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!’
A re-post cos Mom told me some news today (see right at the end):
My first recollections are of life on the plot outside Harrismith, playing with Enoch and Casaia, childhood companions, kids of Lena Mazibuko, who looked after us as Mom and Dad worked in town. The plot was in the shadow of Platberg, and was called Birdhaven, as Dad kept big aviaries. I remember Lena as kind and loving – and strict!
I lived there from when I was carried home from the maternity home till when I was about five years old, when we moved into town.
I remember suddenly “knowing” it was lunchtime and looking up at the dirt road above the farmyard that led to town. Sure enough, right about then a cloud of dust would appear and Mom and Dad would arrive for their lunch and siesta, having locked up the Platberg bottle store at 1pm sharp. I could see them coming along the road and then sweeping down the long driveway to park near the rondavel at the back near the kitchen door. They would eat lunch, have a short lie-down and leave in time to re-open at 2pm. I now know the trip was exactly 3km door-to-door, thanks to google maps.
Every day I “just knew” they were coming. I wonder if I actually heard their approach and then “knew”? Or was it an inner clock? Back then they would buzz around in Mom’s Ford Prefect or Dad’s beige Morris Isis. Here’s an old 8mm movie of the old green and black Ford Prefect on the Birdhaven circular driveway – four seconds of action – (most likely older sister Barbara waving out the window):
1. Ruins of our house; 2. Dougie Wright, Gould & Ruth Dominy’s place; 3. Jack Levick’s house; 4. The meandering Kak Spruit. None of those houses on the left were there back then.
Our nearest neighbour was Jack Levick and he had a pet crow that mimic’d a few words. We had a white Sulphur-crested Cockatoo Jacko that didn’t, and an African Grey parrot Cocky who could mimic a bit more. A tame-ish Spotted Eagle Owl would visit at night.
Our next neighbours, nearer to the mountain, were Ruth and Gould Dominy and Ruth’s son Dougie Wright on Glen Khyber. They were about 500m further down the road towards the mountain, across the Kak Spruit over a little bridge. Doug’s cottage was on the left next to the spruit that came down from Khyber Pass and flowed into the bigger spruit; The big house with its sunny glassed-in stoep was a bit further on the right. Ruth and a flock of small dogs would serve Gould his tea in a teacup the size of a big deep soup bowl.
Judas Thabete lived on the property and looked after the garden. I remember him as old, small and bearded. He lived in a hovel of a hut across a donga and a small ploughed field to the west of our house. He had some sort of cart – animal-drawn? self-drawn? Self-drawn, I think.
Other things I remember are driving out and seeing white storks in the dead bluegum trees outside the gate – those and the eagle owl being the first wild birds I ‘spotted’ in my still-ongoing birding life; I remember the snake outside the kitchen door;
I don’t remember but have been told, that my mate Donald Coleman, two years older, would walk the kilometre from his home on the edge of town to Birdhaven to visit me. Apparently his Mom Jean would phone my Mom Mary on the party line and ask, “Do you have a little person out there?” if she couldn’t find him. He was a discoverer and a wanderer and a thinker, my mate Donald.
Bruno the doberman came from Little Switzerland on Oliviershoek pass down the Drakensberg into Natal. Leo and Heather Hilcovitz owned and ran it – “very well” according to Dad. Leo came into town once with a few pups in the back of his bakkie. Dobermans. Dad said I Want One! and gave Leo a pocket of potatoes in exchange for our Bruno. He lived to good age and died at 95 Stuart Street after we’d moved to town.
rondavel – circular building with a conical roof, often thatched;
spruit – stream; kak spruit: shit stream; maybe it was used as a sewer downstream in town in earlier days?
stoep – veranda
donga – dry, eroded watercourse; gulch, arroyo; scene of much play in our youth;
Our Ford Prefect was somewhere between a 1938 and a 1948 – the ‘sit up and beg’ look, before sedans went flat. They were powered by a 4 cylinder engine displacing 1172cc, producing 30 hp. The engine had no water pump or oil filter. Drive was through a 3-speed gearbox, synchromesh in 2nd and 3rd. Top speed nearly 60mph. Maybe with a bit of Downhill Assist?
Today – 25 Sept 2021 – Mom (who turned 93 a week ago today) tells me Kathy Schoeman bought the old Ford Prefect from her and one day they drove to work to see it lying on its roof in the main street outside the town hall! Kathy had rolled it in the most prominent place possible!
This post was over at bewilderbeast.org, but it belongs here, in the Olden Daze blog.
I read Jock of the Bushveld again for the how-manieth time. I enjoy it every time. Percy Fitzpatrick wrote his classic tales of his days with trek oxen and wagons on the lowveld on the highveld: On his farm Buckland Downs in the Harrismith district.
Always gets me thinking of my wonderful dog Jock in high school:
We got Jock from Reg and Jo Jelliman. They farmed very near Buckland Downs out on the Meul river side of town, out Verkykerskop way. He was apparently a registered Staffordshire Bull Terrier, with the formal name Copperdog-Something on his papers.
. . and then in Westville many years later our first dog in our first home was TC – to me she was a mini-Jock:
She lived to a ripe old thirteen years. I buried her at the bottom of that beautiful garden in River Drive, alongside Matt (above) and Bogart who both came after her but died before her.
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.
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)
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.
*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.
Yay! Science! I just found out what the very first flower I ever drew was/is: A Canary Bird Bush Crotalaria agatiflora.
I suppose for a school project? I collected a few in our garden and drew the flower and the leaf. I was fascinated by the shape of the flower: like a yellow bird, butterfly or ship.
I saw this on iNaturalist.org thanks to prolific iNatter @troos (Troos vdMerwe) and there’s a lovely twist: He photographed it in the favourite gardens of a favourite schoolfriend of my Mother Mary’s!
Joey de Beer became Jo Onderstall and became a founder member of the Lowveld Botanic Society and the Lowveld Botanic Gardens in Nelspruit, now Mbombela. She wrote the book on Lowveld flowering plants.
A lovely full-circle kind of story.
Joey matriculated with Mary in Harrismith in 1945. When she heard Mary was going nursing she expostulated: What A Waste Of A Good Brain! She was right, but Mom decided she needed to do something that earned her a salary and cost her widowed Mom Annie nothing. Typical Mom. Joey went on to study phys ed teaching in Bloem, then married ‘doctor/farmer’ Bill Onderstall. They moved to Nelspruit in 1950. Bill gave Jo a camera for a wedding present and so she herself took a lot of the pictures in the articles and books she wrote. I didn’t know her mother Bessie de Beer had been chair of the Drakensberg and Eastern Free State branch of the Botanical Society, so Jo followed in Bessie’s footsteps. Must tell Mom that. Jo herself seems as self-effacing as Mom. She writes in the introduction that her name on the book ‘is but the visible tip of an iceberg’ and the fact that she took most of the photos is mentioned nowhere. All other photographers are acknowledged, but even the fact that she took the front and back cover pictures is added in the ‘errata’ – like an afterthought! I’m guessing some of her friends insisted.
Yellow bird! Who remembers Johan Pheiffer who came from the city to Harrismith to visit his cousins the du Plessis in the dorp, whipped out his guitar and sang Yellow Bird?
Later: Mom said thanks for this. Sheila read it to her. She didn’t know Bessie had also been involved in things botanical. She did know that Bessie used to take people for the drivers test. ‘You would drive her round the block and she’d say OK, you have your licence. None of this parking into a garage stuff.’ So says Ma.
Her good friends Joey de Beer and Dossie Farquhar said Mom must take science. She found it hard, but enjoyed it. She didn’t like the science teacher, Swart Piet du Toit, though. There was also a teacher called Wit Piet du Toit, who later was called Whitey. Wit Piet married one of the girls he had taught in Std 6. Beautiful girl. Later he married Doris. Old memories flooding back, Ma?
I can’t talk long cos they’re coming to take me from my warm armchair – its falling to pieces, mind you – in front of the heater and wrapped under a blanket, to the piano, where I’ll play a bit before lunch. Lunch is a roast and vegetables and then ice cream cos its Sunday. And Sundays we get egg and bacon for breakfast.
You know Kosie, it’s amazing how an old tune suddenly comes back into my head and I start playing it. Then I keep playing it each day and it gets better every time!
You go, Ma! Remember to eat your vegetables, or you won’t get any ice cream. **Laughs** I eat all my vegetables except pumpkin, and that’s why I haven’t got curly hair. That’s what we were told when I was small.
Oh, Dad says the temperature is going to drop steeply tomorrow, you must wear warm clothes, she tells her 66yr-old son.
‘I’m reading a book about Princess Elizabeth’s visit to East Africa; and so I’m remembering her visit to South Africa in 1947. I’ll never forget it.’
This is Mother Mary Methodist speaking, reminiscing.
‘I was nursing at the Boksburg-Benoni hospital and the Royal Family cavalcade was going to pass right in front of the hospital. We all went down to the road in our uniforms and we just knew she was going to stop and chat to us because the porters had wheeled Daphne down from Ward 7 and put her hospital bed right at the edge of the road.’
Daphne was well-known: Young and paralysed from diving into a shallow pool. The King and the Queen and the Princesses would definitely stop, lean forward and have an earnest chat with Daphne making sure not to get too close. Mary and her fellow nurses crowded round Daphne’s bed and waited breathlessly, the loyal Royalists they were. And here they come!
And there they go. They drove straight past. Didn’t stop; just a vague wave in the general direction!
But of course loyal Monarchist Mary immediately made excuses for Their Royal Bliksems: ‘They were on a very tight schedule.’
Bah, jou moer Koning Jors, us republicans would have said. Actually, we wouldn’t have been out on the road waiting . . we would have pretended to not even know they were visiting . . Who? King of where?
Later Mom’s friend, nurse Audrey Beyers was chosen to accompany Daphne to America for an operation. She doesn’t know what transpired, except Audrey got married and became Audrey King.
Mary Bland and Sylvia Bain, cousins, decided there was NO WAY they were going to miss the dance in the Harrismith Town Hall. This is quite possibly Mary’s single biggest act of defiance or wilful disobedience in her whole life. See, they were meant to be in Durban then, to start their midwifery course at Addington Childrens Hospital.
But to the dance in the dorp they went. Mary with Pieter, who she later married; and Sylvia with John, who she later married.
The next day they left (by train?) and in Durban they got their new quarters and their new uniform, which they loved: ‘It had a long fishtail headdress down the back almost to our waists. It looked beautiful.’
Also, their new matron was Mary Hawkins and they knew her sisters in Harrismith and in fact, Mary’s Mom Annie had dated her brother ‘Hawks’ Hawkins for quite a long while.
When they were summonsed to Matron Hawkins’ office they waltzed in merrily feeling glam and looking forward to a warm Harrismith welcome; only to be met with a frosty blast and a good dressing-down from Bloody Bill, as Mary Hawkins was known by those who knew her! Or sometimes Bloody Mary. She had been the Matron of all SA nurses in the war, and this was shortly after the war, and she was in no mood for nonsense. They were LATE starting their course!
Somewhere there’s a newspaper photo of Mary and Sylvia with a New Year crop of fresh Durban babies. Must find it.
The feature pic shows Mary and Pieter also in 1949, also outside the Town Hall, but another occasion.
pics from skyscrapercity.com; and kznpr.co.za – thank you. kznpr is Hugh Bland’s site; Here’s the cover of Hugh’s book on the Addington Childrens Hospital:
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.
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.
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!