Stoepstorie 4: The abundance of pears

There is a pear tree in our neighbor’s garden but we are fortunate that a couple of branches arched into our driveway. On a windy day the pears would end-up on our driveway and were to bruised to eat or use. Every year we would safe some but end up with a bottle or two chutney or perhaps a starter of blushing poached pears.

This year there was a good crop of little Hood pears hanging over our driveway.

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A little research and we were ready for our harvest. Pears ripen from the inside out. Left to ripen on the tree, they may become mushy. They ripen quite nicely once harvested. The old trick of storing the pears in a cool, dry place and the add of bananas did the trick. I put the bananas on top of the pears—and the more bananas, the faster the pears ripen.

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Yesterday was Mulled Pear day.

We peeled and core the pears and let is sit in a bowl with salt water to prevent the pears to turn brown.

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First the oven needs to be preheat to 150oC.

Then it was time to make the Mulled syrup. I used crab apples to give the syrup a nice pink color. Once there was a nice pink color in the water. The crab apples were removed.

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Then cinnamon, star Aniseeds, gloves and allspice were added to the crab apple water.

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The water was put to a rapid boil and then sugar was added. The sugar was then added and once the sugar dissolved a good bottle of red wine was added. A Merlot is a fruity wine that add to the flavor. The smells from the big pot was divine. It reminded we of my Mom and the many bottles that she filled during the summer months. Her specialty was canned whole peaches. We called it cling peaches because the pip was left inside and when eating the whole peach you really have to cling on to it or it would flew over the dinning table.

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The syrup was then strained through a muslin cloth and I must say the color was looking just right.

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The pears pack into warm, sterilized jars. Pears are very bottom-heavy and I find that you have to fill the bottles with more pears than originally though. Heat the syrup to boil and pour into the jars.

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Cover the jars with lids, but do not tighten it properly. Place the jars about 5cm apart in the oven for about 2 hours. This will also depend on the size of the jars.

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Remove from the oven and seal properly and place on a wooden surface. Leave undisturbed until completely cool and check the seal the following day.

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It will last for about 12 months on the shelf of your canning cupboard.

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Proof is always in the tasting. For an early evening we had mulled pears, with Parma Ham and Goat’s Cheese Salad

Till next time

Hennie & Sandra

De Oude Huize Yard

Stoepstorie 3: Scotty the English teacher

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Stuart Street – this quaint and superbly kept cottage once belonged to Miss Helen Scott “Scotty”. Miss Scotty was the English teacher to many scholars. She was a wonderful teacher and friend to so many people in Harrismith who all loved her

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The letter dated 13/10/1958 which Josie Cronje received from Miss Helen M. Scott her English teacher in 1958 when she was in Std 8. This little part of our history is priceles.

She also wrote a testomonial for Mary Bland, in 1945, when Mary was finishing off Matric.

Scottie testomonial to Mary Bland in 1945

Till next time

Hennie & Sandra

De Oude Huize Yard

Stoepstorie 2: Traveling Companion

Wanneer ek ‘n Volkswagen Beetle op die pad raakloop dan kyk ek altyd waar sy flikkerligte sit. Julle weet daardie armpies wat so uitgeskiet het langs die deure wanneer daar gedraai word. In Engels is dit semaphores.

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Pa was die “traveler” in ons familie. Hy sou niks daarvan dink om ons in die kar te laai en êrens heen te ry. Ons eerste kar was ‘n Borgward – ‘n besonderse motor wat op voco-paraffin kon loop.Aust76

Daar was die oranje VW Beetle met die “dog-box”. Ek onthou die reis af Jeffereybaai toe – die bagasie is in die neus van die Beetle gelaai en dan het Pa die neus van die motor in die regte rigting gedruk. Ons plek was bespreek in die Jeffreys Bay Hotel. As ek reg is is dit vandag die Savoy Hotel. Pa het op gevoel gery so het ons Jeffreysbaai ge”overshoot” en in die destydse Ferreiratown gestop. Gelukkig was daar ‘n vriendelike man wat Pa in die regte rigting gestuur het.

Dan was daar later die bootvaart op die Knysna Lagoon en die gety wat ons wou intrek. Janboel en Julian wat moes stoot dat hulle bars om die boot op droeë grond te kry.

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Al die kere wat ons gaan springhase jaag het met die Willy’s Jeep. Dit was ons Saterdag-aand uitstappie op die plaas. Menige aande het ons met Jeep en al in ‘n gat te lande gekom. Dit was pret om met ‘n groot gesukkel weer huis toe te hinkepink.

Die Nuwejaar kamp by West-end dam met pa se 8-ton lorrie en die wit Engelse tent. Die blou lorrie sou die naweek van Nuwejaar gelaai word met onder andere beddens wat kon opvou in sulke oulike amperse tafeltjies, die nodige potte en panne en natuurlik die wit tent. Daar is visgevang en geswem. Later van tyd was daar ‘n bootjie waarmee die vissermanne se hoeke die water ingeneem is. Dit was in die tye voor sonbrand beskerming en gewoonlik was daar ‘n paar erg verbrande rooi lywe.

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Die Engelse tent het ‘n spesiale plek gekry by Kameel Rust & Vrede Bed en Ontbyt

Die kuier by tant Meraai in die Gamtoos en die tabak-vlooie wat ons byna opgevreet het. Ma het so in ‘n fluister stem vir Pa vertel van die vlooie maar ai, met Tant Meraai se ore was daar geen fout nie.

Dan onthou ek ook die kuiers by oom Salmon en Tant Pollie op Uitenhage. Tant Pollie was my ouma Barlow se suster. Vandag nog is Tant Pollie se appeltert deel van De Oude Huize Yard se spyskaart. Ek onthou die tafel in die kombuis waar ons almal saam gekuier het en stories van die Kolonie vertel het.

Daar was die tye wat ons laat-laat middag by die huis weg ry om by Popeye, soos my Pa my Ma genoem het, se familie in Skurweberg te gaan kuier. Tant Madeleine en oom Was het by Skurweberg gebly. So lekker teen die klip koppie. Daar is gekuier om Grand-cru en roomys.

Soms het ons 21h00 van die plaas gery om op Cypress in die Steynsrus distrik te gaan kuier. Dit was waar Fritzie en Rhoda geboer het. Ontbyt aan die tafel in die voorhuis was altyd ‘n ondervinding met Fritzie wat vir elkeen ‘n snybrood gesny het. Nooit meer as een sny op ‘n slag. Vir ons Finchams was dit nogal vreemd want dit was ons stapelvoedsel. Ek onthou die uitstappie met die Bluebird Datsun in die Golden Gate. Daarna was Pa Gerald nooit weer gretig om Golden Gate te besoek nie.

Op ‘n ander toer is ons na Francistown in Botswana, daardie kuiers in die destydse Suid-Rhodesia. Die Vic Falls, waar ons op ‘n bootvaart op die meer was. Een van die passasiers se kinders het ‘n aap geterg en is gebyt. Toe moes almal terugkeer wal toe. Pa het ons die Valley of Ruins en Matopo Hills gewys. My gunsteling plek was Leopards Rock omdat dit so ‘n pienk kleur geverf was en ek het aan Monaco gedink.

Daar was al die rally’s saam met Cecil en Paaijapan. Persoonlik dink ek daar is klein-kinders met Av-gass in hulle bloed. Pa en Ma het een aand in die middel van die winter by ons oorgeslaap. Juis met die hele Rally konvooi. Pa het voorgestel dat die manne buite sou slaap maar het nie rekening gehou met die Vrystaatse koue nie. Die nag het die manne voor die kaggel geslaap. Dit het nogal ‘n gesnork uit die boonste rakke gewees.

Pat en Pa wat “flips” in DVZ ZA oor Kameel geneem het. Dit was vir Pa groot vreugde en hy het later jare vertel hoe Kameel en die omgewing uit die lug lyk. Daar is later ‘n langer aanloopbaan deur die mielielande gemaak. Later jare sou Pat, Ma, ek en Hennie gaan blomme kyk in Springbok en ja ek kan ‘n noodlanding aftik op my lys.

Daar was die kuier in Namibia by Susan en Derick. Die plaas was op Gobabis en toe die terugrit aangepak moet word was die motor se battery pad en al genade was die Landdrover. Nodeloos om te sê, Derick het ‘n plan gemaak, ‘n matras is vir Ma en Susie agter op die Landdrover gesit. Hulle moes darem in gemak reis. Ma kon nooit uitgepraat raak van hoe sy en Susie die hele pad terug Windhoek toe gegiggel het.

Daar’s al die kuiers by Mike en Hes in Bloemfontein en Mike wat Pa na elke “scrapyard” in Bloem moes neem. Dis seker waar ek my liefde vir ‘n skrootwerf gekry het.

Daar was kuier in Harrismith en pa se woorde aan Hennie – “Hendrik ek weet nie wat jy betaal het nie maar ek is seker jy het te veel betaal”

Oupa wat Pedri geleer het van toast, bacon en eiers – sy gunsteling!.

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Wat ‘n lewensrit was dit nie!
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When you give your children knowledge, you are telling them what to think. When you give your children wisdom, you do not tell them what to know, or what is true, but, rather, how to get to their own truth.

Tot ‘n volgende keer

Hennie & Sandra

De Oude Huize Yard

Stoepstorie 1: A farm school in Kameel

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This farm school opened it’s doors in 1934 in a room in my grand-parents house. My Granny – Hester Fincham was very involved with the day to day issues of the school. My parents and family also attended the farm school.

Growth was evident and soon my grandfather – Victor Fincham built a school. Till today it is fondly remembered as the ‘Wit skool” due to the fact that since I can remember it was painted white.

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The Wit skool

Mrs Vic (Granny Hester) as she was known in the community was still seeing over the day to day running of the school. During break the learners would go to the post-office to get the mail. En route to the post-office was Mr Mackay’s shop and here you could buy to huge Wilson toffees for one penny.

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Fifty-seven years ago, my brother, Julian headed off to school. This was a huge family celebration as he was the eldest grandchild of Mrs Vic

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Front Douglas and Julian. Middle Patric and Francis on Granny’s lap. Back Myself and Elaine

It looked like great fun and he even got to take sandwiches everyday too! He had a smart suitcase, BOOKS, CRAYONS AND PAPERS! After not too much persuasion, I went off to school with him. I must have been the first 4-year-old in “Grade 0!”

Our teacher – I can’t remember if it was Miss Betsie or not, but she let me practice writing with the left hand and when that was tired, with the right hand. My mum would come and pick me up at break time soon after all the sandwiches had been devoured.

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Front Riana, Maggie, Rita and Amanda. Middle Mariette, Elmarie, Elize, Myself and Ansie Next row Analize, Heila, Marieta, Velmay, Elaine and Ria. Roux, Hanelie, Anina, and Martjie (So sorry I have lost a name) Miss Betsie. Miss Betsie traveled by horse cart to school.

The most memorable thing from that first school year was Julian’s speech about what happened at home just prior to his leaving for school. I have never quite understood why children must always write a speech or composition about their holiday or what happened at home on a particular day.

Getting back to the story – like most farm children of the day, Ouboet (Big brother) was quite capable of driving the Ford. Hennie says it was a Ford 100. We would catch Uncle Koos’s bus to school. With Ouboet behind the wheel, we would drive to the farm gate and then get onto the bus.

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His speech went as follows, “Miss, this morning on the way to school, the Ford’s clutch slipped and the gears locked which nearly resulted in us being late for the bus.”

The following year, school really began and it was a serious business. I recall Maggie and Elmarie who had the most delicious peach jam sandwiches. The sandwiches were later replaced by the most delicious chocolate cake. Elaine could go home whenever she felt like it. She was also my cousin and I would accompany her home during many a break time. She could run like a streak of lightening. Then there was Marieta and Mariette who could both sing so beautifully. Years later they would even get to sing the Drummer Boy song in the NG Church’s gallery. The clever girls were Heila, Riana and Amanda.

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Still remember some of the boys names Koos Swart, Johan, Evert, Karel, Kosie, Julian, Hennie, Pieter, Henry, Douglas, Patrick, Gertjie, Theo, Pokkie, Johnny, Pierre, Diekie, Johannes Mr Olivier is the teacher. Ouboet is standing in the second row from the top just behind Gertjie with the black blazer. Next to ouboet is Kosie with the badge on his lapel.

It was during this time of my life that I came to meet a certain school inspector. As he walked between the desks, he stopped at my desk. I think it was quite unusual at the time that a child could cope quite well writing with both their left and right hand. Perhaps he had not yet heard of the word ambidextrous! Who would have heard of such a thing back in 1963!

With the following words, “Miss, you had better decide which hand you are going to use to write with!” I got such a fright, I decided to go with the hand in which the crayon was held at the time – it was my left hand. Fortunately, all left handed people are seen by myself as somewhat special, many of whom happen to be in our family.

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I remember Mr Basson – he had his classes in the old white school building. We sat according to our classes. The standard 3’s in front, then 4’s and then the 5’s. As the standards progressed each year, we would also move further back too. The thing I remember the most about Mr Basson were his essays. He taught me to write about mountains. He would write key words on the black board and we would have to create a story around them. I always wondered if he were missing the mountains of the Cape Boland as he would spend so much time teaching us about these majestic blue giants. I must say that from where I sit right now, living at the foot of the Platberg, I could even wax lyrical about the colors of this beautiful mountain.

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Later on, Andrew would arrive at school with his bandy legs. Like Elaine, he would run so fast you would just spot him disappearing into the distance!

And so, the years marched on. Many of our, “clutches,” would slip and our, “gears,” would jam but at the same time we learned of the Majesty of God’s Grace and Mercy.

May God’s blessings always fall on the Kameel Primary School like a soft and gentle rain.

Till next time

Hennie & Sandra

Van Reenen’s Railway Pass

Next time when you travel between Johannesburg and Durban on the N3 and follow the Van Reenens pass – just pause a moment and notice the beauty around you. DSC_0001

This road is often mistakenly called the Old Van Reenen’s Pass, which is incorrect because the original pass mostly followed the course of the present-day N3 route. The road tracks the course of the railway line, which follows a series of contorted loops and tunnels in an effort to keep the gradient to a reasonable level. There does not appear to be an official name for this pass, so it can be confusing to research and to locate. The road, which is mostly gravel, is in a surprisingly good condition and can be driven in any high-clearance vehicle, provided that the weather allows; like Van Reenen’s Pass, the route is subject to both snow in winter and violent thunderstorms in summer. Thanks to Mountain Passes South Africa for the information

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The landscapes around the Van Reenen Pass are stunning and the railway service roads and tunnels top off the adventure. The route is a superb gravel pass but easy going and we duck off the N3 just just after Van Reenen. We traveled on the downhill mode. The scenery is stunning. This is the service road of the railway line and we traveled pass sidings, tunnels and farms. It include a 200m tunnel built in 1925, with a curve.

Watch the video that will take you with us Van Reenen Railroad pass

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Bookmark this pass for a sunny day and get lost in time and space and escape the frenetic traffic off the N3.

Till next time

Hennie & Sandra

31 December 2017

The year came to an end

We celebrate live and awaits the blessings of 2018.

The Joy of the Season

During our 52 week challenge we have shared with you the following

  • Town hall in Harrismith
  • The old station building in Harrismith
  • The fossilized tree next to the Town Hall
  • A road trip pass Swinburne to Geluksburg
  • The history of Warden Street
  • The Great War Memorial
  • The old Goal on the sport grounds of Harrismith
  • A road trip to Geluksburg
  • The history of Stuart Street
  • The Westley Hall
  • The Toll bridge at Swinburne
  • The Block house or as we call it the Castles of the veld.
  • Odell’s
  • The Club house
  • The steel bridge at Abberfeldy
  • The house of Mary Bland (Granny Bland nee Caskie)
  • Caithness in Stuart Street
  • Freemasonry Southern Cross 1778
  • St John’s sandstone church
  • A road trip to Sandspruit
  • De Oude Huize Yard
  • Cloete and Neveling building in Southey street
  • Bergburgers written by Leon Strachan
  • Train bridge at Swinburne
  • Kaalvoet vrou
  • Royal family visit to Harrismith
  • Debora Retief park
  • Rear-Admiral Maxmimilian John Ludwick Weston
  • Burger Monument
  • The boy with a very long name
  • Farm school on the banks of the Meul river
  • Hamilton bridge in Harrismith
  • Military Insignia around Harrismith
  • The Hills and Mountains around Harrismith
  • The old hotels of Harrismith
  • Annie Baine
  • Road trip to Golden Gate
  • Mountain passes around Harrismith
  • Stain glass windows of the Town Hall in Harrismith
  • Road trip to Verkykerskop
  • A farm museum visit
  • The sustainability of De Oude Huize Yard
  • Platberg
  • M.O.T.H’S
  • Route R74
  • Rensburgkop
  • Free State Harlem
  • Mont Pelaan
  • Plums and Christmas

We hope that you have enjoyed the challenge as much as we did.

Lots of blessings for 2018

Hennie & Sandra

 

Christmas and Plums

There is some connection with Christmas and Plums
“The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
While visions of sugar-plums danced in their heads”
Even the sugar plum fairy from The Nutcracker didn’t give a clue as to what to expect from plums.

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The cherry plums in the gardens of our establishment

The plums are looking good.
So what is it with plums
Sweet and juicy, a delicious ingredient to cook with and to bring a wonderful, rich flavour to your food.
And they are healthy too.

What will we do with the abundance of plums that are ripening in our garden.  We are thinking about a plum and almond ricotta cake. plum-almond-ricotta-cake

While writing this page the plum relish is gently boiling on the stove.
I have used 7 cups of plums, halved and the stones removed.  But then it seems as if the halves looked a bit big so I quartered it.
2 cups of water
2 cups of vinegar (preferably white to keep the color)
2 cups of treacle sugar (brown sugar will also do)
About 3 tablespoons of preserved ginger, chopped and then add some of the sugary syrup.
3 tablespoons of last year’s plum liqueur.
Bring very thing to a bubbly boil and stir to dissolve the sugar.
Add plums and boil gently till liquid is reduced by halve.
Bottle as usual.

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Regarding the Plum pudding.  It is a steamed or boiled pudding served at holiday times. Plum pudding has never contained plums. The name Christmas pudding is first recorded in 1858 in a novel by Anthony Trollope’s Barsetshire novel Doctor Thorne.

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A please the crowd plum pudding

Our Christmas was a Christmas tree and Christmas cracker affair. We prefer to celebrate the Season of Joy. Joy for the forgiveness and release from our Sin, Joy for the chance of a life without war and generally Joy for being able to live a relatively carefree life.

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Grandma Hester Fincham and also fondly remembered as Mrs Vic.

If the celebration was held at Granny Fincham, the table would be laid with a damask cloth and silver and we would have venison and wild bird.  She would use her beautiful crockery and you can see more on this post of the Grindley dinner set  There would always be baked potatoes – a la Fincham. Dessert was thick custard – the original home made custard, definitely not box custard. This would be served with bottled peaches which would be given a quick turn on the griddle pan and accompanied by a cognac sauce which as children we were allowed only a little of. In my grandmother’s home a Plum alias Christmas Pudding was also known as a ticky pudding.  (Named after the ticky coin that was steamed with the pudding)

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So why is a Plum Pudding called Plum Pudding when there are no plums in it?

In the 17th century, plums referred to raisins or other fruits. Plumb is another spelling of plum. Prune is actually derived from the same word as plum – the Latin word was pruna, which changed in the Germanic languages into pluma. But the terms were quite confused in the 16th and 17th centuries and people talked about growing prunes in their garden.

Till next time

Hennie & Sandra

 

 

 

A blue grayish lamp post in our garden

There were oil lamps in the streets and candles in the churches and it was reported that the ladies complained of the candle grease “falling on their wearing apparel”.

The Council embarked on a scheme for electric lighting, at an estimated cost of 19000 Pounds. The work was carried out by Messrs Morley and Dawbarn of London and Johannesburg. Mrs Caskie, wife of the Mayor of the day, turned on the lights at a banquet in November, 1904. Six beautiful street lamps were donated to the town.

The according to word-of-mouth it was donated by the British Monarchy. These stunning street lamps took poll position in front of the Town Hall.

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A couple of years ago we were driving through town and saw four guys rolling this base of a lamp. After some negotiation we were able to rescue this piece of the lamp post.

In the same year the then museum had to be moved. This was a main . . . main job. There was an old ox-wagon that needs to be removed. Under the ox-wagon a lot of broken pieces of a street lamp, was hidden. The then committee entrusted the broken bits and pieces to us. We learn that it was destroyed by a truck. We managed to get a photo of the original street lamp.

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Original lamp pole on the corner of Warden and Bester streets
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The lamp post clearly visible on the photo

In the words of Mother Teresa

If you want a love message to be heard, it has got to be sent out.

To keep a lamp burning, we have to keep putting oil in it.

Then the restoration process started. Hennie painstakingly started to put the pieces together.

He had to make new pieces where pieces were missing.
Painfully he managed to restore it

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The centre pole standing in the garden
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It was time to once again switch on the street lamp.

The details of the street lamp

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After many years the street lamp and Platberg forms part of the Harrismith scene once again. The gardens of De Oude Huize Yard can only be thankful

Till next time

Hennie and Sandra

Kersfees op Mont Pelaan

Die skrywe van Die Ware Boom het jare gelede in die Tuishuis verskyn. Die skrywe vorm deel van ons gaste-inligtingsleêr. Vandag deel ons dit met die toestemming van Johann met almal.

Kersfees op Mont Pelaan deur Johann Lodewyk Marais.

Op Mont Pelaan, die plekkie tussen Harrismith en Memel waar ek my eerste ses skooljare deurgebring het, is daar elke Desember ‘n “Kersboom” in die Boerevereniging se saal langs die vendusiekrale aangebied. Dit was vir ons, die kinders, die hoogtepunt van die jaar. Meester Olivier se handjie vol plaasskoolleerlinge het dan ook weke voor die groot aand reeds hulle stukke begin oefen vir die Kerskonsert wat plaasgevind het ná die geskenke vroegaand deur Kersvader uitgedeel is.

Vir ons het die groot dag uiteindelik begin aanbreek wanneer ‘n boom die middag voor die “Kersboom” op Meester se plaas Sunnyside, in die rigting van Memel, gehaal moes word. Gewoonlik was die wêreld daardie tyd van die jaar, teen vroeg-Desember, grasgroen en die Drakensberge sagte, blou kurwes in die verte, met haelwit wolke wat oor die aarde uitblom. Dan het al die seuns agterop die bakkie saamgery en om die verlate ou opstal help soek na ‘n geskikte dennetak om af te saag. Hierdie tak – volgens Marthinus Versfeld een “op die toppie waarvan die Bethlehemster van blinkpapier mooi sal vertoon, met genoeg takkies om presente vas te maak” – is dan by die saal afgelaai waar die vrouens dit die volgende dag tot ‘n behoorlike Kersboom versier het.

Ja, die Kersboom moes ‘n denneboom wees, soos dit in talle lande van die wêreld, veral in Europa, ook gebruiklik is. Ofskoon die sielkundige Carl G. Jung beweer dat talle mense hierdie tradisie navolg sonder dat hulle die ware betekenis van die Kersboom ken, het die Kersboom klaarblyklik sy oorsprong in sekere gebruike deur die Egiptenare, Chinese en Hebreërs gehad. Dit het die ewige lewe versimboliseer. In later jare het die ou volke van Europa op 25 Desember, wanneer die son op sy flouste is, groot vure aangesteek en hulle huise met immergroen plante versier. Hulle het geglo dat die sterwende son deur die vuur tot nuwe lewe opgewek word en die lewe van die verborge saad deur die ritueel van groen takke verseker is.

Die eietydse Kersboomtradisie kan veral na Duitsland teruggevoer word, waar dit teen die begin van die negentiende eeu reeds ‘n instelling was.

Daar is seker min mense wat nie met nostalgie aan die “Kersbome” uit hulle kinderjare terugdink nie. Maar hoe leef hierdie tradisie vandag voort? Ons samelewing het al hoe meer materialisties geword, en die sakewêreld huiwer nie om ook Kersfees ter wille van finansiële gewin uit te buit nie: dink maar aan die skaamteloos soetsappige klokkies en klingels wat reeds van voor einde Oktober jaarliks aan ons opgedring word. Hierdie uitbuiting word deesdae tog toenemend raakgesien en mense begin hulle hierteen uitspreek.

Meester Olivier het waarskynlik ook nie presies geweet wat die “ware betekenis” van die Kersboom is nie, want hy het ons nooit daarvan vertel nie, ook nie wanneer hy jaarliks die Kersverhaal voorgelees het voordat die geskenke uitgedeel is nie. Deurdat hy ons saamgeneem het om ‘n tak te gaan uitsoek en te help afsaag, het hy ons egter die geleentheid gegee om ‘n egte ervaring mee te maak, wat waarskynlik op ons ‘n veel groter en blywender indruk gemaak het as wat ‘n duisend woorde sou.

Miskien sal ons en ons gesinne Kersfees ook veel intenser beleef indien ons dit met egte dinge uit die omgewing soos ‘n ware Kersboom, kan vier.

Tot volgende keer

Hennie & Sandra

A Free State Harem

It is always an honor to share a writing of Leon Strachan. This  was taken from Blinkoog (2002). Thanks Andrew Barlow for translation, Mia Prinsloo – the granddaughter of Jurie who introduced us to the ruin on the hill,  Niek Swart who show us around and Biebie de Vos for sharing some of the photo’s

“Look at that, that is crazy Jurie’s harem…no there….. on top of that hillock directly behind Reennenhoop’s homestead. He imported French girls, indeed from the Moulins Rouge.” In the puritanical reformed Free State rural area? A harem? Naughty French girls?

The sandstone ruin on Reenenshoop created a phantasy which held its fascination for many generations thereafter. Perhaps it is something still derived from ages ago herd instincts which have not died out fully yet. So that the very idea would still raise mens’ blood pressure.

The satisfaction of a bull with a whole herd of heifers, or something like that.

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The house was to be in a T shape, with the living area in the long leg, and the reception area in the top of the T. The walls were more than four metres high of solid sandstone with no mortar, no shortcuts were taken  – which is why it still remains almost intact. Top Italian artisans who were part of the  1200 workers who had completed work on the Union Buildings, and who were clearly highly competent did the stone masonry.

There was an unusual amount of building shortly before the First World War. “Juri costruisce castle”  remarked an Italian stone mason in his broken English-Italian in the bar of the Central Hotel.

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“Yes the Hall of Mirrors is much longer than the whole of the Central, and the walls are this high” said Retief  as he pointed to a spot halfway to the top of the second storey” as the men were gossipping in the Central Hotel. Niek and the Hall of Mirrors

“I hear that it is harem?” Si…il harem” replied the Italian. The harem story spread like a wild-fire. When the unusual door and window frames arrived there from England  a few weeks later the wild fire became a raging fire

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Leon and Mia in a “window”. Mia shared a little information that her grandfather would stand here would tell them about many lights and water” Suzie would put blame old age to it.
“My husband, do you have fever?”  she asked him because it was still many decades before the Sterkfontein dam and the Tshiame township would arise there..

“The harem story is then really true” remarked one of the men on the truck. He pushed his hat to the back of his head and wiped his forehead. He hooked his thumbs into his suspenders and kicked against one of the crates. “Look. this what a harem’s windows should look like!

“How would you know Thys?” The others burst out laughing. Later some of the clerks from the station  walked over to the goods shed to see what all the noise was about. Two ox wagons were loaded with the crates in which the unusual door frames were packed – wide and high. Solid frames with sky lights , all of Oregon and made on special order in England. Some of the window frames were higher even than the doors, extraordinary pieces. “Yes Jurie will have massive mirrors against the walls of the reception room and seven French girls have already arrived in Cape Town.”

“Never”.

“That cannot be true”.

“It is so, Chris Cloete had to have them fetched from Cape Town”

“Nonsense, Chris is a man of the church. He would not do it. In any event where are they now?”

“He merely paid them and put them on a ship back to France.”

Oh no!  Why the devil would the man have done a thing like that?”. said cross-eyed Thys, “if Jurie does not want them, I will take them.

“Yes you old loud mouth, you cannot even keep Zina satisfied!” The men roared with laughter but had to dodge quickly  – cross-eyed Thys throws anything he can get hold of, even empty cream cans.

The story starts much earlier, at the time 1840 – the stretches of land belonged to the Uys family in 1840 including Reenenshoop. Dina Uys married Louwrens Wessels.Three children were born Jurie Johannes in 1883. He passed matric at Harrismith in 1899 – this was unusual. Boer children at the time did not have much schooling  – Boer Matric was the norm –  catechism, writing, reading and arithmetic. Jurie was the first person in this predominantly English-speaking town to have achieved this distinction in spite of the fact the English speaking people had a completely different attitude about learning.He achieved this in the first class. Jurie, perhaps had little choice other than to farm.

By 1906 the economy had improved slightly and Jurie was able to go to the Cape Colony to buy sheep. The handsome 23 year old red-head  had a head for business. Faan Bekker of Rietvlei in the Aliwal North district had sheep for sale. He stayed with the family for a couple of days. At first Jurie was only vaguely aware of her, until he caught her eye – the ‘bywoners’ girl with a ‘kopdoek’ and soulful eyes which haunted him so much that on his return to the Free State, he wrote to her. He wrote in English but halfway through the letter he switched into Afrikaans. It is in this language that she replied, explaining her life as a ‘bywoner’s’ daughter. In his reply, in his neat handwriting, he declared his love for her.

They were married within a year.Without the headdress Suzie was beautiful woman – he  had quite an eye for beauty. With increasing self-confidence Suzie made her mark on Reenenshoop. The neat sandstone house became a home with a warm and friendly atmosphere.  The spontaneous girl from the Colony made friends easily and liked to entertain.

The fairy tale transformation of the servant girl to a popular hostess married to an anti social man. He did not visit people and didn’t go to church and had not even been confirmed. Suzie only much later persuaded him to be confirmed and even for this she had to get the parson to come to the farm.’

Suzie had entered a world of riches but it was not easy at all. Her intelligent and well read husband was forbiddingly strict he didn’t tolerate any opposition, his “no” was “no”. This she could respect but his unreasonable obstinacy later became a thorn in her flesh.

Jurie was an enigma; as strict, miserly and relentless as he was, he could spend money lavishly on something which he regarded as worthwhile. He overwhelmed his beautiful wife with valuable jewelry and started to build a dream hose for her. On completion it would probably have been the most imposing house in all of the Free State, Suzie’s complex husband, in his own way cared very much for her.

Jurie’s favorite spot on the farm was the high ridge to the north of the house which dominated the surroundings. From there he could survey the whole farm and see to the farthest horizons. He could sit there and dream and plan  – and even see visions. In a moment of inspiration he decided to build a palace for Suzie, her a castle. On the eastern point he measured out the foundation. He planned a large home with a wide passage, four large bedrooms, a big kitchen and a large reception area for his Suzie.

It was the gigantic reception room with its very large windows that set the tongues wagging. This room was 80 feet long by 24 feet wide, with a surface area of 175m2 which in 1912 was bigger than the average house. Imposing, overpowering it was comparable with the Hall of Mirrors of Versailles which it probably inspired.

The fact that French girls were involved furnishes the clue. Jurie was well read and had an excellent general knowledge and had traveled too – certainly, he had visited Versailles. He knew how Marie Antoinette’s room of mirrors had entranced, impressed and even intimidated and he wanted his Suzie to come to her own in this hall. The outside wall of that room had six very large high windows as well as two similar ones at each end. With mirrors at regular intervals in the spaces between the windows and mirrors along the opposite inner wall, the effct of light, reflection, unspoilt nature and phenomenal view it would have been astounding. Like Versaille’s Hall of Mirrors.

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Hammer blows on metal chisels were heard daily from sunrise till late at night, in between shouting, threats, cajoling and encouragement of drivers  of drivers and guides of teams of oxen drawing sleds full of fashioned stone from the quarry to the building site.

Jurie kept his plans to himself. Even his neighbors could get no information from him.”Why are the rooms so large, – heavens you could turn a span of oxen in them.” Jurie had no patience with fools. “Well, I see that you are not gong to talk. But tell me one thing – how are you going to get water to that hillock ?” That was a body blow – it is a dry hillock . There are limits to reasonable man’s patience. “Hey man! A harem does not need water. That long room is for the French girls that I am going to import. Do you understand?”

When the walls were roof high the imported doors and windows arrived at the Harrismith station. They were transported from the station with ox wagons. The last heavy lintels were raised and mortared in position  when the Great War broke out in 1914.  Jurie rebelled and joined the commando of Wessel Wessels. The building stopped and the ‘bywoners’ had to look after the farm. It was during this time that Jurie heard that some of his cattle were missing. He arrive at Reenenshoop late on a Friday night. Suzie had measles, and he heard that a neighbor had stolen his cattle. To crown everything his fine black piano had also been taken. That was not the end of his troubles; one of his workers had betrayed him. On the Saturday morning the police came to arrest him. He saw them in time and fled to the cliff from where he fired at them. He informed them but he would surrender voluntarily on Monday morning if they would give him enough time to recover his cattle.

On Monday morning with Suzie well wrapped in blankets he and she went to town. She convinced the magistrate that she had written to him at the request of the government.  Suzie managed to have him released but he did not recover his stolen cattle. This was the beginning of three important events in his life –

  • a feud with his neighbor which would last for more than a generation
  • his conflict with the law
  • the ‘bywoner’s treachery

This would torment him for the rest of his life.

In spite of all his eccentricities he cared very well for Suzie and the children – Jurie was happiest when his children and later his grandchildren entertained him with music, and need only to have listened.  Irene who was born nine months after the marriage had two brothers – Laurence, who they called Laurie nine years later and  Hugo who was named after the in-laws as they had also moved to the farm to assist with the farming. Suzie accepted the fact that he  was a miser. With farming with laying hens and making butter she had an own income to finance her social activities.

Drama with the law did not remain absent for long at Reenenshoop.

  • Jurie bought a Spanish donkey stallion in order to improve his donkey stud and he was convinced that it was a mule, he refused to pay  and had to go to jail for a few days and the seller had to pay for his board in jail.
  • During the East Coast Fever epidemic the movement of cattle was prohibited. The border guards caught him and was fined fifty pounds. He went to jail again. Suzie had to face her prominent friends while Jurie could not be bothered about it at all.  She paid the fine. Jurie was enraged. “You are wasting money, I was happy in the jail, nobody bothered me.”
  • Jurie, Suzie and their last child Hugo were on holiday in Durban. Jurie was fined by a traffic policeman and again refused to pay. He was in the cells in Durban and commanded Suzie not to pay the fine. She took a tomato crate put a few cushions on it, Hugo could hardly see over he dashboard but Hugo took the Studebaker and Suzie back to the Free State. Days later Jurie telephoned, he is out and “I am enjoying the holiday and will return by train.”

Suddenly Jurie dressed with care when he had to go to town, this was every second day. Suzie wondered what was going on. He whistled happily when he thought that she could not hear him – she became suspicious. Suzie in a roundabout way found out about the English speaking very grand woman. Suzie wrote a scathing letter in Afrikaans and her daughter Irene translate it. She then re wrote the letter and had it delivered by hand. She had insulted the temptress in her own language. A day or two later Jurie came home, very annoyed. “And then you pretend that you cannot read or write English!”

Jurie paid no attention to social norms. This with his eccentricity, his self centredness and strangeness which was due to his bi-polarity made him known as Crazy Jurie. A severe condition of suspicion gave rise to an anecdote of Crazy Jurie without which Jurie’s history would be incomplete. Jurie wanted his son, Hugo, to become a surveyor because he was convinced that he had been cheated out of land by those who had sold farms to him. He wanted his son to measure his farms accurately. Jurie did go to university but came nowhere near the department of trigonometry but enrolled for medical tuition with the assistance of his mother without the knowledge of his father.

Suzie has by this time accepted her fate and did not doubt that Jurie would refuse to pay for Hugo’s studies if he had enrolled for anything else except to become a surveyor. A white lie was the only recourse to get Hugo started. Hugo did extremely well in his first year and Jurie expected that he would in the December holiday survey the farm properly. This was naturally and Jurie was told the truth. He was angry but still proud of his son and thereafter supported and encouraged him.

The infamous rondavel was not only a refuge from the sheriff, it was also the place where he isolated himself when he became depressed and could last for weeks. Laurie and the ‘bywoners’ had to see to the farming. The rondavel revealed much about him – sandstone, thatched roof and white scrubbed wood floor. At one end there was a copper bedstead and a shelf with many books. Across from this was a Queen stove which in winter was fired with corn cobs and a comfortable sofa draped with a karos. Next to this he had his desk on which were heaps of books, magazines and a radio. Jurie did not miss the morning news and listened to classical music while he did his accounting, opened the post and attended to correspondence in his neat handwriting. This was where he read the newspaper, he had subscribed to “Die Burger”  and received a bundle weekly by rail from Cape Town.

The cartoons from Die Burger and Die Landbouweekblad were collected religiously – Kaspaas, Häger and Waldemar were collected and pasted and kept in  large books. The pleasure which he obtained from the cartoons indicate a healthy sense of humor which gives rise to the suspicion that he may have laughed at his own escapades.

Suzie was an excellent hostess and smothered her guests with charm and hospitality and entranced them with beautiful jewelry. Besides rings with large diamonds, a heavy slave braclet, a gypsy charm, a gold lucky bean bracelet with rubies and amethysts but the Star of David necklace was her favorite. This necklace was a large white diamond surrounded by blue sapphires and a host of small diamonds.

Dressed in this finery she on a certain Sunday invited several guests. Her back then had become slightly stiff, and on this day the guests included the local member of parliament, the bank manager, doctor, school principal and naturally the parson. However, Jurie was again in isolation.

Her assistant had arrived there earlier that morning with a basket suspended on each end of a pole, each basket filled with fruit from the orchard. Leg of mutton had been cooked to perfection, the turkey was filled and gammon spliced with bacon. Beef, potatoes, sweet potatoes and vegetables were on the stove and the aroma from the kitchen was delicious.

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The table had been laid with fine delicate porcelain on a white damask table cloth with a large vase of red roses in the middle. With the start of the meal the guests were in a jovial mood after a few rounds of drinks. While wine was poured in crystal glasses Suzie lifted the lids of the dishes one after the other. She looked up questioningly.

“Johnny where is the turkey?”

“The trukey is gone.”

“What?”

“Yes.”

“How is it gone?”

‘It was stolen”

“Who stole it?” She was dumbfounded, angry, livid.

“The master.”

Jurie was a teetotaler but he enjoyed eating. He and a young man who worked for him had gone to the river with the turkey. Under a large willow tree they sat and ate the turkey, calmly, without affectation and without any worries.

Till next time

Hennie & Sandra