went to another Dallas Cowboys game, where the Cowboys beat the New York Giants 45-28.
Back in Apache I resumed my rivalry with Robbie Swanda in international darts and pool. We were pretty evenly matched. This is where I learned that ‘closies don’t count, ‘cept in handgrenades and horseshoes’ which I changed to handgrenades and jukskei. Then out to Jim Patterson’s farm where he was planting wheat, as the rain had finally stopped, enabling him to get into his fields. We’d decided I would bunk school and help him, but Danny Swanda put his foot down – exchange students shall not drive tractors! He was right. So I only did some harrowing – on the quiet, though. Two laps of Jim’s 180 acre field took me an hour on the tractor.
Challenged the football coach to table tennis – so we were still on good terms, despite my abandoning football! A great weekend lay ahead: The Swandas invited all the SA, Zim, Kiwi and Aussie exchange students for the weekend! Eight exchange students!
31 October 1973 – Letter to family at home. Jock must have got a reprieve, as I asked them to ‘remember his birthday, he’s getting middle-aged.’ I had made his birthday on Larry Wingert’s birthday 4 November. Went to Fort Cobb again to speak to Rotary. Stayed with Eve Woodhouse’s family and ‘helped them harvest peanuts’ – actually watched the Mexican hired hands doing the work. Was planning on joining Jim and Jimmy Patterson at the OU – Nebraska college football game in Norman soon. At school the Indian Club had a big dance, got me to join in and then presented me with a beautiful shirt, bead necklace and choker.
Went to Carnegie to speak to their Rotary club; hosted by Helen Worswick; beat her at tennis 6-4 6-4 6-4. Spoke to Stony Point Rod & Gun club.
The gang of exchange students had been. We had played table tennis, darts, horseshoes, pool and tennis (in which Jim Patterson’s uncle from California beat me 6-4 6-2). Watched football the Friday night. Apache beat Mountain View, where Jenny Carter from Bromley in Zimbabwe was the exchange student. To rub it in we put the Saturday news report on her breakfast table place on Sunday! Then we headed out to the beautiful Wichita mountains south of town. Tall, good-looking, pommy-accented Helen Worswick from Marandellas in Zimbabwe, Africa, saw a tiny little snake cross the path, shrieked, turned round and ran over everyone behind her like skittles, proving to the Americans in the party how rugged and bush-wise (they’d have thought jungle-wise) we Africans are.
Rotary clubs used to get Helen to talk to them ‘just to hear the King’s English!’ She’d probly been to some posh private school infested with Pom teachers straight outa Blighty, pale skin and necks burnt red by the hot African sun?
The next week I saddled up and went ‘real cowboyin’ with host Dad Jim and host Grandad Buck Patterson. We had hats, boots, horses, cattle and dust, as we rounded up the cattle, coralled them and then separated Jim’s from Buck’s, then separated the calves from their mothers. They’d been in the wheatfields so they had the runs and we got it – some even in my hair. Half an hour after getting home I was due to give a talk. Made it. Wished I’d taken my camera on the roundup!
A real character was Buck Patterson. You had to call him Buck. Thassall. Buck. His grandkids Mary-Kate 9 and Jimmy 7 called him Buck. Only Buck. Just like my granny made us all call her Annie. Only Annie. As his new grandkid, aged 17, I decided I’d call him Granpa Buck and everyone was amazed he let me. He’d even boast about it: ‘He’s my grandkid from Africa. He calls me Granpa Buck.’
Here’s a letter from the year before. I was still in matric and my good mate Steph de Witt was Harrismith’s Rotary exchange student in Ohio.
Sheila has just had a treasure chest smuggled to me by James, Mignon’s husband. A dozen books, old letters, a diary of her 1985 trip taking Mother Mary right around those small islands which made such a damn nuisance of themselves in the era they call the Breetish Empire Daze. Of course, they’d just say ‘The Empire.’
So where to start among these riches, which could take ages to sort through? Here:
I now know that in November 1957, at a concert to raise funds for the Harrismith hospital, venue ‘Kerksaal,’ Mom Mary played this piano solo – Rustle of Spring by Christian Sinding:
. and in March 1957 at an earlier concert – also funds for the hospital – Mona du Plessis played Chopin’s waltz in E minor:
At the March concert, Mary also sang with Mona and Esther Mouton in a ‘vocal trio,’ and in another trio with Trudy Else and Esther, they sang ‘Come To The Fair.’
Mary also played Cecile Chaminade’s ‘Pierette’
Also my letters from America, from Veld and Vlei. from the army in Potchefstroom and to Mom and Sheila in the UK. Lots of work!
Oh – and under all this good old stuff there was a bottle of champers and a bottle of red! Sheila and James run a proper smuggling ring!
Mom: When the Colemans arrived in Harrismith for Ken to start work in ‘the milk factory’ we met them right away as Dad was a great friend of Ken’s older brother Wally. Wally had been his tutor as an appy electrician in the Pietermaritzburg Post Office back in 1938. I recall visiting Uncle Wally as a kid once – I think in Howick?
Ken and Jean started building a new house on the corner of Hector street and Berg street, the road that led out of town to our plot less than a kilometre away. While the builders were at it, some leave time came up and Ken took the family away, prompting Dad to opine to Mom, ‘I would never go away while someone was building my house! I would watch their every move.’ Right.
Mom’s not sure, but thinks Donald was already born when they arrived in Harrismith. When Anne was born soon after me, Mary was chosen as her godmother as ‘Jean was a great friend even though she was Anglican.’ Mary Methodist speaking!
Then Eddie was born and we were like this:
In 2015 Sheila wrote: Mum says when we still lived on the ‘townlands’ on the way to the waterworks, Jean would often ‘phone and say ‘Have you got a little visitor?’– once again her son Donald had gone missing and she knew exactly where he was – he used to walk all the way to our farm to visit his great mate, Koos. The two were inseparable.
Today in 2020 Mom’s version was slightly different: ‘You used to walk to Donald without telling me. I would phone Jean and ask ‘Is there anything there of mine?’ Maybe the strolling went both ways?
What started this reminiscing was Eddie sending me pics of Jean’s 80th birthday celebration in June 2008, when Anne and Eddie took her on a very special outing:
They got together for Mary’s 80th in September 2008
For years after the Colemans left Harrismith we heard about their farm outside Winterton. About how Ken built the rondawels and bathroom very rustically. But I never saw Donald again and only lately found out that I had heard from him once!