Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal Family school

Sinner Mary

Jessie’s second pre-school was ‘Sinner Lizabeth.’ I think it’s Anglican, but I don’t know, cos I wasn’t interested. Only interested in the fact that Aitch had chosen it, so I knew they’d look after my Jessie. And they did: Rose and two Pennys treated her good the two years she was there.

But today I found out about Sinner Mary. This was news to me. I gasped.

Gasp!

Right through school Mary, now universally know as Mary Methodist after playing the organ in the Harrismith Methylated Spirits church for something like a hundred years, was churchless!

Her Mom Annie, my gran, was blissfully unimpressed and uninvolved and probably played golf on Sundays. I’m guessing she would use as an excuse, if pushed by the pious, that Harrismith didn’t have a Presbyterian church (it had folded). I’m not going to say that proves God is Methodist, but you can see right here how the thought did cross my mind.

So Mary tells me her teacher Mr Moll – who taught singing, woodwork and religion – never gave her very good marks probly cos he knew she didn’t go to church! She’s joking of course, and her bad marks were probably 80%, but anyway, Tommy Moll was very involved in the Methodists.

So when Mary got married they ‘made a plan’ and the wedding made the newspapers. ‘Four denominations at one wedding’ or something. Not ‘and a funeral.’ The bride ‘was Presbyterian’ they said (but we now know she was actually a ‘none’); the groom was Dutch Reformed (‘another faith’ they said, but he too was really a ‘none’); the Methodist minister was on leave, so the Apostolic Faith Mission man tied the knot.

Later, when she returned to Harrismith, having lived in Pietermaritzburg for a while, she decided to get church. She chose the Methodists as a lot of her friends were Methodists. She forgets she told Sheila the Methodist boys were nicer than the Anglican boys, so she tells me something about not liking the Anglicans’ ‘high church’ aspect. So this twenty five year old mother leaves her baby Barbara with Annie and Dad at Granny Bland’s home in Stuart street, where they have the room with the big brass double bed, and goes off to confirmation classes with a group of schoolkids. She aces the class, gets confirmed in the Lord, sanctified, and starts her epic Methodistian journey, which continues today, sixty seven years later, her only sin on the way being an occasional single ginger brandy with ginger ale while everyone else was drinking bucket loads. When she plays the piano of a Sunday in the frail care dining room in Maritzburg these days, those are Methodist hymns she’s thumping out joyfully, I’m sure.

I sort of feel like I have an excuse for being churchless now if I need one. ‘I’m just taking my twenty five years off now,’ I’ll tell Ma if she asks.

(BTW: In the pic, Mary is the bridesmaid, back left. The bride is her dear friend and cousin Sylvia Bain who married John Taylor)

~~~oo0oo~~~

– Jess in Livingstone uniform with her Mad Hatter Tea Party hat – 2008 –

After ‘Sinner Lizabeth’ pre-school, Jess went to a remedial primary school whose school song, which they sang with gusto, went:

Live in Sin, Live in Sin, Progress Voorspoed, Live in Sin

Eat cake, Eat soap, Eat porridge too.*

Believe in yourself Live in Sin

Can’t say we didn’t give our JessWess a good grounding.

~~~oo0oo~~~

*Have faith, have hope, have courage too. Tom loved telling us ‘the real words, Dad!’ which according to him were the ones above, not these.

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia

Barbara’s Letter

. . to old Jewish Harrismith friends

Big sister Barbara Swanepoel Tarr met Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft, the travelling rabbi, who I wrote about some time back. He very kindly gave her a book. 

Barbara tells of her voyage of discovery looking up old Jewish friends. This post is snippets from a letter she wrote:

Many of the names and surnames have been mentioned to me in conversations over the years with my parents and some I knew personally and grew up with. We’re still lucky enough to be able to contact our folks, Pieter Swanepoel (98) and Mary Bland Swanepoel (92), who now live in Pietermaritzburg and still have amazingly good memories. They fill in the gaps with names and places and help make our history come alive.

In Harrismith, the Royal Hotel was built by my great grandfather Stewart Bain and was sold to Mr. Sookie Hellman; the Central Hotel was built by his brother James Bain and was sold to Mr. Randolph Stiller.

– the extended Stiller family –

We lived in the Central Hotel for about three months in 1960. Mom and Dad had bought our first house in town – 95 Stuart Street, and were waiting for the tenant’s lease to expire. There we got to know the Stiller family (Isa was a young girl at school, I think) and Becky Kaplan, the receptionist. The Deborah Retief Gardens were our playing fields, under the watchful eye of Ted and Fanny Glick, sitting on their balcony in Van Sandwyk Flats No 1.

Fanny Glick and my grandmother Annie Bain Bland were the best of friends. Sunday afternoons these two characterful old dears would pick up the three Swanepoel kids in Annie’s big cream Chev and tootle down to the Park on the Wilge River. There we were each given a sixpence and left to our own devices at the round kiosk. ‘Glick’ and ‘Anna’ (that’s what they called one another) enjoyed tea and scones in the Chevy, and us three would swing, slide and no doubt fight on all the wonderful ‘things’ in the playground. 

– See Anna and Glick, great friends, on a drive – we’re in the back seat –

Around 2015 a bee flew into my bonnet, and I started looking for old Harrismith High School scholars. Finding Ivan and Brenda Katz in Joburg was a gem of a find; I also found another strong Harrismith sister, Adele Cohen.

In 1961 in Std 1, I received my first bicycle for Christmas – a blue Raleigh that kept me going to matric in 1970. I remember going into your Dad Eddie Cohen’s shop for a patch, a new tube, a bell or just to look around. All too soon, the three Swanepoel kids were finished with school and our bikes were no longer needed. Happily they became the property of new owners…the three Cohen kids. 

Joy Kadey, your parents’ shop, Jack Kadey’s Jewellers, still stands and is very much alive. Now called Louis’ Jewellers. While the name has changed, very little else has changed in the shop and in the whole building, thanks to Louis Nel and his daughter Erika Nel du Plessis (the owner). She has managed to make time stand still in a little place of long ago. Absolutely worth a visit to this ‘lil ‘ol shoppe’ of our childhood. Erika and husband Pierre du Plessis live in Louis Green’s old home in Warden Street, which they have also restored beautifully. One of Harrismith’s magnificent old homes.

Other Jewish people from old Harrismith are Essie Rosenberg Lunz, John French (great nephew of Fanny Glick, who sent a Facebook link on the Harrismith Jewish Cemetery), David Babbin, son of Isaac and Joey Babbin from the Tickey Bazaar, where you could buy ‘everything.’ How I loved that shop! Walking in through the door took one into an amazing fairyland. Baskets of all sorts on the floor, glass compartments of sweets at mouth-watering eye level, and counters of ‘what you will,’ and everything that could hang was hanging …just ‘as you like it’…..it was all there! 

– the occasion: Ivan Katz’s barmitzvah! –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia

Mary’s DreamLand

Hi Ma! How’re you doing?

Fine, thank you. I’m tucked up in bed already, waiting for the sister to bring my pain muti and eyedrops. They put a drop in my left eye and five minutes later another drop. Same eye. Only my left eye.

It’s 6pm. Early to bed, my Ma in frail care.

Do you sleep well?

Like a log. I’m warm and comfortable. And Kosie! I’ve been having the most wonderful dreams lately. Nice, happy dreams. I wake up smiling.

That’s so nice! Can you remember what they’re about, or are they too racy to repeat in polite company?

Laughs!!

No, they’re about the farm. The wonderful farm, the beautiful view, the walks with my Dad. It’s all underwater now, of course.

The farm Nuwejaarsvlei on the Nuwejaarspruit. Now submerged beneath the waters of Sterkfontein Dam. About ’15 miles’ from Harrismith towards Oliviershoek Pass and ‘on the Witsieshoek road.’

I was eight years old when we left the farm.

That was 1936.

~~~oo0oo~~~

muti – medicine;

Kosie – my nickname; Ma pronounces it the Afrikaans way, Kuwa-see; unlike Annie and her friends who all called me Koosie, rhyming with pussy or wussy; True fact; Accounts for a lot?

Nuwejaarsvlei – New Year Marsh or wetland

Nuwejaarspruit – New Year creek or stream

Sterkfontein – strong fountain

Oliviershoek – the place of the Oliviers, a surname

Witsieshoek – the place of the Basotho chief Witsie who lived there from 1839 to 1856.

The pic shows Mom floating on the water above her old farm in 1990. Its somewhere in the background in this pic:

Trish eskimo, Mom eskimo, Dad, Sheila semi-eskimo

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 3_USA 4_Optometry Johannesburg 5_Army days 6_Canoe & Kayak Rivers 7_Confessions 8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal Family school sport travel Wildlife, Game Reserves

A Slice of Vrystaat

I was born in Harrismith in 1955, as was Mom Mary in 1928, and her Mom Annie in 1893. Annie thought “the queen” of that little island above and left of France was also the queen of South Africa (and for much of her life she was right!).

– annie watson – mary frances – peter frank –

To balance that, there’s this side of the family.

I attended the plaaslike schools in Harrismith till 1972. A year in the USA in 1973 as a  Rotary exchange student in Apache Oklahoma. Studied optometry in Joburg 1974 – 1977. Worked in Hillbrow and Welkom in 1978. Army (Potch and Roberts Heights, now Thaba Tshwane – in between it was Voortrekkerhoogte) in 1979 and in Durban (Hotel Command and Addington Hospital) in 1980.

I stayed in Durban, paddled a few rivers, and then got married in 1988. About then this blog’s era ends and my Life With Aitch started. Post-marriage tales and child-rearing catastrophes are told in Bewilderbeast Droppings.

‘Strue!! – These random, un-chronological and personal memories are true of course. But if you know anything about human memory you’ll know that with one man’s memory comes: Pinch of Salt. Names have been left unchanged to embarrass the friends who led me (happily!) astray. Add your memories – and corrections – and corrections of corrections! – in the comments if you were there.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Note: I go back to my posts to add / amend as I remember things and as people mention things, so the posts evolve. I know (and respect) that some bloggers don’t change once they’ve posted, or add a clear note when they do. That’s good, but as this is a personal blog with the aim of one day editing them all into a hazy memoir, this way works for me. So go’n re-look at some posts you’ve enjoyed before and see how I’ve improved over time (!). It’s just as my friend Greg says: ‘The older we get, the better we were.’

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia Family

An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles

Asked what could be inferred about the Creator from a study of His works, British scientist and naturalist JBS Haldane replied:

“The Creator, if he existed, had an inordinate fondness for beetles”

Now it’s true he meant the one on the left, not the one on the right, but still . .

My gran Annie’s Caltex garage in Harrismith had a filling station, a restaurant on the forecourt, a workshop behind – and the VW agency. My gran Annie sold VW Beetles!

– Platberg bottle store, Annie’s garage, Flamingo Cafe & OHS 155 – the little light-blue beetle – ca.1959 model –
– interior of a ca.1959 VW Beetle –

toy models

One of the perks of Annie having a VW dealership was Volkswagen’s toy models of their cars & kombis. They were fascinating! They had moving doors, flaps, engine covers, side loading locker in kombi pickups; some had a clear sunroof that clipped off. Something like these:

At one time – I don’t think I’m imagining this – the VW Beetle cost less than R1 per cc: The 1200cc engine model cost R1199. Let’s check: A VW Bug in the USA was around $1563; A US dollar cost us 72 SA cents – Yep, about right.

A long concrete ramp lead up into the workshop behind the Flamingo Cafe. At Truscott was the mechanic – I remember him as small, bald and kind. I remember the big jacks that lifted the cars; the lights they shone into the engine bay – an incandescent bulb in a cage to protect it, with a 220V cable dangling behind it; There was a high ‘shelf’ overhead – above the wall of the ‘office’ inside the big shed-like workshop on which lots of tyres were stacked; The wooden workbenches were full of interesting vices and spare parts and grease.

One of Annie’s forecourt attendants was Joseph Culling. He was a son of Sgt Culling, who was demobbed in 1913, when the British finally left Harrismith after the Anglo-Boer War. He had been stationed on Kings Hill and unlike most of his fellows, he stayed behind and married a local Harrismith lady. In the apartheid classification of the day that immediately – and magically!? – made his children ‘coloureds.’ I remember him with the leather coin dispenser satchel on his hip, the strap holding it slung around his neck and shoulder, wearing a Caltex cap.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Back in the sixties, many of us, of course, also had an inordinate fondness for the beatles . .

Lovely Venn Diagram from Michelle Rial

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia Family

Frank’s Death at 9 Stuart Street

Mom! Dad’s in pain,’ said Mary, out of breath. She’d run up to the Caltex garage in Warden Street. Annie drove her back and took her husband Frank Bland to Frank Reitz, his friend, rugby team-mate and physician/surgeon. Gallstones, a gallbladder op needed, was the verdict.

Mom was fifteen, ‘about to write my JC‘ – Std eight, Grade ten – it was 1943. Frank did the op and sent Frank home to convalesce at 9 Stuart Street, his mother Granny Bland’s home, his pain considerably eased; but he was weak, recovering slowly.

One Saturday morning he walked out to the wisteria-covered outside toilet, about twenty metres off the back veranda. Granny Bland watched him walking back, hand on hip as she always stood and wearing an apron, as she always did.

– Annie, Granny Bland, Jessie –

She spoke to him and he didn’t answer her. That was unusual. When he got to her he collapsed and she caught him in her arms before he could bang his head. They had no phone; it was a Saturday, Annie was at work, eldest daughter Pat was away nursing in Boksburg-Benoni. This time Mary didn’t run to the garage, they must have sent someone else.

Poor Dr Reitz’ says Mom, ever empathetic. She knows he would have hated it that Frank didn’t recover fully. She speculates that a bloodclot to the brain did him in. The funeral was soon after. Annie told Pat not to come down and she and Mom stayed at home. After the funeral people came around to tea and to pay their respects. Annie didn’t do funerals.

~~~oo0oo~~~

The only picture of Frank Bland that I have doesn’t quite include all of him. It does have his daughters Pat and Mary, and older niece Janet Bell.

– I’ve just noticed Pat is on an aeroplane! –

Soon after, Mom’s dear friend Dottie Farquhar’s father died. Then Jessie’s husband __ Bell died. Jessie was Annie’s older sister and they lived in Dundee down in KwaZulu Natal where he was a dentist. Maybe the only dentist? Jessie then also came to stay with Granny Bland.

~~~oo0oo~~~

When Mary aged eighteen came home on her first leave from the Boksburg-Benoni hospital where she’d also started her nursing, a phone had been installed in the house! Where? I asked. She showed me:

9 Stuart Street – later 13 Stuart Street

~~~oo0oo~~~

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

Scottish Pith & Our Annie, Linguist

Steve Reed wrote:

Gotta love the Scots . .

… and their humour. Met up with Sam, an excellent Scotsman who came in for some glasses today. We were chatting about some of the female news anchors you see on TV. One of them, Virginia Trioli, we agreed is opinionated, superior, demanding and – from all accounts – a piece of work.

He sums her up:

“Ya woodn’t want ta be coming hoome to her wi’ only a half week’s pay packet.”

Later, I am handing him over to Ioannis who has the job of telling him how much his new multifocal glasses are going to cost (cringe) with some light banter … Sam replies:

“Well I am a Scotsman ye know. Every penny a prisoner.”

I packed up – had not heard that one before.

Probably comes up a lot in the local pub.

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

Me: So right! Gotta love the Scots!! 😉 – I must remember those pearls!

My gran Annie’s father came to Harrismith straight from the freezing far north of Scotland – a fishing village called Sarclet, south of Wick – but she sadly became heeltemal Engels – the queen, the empire, and all that.

The only Scottish she ever spoke to me was her oft-repeated tale of once on the golf course, waiting to tee off. The oke in front of them sliced off into the bush and said,

‘Och, its gone off in the boooshes,’ to which Annie quipped,

‘That’s betterrr than doon in the wutterrr,’ – upon which she says he spun around and said,

‘Begorrah’ (or whatever a Scotsman would say on an occasion like this), ‘Yer one of oos!’

‘Aye,’ said Annie semi-truthfully.

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

Which takes me to her THIRD language: Afrikaans.

Of her ninety years on Earth, Annie spent about eighty seven in Harrismith. She was born there, she went to school there (half her schooling) and she sold Caltex petrol to her Vrystaat customers there.

The only few years she was away from Harrismith she spent ‘down in George.’ She went to stay with her sister Jessie Bell when Jessie’s daughter died.

When she got there there was great excitement as they just knew she’d be very useful in dealing with the kleurlinjeez, who spoke their own Afrikaans and hardly any Engels.

‘Annie speaks Afrikaans, she’ll be able to speak to them and understand them,’ was the buzz.

So the first day the gardener needs instructions and Annie confidently demonstrates her skill to the assembled rooineks:

‘Tata lo potgieter and water lo flowers’ she told the poor man who must have scratched his head at the Zulu-Engels mix in which the only word approximating Off-The-Krans was ‘potgieter’ instead of ‘gieter’ for watering can.

~~~~o00o~~~~

One more Harrismith Scots joke I’ve told you before, but I’ll add it to this collection:
Jock Grant arrives from Scotland full of bravado, bulldust, enterprise and vigour.

He’s a plumber – a plooomerr – but soon he’s bought the stone quarry, bought the Montrose Motel in Swinburne, bought the Shell garage, bought a big white Mk 10 Jag and smokes fat cigars.

In the pub at the golf club he removes the cigar from his lips, waves it around and tells the guys he’s started Afrikaans lessons – he’s going to learn to speak Afrikaans.

Jannie du Plessis looked concerned. ‘Jock,’ he says, ‘We think you should rather learn to speak English first.’

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

heeltemal – completely

kleurlinjeez – a vague racial classification in apartheid times – and still in use today! Not black, not white, therefore ‘coloured’; actual word: kleurlinge

rooineks – people congenitally unable to speak Afrikaans, try as they might; actually, try as they don’t

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia Family Wildlife, Game Reserves

Caltex Calenders

Annie had a Caltex garage; Dad worked for Annie; Louis Schoeman traveled for Caltex. Between 1962 and 1971 Caltex gave cloth wildlife calenders as their gift to their filling station owners.

Dad (now 96) says Louis would ‘forget’ to hand them out and he would insist on seeing what was in his boot. And there, ‘along with the sheep shit’ were the calenders! An inveterate collector, Dad would get ‘his’ share! Right! That’s why he has quite a few duplicates!

– I could find nothing on the internet about BK Dugdale – Mom’s hand here in pic –

Some have been sewn together to make table cloths. He still has plans for them, can’t get rid of them. He knows someone who will make them into cushion covers. Then he’ll get some cushions . .

~~~oo0oo~~~

He’s had it done: The calendars are now table cloths and cushion covers and he’s very proud of them. Can’t understand why his eldest daughter didn’t rave about them! She doesn’t like them, I dunno why; I like them. Nice and colourful.

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia

Sgt Culling on Kings Hill

One of Annie’s workers at the Central Service Station on the corner of Warden street and Southey street – the ‘Caltex garage’ as we knew it – was called Johannes. Because he looked so different from the other petrol attendants, we learnt his surname. He was Johannes Culling.

Today I found out a bit more:

The Boer War started in 1899 and ended in 1902, but a lot of British soldiers stayed on in Harrismith until 1913. One of these was Sergeant Culling, stationed on Kings Hill. He, in fact stayed on even longer, as he married a local lady and went to live with her in the ‘location’ called ‘Skoonplaas’ outside town, probably when it was south of Queens Hill on the far (left) bank of the Wilge river.

Dad knows of three children: Johannes, Henry and a daughter. They could not have had an easy life in the Free State of yore and Dad tells of problems: ‘run-ins with the police due to drinking and fighting.’

That’s all I know . . .

Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia Family

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!