Des is a mensch. He’s a gentleman and he has good intentions.
He’s in a serious marriage and under strict starter’s orders. The thing is Des has a bit of a dodgy handbrake. Even when pulled up tight it can occasionally slip and he can lurch forward a few steps and then all hell can break loose and you don’t know if he’ll be able to stop.
So Hector Fyvie being a legend and him being a nephew, Des got written permission to go to Uncle Hec’s funeral and straight back. Promise. It was a lovely funeral and lots of people were there celebrating the life of a very special man. Now it was time to go home, and Des was definitely going to leave as he had clearly undertaken to do. Honour bright. And he would have . .
But there were Vennings and Fyvies and Leslies and other people there and a strong case was put forward for Des to stay for the wake. The after-gathering was naturally well-catered with sustenance and libations – Aunt Stella, Gail, Ian, Skig and Tabbo always do things right. Still, Des refused to relax and partake, which made the exhortations stronger. With friends like this . .
He raised himself up, closed his eyes in that way he does and made a small speech, one of many we have heard from Des:
“You guys”, he said. “Jy weet: Een is genoeg, Twee is te veel and Drie is te min”and he agreed to have Just One. Just. The. One.
So we knew he was staying for the duration.
Een is genoeg, Twee is te veel and Drie is te min – “One martini is all right. Two are too many, and Three are not enough” – James Thurber
A gathering of a flock of du Plessis is always a very special occasion. Not an orderly occasion. Not a quiet occasion. Just very special. Mignon, Jean-Prieur and Jacques-Herman celebrated their Mom Mona’s wonderful ninety years of Mom, Music and Magic at a wonderful venue outside Harrismith – where I forgot to take any pictures! If anyone has any, please share a few – especially one of that magnificent pub of Rob’s! – but also of the people, of course!
People poured out of the woodwork from far and wide. Austin, Texas; Vancouver, Canada – even Marquard, Free State!
We almost didn’t get there:
. . but we did.
Later we found out we – me, sister Sheila and old Harrismith friend Zelda Grobbelaar – were stuck there – the Ford needed big repairs – so Bess put us up in her lovely home:
When we didn’t show up at the du Plessis gathering that evening, I texted them:
My car got locked up in a ballet studio among the tutus.
– that part was true, check it out:
. . and I got plied with strong liquor by three gorgeous chicks and clean forgot about any other friends I might have.
Oh, that part was partly true as well.
Thank goodness the Ford went vrot. It was diagnosed with terminal head gasket, whatever that means. I thought it was premature after only 300 000kms, but the upside was this meant we got an extra twenty four hours in the dorp the metropolis. We visited all and sundry, had supper with Bess; had breakfast and bought rusks at Something Lekker owned by a local lass; and then we lunched with the du Plessis clan while they ran around organising that Mona be laid to rest next to her husband and their Dad Pollie, who has been waiting patiently in the Harrismith cemetery for Mona to join him for decades. Patiently? Maybe.
I can just hear Oom Pollie. After he’d got over his joy he would comment on the very smart coffin, worried about the price. He’d relax when he heard it was made by Oom Jan, gratis and for niet. Then he’d harumph that it took Mona joining him for the grass to be mowed round his grave. Then he’d sing Hello Dolly!
To get back to KwaZulu Natal, we hired a brand new Toyota Corolla at Harrismith Avis – of course our dorp has an Avis! Not only that, look at this: They’re the reigning champions!
We visited Georgie Russell; and Mariette Mandy at The Harrismith Chronicle where she had already written about the gathering for her wonderful hundred-and-plenty-year-old local newspaper. I’ll post that when I get it. I’ll also link to any other reports of the day I can find. And add pictures.
. . . after a suitably polite interval I think Oom Pollie would also murmur hopefully, ‘Did you bring any cigarettes?’
Late Monday afternoon, after we’d left, the family carried out Mona’s wishes
Driving home in a brand new car where all the knobs work was a novel experience – and hey! it had six forward gears! That brought back memories of another Toyota thirty two years earlier . .
Two weeks later I was joined by good friend Allister Peter to drive back to the dorp in the rental to go and fetch my Ford Ranger from Riaan who had fixed it up like new! We bumped into John Venning at the coffee shop – and it turns out these two old bullets are fishing n drinking chinas from way back – apparently there’s a thing called The Grunter Hunt down in the Eastern Cape and they have indulged.
Stewart Bain was born in Wick, Scotland on 9 September 1854. He and his brother James came to South Africa in 1878, to Durban. They soon trekked inland to the metropolis of Harrismith in the Oranje Vrijstaat, an independent sovereign state at the time. Britain had recognised the independence of the Orange River Sovereignty after losing at Majuba, and the Vrijstaat officially became independent on 23 February 1854, seven months before Stewart was born, with the signing of the Orange River Convention. This history is important in view of many of Harrismith’s inhabitants’ conduct in the Anglo-Boer War of 1899.
The brothers found work building bridges for the railway line extension from Ladysmith up the Drakensberg to Harrismith; We fondly imagine they built the beautiful sandstone bridge across the Wilge River at Swinburne.
Settling in Harrismith, Stewart bought the Railway Hotel and changed it to the Royal, while brother James built the Central hotel uptown, on the central market square.
Stewart married Janet Burley in Community of Property in Durban, I’m not sure whether that was before moving to Harrismith or after. She was born in Hanley, Staffordshire, England in 1859 of David Burley and Caroline Vaughan. They had __ children between 18 __ and 18__ . . . the fifth child being our grandma Annie. Funny, we would never have called her Ouma!
Stewart became Mayor of the town and ‘reigned with the gold chain’ for years, becoming known as ‘The Grand Old Man of Harrismith.’ To their grandkids they were always ‘Oupa’ and ‘Ouma’ Bain;
He pushed for the building of a very smart town hall. Some thought it was way too fancy – and too expensive – and called it ‘Bain’s Folly.’ Did Stewart have the tender? Was he an early tenderpreneur? Was it an inside job? *
Here’s a lovely 3min slide show of the building of Bain’s Folly – completed in 1908 – by Hennie & Sandra Cronje of deoudehuizeyard.com and thanks to Biebie de Vos, Harrismith’s archive and treasures man. Thank goodness for all the stuff that Biebie ** has saved and rescued!
Here’s that impressive building in a dorp on the vlaktes!
Opskops probably had to be arranged to justify the place, and at one event in this huge hall – an Al Debbo concert! – Stuart’s grand-daughter Mary met her future husband. Maybe that was the Mayor’s intention all along?
Janet died on 15 January 1924; Her daughters Jessie & Annie (who was then aged thirty) were with her when she collapsed. They summoned Dr Hoenigsburger, but Ouma died within minutes. The Harrismith Chronicle article reads in part: ‘Ex-Mayoress’s Death. Sudden demise of Mrs S Bain. The news which stunned the town on Tuesday morning of the painfully sudden death of Mrs Stewart Bain, evoked a feeling of deepest sympathy from all who knew the deceased lady, not only in Harrismith and the district but in places far remote.’
When the dust settled, the townsfolk must have quite liked the result, as when Stewart Bain died in September 1939, the town pulled out all the stops for his funeral; These pictures were taken from the balcony of his Royal Hotel, with ‘his’ Town Hall visible in the background, and ‘his’ mountain behind that. All Harrismithers and Harrismithians regard Platberg as ‘theirs.’
Snippet: Old Mrs Batty was Stewart Bain’s housekeeper at the Royal Hotel. Mum’s cheeky cousin, Janet Bell – later enhanced to Hastings-Bell – asked Mrs Batty one day, “Why do you say ‘somethink and nothink?” Back came the reply, “Cause I aren’t eddacated.” Mrs Batty lived around the corner from the Royal, on the same block, in a little house right on the pavement.
I thought I remembered that, despite every dorp in South Africa seeming to boast a ‘Royal Hotel’ – from whence ‘hier sirrie manne innie Royal Hotel’ – the Harrismith Royal Hotel was one of only two in South Africa that could officially call itself ‘Royal’. Sister Sheila, family Keeper-of-the-Archives, has hereby confirmed that I have a flawless memory. Well, something along those lines:
Couldn’t resist this close-up so enthusiasts can read which cars were around in 1939:
A young post office worker left his little 1935 Morris in that garage in the care of the owner Cathy Reynolds, while he went off to war, ca 1941; When he returned around 1946 it was waiting for him. He then met Mary, second daughter of Annie Bland, nee Annie Watson Bain, Stewart’s fifth child. Their first date was in the Town Hall. Best and luckiest thing that ever happened to him. They got married in 1951. He was Pieter G Swanepoel, originally from Pietermaritzburg, and my Dad.