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?
Louis Schoeman, (Fanie, Marie, Little Louis, Lulu and Katrina’s father) when he heard that a whole Portuguese family was living behind the Fruit & Veg shop in Warden Street, remarked: “Hmph – that’ll ripen the bananas.”
Maybe the same family, when they arrived in Harrismith, decided to join the Anglican Church. On the first day, the church warden politely inquired of the head of this large, obviously foreign family: “Are you Greek Orthodox?” “No”, came the reply, “Portuguese Fruit & Veg.”
Elsa du Plessis at Aberfeldy Primary School in the 1960s – the teacher asked for a translation into Afrikaans of “horseshoe.” Elsa came back quick as a flash – “drankwinkel.” Old Harrismith people will remember the Scott’s Horseshoe Bottle Store just up the road from Mary and Pieter Swanepoel’s Platberg Bottle Store, both in Warden Street.
When Annie Bland used to ask her old mate, Dr Nel (Petronella) van Heerden, how she was, the stock phrase from that formidable character was “Oh, fair to bloody!”
The Lotsoff Flats in Stuart Street were owned by Basil Lotsoff, who was enormously fat. Inevitably, he was called Lots of Basil.
Jaap van Reenen (Rina’s grandfather) had a very loud voice and you could hear him coming long before you saw him, so he was called Jaap Aeroplane.
Roy Kool was a traveling salesman, selling fertiliser to farmers. The first time he called on Mr Blom, the farmer stuck his hand out and in the time-honoured brusque manner of old Free State farmers, said “Blom”. Roy said “Kool” (Afrikaans pronunciation) and the story was Blom thought he was taking the mickey! (‘Blomkool’ means cauliflower).
Roy Cartwright, who owned the Tattersalls, called Barney and Louis Green, brothers who owned a little shop in Warden Street where we used to buy our school shoes, Barmy and Looney.
The Green brothers’ stock was always coming in on “Vensday Veek”. Whatever you were after, they didn’t have it, but it would be there by “Vensday Veek”.
Roy also christened Martha McDonald and Carrie Friday, as they cruised around in a beautiful bottle-green Buick “Martha and My Man Friday”.
Michael Hastings to Mary Swanepoel as they were leaving Harrismith in 1964: “There’s been a Hastings in Harrismith since 1066 and now we’re leaving.”
Dr Hoenigsburger, great friend of my great grandfather, Stewart Bain, was the family GP as well as the Harrismith government doctor (district surgeon?). Annie always called him Dr ‘Henningsberg’.
One day, driving back to town from the prison, he missed the bridge and his car landed in ‘the spruit with the name.’ The Kak Spruit. Only his pride was injured. In the meantime, back in town, the hostess of the bridge evening was getting a bit perturbed as Dr H hadn’t arrived yet and they couldn’t start playing bridge without him. She ‘phoned the Hoenigsburger home and was told by Dr H’s young son Max: “No, I don’t think my father will be coming tonight. He’s had enough bridge for one day.”
Aunty Hester Schreiber was a much loved friend of our family and had a wonderful sense of humour and the heartiest laugh you can imagine. She was walking along the pavement one day outside their home opposite the big Dutch Reformed Church right in the middle of town. Suddenly she felt faint and sank to the ground. But help was at hand. Gerrie Coetzee, Harrismith’s own Maurice Chevalier, happened along. Always impeccably attired, in tweed coat, deerstalker and kierie – with beautiful manners to match, he gallantly bent down and tried to help Aunt Hessie up. Her response? “Nee los Gerrie, los. Netnou lê ons altwee innie gutter. Wat sal die dominee dan sê?”
The same Aunt Hessie walked into her lounge one say, slipped on the “springbok velletjie” mat and slid right under the narrow coffee table. And there she lay, completely trapped by the legs of the table and screaming with laughter. Oh, how we loved her and her sense of humour.
So many of Mum and Dad’s stories are about good times they had with Steve & Hester Schreiber, Joe and Griet Geyser, Bert & Margie Badenhorst, Jannie & Joan du Plessis, Frank & Harriet van der Merwe, Cappie & Joyce Joubert, Manie & Mary Wessels, Hector & Stella Fyvie, Geoff & Billy Leslie, Dick & Barbara Venning.
The last time Mary saw Jannie du Plessis, he said to her: “I’ve got to take so many pills I can never remember if I have to take two at 10 o’clock or ten at 2 o’clock.”
Stan Mosley worked for the Woollen Mills in Harrismith back in the ‘fifties. Born in England, he had a colourful turn of phrase. Mom used to tell us of things he said over the years, but I forget them, so I’ve been trying to get her to remember them.
Here are some Mom remembers and one Pierre du Plessis recalled:
A journey in a pickup along a rough road “We rattled along like a tin of sardines;”
Harsh justice: “The judge sentenced him to be hanged by the neck until death us do part;”
On the golf course: “The ball was rolling towards the pin, gathering memorandum;”
The lights went out at the factory, so Stan phoned up Ben Priest in the municipality: “Mr Priest! Is there any lights?” To which Mr Priest answered “No, there isn’t none at present now;”
On Platberg: “On the mountain the only living thing we saw was a dead baboon;”
drankwinkel – liquor store; bottle store
kierie – walking stick
“Nee los Gerrie, los. Netnou lê ons altwee innie gutter. Wat sal die dominee dan sê?” – Abandon me to my fate, gallant knight! We can’t afford to be seen together in the gutter by the local guardian of the dorp‘s morals!