Even if we live to be a hundred, the first twenty five years are the longest half of our lives. They appear so while they are passing; they seem to have been so as we look back on them; and they take up more room in our memories than all the years that succeed them.
paraphrased from a quote by Robert Southey, English Romantic Poet
Ten years absorbing; followed by fifteen years of knowing everything; followed by the rest of your life wondering what happened.
How could our fifteen best years not have been great – and unforgettable – with music like this?
Fifty-Year-Old Memories: METHODIST CHURCH, SUNDAY SCHOOL AND GUILD IN THE SIXTIES. This was triggered by big sister Barbara’s scribblings written in 2015; edited and added to by me and various other perpetrators:
‘Dropping Dropping Dropping – Hear The Pennies Fall – Every One For Jesus, He Shall Have Them All’ – ” But only after we have – Rebuilt the Chu-urch Hall.”
Every Sunday morning Mom would give us sixpence each to place in the plates that were handed around by the – who? deacons? elders? we didn’t call them anything high church like that, it was just Uncle Cappy and Uncle Ralph. They would hand around two flat, lathe-turned wooden plates lined with red velvet, one for boys, one for girls; open so everyone could see how much you gave! These were then taken to the front of the hall where George Davies would be sitting. He would stand up, and – in Barbara’s childlike eyes – pocket the money in his voluminous trousers so that he could buy us nice things for our Christmas Party!
Every Sunday morning we’d go to Church with Mom in her powder blue 1959 Volksie OHS 155.
She was the organist and we had to get there early so that Mom could get settled – and sister Sheila says ‘warm up her hands in Harrismith’s winter cold.’ She would play all the beautiful pieces that she had been practicing all week at home. The congregation would walk into Church and sit quietly and listen to her playing. At least, most people would sit quietly.
At first she played the big old fashioned organ with the ivory stops and wooden ‘pump-pedals’ that she ‘inherited’ from Uncle Wright Liddell. Now when I look at that beautiful wood I think ‘deforestation’, and those ivory stops and keys make me think Dead Elephants! Later on the much smaller modern organ that replaced it. Much less impressive, but maybe more in choon? On the old organ they’d sit with their back to the people; the new one they faced us and it was low. Mom would place a big bunch of flowers on it so she could hide a bit! Especially at funerals. The old one looked something like this one. I put the second picture in to show the wooden pedals you had to pump left-right-left-right.
At 10am Church would begin with the minister appearing from the mysterious room at the back, mounting his pulpit and saying the same thing each time. I forget what it was but you can bet it was important. Sunday School kids had to start off in the big church first (‘big church’ in no way to be confused with Die Groot Kerk which was up the road, also in Warden Street, but apparently closer to heaven). Barbara thinks this was to teach us kids to sit still, listen to the grown-ups, keep deadly quiet and definitely not to talk and giggle in Church. Well, that didn’t work did it? What was so funny? Was it Mrs. Brunsdon’s singing? Was it Mrs. Fritzgerald’s hat or her fur cape? Or was it little two year old Glynnis Yates standing up on the pew and saying loudly to her father in the pulpit: “Daddy, you Scallywag”! Whatever it was, it was very funny. One definite cause of hilarity once was while Mary was teaching us ‘Hark! Hark! Hark!, While infant voices sing’ and Fluffy Crawley sang the harks in an Afrikaans pronunciation while making little raking motions with his hands and arms, causing collapsification.
Barbara remembers: In our earlier years – 1959/1960 – us three little Swanepoels would walk down Warden Street with Audrey and Monica Hastings, who lived in Warden Street back to back with our great-grandmother’s house at 13 Stuart Street. There at ‘Granny Bland’s house we would have high tea, scones or crumpets on the front veranda steps with our Grandmother Annie Bland, her sister Jessie Bell and Annie’s mother-in-law, Mary Bland, known as Granny Bland – a highlight of the week.
They were not church-going folk, but it was OK, Mother Mary Methodist did enough church for all of them put together! Plus she did lots of Women’s Auxiliary and choir practice. I think ‘Women’s Auxiliary’ was probably started by the men to ‘keep ’em out of the pulpit?’ We would happily wait with these friendly sinners for Mom to finish her church service and then join us.
Story from Mom: Mary Wessels said no matter where she sat in Church, Mrs. Brunsdon always came and sat in front of her. Mary would then battle to keep a straight face when confronted by Mrs. B singing loudly off key, turning around and sniffing and then noisily wiping her nose with a snotty hanky into the bargain. So distracting! This, methinks, was certainly one of the things that set the girls’ giggling!
Actually I think every Methodist thought Mrs Brunsdon always sat right in front of them – it certainly felt that way! She used to turn round and peer intently at whatever or whoever interested her, over or through her glasses. She would start singing the next line when she was ready, regardless of where the music and/or the congregation members were at – those two weren’t always perfectly in sync neither! She would never skip or play catch-up. She’d go through the hymn at her pace – irregardless! And loud! Sometimes Mom the organist or sometimes the whole congregation would wait or speed up to match her and thus keep some sort of order.
Lynn du Plessis reminisces: So many memories of our Sunday School days in that church. I was always part of the choir and am comforted by the fact that although I have never had the greatest singing voice, I was better than the person who was always one verse ahead and totally out of key. Mrs Brunsdon was a constant source of amusement to Shirley, Anne and I. The pews would shake as the three of us tried to contain the giggles. Then who was it that constantly dug in her nose with the hugest antique key and wore the most outrageous hats: Birds, Butterflies, Bees, Feathers and Flowers perched precariously on her dusty hat and jiggled and jangled as she sang ‘uit volle bors’! (that was Ms Fitzgerald).
These three good-looking older girls were the main reason we younger boys hung in at Sunday School: Whenever they told us ‘Shirley, Goodness and Mercy Would Follow Us All the Days of Our Lives’ we thought of Shirley, Ann and Lynn and thought whattapleasure!
Mrs Brunsdon was without doubt a cause of some of the suppressed youthful mirth in church. As was poor old Bob Yates’ small, bald, bespectacled bird-like appearance. He had a tough act to follow, coming after the younger cricket-playing Jack MacGuire.
Us kids would then be dismissed to our relief after five hours. Or ten minutes, depending on who you asked. Off we would troop – out of the old sandstone church and into the brick ‘Wesley Hall’ next door for Sunday School. Read about the hall foundation stone here.
Announcements would be made, the Dropping Pennies Song would be sung, the loot would be gathered, and off we would go to our individual classes.
The Sunday School teachers in the early 60’s were Miss Ivy Petty for the senior girls, Poerie Coetzee for the senior boys, George Davies for junior boys, Stella Euthimiou taught the babies, Emma Morton and Pye Euthimiou. After classes it would be back to the hall where we always seem to finish off the morning with – ‘Jesus wants me for a sunbeam to shine for Him each day . . . a sunbeam, a su-u-unbeam, I’ll be a sunbeam for Him.’ Shirley Mason would accompany us on the piano. Sheila says another song that never missed a Sunday was: ‘Jesus bids us shine with a pure clear light . . . you in your small corner and I in mine.’ Luckily we didn’t know the alternative words then, ‘Cheese an beer an wine with a pure clear light . . ‘
Sunday School Picnics in the park on the banks of the river were amazing. The games, the delicious food and the wonderful company. Gallons of ginger-beer in colourful buckets with raisins floating on top and hot-cross buns, with butter melting in them. Uncle Cappy would walk around offering tea and a hot cross bun by shouting in the Cockney accent he’d learned in World War II, ‘Coop a char ‘na boon!?’ He would also organise games for us – rounders, open-gates and cricket. And of course, he’d join in and play!
Sheila has just spoken to Mom who says she still has the red plastic bucket she used for the ginger-beer which she made fifty years ago!
Another story from Sheila: One picnic all the kids were told not to go anywhere near the weir – but needless to say we went. Afterwards Mom said to all the kids: “But didn’t Mrs. Morton tell you not to go to the weir?” Irrepressible Pierre piped up cheerfully: “Yes, but we didn’t hear her nie!”
Emma Morton of the double negatives became our ‘superintendent’ after George Davies retired – him with the yards and yards of grey flannel material which made up his flowing pants – We called them his ballroom trousers! When he sang ‘you in your small corNAAAH!’ he would rise up on his toes and shove his boep forward a yard but his trousers didn’t need to move an inch. ‘and Di in mine.’ His two-tone grey Wolseley had beautiful fold-down walnut tables for the back passengers.
On the subject of George Davies’ two-tone grey Wolseley, Etienne wrote: Tuffy & I would walk to the church on Sunday evenings after my folks had left, with the green Zephyr’s spare keys so as to borrow the Zephyr for a spin through the park. I would gun it and let its backside slip on the turn before the swing. One night I let it slide too much and caught the tail against a mud bank. We drove back to Church & parked it in the empty bay next to old Davies’ Wolseley. When my Dad saw the bang on the tail the next day in the light, he thought George Davie had bumped him and said nothing. The following Sunday old Cappy inspected the Wolseley for evidence of green paint, but there was none. Before he passed away I told him the story and he said he could not believe me.
On Friday afternoons, the younger kids had Junior Guild. What fun! Here the minister Jack McGuire and his wife Eileen were in charge – they would read us stories, we would have quizzes and then there would be games outside. Barbara used to play the piano for the singing of ‘guild songs’ which were different to Sunday School songs. “Give me oil in my lamp, keep me burning, burning, burning, give me oil in my lamp I pray // I will make you fishers of men if you’ll only follow me // The old old story it is ever new, the old old story praise the Lord, its true, that Jesus died for me as well as you, I love the old old story”.
In front of the old church 1962
In standard six – high school! you could join Senior Guild. For kids who mostly stayed at home evenings or went out only with our parents this was a big adventure. 7pm on Friday nights you could go to guild unaccompanied! And come home late. We’d drink coffee at guild and sometimes we’d venture out on treasure hunts – going all over town finding and collecting the ‘treasures’ in the clues we were given. In about 1968 Adie Crewe took over the night Guild and brought a whole lot of new ideas and fun into our lives.
After Guild some were fetched and some walked home – more adventure. Barbara says walking home by the light of the moon or the streetlamps gave the words ‘Kêrels by Kandlelight’ a whole new meaning!
We would help out at cake sales held on Saturday mornings, in front of Chodos’ store or the Post Office – selling, carrying and sometimes eating all the goodies that filled these tables. Worst of all was standing on a street corner with an adult from the Church, holding the money tin and rattling it under everybody’s noses.
Harvest Festival was another different day. We were asked to bring along some sort of fruit or veg. We could have taken wine, but Methodists frown on alcohol. I wonder how the Methodist Church in the winelands handles that little ‘farm produce’ dilemma!? The farmers would bring loads of crops – big pumpkins and mealie stalks all over the place. The front of the Church looked like a jungle. Imagine the nunus that escaped from the vegetation!
On Garment Sunday we were asked to take jerseys for the poor.
The Nativity Play brought big excitement – in rehearsals and on the big night. Anna Gavin, Miss Petty, Mom, the minister and his wife would choreograph and direct and coach. Tension as you found out if you were cast as an angel, a wise man, a shepherd or – first prize! Mary or Joseph. I remember being a sheep and an angel – not prize positions by any means! I remember the bigger boys’ solemn slow walk as us the supporting cast all sang ‘We three Kings of Orient are, bearing gifts we traverse afar, . . . . following yonder star’. Only later we learnt: We Three Beatles of Liverpool are, George in a taxi John in a car, Paul on his scooter blowing his hoo-ooter, following Ringo Starr”. The older kids also taught us; ‘While shepherds washed their socks at night all seated round the tub; A bar of sunlight soap came down and they began to scrub’.
At the end of the year Prize-Giving lovely books were handed out for lst, 2nd and 3rd prizes. What were they for? Biblical knowledge? Not being irritating?
Carols by Candlelight was another big event – sitting on the back of a big truck or trailer along with Uncle Wright Liddell’s beloved organ and driving around town singing to – who? the Dutch Reformed and the Anglicans? Lost souls! We’d show them! The grown-ups and the bigger kids had torches or candles. The singing would start immediately with great gusto and this carried on during the course of the evening with diminutive Uncle Wright playing to his heart’s delight while pumping at the pedals to make the noise. We would be asked to pump when he tired and had to be tamed – ‘not so fast’ – till we got the hang of it.
Then our Christmas Party in the hall – what a highlight! Decorations; tables groaning under the burden of delicious food; a beautiful array of cakes and puddings and ice cream cones; and always a beautifully decorated Christmas tree – a real pine tree from the bosbou; loads of presents lying at the bottom. These wonderful unforgettable occasions were thanks to our kind and generous parents – Aunty Joyce Joubert, Aunty Joan du Plessis, Mrs. Emma Morton, Ivy and Philys Petty, Miss Helen Scott (Scotty) who always made her delicious fairy cup-cakes, Myra Wood, Anna Gavin, Doreen Hattingh, Polly Crawley, Jo Hastings, Edna Bissett, Lally Davies, Mary Swanepoel and who else? – many others.
A Christmas present for each child was brought to us by a ‘real’ Father Christmas – usually Uncle Cappy – who, as in everything he did, did his thing here like a real trooper. He would arrive at the hall on a tractor or truck after a big build-up by the other adults. Old FC certainly got more hype, pomp and ceremony than poor Jesus ever got! We would be told to go and look out for him – usually misled in the wrong direction to give him a gap to arrive “Ta DA!” – in he would walk in ‘is gumboots, with all our eyes on the big sack thrown over his shoulder. Then we would sit quietly as George Davies or Emma Morton called each one of us to the front to receive our gift, lucky kids.
Christmas Day church! For once church did not seem early. We had been up for ages already, finding out what was under the tree. Church would be dominated by the excitement of our presents with our friends who had also not gone on holiday. What did Father Christmas bring you when he came down your chimney? Ministers would try and keep the focus on Jesus but that was not easy to do. I achieved some brief pulpit-y fame one year when the minister said to the spellbound congregation, ‘I know of one little chap who had already pitched his new tent on the lawn by six o’ clock this morning!’
For an accurate record of a Sunday School picnic what better than a diary written ON THE DAY back in 1969?
Thursday 15 May 1969 – Ascension Day
“Went to Church hall at 9am. Went to park by bus, walked to weir. Then had morning tea. Walked to weir again and played on swings. Had lunch. That p.m. played rounders and walked to weir again. Walked to weir with Lynette (Wood) and Claudia (Mann). Waded from one side to other. (That morning swung over river) Went to the swing with three girls and four boys. Gathered all the leaves up and played in them. The hostel boys and (teacher) Bruce (Humphries) were at swing. Bruce fell in with clothes on – the swing broke. Were rolling on ground we were laughing so much. Bruce went home. Went back. Had tea, played around. Came home at about half past 5. Went to Jouberts.“
So that’s the riveting story of our SS picnics. Love – Sheila Swanepoel
Here’s the road they’d have walked between having tea and laughing at a teacher:
Shady Lane on the right bank of the Wilge.
For some fascinating history on the church hall – The Wesleyan Hall – see Harrismith’s best blog deoudehuizeyard.