Friday, April 6, 2012

South African childhood - LINDEN - Johannesburg.

Linden, with the city of Johannesburg on the hill behind..

Although Linden was about three miles from Parkhurst- it was a different world. Parkhurst was a mixed neighborhood with English and Afrikaans speaking people but Linden was about 95% Afrikaans. Johannesburg was mostly  an English speaking city with a international community in the 1950's- and  is even more so today. My parent were building a house in Linden Extension so we moved into a split level house on 3rd street in Linden until the new house was finished.

Louw Geldenhuys Primary School

Me in my Louw Geldenhuys school uniform.
I was seven yours old and in my second year of school. I now went to the Louw Geldenhuys Primary school and we wore grey pants white shirts and a maroon blazer. Our teacher was Hansie Malan who I like very much .Her husband was a Springbok rugby player and a  national hero.
Here I started making  friends, some  that I still see today. People like Christo Bloem ,Famke Boersma ,Riette Richard, Stella Fouche .The elite of the Johannesburg Afrikaners lived in Linden so the school was rather snobbish and one strived to be a good student and to better one self. Bad language and bad behavior was frowned upon .I had to forget all those swear words Lettie taught me and I started to be a decent boy.....!
Christo Bloem was in my class and we became buddies. His parents were much older than my parents and he had a sister who was adopted. His mother was a great cook ,and he would bring home-made pies to school for lunch that he very generously shared with me .He was very cocky and if he did not like things happening at school, her will call his mother and she will  come to school and give the headmaster hell. Once one of the rugby playing kids at school called him a name and he marched straight to the headmaster's office and demanded the secretary to call his mother. When his mother came on the line he told her what happened. A half an hour later the bully was called to the office and punished. After that they left him alone. He took no nonsense from anybody.

On my birthday I came back from school and my mother blindfolded me and took me into the living room .When she removed the blindfold I could not believe my eyes. There was a beautiful reddish brown wood piano. I was speechless. I have been nagging for months to learn to play the piano.
my mother found a piano teacher that lived in an apartment block close by. I could not wait to go for my first lesson. She was a rather depressive woman who  no real passion for music. She taught me how to read music but nothing more.\I was not so keen on the practicing every afternoon but my mother threatened me that if I don't practice there would be no more music lessons for me.... I wanted to do this, so now I better step up to the plate!

After a while I realized that I was not getting anywhere with this teacher and my mother heard about another teacher. She was not  keen to pay almost double per lesson but realized that the first teacher was not great.Jean Perkins was  a tall elegant woman who lived near the school. She came from a very musically prominent family in Johannesburg. Her mother had a music school in the city and Anton Hartman -the conductor of the Johannesburg National Symphony Orchestra -studied music with her.

 Johannesburg National  Symphony Orchestra.

 Jean Perkins had  large  music room attached to her home with  a big concert grand Bechstein piano .This was much more my style than a upright piano in an apartment living room!
 Just going for lesson was a grand occasion.

I had 8 lessons a month (twice a week) and if there was an extra day in the month, the lesson will be spent with her giving me a recital.(or I could miss that lesson) She was an amazing pianist and a great artist. I would watch her in amazement as she played Chopin, Liszt and Rachmaninoff. She awakened the passion of music in me as well as being a great teacher. I would sit there and watch her with a lump in my throat loosing herself in the music. She called me Hen and we had a very close relationship.She also appreciated me singing and came to all the concerts when I sang.
She was also like a therapist. She was very sensitive to my moods and sometime she would stop the lesson and ask me what was wrong as she could sense I was not  playing that well.
I studied piano with her for the next seven years- until we left Johannesburg to move to Bloemfontein.She was married and had two sons a bit older than me. Many years later I learned that she committed suicide when I wanted to contact her again. 

She was a soft spoken  sensitive person and a real artist-  not from this world .I will always remember her blond hair in a French twist on her head and her beautiful hands with long fingers on which she wore a beautiful big green stoned ring or a ring made from tortoise shell.. She enriched my life and really showed me what is was to be passionate about something. I think her depression stopped her from becoming  a world renowned pianist.

During the hot summer months of  the school vacation my mother wanted us to take a nap after lunch . I think it was more her that needed a break. We were four boys  by now in the family. My mother's brother Oom Koos and his pregnant wife Tannie Elise was visiting us and they all went to have a nap after lunch. Zackie shared a room with me I started bouncing on the bed -being bored out of my mind. My mother heard me from her room where she was resting. Zackie was only four years old- but I knew better! I ignored her and went on bouncing...she was in the other room how would she know? I heard her curse under her breath and heard the bed creaking- I knew I was going to get it.

I ran barefoot to the front door that had a glass panel next to the door .I put my right hand on the door frame to open the door with my left hand but my hand went right through the glass panel. I got the door open and tumbled down the thirteen  front steps that  lead up to the front door.
When the glass broke I heard my mother scream .When I looked down at my right arm there was a cut from my elbow to almost my wrist. I did not feel any pain ,but my knees buckled when a saw the fat tissue , bone and blood. I also had a cut on my foot  on some glass on my way down.
By this time Tannie Elize and my mother got to me and Elize said straight away that I  must have  stitches. I did not want to hear that- as injections and needles were not favorite things in my world!  My mother did not drive at that time so she had to call my father to come from work and pick me up  and take me to the city where Dr. Henning ,our family doctor ,had his consulting room .
I was given some sugar water and aspirin  for the shock . I was starting to feel rather weak because of the blood loss. My mother wrapped my arm in a towel to try and stop the bleeding .It took my father about an half an hour to get there and another half and hour back to the city  to get me to the Doctor.

I had to get several  injections right into the wound before he gave me 13 stitches to close it up....
During this he looked at my father and told him to put his head between his legs-.My father was rather ashen faced by then- and looked as if he was ready to faint
I was received at home with a lot of love and my brothers looked at me with big eyes filled with admiration .I felt like a conquering hero coming home....but my parents told me there was a lesson to be learned when you don't listen. When one is  disobedient ,bad stuff happens.
 I thought is was rather cruel of God to punish me like this for bouncing on the bed. After that I was a good boy for a few hours longer.

After about 18 months me moved to the new house in Linden Extension. My mother's parents were coming to stay with us .There was a  two bedroom cottages built in the back yard and my grandparents and my mother's younger sister Tannie Hanna came to live with us. She worked in Johannesburg at a big import company and when stuff got damaged during shipping she would get it cheap. She came home with the weirdest stuff. A lamp made out of glass flowers ended in my bedroom when my grandfather made a stand for it. I thought the pink glass rose with the light inside was just beautiful!

This was my Unika Lower School photograph.

She brought my mother a mink stole that my father declared "cheap swank".
She also bought beautiful  clothes that she would wear once and then give to my mother.
Tannie Hanna was almost like an older sister to me and after a while we had royal battles. She could be very moody and one day she will be great and the next day she could be very nasty to me.She would have dinner with us at night as my grandmother cooked for her and my grandfather in the afternoon. I remember what a neat eater my grandfather Zack was .To watch him eat was a pleasure. He cut every piece of food with his knife  in small portions and then use his fork to bring it to his mouth   .He would chew it for a long time and then lift the next portion to his mouth When he was done the plate was clean - not a bit if gravy was even left.
The garage was filled with his work bench and tools where he spent most of his day. He could do anything with his hands and could fix anything. He built us a beautiful wooden pigeon house on a high pole and we had to keep the doves holed in there until we were sure they would not fly away. He made  a high chair for my mother to use in the kitchen. He was a very quite and religious person. Very gentle but when his temper flared you better watch out.

Henry  Zackie Frikkie Charel

Henry  Zackie
Charel  Quintin Frikkie.
In the back ground is the pigeon house my grandfather built for us.

The de Beer family .
I am standing next to my grandmother in the white shirt and black tie.

Oupa Zack.

My grandfather  Zack de Beer ( Zacharias Andreas) was born in Murrysburg in the Cape Province .His father died when he was very young so he never even finished school as he had to help his mother to support the family. He met my grandmother in Colesburg.He married her the same day as his brother Dicky married my grandmother's sister.

My grandmother Kitty Vorster  ( Catharina Magdalena ) came from a wealthy Colesburg family .During the Boer War their family spend three years in Portugal  to escape the war. When they returned to Colesburg her father  was imprisoned by the British ,as he was seen as a traitor. The Cape Provence ,where Colesburg was located-,was part of the British Colony and not part of the Boer War.
She was an educated young woman but lost her hearing at a very early age. They were both very religious but from post cards that my grandmother showed me- very much in love.
They had eight living children .Four boys and four girls-my mother was the fourth child.
She and my mother were very close as both had keen minds. Both were rather closed people so their relationship was loving but not very open. My mother always said she never thought she would get married. Just the idea of her telling my grandmother that she was interested in man was too much for her. Once she was a Cupid Doll in a school concert .She could not tell my grandmother that she needs to wear short ,so she told her they had to wear a skirt. When my mother arrived at the dress rehearsal the teachers had to bundle the skirt between her legs and use safety pins to make the skirt into shorts.

Ouma Kitty and Oupa Zack 

As my grandmother  was deaf my mother said they grew up in a silent home. When they came home from school my grandmother would be reading a book and they would wave to her and she would serve them their lunch without any talking .Only the necessary words were spoken. My grandmother learned to  lip read and communicated with her husband and children this way.All the children loved to read and at night it was silent while everyone read and did his own thing. My mother said she can not remember one intimate conversation she had with my grandmother while she was growing up - not even when she became a woman .She had to learn about that from her girlfriends.
All this made my mother a much more reserved person than my father was. He came from a talkative family who was more social .Both my paternal grandparents were very outgoing and loved company.
 I always find it very strange - that when my mother's family is visiting ,very little will be said. I remember walking into my parents living room with twelve grown ups sitting there- in total silence.
 Buy the time I knew  my Ouma Kitty she had a hearing aid that she carried in a pocket of her  underwear. When we spoke to her we had to speak into the hearing aid that was on her chest. When she  spoke on the phone she held it upside down so that she could hear the person on the other side of the line.
I was rather close to her as I was so bored with the domesticity of our household and all the kids.
After school I would go and visit with her and my grandfather and listen to  many stories of their youth. When my Ouma Kitty 's sister Nellie came for a visit she told us even more. My Ouma Kittie was very religious and had a very closed outlook onto the world. Because she did not communicate so easy she was perceived as snobbish and cold ,like many of my  uncles and aunts and my mother -were. My grandaunt Nellie was very outgoing and her stories would embarrass my grandmother. I loved her visits because that showed me another side of Ouma Kitty.

In my grandparents room was a framed text saying in Afrikaans:- 

"God ken alleen die regte pad,
Wat uitloop op die hemelstad"

(God alone knows the right way to heaven.)

They lived their lives that way and they were a great inspiration to their children and grandchildren.
On Sunday evenings my parents would go with Hanna to church and my grandmother would baby sit us while my grandfather listened to church over that radio. My Grandmother would play the piano and teach us religious (Hallelujah liedere) songs. She inspired me to live a good life and  to see God's hand in everything.

My grandparents in 1959 dressed for Hanna's wedding.

Hanna was seeing a man that was living  in the Cape Provence and when he came to visit he asked her to get married. There was great excitement as she was going to get married from our house and she asked my mother to make her wedding dress. My mother's other sister Miemie brought her old wedding dress to see if that could be used but at the end my mother made the dress from scratch.
I do remember my mother sewing the wedding dress on the Bernina and even to this day I find the sound of a sewing machine very soothing -as I hear it every day in the workroom it reminds me of my uncomplicated younger days growing up.

My two cousins Shani and Rina were the two bridesmaids. They wore pink dresses with green things in their hair. I was very outspoken and  critical of this color combination and told them so.
Shani went to her father- Oom Zackie- in a huff  and told him I said those colors don't match .She came back very full of herself and told me her father said it is the colors of nature .
Pink roses have green leaves- so that is that......I was still not convinced!
This whole wedding got on my nerves and my attitude gave the bride a lot of fodder for battle and we were at it constantly .I  was very glad when they got in the car to leave at the end of the day.
As the car pulled out -starting their thousand mile drive to Cape Town the women were crying and waving .I  had a hard substance in my noise that made my eyes tear up when I had my finger up there trying to get it out. When my grandmother saw that ,she laughed through her tears  and pointed to me saying "Henry is also crying now that Hanna is leaving".I protested vehemently but they would not believe  me....!
They moved the  Rhodes Fruit Farms near Stellenbosch .They adopted two boys and when the eldest son died in a car accident, they inherited a lot of money. I think his death destroyed her as well. After Oom Johan died she moved to Robertson to be near her son. Today she lives in a state of dementia and in a world of her own.
Unfortunately my mother was pregnant with my fifth brother Quintin, just around the time that kids at school were talking about sex . I did not want her to come near the school or show her face when I had friends around. How embarrassing! You could fool yourself where you came from but to have your mother walking around pregnant for  the whole world to see was a nightmare.
I tried to explain it to a friend when he mentioned that my mother might be pregnant -
"Women  only did "that" to breast feed their a babies ". I knew for a fact that my mother never breast fed as I was giving babies their bottles for longer than I wanted to remember!
 The bastard did not want to buy that story!

One day I was having a heated argument with my mother and thought I will get her
I said:- " I know why you go to the Doctor every month! "
(We never said you but -Mom I now why Mom goes  to the Doctor every month)
I thought she would crumble at my feet and admit her sinful life but I was very deflated when she said: "Is  that so, I am glad you know ?" .... and left the room.

"Spoelgrond" Johan Pretorius.

 Johan Pretorius was my friend and they lived next door .He was a year older than me  but we did not mix at school as he was in a higher standard than I was.  Our parents played tennis together. His father was a writer and a very intellectual man. His most famous book was called   "Spoelgrond".
It was published the year I was born.
 His mother Thekla was a strange woman and she spoke to us if we were grown ups .I remember how depressed she was about President Kennedy being assassinated.. She could no stop talking about it .Even before he was elected he was her hero.

 She was  very  intelligent but not very motherly. I liked her and she could make the most wonderful chips.( French fries) She was Afrikaans but went to an English school .Why she ever got married and became a mother I never knew She lived in another world- detached from husband and kids. Johan  took care of his younger brother and sister and did all the gardening as well.

He loved movies but I did not .The music was too dramatic and disturbed me. He invited me to go and see 'The Ten Commandments "with him. I watched about one hour of it and told him I am going back to my father's business to go home with him. I had nightmares about the Pharaoh's daughter finding Moses in the Nile all night. Also found it strange that Moses spoke English with an American accent?
 Another friend was Elsabe van Agtenbergh. Her father Oom Aggie and my father worked together at the CNA and knew each other well .They lived a few c blocks away They had a tennis court so every Saturday afternoon we would go there to play tennis. Elsabe's mother was Tannie Gertie  She had two bothers and a sister as well.We got along well but they moved to Pretoria later when we moved to Ferndale we lost contact.The fathers
'The house in Linden Extension was now too small once again, so my parents decided to build a bigger house in Ferndale where I would have my own bedroom-Hallelujah! My grandparents were going to move to Springs and live in a apartment near my mother's older sister Willa and her husband.We move into a house on North Street until the new house was finished. Here is where Carin was born. After having five boys my parents at last had the girl they waited for so long. With five older brothers she did no have a easy time. She was thrown into the deep end and it was swim or sink for her. She and Quintin were only 19 months apart ,so they were closer -but also fought like cat and dog.
When I left home to study in Cape Town she was about 6 years old, so I only saw her when I came home for vacation. I then went to Europe to study and when I returned she was about 14 years old. I was amazed to see that she developed into this young lady who was rather timid and shy.
That image was shattered a few mornings later when I heard a fish wife go off at Quintin for daring to come into her room! I then knew that we had nothing to worry about as nobody would walk over her!
In 2013 She came to visit me in New York on her own, and we had the opportunity to get to know each other even better. Today she is married with two grown daughter's of her own, living in Pretoria and working as a PA for the CEO of Anglo American.


  1. As usual with your blogs, Hank, this one is most interesting and informative. Those of us who lived our lives on the other side of "The Pond" know a lot more -- thanks to you -- about living in South Africa.

  2. Hey Hank, I live in Linden today with my darling husband and tiny baby son. We love it here! I came across your blog by accident but it's so groovy to read about Linden in the "old" days! Do you remember Dawid Pienaar from Louw Geldenhuys days? He is in his 50's I'd guess. Great guy - he's our vet now, but I've spent many happy hours chatting to him about growing up in Linden and how for ages there weren''t all that many houses but LOADS of fruit trees!

    Thanks for your blog. It is just wonderful!