Wednesday, May 30, 2012

South African childhood FERNDALE Johannesburg.1960's

In the early 1960's my parents had six children .They were  financially stable enough to build their dream home. My father bought a plot in Ferndale -that was four times the size of a normal plot.
My mother said she did not want the neighbors to hear her screaming at us kids.

The red arrow locates Ferndale -a suburb of Johannesburg. South Africa.

My Unika Lower School photo.
The next year I went to Linden High School.

The architect came highly recommended by my father's friend Wilhelm Theron who had their house in Pretoria designed by him. The architect whose name I forgot- was married to Dalene one of the top fashion designers in South Africa .She was based in Pretoria and I  was much more intrigued by her-than him.Wilhelm  and his wife Makkie never had children, so the guy could go to town and he designed them a beautiful modern house , based on 3 feet by 3 feet blocks. He also designed the furniture to go with the home. It was a magnificent house and years later ,when I was a designer in Johannesburg, we had a fashion show there.
The architect  and his fiance,  the designer Dalene came over one night to present the plans for the new house to my parents. I was mesmerized by her and her beehive hairdo. My mother was not thrilled with his designs as he had the living area -living room, dining room, kitchen and breakfast area separated by curtains -and no walls.With five boys living there my mother had visions of us swinging from one end of the house to the other on all these curtains. That was the first thing that had to go .It was a split level house with the living area on one level. Upstairs there were four bedrooms and two bathrooms .Downstairs he designed a dorm-type room for Zackie, Frikkie and Charel with
their own bathroom and outside door via the garage. I was thrilled to have my own bedroom  upstairs, with a built in desk.Perhaps I would start to enjoy homework now ? That lasted for about a week!
Quintin and Carin  -who were eleven  months apart- had their own bedroom, and there was even a spare bedroom for guests.
We had a African guy Aaron working for us who was from Zimbabwe.He would work in the garden during the day  but would help in the kitchen washing-up at night. The African men in South Africa rarely worked in the house but Aaron was use to it ,growing up in Rhodesia, as it was called then. 
My mother had to cook for 11 people every night. The family consisted of six children, my mother and father, grandmother plus the two servants. The African woman would help to prepare the vegetable but my mother did all the cooking. She really hated cooking and would much rather spend her time reading ,sewing or knitting.We also had a pool but my father was adamant that we were responsible for the pool .Aaron did not use the pool, so we had to take care of it. That was one of the stipulations when the pool was built.

It became a pain .In the summer it was not too bad cleaning it as you wanted to swim in a clean pool but to take care of it during the winter was a drag.We had a filter that cleaned , but we had to manually  scoop  the leaves off the water and stir the dust that sunk to the bottom of the pool so that the filter could flush the dirt out. If the pool was not clean we were not allowed to swim until it was cleaned. Once or twice it was so dirty that as punishment we were not allowed to swim that day. That was embarrassing when you invited some friends over for a swim !

 Oupa Zack. My mother's father.

On the 29th of May 1962 my maternal grandfather died. Zacharias Andreas De Beer was born November 1 1886  in Murrayville CP. I knew him  well as my  maternal grandparents lived with us for a long time. It was the first death of a loved one that I experienced. We were visiting my father's brother on the farm when we received the message that Oupa Zack had died.
I remember that my grandmother wore a black suit with a fur collar at the funeral -walking behind the coffin with my aunts and mother -crying softly. The rest I blocked out.My mother went into mourning and wore dark colors for six months. My grandmother wore black for a year and then went  into greys and navy after that.It was then decided then that my grandmother, Ouma Kittie ,would come and live with us again. She moved into the big room downstairs and Zackie moved in with me . Frikkie and Charel went into the  spare bedroom upstairs.

Colesberg .South Africa.

My maternal grandmother Catharina Magdalena Vorster was born 28 of June 1892.Her parents were well to do and lived on a farm in the Karoo near Colesberg. Cape Province.
 During the Boer War she spent three years , with her siblings and parents in Portugal. The Portuguese Government refused to hand over South African Refugees who fled to Mozambique. They were sent to the town of Caldas da Rainha  (The Queen's Spa) in Portugal.
The city was founded in 1484 by Queen Leonor who established a hospital at the site of some therapeutic hot springs.

My Ouma Kitty ,on the right.

Caldas da Rainha. Portugal.

Queen Leonor statue in Caldas da Rainha.

 After the war they returned to South Africa where my great -grandfather was imprisoned by the  British for about three months in the Colesberg jail. My Grandmother became deaf in her early 20's but she did go to College in Graaf Reinet and became a teacher.
She met my grandfather and they got married on 27 December 1915 .It was a double celebration as his brother Dicky married her sister.

My grandfather Zack de Beer on the left ,with his brother Dicky.

Some of the grandchildren photographed in Ferndale.

My Grandmother with two daughters, Willa and Rina  ( my mother) left,
 and three daughters-in-law, Ina ,Elize and Grieta .

My grandparents were married for 47 years and had 10 children of which 8 survived. Four boys and four girls. My mother was the fourth child and the second daughter.
By the time I became aware of my Grandmother she had a hearing aid that she carried in a pouch on her chest. My Mother  grew up in a silent home as my Grandmother could lip read, but communication was restricted to the necessary .No small talk, and as my grandmother was an avid reader all her children also read. Up to this day my mother's family can sit in a room without talking and be very comfortable with it.I enjoyed talking to my Grandmother and even if this was a difficult time for her ,I loved listening to  her telling me about her childhood and the time in Mozambique and Portugal. She was a very intelligent woman and also very religious. She even frowned upon me listening to a organ recital on the radio on a Sunday. She expected us to stay in our Sunday best after church ,and behave like gentlemen and not hooligans. She had very strict notion of what was right and what was wrong.


Sunday afternoons South Africans visited each other for tea and cake. Every household had some cake and other refreshments prepared as you never knew who was going to turn up. My Grandmother  could give a very cold stare if she felt you misbehaved. Because of her not hearing that well she was rather aloof and came across as  cold and arrogant. She had a funny side and could have a good laugh once she was relaxed. The other grandchildren was rather careful when she was around ,but I was not scared of her as I knew her so well .She lived with us for several periods of her life.


For the first time I became more aware of my brothers as well.
When I was nine and Zackie was five- it was a big difference . I was thirteen  by now and he was nine years old .We also shared a bedroom .We never became close at that stage, but I was more aware of him than before. I was a little jealous as he, Frikkie and Charel were closer in age and had a bond.  Quintin and Carin were closer in age  -so they bonded as well . I was the odd man out.

  Carin right top and left bottom. The rest Henry at different ages....

Our neighbors were the van der Westuizen's and their daughter Gerda who was about three years older than me. She was an only child. Her parents had their own business and her mother worked as the bookkeeper for their company .Gerda was old enough to have a boyfriend and his was a senior at the same high school I went to in Linden .He left to study at Stellenbosch and it broke her heart.
Gerda was at a technical college learning to become a bookkeeper like her mother.
We spent many afternoons together making instant coffee from boiled milk and dipping cookies .They had bulldogs and to my amazement these dogs ate the avocados that fell from a tree in their garden.


Mrs. Van was very sweet and I liked her a lot. Her husband was a bit moody and I stayed clear of him! A few weeks before we moved in my father and Mr. Van had a car accident on a rainy day a few miles from home. My father's delivery van slipped on the wet road and skidded into Mr. Van's car. Not a good way for new neighbors to meet!

 Gerda and Henry New York  2012.

Gerda called me Schick- and still does. I still see Gerda  and Frank when they pass through New York to visit their son Quentin in Phoenix Arizona.

Other families living in Ferndale I remember ,were the Beneke's .We became good friends with them. They had three children Christo, Wessel and Daleen. Wessel was my brother's hero as he overcame polio and was a great sportsman. They were very good looking family. Christo and Wessel was older then me and Dalene my age.

Riaan Cruywagen
 Anchor for SABC News from 1975-2012.

 The Cruywagens also lived in Ferndale .Their grandfather owned a big part of the land in Ferndale that was used to grow fruit. Riaan , the oldest son, became the  news anchor for SABC Television .
He became a house hold name in South Africa.We all use to take the bus back from Linden High School  together. I remember his brother Bokkie as well as his sister Christine that was in my class. I knew her the best as we were the same age. She died very tragically in a car crash a week before her wedding. Driving back from Pretoria  with her fiance and her mother to visit Dalene Beneke in the hospital their car crashed. Her mother and fiance was badly hurt but they did survive.
Their father was the choir director at our church and Riaan started to study the organ at that time.
 I remember Mrs Beneke telling my mother that when she and Mrs Cruywagen saw me at church they would try and avoid me as I would tell them their hats did not match their dresses....I don't believe I was that forward. If they asked I might have given them my opinion, but I don't think I would have told them that without being asked....
 I also remember the Stegman family .Their grandmother was Tannie Bester, a tall women with grey hair worn as a swirl on her head. She was our Sunday School teacher.

Jamie Uys ,the Spielberg of Afrikaans movie making's daughter Kobie I knew well.When her father needed extras for his movies they would announce it as school and many kids and their parents were extras in his movies. The studios where on the top of Aasvoelkop ,At that time he was working on "Kimberly Jim" starring the American singer Jim Reeves as the lead .

I was starting to go through puberty  but my voice had still not broken,
I was going to Linden High School now and was asked to sing the soprano part in their performance of  J.C. Witty's Oratorio "Ruth". It was so well received that it was recorded by the  South Africa Broadcasting Cooperation (SABC). I remember sitting in their recording studios in Commissioner Street  Johannesburg listening to the play back .I  also recorded some children's song by Maria van der Mark with my friend Famke Boersma ,for the children's program of the  SABC.


I also went into a mayor depression that rocked my world. A few things brought this on.
One day I was at the shop and saw a woman that I saw before, but this time she was in a wheelchair. She could not sit up straight and her head was hanging. I was shocked when the shop owner told me that her gardener attacked her with a shovel and paralyzed her.I became so worried about my mother that was at home  when we went to school and my father went to work. She was left with my grandmother , the African lady that worked in the house and Aaron. Aaron could be very morose and I was wary of him .All of a sudden he became a threat ,in my eyes , to my mother. She assured me that she felt very safe and that he was very protective of her. As soon as he saw somebody at the gate he would stop them from entering the property, if her did not know them. Alfred working next door in a orchard ,also become a threat as well, and I watched him like a hawk!

"The Big Show"

I went to see another film with my friend Johan Pretorius.
It was called "The Big Show" with Esther Williams and Cliff Robertson. It was about a family that owned a circus that fought and killed each other to become sole owner of the circus.
I saw it many years later on TV in London and it was a very insignificant movie -but I found it very disturbing at this stage of my life. Growing up in a big family with  five sons there were many  battles going on every day and my parents trying to control it.Whenever voices where raised I went into a panic .I woke up in the morning with a knot in my stomach that stayed there for may years.
My parents did  not know what to do. I would burst into tears at the drop of a hat. Those days nobody went to psychiatrists unless you were completely off your rocker .
While I was at school it was better but once I came home I would tense up again. My mother spoke to me and gave me the best advice :-Take one day at a time and don't worry about tomorrow just get through this day. It still works for me.

To make matters worse ,the Mitchum's lived  behind us. He use to be connected to a circus. He still had a little pony and a large chimpanzee  .Their son was a trapeze artist in Europe and he would visit with his wife periodically and we could watch them working on their act from out house. I could not get away from the circus ! When I looked out of my bedroom window I saw the high wire and at all times we could hear the chimpanzee rant and rave.

Angry Chimpanzee.

One Saturday afternoon  my father was working in the garden. All of a sudden he heard Mr. Mitchum call out and when he looked up he saw the chimpanzee  charging at him. My father had a trowel in his hand ,as he was building a pump house, as his only defense.
Fortunately my father was alone .My mother was visiting her sister in Cape Town with the two younger children, and my other  brother's were on the farm. I was away at a school camp in Margate .

Mr. Mitchum screamed at my  father not to move and stand still. The chimp charged through the fence- his mouth wide open and screeching .When he reached my father he put his mouth over his foot but did not bite him. By that time the neighbor was right there and grabbed his chain. Fortunately the chimp calmed down right away but my father was furious. What would have happened it if was one of the children ? If we ran away the ape  would have mauled us. Soon after the authorities told him he could not keep a wild animal of that size on a private property anymore -and it was removed .

Boswell's Circus.

I promised myself that this depression will all go away in two years time. As it happened a few month later the South African Boswell's Circus came to our neighborhood and I forced myself to go there , not for a show ,but just to visit the circus. It was in the afternoon and there was no show on. I walked into the big ring to face my fears. I could smell the sawdust on the floor and hear the performers talk as they went about their work- and the animal noises.
When I left I knew this period was behind me and it felt if a big load was taken off my shoulders.
It was also a lesson to me to face my fears and not run away from them. It is a lesson I have never forgotten .Up to this day I will rather confront a problem than run away from it.
After this I  started to remove myself from situations that would upset me. Some Saturday mornings I would go with my father to his business. I would walk around in the city and see many poor and destitute people- black and white. Little old ladies that looked sad and alone.
It gave me a fear of big cities. It is so strange that I would end up living in New York City one of the biggest cities in the world....perhaps by doing that I confronted my biggest fear.

The Rand Easter Show at Milner Park Johannesburg.

Another event I remember was the Rand Easter Show that was held every year over Easter at Milner Park next to the Witwatersrand University. My father's business exhibited there and for two weeks he would come home very late  .I would take  the bus there on Friday afternoon and Saturdays and be memorized by everything . At 11:00 pm I would hitch a ride back home with my father. I remember the Italian, German and UK pavilions ,and watch the horse jumping or even the cattle shows. Hearing different language and seeing good looking people from all over the world. I dreamed about the time when I would be able to visit all these places. At the Lorenco Marques ( LM ) Radio booth and the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) exhibit we would see the radio personalities doing live broadcasts and mostly the voice did not match what one expected them to look like.
The Wool Board had very glamorous fashion shows that wet my appetite for fashion even more.It open the world to me and I came home with keep sakes of every exhibition and some free samples to boot.To me it was a fantasy land!

The reigning Miss South Africa would also be at the Coca Cola stand and I remember seeing Penny Coelen there in 1958 when she was not only Miss South Africa but Miss World. I can't remember ever seeing such a beautiful woman before

 The winner of the 1958 Miss World beauty contest, Penelope Coelen of South Africa is pictured sitting on a throne and wearing her  crown  at the Lyceum ballroom in London on 13th October 1958.
 On the right  Miss South Africa, Rolene Strauss the newly crowned Miss World 2014, with South African 1958 Miss World, Penny Coelen Rey.