Categories
1_Harrismith 2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia 9_KwaZuluNatal travel

Long Lost Letter

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.

~~~oo0oo~~~

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.

20141130_081257.jpg

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.

~~~oo0oo~~~

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:

~~~oo0oo~~~

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).

– letter from Donald in November –

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.

~~~oo0oo~~~

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

Mary and Jean

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?

1938 post office appies PMB
– Wally Coleman in the white coat – Dad standing second left – 1938 PMB –

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

– Mary turns 80 in PMB – 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!

– view from Craggs outside Winterton – looking at Cathkin and Champagne –
– Jean and Ken –

~~~oo0oo~~~

Categories
2_Free State / Vrystaat 8_Nostalgia

Thanks, Sister Dugmore

On 19 December 2015, Sheila wrote:

This was taken at the sad occasion of Jean Coleman’s funeral yesterday. Jean was Mum’s great friend in Harrismith in the 50’s & 60’s. They lived in Hector Street, opposite the du Plessis’ first home.

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.

Mary Methodist is Anne’s godmother. The Colemans left Harrismith in about 1964.

While we were standing around chatting yesterday, Anne suddenly realised that she, her brother Eddie, and George Elphick (whose daughter is engaged to Anne’s son – small world) had all been delivered by Sister Dugmore at the maternity home on Kings Hill.

“So were we!” chorused Koos & Sheila!

So we had to have this pic taken!

– born in the same spot – Eddie Coleman, George Elphick, Anne Immelman (nee Coleman), Sheila & Koos Swanepoel –

Duggie Dugmore’s maternity home – and below what was left of it the last time I visited. )

Kings Hill2.jpg
– Anglo-Boer War doctors house – then Duggie Dugmore’s maternity home – Kings Hill –

More from Sheila: George Elphick is an architect in Durban. His parents John & Una, also left Harrismith in about 1964. They lived in Lotsoff Flats where Una had a grand piano in their tiny sitting room!  She was a very talented pianist and used to accompany Mary Methodist, Trudy Else and other singers. We used to have ‘musical evenings’ in our home in Stuart Street – wonder what the neighbours thought?  John Elphick, bless his soul, had an enormous reel-to-reel tape on which he would record the proceedings.  I have had these tapes put on CD – no Grammy winners here – but just to have this music preserved is so special.  I have Mrs Euthemiou singing ‘La Paloma,’ William vd Bosch singing and playing his guitar, Harold Taylor singing ‘Til the sands of the desert grow cold.’  Harold lost his leg at Delville Wood and on tape he tells us that he learnt the song on board ship en route to Alexandria in Egypt, in World War 1. So now you know.

~~~oo0oo~~~

*** Donald once did a big ‘going missing’ on the beach somewhere on the KwaZulu Natal Coast. That time the police were called to help find him. But – as always – he was just exploring. He’d have made it home sooner or later, I’m sure.

He and I once walked home from the Kleinspan school – a distance of less than a kilometer – and got home somewhat later than our folks thought we should have.

~~~oo0oo~~~

Duggie in a nutshell:

~~~oo0oo~~~

We’ve just heard Una Elphick died this year. – R.I.P –

Categories
8_Nostalgia

Donald’s Fearfully Great Lizard

My mate Donald Coleman found, excavated and re-assembled a complete fossil back in about 1962. He was about ten years old at the time. I can see it now, at the back doorstep of their house at the foot of Platberg: About 500mm long I’d guess, every little bone in place. A stout, lizard-gecko-looking creature, it now seems to me. He found it thanks to the excavations for the new N3 bypass around the town which went right near the mountain end of Hector Street, which was where the Colemans lived.
Wonder what happened to it?

To me, searching in hindsight, it looked like a Lystrosaurus. It could be Thrinaxodon, common in the Karoo 235 million years ago – and has been found in Harrismith. Or maybe Cisticephalus.

It looked something like the top picture, but completely whole, not embedded in rock. Paleontologists surmise one of the smaller species looked like this:

– lystrosaurus –
– the location looks right – see the tip of Africa in Gondwanaland –
– the size looks right –

Dinosaur: “fearfully-great lizard” – as used by Homer in THE ILIAD, written around 760–710 BC. I looked it up: While everything said about Homer is subject to debate, the popular opinion is that he was a blind bard who composed and recited The Iliad and The Odyssey a few hundred years after the events described.

– lystrosaurus – another artist’s rendition –

Tragically, Donald died around 1972 in a car accident, or he would have told us exactly what his fossil was and where it is. I want to find it and have it assessed. If it’s a new species I’ll ask them to call it Harrysaurus donaldii !

  1. Our Swanepoel house
  2. Pierre du Plessis’ house
  3. Donald Coleman’s house
  4. Area fossil was found
  1. Hector Street Playground.jpg

I got some feedback – via Sheila to Eddie to Anne:

Donald’s lil boet Eddie: Hi Koos – I got this e-mail from Anne today and it’s in reply to a request from Sheila about Harrismith days – I think the fossil mystery may have been solved! I did like my theory about the farm burial though! Eddie had said earlier: I have an idea Donald buried it on a farm we lived on near Winterton – just to confuse future geologists!

Donald’s sister Anne: Hi Sheila – my memories are very hazy. We left Harrismith when I was nine years old. The vivid things I remember don’t really involve school. I remember going up Platberg frequently for picnics at the Gibson Dam; the new highway under construction close to Hector Street – so it became our playground and Donald found a fossilized small animal all intact – that is now at a museum somewhere – I thought Bergville. I also remember early morning Sunday swims at the public pool – Ken (my dad) had some arrangement with the caretaker and we used to pick up children in the neighborhood – definitely you guys.

I remember Miss Nicoll – Donald and I used to go to her everyday as a kind of pre-school – she was a formidable old lady with wild grey hair – she seemed to be about 6 feet tall – but that was probably because we were so small. She taught us to knit – even the boys – and to weave cushions and do cross stitch. And every year we had our items exhibited at the Harrismith Show – with great excitement. As far as school goes – I do remember that Donald was left handed but was forced to write with his right hand – his left hand was actually strapped behind his back !!!! And he came home from school and announced that his left hand was his “home hand” and his right was his “school hand”. Poor thing ! The mind boggles at how primitive some teaching methods were in those days. I also remember a teacher that had a leather strap on a stick and she would creep up behind you and give you a resounding smack if you were being idle! Did I make that up? Sounds like something out of Matilda! I wonder if anyone else remembers such a thing. (Me: Yep. Miss Jordan).

I do remember what fun it was to melt snow on the little stove in the classroom. I remember swimming in the gala at the public pool and it was night time. As far as the children I knew – there was Lesley Wessels whom I idolised and thought she was so beautiful. Then little Heather Mackenzie who was so sweet with amazing hair and blue eyes and freckles! I also really enjoyed the Wood family – I remember Anne and Lynette and that their mother was a kind lady and I loved going to spend the night there . Then there was Marian Searle – a bit older than me – I used to play there .

I remember Joan du Plessis teaching us to swim and Ken impressing on us that she was a springbok swimmer and the best teacher we could have. She did a really great job and when we left to go to Bergville we swam in the Christmas gala and cleaned up! Of course I remember your farm too Sheila – and I was riding a huge tricycle at great speed down a very long driveway and the front wheel came off and I fell off and skidded on my face.

I remember the carnation milk factory Christmas tree and that Jean made me a dress every year for the occasion . I remember the blossoms in the middle of the road above your house – and each year Ken took photos of us so that we could see how we had grown.

Gosh it takes me back! Will email should I remember further ! Lots of love Anne

– Me, Anne, Donald & Sheila –

Just left of this pic was the Coleman back door where Donald placed his fossil; and not far past the house in the background was where he found it. Platberg mountain in the far background.

~~~~oo0oo~~~~

Pics from wikipedia by Ghedoghedo – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,