Mom says they loved swimming. All the boys were at the baths – the Harrismith Municipal Swimming Baths about a kilometre away up the hill past the Town Hall.
Some days they’d get ready to go – cozzies and towels over their arms, but Granny Bland would be standing on the back stoep with her hand on her hip, looking at the mist on the eastern end of Platberg and announce firmly, ‘No, you can NOT go swimming. You can put that in your pipe and smoke it!’
‘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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
Annie was one of the seven Royal Bains in Harrismith. She was born in the cottage behind the hotel where her parents Stewart and Janet raised all the kids.
Her daughter Mary says they were Ginger, Stewart, Carrie, Jessie, Annie, Hector and Bennett. They had eight cousins who were ‘Central Bains’ – children of James Bain who owned the Central Hotel.
Mom Mary says only Hector got off his bum and got a job – he went off to become a bank manager in Ndola, Northern Rhodesia, now Zambia. The rest hung around the hotel and had fun, got married, whatever. Ginger played polo; Carrie got married and left for Australia. Stuart did a bit of work on their farm, Sarclet, not far out of town on the Jo’burg road. None of the other six felt compelled to move on, up or out. After all, the hotel had a bar, and Dad was the Lord Mayor of the metropolis and was known as The Grand Old Man of Harrismith to many townsfolk, and ‘oupa’ to his grandkids; so enjoy! Why leave!?
When Annie married Frank Bland, she moved out to their farm Nuwejaarsvlei on the Witsieshoek road;
When the farm could no longer support the horseracing they moved in with Frank’s mother Granny Mary Bland, nee Caskie, now with two daughters, Pat and Mary. When Frank died aged only 49, Annie and the girls stayed on. They were joined there by her sister Jessie when her husband Arthur Bell died in Dundee, where he had been the dentist; Then later they were joined by now married daughter Mary, husband Pieter Swanepoel, and daughter Barbara when they arrived back from his work in the Post Office in Pietermaritzburg.
Some time after that – maybe when Granny Bland died? – Annie moved into Randolph Stiller’s Central Hotel; She then left Harrismith for the first time in her life and went to stay with sister Jessie down in George for a few years after Jessie’s daughter Leslie had died; When Jessie died, Annie returned to Harrismith and lived in John Annandale’s Grand National Hotel. John said to Mary he was battling to cope with hosting her, so Mary moved her home. Much to Pieter’s delight. NOT.
So within a month Mary moved Annie into the Eliza Liddell old age home. Two years or so later, Mom remembers a night hosting bowling club friends to dinner when the phone rang. It was Sister Hermien Beyers from the home. “Jou Ma is nie lekker nie,” she said. Mom said I’ll be right over and drove straight there, she remembers in her red car wearing a navy blue dress. She sat with her dear Mom Annie holding her hand that night and – experienced nursing sister that she was – knew when Annie breathed her last in the wee hours.
Her visitors the next morning included Mrs Woodcock and Miss Hawkins. Mom regrets not letting Miss Hawkins in to see Annie. She should have, she says. She remembers being fifteen years old and not being allowed to see her Dad lying in Granny Bland’s home and has always been glad that she snuck in when no-one was watching and saw his body on his bed and so knew it really was true.
Part of the stone wall which surrounded Granny Bland‘s home in Stuart Street, Harrismith; and the oak tree her grand-daughter Pat Bland planted.
Our great-grandmother ‘Granny Bland’ was a Caskie who married a Bland who begat Frank (JFA) Bland who married Annie Watson Bain. Bain Sisters Annie Bland and Jessie Bell lived there with Granny Bland after their husbands died. Her granddaughter – Annie’s daughter – Mary and great-granddaughter Barbara also lived there for a while, some sixty five years ago. Four generations in one home!
The old home now has an artist family living in it and has been beautifully restored.