Those Special Years

Even if we live to be a hundred, the first twenty five years are the longest half of our lives. They appear so while they are passing; they seem to have been so as we look back on them; and they take up more room in our memories than all the years that succeed them.

  • paraphrased from a quote by Robert Southey, English Romantic Poet

Ten years absorbing; followed by fifteen years of knowing everything; followed by the rest of your life wondering what happened.

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How could our fifteen best years not have been great – and unforgettable – with music like this?

Oklahoma’s Wichita Mountains

All above are internet pictures. These next I took on a visit in 1973 with fellow exchange students and my Apache host brothers. From left: Dayne Swanda, Kent Swanda, Helen Worswick from Marandellas, Zimbabwe, Jenny Carter from Bromley, Zimbabwe, Jonathan Kneebone from Australia, Evelyn Woodhouse from Durban, South Africa and Robbie Swanda.

Bison, elk and deer are protected on the 23,880 ha wildlife refuge. The refuge also manages a herd of longhorn cattle. The peaks are capped by 540 million-year old granite. Here you can see where the mountains are in SW Oklahoma. Apache is just a few miles north.

Wichita Mountains-001.jpg

Cosmos Niks

Mom Mary in the cosmos outside Witsieshoek back ca. 1970:

Mary Cosmos Witsieshoek2.jpg

Sheila decades later at the tip of Platberg – or Bobbejaankop:

Sheila cosmos Platberg.JPG

Sheila sent a 2018 pic of Brenda Sharratt in the cosmos behind Platberg:

Brenda_Sharratt_cosmos_Platberg[1].jpg

Apparently cosmos got here in horsefeed imported from Argentina during the Boer War for the Poms’ horses. Hopefully only the seed, as the greenery must have tasted foul! It has a pungent smell.

Photos – Lack Thereof

Sheila sent this pic of the Old de Witt Hardware store to Steph:

2014/11/03, Steph de Witt wrote:

In those days Plascon had a traveling sign writer who was available for free, you only had to house and feed him, thus all the signwriting on the shop. He also did the vehicles. In later years we made use of Arthur Kennedy, if he was not doing handstands on a pole. Today it’s a Sign Shop. Lucky we have these wonderful photos. Thanks, Steph

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Sheila:

Hello Steph. Thanks for the mail. Loved your comment on Arthur – he certainly was a character. Wonder where his two sons, Marlon and André, are these days? And his daughter – remember he named her Jackie Kennedy? No pretensions there. Mum remembers that he grew up in an orphanage, so he certainly did well for himself. Greg wants to contact you – he’s on gregory.seibert@gmail.com . What wonderful pics he is sharing with us! Do you have any school pics you can share with us? Are you still living in Clarens? Love Sheila

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Steph to Greg Seibert:

Greg, we are all old people now, please get in touch that we can reminis on days gone by.

Sheila, I never were big on photographs, which I deeply regret today, but if you come up with more jewels that you have, it would be great. Who took the one of Alet’s shop? The car in front was a Fiat of some sort. I have just had Alet’s Karman Ghia ( OHS 99 ) and Beatle ( OHS 9 ) restored and am planning to build an old Garage-type building for them and my Dad’s Dodge 88 ( OHS 778 ).

I am getting real sentimental here in my old age !

Mooibly

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Me:

That’s wonderful. If it weren’t for sentimental people there’d be fokol left! Those cars are icons* and it would be great to see them again.

I was also Mr No-Camera Man. I would say “I’m video-ing it in my head”. Well, what happens when those pixels run into a Black Label?

Luckily I later got married and Trish took 40 million photos – which I’m still trying to sort through!

Mind you, maybe some of the escapades were best not captured on film. Back in the days when a six-pack was six longtom cans and went a long way!

I think you’re a photographer or not. I now have all the cameras but very often forget to shoot. Or remember at the end and get 1 or 2 boring pics, none of the action.

*or aikonas as Pieter-Dirk Uys says.

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Note yet another Harrismith first: Pierre wore only one glove long before Michael Jackson copied him.

4 Hillside Road, Parktown Joburg

I was looking thru Dan Palatnik’s Digital Garage (well worth a visit) and an old Willys Jeep reminded me of Leibs and Achim lying under their old Jeeps in the backyard of our communal home at 4 Hillside Road, Parktown. Mainly they were banging out rust and stuffing V8’s under the bonnets.

Willys Jeep 1947.jpg
Theirs never looked this good

Achim went on to do a lot of off-road rallying in Brits, where he ran his optometric practice with his bream, wife and former lecturer Eva the  dispensing optician. On the side he ran a garage to tjoon up his racing 4X4’s and fit divorce pipes, one of which eventually got him. Maybe she kicked him out for getting grease on the contact lenses?

Inmates of 4 Hillside I remember are:
– Pierre ‘Leibs’ Leibbrandt and the lovely Claire. As students we fitted Leibs with silicon permawear contact lenses! He drove an Alfa Romeo;
– Granger Grey. Grey VW Beetle;
– Donald ‘Coolsie’ Collins. (“You take off your clothes, I’m just having a shit . . ” to part-time girlfriend ‘Vaalwater’);
– Mike Doyle, girlfriend Michaela or ‘Shale’. Old blue LandRover;
– Clive ‘Nel’ Nel. A book could and should be written. “Dee dee dee BARKER!! baap”. Endured by the wonderful and long-suffering Sandy Norts. White Mazda RX2;
– Glen ‘Barks’ Barker. Another book. Green Toyota Corona;
– Gerald ‘Gelard’ the Malawian butler with ambitions of becoming a tycoon. Hurt that we thought mowing the lawn was in his portfolio. He called Coolsie Boss Donut.

Friends-of-4-Hillside included: – Jos, another teacher who lived nearby. Not tall, with high-plus specs, an Alfa and a lovely girlfriend; – ‘Norbs’ Norbury. Yet another educator. Big black beard. Norbs imitated Charles Fortune to perfection at the Wanderers cricket ground, entertaining the inebriated crowds on the grassy banks as he waxed lyrical about the clouds and the birds while blissfully ignoring the fall of a wicket. Would sing loud John Denver: “You Philip My Dentures . . . “;

Other memories: Sitting in the crowded little TV lounge watching the news and Dorianne Berry came on to read the news wearing a strapless top, the camera only showing above it. “Ooh, maybe we’ll get to see Dorianne’s berries”, was the call. Disappointed.

Dorianne Berry

Lying under the grey-and-grey Opel fixing the drum brakes before going to Port Shepstone. Now, who the hell would drive 700km in a car whose brakes I had fiddled with!? Turns out a few students, including the delightful Cheryl Forsdick;
Brauer irresponsibly dancing on the roof of that same Opel at the late-night farewell end-of-term party held at 4 Hillside.

The delightful SSS Featherbed Fotherby was a welcome visitor to 4 Hillside in one of the few lucky – and brief – periods I ‘had a girlfriend’!

Steve Reed wrote: Granger – never forgotten. Mostly for his height-enhancing shoe-stuffing for weight watchers meetings;

Pete Brauer wrote: More vivid nostalgic memories of Granger Grey shoving quarts of Black Label down his throat;

I remember Granger Grey (6ft 4 by 4ft 6 wide) getting home late one night, well-oiled with a placid beam on his face. He joined us students braaiing on the lawn next to the pool and started eyeing the sizzling meat. Borrowing one ale after the other he got progressively more glass-eyed and we watched in awe as he swayed, Obelix-like, WAY past a normal centre of gravity then slowed to a halt, jutting chin way forward, eyes on the tjops n boerie and then SLO-OWLY swayed back to upright, then way back, with his beer resting on his boep till he was leaning 450 backwards  and HAD to see his arse but halted, hovered and started the slow sway forward again. Musta been the size eleventeen shoes that held him!

We had to hurriedly clear the braai and endure his hurt look. Imperative to be tough and take evasive action when Granger got near food though: Gerard the Malawian butler on steak days would cook the veggies and spuds and put the seven big steaks on the wall above the fridge in the 4 Hillside kitchen. Strict house rule: Whoever cracked first had to divide the veg into seven equal portions and could only then cook his own steak and eat.
Granger got home early one day and did just that. Then he had just ONE more steak ‘cos, hey! maybe someone wouldn’t be coming home and that would be a waste. Then he had another . . . .

As he finished the seventh and last steak he was overcome by remorse and panic. He hopped in to his long-suffering grey Beetle and hared off to Fontana in Hillbrow and bought two roast chickens off their rotisserie to replace the looted steaks. Alas, on the way home one of the chickens clucked seductively and persuasively and he ate most of that before finally plonking one lonely fowl on the wall for us to share.

Granger Fontana chicken

Granger. Heart of gold. He had bigger brothers, one called Tiny. He read Ayn Rand and thought she was on to something.

Steve Reed again: The legend that I subscribe to is that the famous Vespa scooter that ended up on the bottom of the 4 Hillside Road pool originally belonged to a bird called Terry  who later married Keith Taylor. Keith’s brother Ian Taylor [who became a Doctor] had apparently commandeered Terry’s scooter and somehow it had ended up at 4 Hillside where it met its famous fate. Of course, the story may be the result of the effects on Terry of the third bottle of  pinot noir  on a cold Auckland night.

Vespa scooter reminds me of Keith Ballin zipping along, specs and moustache peering out from under his helmet, scarf trailing behind him in the breeze!

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I don’t like nostalgia unless it’s mine.
(Lou Reed)

Nostalgia: A device that removes the potholes from memory lane.
(Doug Larson)

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Vaalwater – name of young lass from the distant metropolis of Vaalwater

tjoon – tune-up in this case; sometimes ‘explain’

braai – barbecue

tjops n boerie – red meat sacrificed over an open flame

boep – stomach

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‘Twas at 4 Hillside that a knock came at the front door. We knew it was a stranger as no-one knocked at the front door. Actually, no one knocked, you just walked into the kitchen door.

It was a pink-faced balding chap and he asked for Peter Swanepoel.

We found out later from Madeleine what had transpired: A pink-faced chap walked into the School of Optometry and enquired at reception: Who’s your BEST optometrist? When Madeleine asked Um, Why? he said I want to employ your best final year optom student. Stifling a grin Madeleine said Actually most of them already have jobs, they’re nearly finished their exams. Oh, said the pink-faced chap, So who hasn’t got a job yet?

The rumour that he then went on to ask OK, then who’s your WORST student? is just that: A vicious rumour.

Harrismith Methodist Memories

Fifty-Year-Old Memories: METHODIST CHURCH, SUNDAY SCHOOL AND GUILD IN THE SIXTIES. This was triggered by big sister Barbara’s scribblings written in 2015 and added to by various other perpetrators:

“Dropping Dropping Dropping – Hear The Pennies Fall – Every One For Jesus, He Shall Have Them All – But only after we have – Rebuilt the Chu-urch Hall.”

Every Sunday morning Mom would give us sixpence each to place in the plates that were handed around by the – who? deacons? elders? we didn’t call them anything high church like that, it was just Uncle Cappy and Uncle Ralph. They would hand around two flat, lathe-turned wooden plates lined with red velvet, one for boys, one for girls; open so everyone could see how much you gave! These were then taken to the front of the hall where George Davies would be sitting. He would stand up, and – in Barbara’s childlike eyes – pocket the money in his voluminous trousers so that he could buy us nice things for our Christmas Party!

Every Sunday morning we’d go to Church with Mom in her powder blue Volksie OHS 155.

OHS 155

She was the organist and we had to get there early so that Mom could get settled – and sister Sheila says ‘warm up her hands in Harrismith’s winter cold’ . She would play all the beautiful pieces that she had been practicing all week at home. The congregation would walk into Church and sit quietly and listen to her playing. At least, most people would sit quietly.

At first she played the big old fashioned organ with the ivory stops and wooden ‘pump-pedals’ that she “inherited” from Uncle Wright Liddell. Now when I look at that beautiful wood I think ‘deforestation’, and those ivory stops and keys make me think Dead Elephants! Later on the much smaller modern organ that replaced it. Much less impressive, but maybe more in choon? On the old organ they’d sit with their back to the people; the new one they faced us and it was low. Mom would place a big bunch of flowers on it so she could hide a bit! Especially at funerals. The old one looked something like this one. I put the second picture in to show the wooden pedals you had to pump left-right-left-right.

At 10am Church would begin with the minister appearing from the mysterious room at the back, mounting his pulpit and saying the same thing each time. I forget what it was but you can bet it was important. Sunday School kids had to start off in the big church first (‘big church’ in no way to be confused with Die Groot Kerk which was up the road, also in Warden Street, but apparently closer to heaven). Barbara thinks this was to teach us kids to sit still, listen to the grown-ups, keep deadly quiet and definitely not to talk and giggle in Church. Well, that didn’t work. What was so funny? Was it Mrs. Brunsdon’s singing? Was it Mrs. Fritzgerald’s hat or her fur cape? Or was it little two year old Glynnis Yates standing up on the pew and saying loudly to her father in the pulpit: “Daddy, you Scallywag”! Whatever it was, it was very funny. One definite cause of hilarity once was while Mary was teaching us ‘Hark! Hark! Hark!, While infant voices sing’ and Fluffy Crawley sang the harks in an Afrikaans pronunciation while making little raking motions with his hands, causing collapsification.

Barbara remembers: In our earlier years – 1959/1960 – us three little Swanepoels would walk down Warden Street with Audrey and Monica Hastings, who lived in Warden Street back to back with our great-grandmother’s house at 13 Stuart Street. There at ‘Granny Bland’s house we would have high tea, scones or crumpets on the front veranda steps with our Grandmother Annie Bland, her sister Jessie Bell and Annie’s mother-in-law, Mary Bland, known as Granny Bland – a highlight of the week.

Granny Bland 9 Stuart St HS.JPG

Them not being church-going folk, Mom did enough church for all of them put together! Plus she did lots of Women’s Auxiliary. Which I think was probably started to “keep ’em out of the pulpit”? We would wait with these sinners for Mom to finish her church service and then join us.

Story from Mom: Mary Wessels said no matter where she sat in Church, Mrs. Brunsdon always came and sat in front of her. Mary would then battle to keep a straight face when confronted by Mrs. B singing loudly off key, turning around and sniffing and then noisily wiping her nose with a snotty hanky into the bargain. So distracting! This, methinks, was one of the things that set the girls’ giggling!

Actually I think every Methodist thought Mrs Brunsdon always sat right in front of them – it certainly felt that way! She used to turn round and peer intently at whatever or whoever  interested her, over or through her glasses. She would start singing the next line when she was ready, regardless of where the music and/or the congregation members were at – those two weren’t always perfectly in sync neither! Loudly. She would never skip or play catch-up. She’d go through the hymn at her pace – irregardless! Sometimes Mom the organist or sometimes the whole congregation would  wait or speed up to match her and thus keep some sort of order.

Lynn du Plessis reminisces: So many memories of our Sunday School days in that church.  I was always part of the choir and am comforted by the fact that although I have never had the greatest singing voice, I was better than the person who was always one verse ahead and totally out of key.  Mrs Brunsdon was a constant source of amusement to Shirley, Anne and I. The pews would shake as the three of us tried to contain the giggles. Then who was it that constantly dug in her nose with the hugest antique key and wore the most outrageous hats: Birds, Butterflies, Bees, Feathers and Flowers perched precariously on her dusty hat and jiggled and jangled as she sang ‘uit volle bors’!  (Ms Fitzgerald).

These three good-looking older girls were the main reason we younger boys hung in at Sunday School: Whenever they told us Shirley, Goodness and Mercy Would Follow Us All the Days of Our Lives we thought of Shirley, Ann and Lynn!

Mrs Brunsdon was without doubt a cause of some of the suppressed youthful mirth in church. As was poor old Bob Yates’ small, bald, bespectacled bird-like appearance. He had a tough act to follow, coming after the younger cricket-playing Jack MacGuire.

Us kids would then be dismissed to our relief after five hours. Or ten minutes, depending on who you asked. Off we would troop – out of the old sandstone church and into the brick ‘Wesley Hall’ next door for Sunday School. Read about the hall foundation stone here.

Methodist Church crop

Announcements would be made, the Dropping Pennies Song would be sung, the loot would be gathered, and off we would go to our individual classes.

The Sunday School teachers in the early 60’s were Miss Ivy Petty for the senior girls, Poerie Coetzee for the senior boys, George Davies for junior boys, Stella Euthimiou taught the babies, Emma Morton and Pye Euthimiou. After classes it would be back to the hall where we always seem to finish off the morning with – “Jesus wants me for a sunbeam to shine for Him each day . . . a sunbeam, a su-unbeam, I’ll be a sunbeam for Him”. Shirley Mason would accompany us on the piano. Sheila says another song that never missed a Sunday was: “Jesus bids us shine with a pure pure light . . . you in your small corner and I in mine”.

Announcements would be made and this is where the Dropping Pennies Song would be sung, the loot would be gathered, and off we would go to our individual classes.

sunday-school-crop
Second from left at the back: The ‘harking’ raking chap

Sunday School Picnics in the park on the banks of the river were amazing. The games, the delicious food and the wonderful company. Gallons of ginger-beer in colourful buckets with raisins floating on top and hot-cross buns, with butter melting in them. Uncle Cappy would walk around offering tea and a hot cross bun by shouting in the Cockney accent he’d learned in World War II, “Coop a char na boon!?” He would also organise games for us – rounders, open-gates and cricket. And of course, he’d join in and play!

Sheila has just spoken to Mom who says she still has the red plastic bucket she used for the ginger-beer which she made fifty years ago!

Another story from Sheila: One picnic all the kids were told not to go anywhere near the weir – but needless to say we went. Afterwards Mom said to all the kids: “But didn’t Mrs. Morton tell you not to go to the weir?” Irrepressible Pierre piped up cheerfully: “Yes, but we didn’t hear her nie!”

Emma Morton of the double negatives became our ‘superintendent’ after George Davies retired – him with the yards and yards of grey flannel material which made up his flowing pants – We called them his ballroom trousers! When he sang “you in your small corNAAAH!” he would rise up on his toes and shove his boep forward a yard but his trousers didn’t need to move an inch. His two-toned grey Wolseley had beautiful fold-down walnut tables for the back passengers.

On the subject of George Davies’ Wolseley, Etienne wrote: Tuffy & I would walk to the church on Sunday evenings after my folks had left, with the green Zephyr’s spare keys so as to borrow the Zephyr for a spin through the park. I would gun it and let its backside slip on the turn before the swing. One night I let it slide too much and caught the tail against a mud bank. We drove back to Church & parked it in the empty bay next to old Davies’ Wolseley. When my Dad saw the bang on the tail the next day in the light, he thought George Davie had bumped him and said nothing. The following Sunday old Cappy inspected the Wolseley for evidence of green paint, but there was none. Before he passed away I told him the story & he said he could not believe me.

On Friday afternoons, the younger kids had Junior Guild. What fun! Here the minister Jack McGuire and his wife Eileen were in charge – they would read us stories, we would have quizzes and then there would be games outside. Barbara used to play the piano for the singing of ‘guild songs’ which were different to Sunday School songs. “Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning, burning, burning, give me oil in my lamp I pray / I will make you fishers of men if you’ll only follow me / The old old story it is ever new, the old old story Praise the Lord, its true, that Jesus died for me as well as you, I love the old old story”.

In front of the old church
In front of the old church 1962

In standard six – high school! you could join Senior Guild. For kids who mostly stayed at home evenings or went out only with our parents this was a big adventure. 7pm on Friday nights you could go to guild unaccompanied! And come home late. We’d drink coffee at guild and sometimes we’d venture out on treasure hunts – going all over town finding and collecting the ‘treasures’ in the clues we were given. In about 1968 Adie Crewe took over the night Guild and brought a whole lot of new ideas and fun into our lives.

After Guild some were fetched and some walked home – more adventure. Barbara says walking home by the light of the moon or the streetlamps gave the words “Kêrels by Kandlelight” a whole new meaning!

We would help out at cake sales held on Saturday mornings, in front of Chodos’ store or the Post Office – selling, carrying and sometimes eating all the goodies that filled these tables. Worst of all was standing on a street corner with an adult from the Church, holding the money tin and rattling it under everybody’s noses.

Harvest Festival was another different day. We were asked to bring along some sort of fruit or veg. We could have taken wine, but Methodists frown on alcohol. I wonder how the Methodist Church in the winelands handles that little ‘farm produce’ dilemma!? The farmers would bring loads of crops – big pumpkins and mealie stalks all over the place. The front of the Church looked like a jungle. Imagine the nunus that escaped from the vegetation!

On Garment Sunday we were asked to take jerseys for the poor.

The Nativity Play brought big excitement – in rehearsals and on the big night. Anna Gavin, Miss Petty, Mom, the minister and his wife would choreograph and direct and coach. Tension as you found out if you were cast as an angel, a wise man, a shepherd or – first prize! Mary or Joseph. I remember being a sheep and an angel – not prize positions by any means! I remember the bigger boys’ solemn slow walk as us the supporting cast all sang ‘We three Kings of Orient are, bearing gifts we traverse afar, . . . . following yonder star’. Only later we learnt: We Three Beatles of Liverpool are, George in a taxi John in a car, Paul on his scooter blowing his hoo-ooter, following Ringo Starr”. And the older kids also taught us; ‘While shepherds washed their socks at night all seated round the tub; A bar of sunlight soap came down and they began to scrub’.

At the end of the year Prize-Giving evening lovely books were handed out for lst, 2nd and 3rd prizes. What were they for? Biblical knowledge? Not being irritating?

Carols by Candlelight was another big event – sitting on the back of a big truck or trailer along with Uncle Wright Liddell’s beloved organ and driving around town singing to – who? the Dutch Reformed and the Anglicans? Lost souls! We’d show them! The grown-ups and the bigger kids had torches or candles. The singing would start immediately with great gusto and this carried on during the course of the evening with diminutive Uncle Wright playing to his heart’s delight while pumping at the pedals to make the noise. We would be asked to pump when he tired and had to be tamed – ‘not so fast’ – till we got the hang of it.

Then our Christmas Party in the hall – what a highlight! Decorations; tables groaning under the burden of delicious food; a beautiful array of cakes and puddings and ice cream cones; and always a beautifully decorated Christmas tree – a real pine tree from the bosbou; loads of presents lying at the bottom. These wonderful unforgettable occasions were thanks to our kind and generous parents – Aunty Joyce Joubert, Aunty Joan du Plessis, Mrs. Emma Morton, Ivy and Phillys Petty, Miss Helen Scott (Scotty) who always made her delicious fairy cup-cakes, Myra Wood, Anna Gavin, Doreen Hattingh, Polly Crawley, Jo Hastings, Edna Bissett, Lally Davies, Mary Swanepoel and who else? – many others.

A Christmas present for each child was brought to us by a “real” Father Christmas – usually Uncle Cappy, who – as always – did his thing here like a real trooper. He would arrive at the hall on a tractor or truck after a big build-up by the other adults. Old FC certainly got more hype, pomp and ceremony than poor Jesus ever got! We would be told to go and look out for him – usually misled in the wrong direction to give him a gap to arrive “Ta DA!” – in he would walk in ‘is gumboots, with all our eyes on the big sack thrown over his shoulder. Then we would sit quietly as George Davies or Emma Morton called each one of us to the front to receive our gift, lucky kids.

Christmas Day church! For once church did not seem early. We had been up for ages already, finding out what was under the tree. Church would be dominated by the excitement of our presents with our friends who had also not gone on holiday. What did Father Christmas bring you when he came down your chimney? Ministers would try and keep the focus on Jesus but that was not easy to do. I achieved some brief pulpit-y fame one year when the minister said to the spellbound congregation “I know of one little chap who had already pitched his new tent on the lawn by six o’ clock this morning!”

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