Saturday, June 23, 2012

South African Childhood BLOEMFONTEIN,

Bloemfontein in the Orange Free State.

Bloemfontein Post Office on the main square 1954.

Bloemfontein. Orange Free State. South Africa.

Bloemfontein 1900.

Bloemfontein Wedding 1910.

My father business, Rand Sewing Machines  was expanding and he had about 5 retail stores by now. He had many good managers in the Witwatersrand area but could not find somebody suitable  in Bloemfontein.

My father photographed in Switzerland with Sally Goetz, visiting the Bernina Sewing Machine Company there with her and her husband Oscar Goetz.The family consisted of 6 children by this time and Bloemfontein had some of the best schools in the country. My father  was also a target shot and Bloemfontein  was the center of bisley shooting. That meant that every Saturday afternoon, when everybody else was on the golf course ,my father could be target shooting. All this made Bloemfontein an ideal place for us to live. 

General Christian de Wet 's statue in front of the "Raadsaal" Bloemfontein.

 Bloemfontein "fountain of flowers" –  is the capital city of the Orange Free State  Province of South Africa. It was named after the Dutch Royal family -"The House of Orange" .

It was also  the judicial capital of the nation, one of South Africa's three national capitals – the other two being Cape Town the legislative capital, and Pretoria , the administrative capital.
It was founded in 1854. It had many historical buildings.

The Appeals  Court.

National Museum

City Hall.

Queen Elizabeth Arriving for a ball at the Bloemfontein City Hall during the Royal visit to South Africa 1947.

We saw Xavier Cugat and his bride Charo in 1966  in a concert in that City Hall as well.

In 1968 we also the famous Flamenco dancer Lucerna Tena
and her company perform at the Civiv Theater.

Lucerna Tena with Marlon Brando in LA.

 Bloemfontein  was small town living. Here one could walk down the main street and after a while you knew many people, and they greeted you after a few days. This never happened in Johannesburg. People were very friendly and they mostly spoke Afrikaans.

Grey College Bloemfontein . Architect :- Sir Herbert Baker.

 University of the Orange Free State.

Oranje  School for Girls.

Bloemfontein had many great schools like Grey College, Oranje Meisies skool, Eunice School  for Girls, plus the  University of the Orange Free State and a Teachers Training College. This meant a lot of young people. Most South African girls from wealthy families  received a sewing machine on their 18th birthday - so my father's business  was booming.Fridays were big shopping days as all the farmers came in to fetch the students for the weekend. Monday morning very early they were brought back and more shopping was done then .After that the town fell asleep until next Friday when the  streets were jammed once again with  Mercedes Benz , BMW and big American cars. The Free State had many very wealthy farmers. Some were cattle farmers, others grew corn .Also many cherry farms near Ficksburg .Mostly Afrikaners but also some Lebanese and Armenians as well as some " Boere Jode" ( Jews that spoke Afrikaans)

An "Afrikaner bull "

Cherry Farms near Ficksburg.

Corn- the staple of Africa.

At school my main subject was Art .To get a  University  degree I  also had to have a third language  .
I decided that German was easier than Latin. My brothers got into Grey College but they would not accept me as my main subject was not math. This turned out to be a blessing as my parents decided that I should go to Art School at the Technical College where I could finish my school diploma as well earn a degree in  "Commercial Art" . I had three years to do this. I was very excited about all this as I did not need to wear a school uniform anymore. I was not ready to leave my parents and go back to Johannesburg to study. I wanted to study fashion but my parents insisted that I at least get a Commercial Art Degree so that I will have something to fall back on, if I did not want to do fashion anymore.

The day I went to Art School Carin started school as a first grader. She joined Zackie, Charel and Quintin at Grey Collage, as they took girls for the  first two years of school. After that she went to Oranje and Frikkie went to the Technicon.

Mazelspoort Resort.

My maternal Grandmother, Kitty moved with us to Bloemfontein .Her sister Miemie shared a house with her in Zastron Street. They were within walking distance from their other sister Johanna  .They also had another sister Anna around. It was like catching up on their youth.My mother's sisters and brothers all came to visit for Christmas and we went camping at Mazelspoort ,a resort close to Bloemfontein.

N.G Kerk . Bloemfontein Wes .

I wanted to keep up my study of music but thought I would like to try the church organ. The organist at the Weskerk in Bloemfontein was Barbara Louw .She was also a professor in music at the University of the Free State and I contacted her. She thought I was still too young to start the organ and decided that I should continue my piano studies .After I  returned from my first lesson with her she called and told me I should meet her at church for the next lesson as she felt I was ready for the organ.
Organ music like this ,inspired me to want to play the organ:-

One paid the church for the  use the organ and as there were many University students the organ was booked for almost every hour of the day. We each had one hour a day at the organ for practice.I had to put a bar of wood under the seat as my legs were too long, and I could not play the feet pedals. It was a big four manual organ .

When Professor Michael Schneider, the German organist, came to the University to give master classes, Ms. Louw used her influence for me to attend as well .

I was growing up fast and felt I was coming to be my own person . At 17 I was at "college "and not a school boy anymore. At the Art School the students were mostly older but  Hardy Botha - who  became a well known South African artist - and I where the youngest and we still had to finish "school"

Philip du Toit.

Some of the other first year students were Philip du Toit , who was about 4 years older than us and had been to University already, but switched from music to art. Lettie Venter was also a little older than me .She and her twin sister Kobie were very close and we all became friends and still keep contact up to this day.Bossie was another character in the first year ,and we had a lot of fun .Not a worry in the world with very little responsibility.

Lettie + Henry.

Marie + Henry.

Some of the third year students were hard core and very artsy.Dassie looked like Morticia of the Adams Family and Willie  was 'n James Dean clone - broody and moody- that drove the girls crazy.

Lettie, Willie ,( James Dean) ,Philip, ,Dassie ,(Morticia) ,Lausanne.
Henry, Annaline. Marion  ?  Mike Edwards , Christa,  ?  Beatrix,  Hardy.

This is the Art School students the second year.
Back row middle:  Hardy, Philip, Henry.
 Second row:- Bossie, Lettie (long blond hair) and Beatrix  next to her .
Front row fourth from the left :- Ms. Luckhoff.

Thinking back it was all very innocent but I was only 17 and not use to all this. I almost had a fit  in an evening class of figure drawing when the model walked in and dropped her clothes and  posed naked for us! I did not know how to tell my parents we had a naked woman to draw....The next time we had a guy that worked on the railways that came from work all dirty and smelly and I remember the perspiration running down his arm to the tip of his finger where it dripped onto the floor in a puddle!

Father Claerhout was a very well know South African artist and he joined us  from Thabanchu for these classes.


Mike Edwards was the head of the Art school at the Technical College. He is very a talented artist who works as a painter and sculptor in South Africa.

Mural by Mike Edwards .The South African Delville Wood War Memorial in France.

Mike Edwards at work.

Mike Edwards- Portraits

My portrait- below left.

One Sunday Mr. Edward's wife Paddy called and asked me over for tea. When I got there he asked me if I you would mind sitting for him as he wanted to do a sculpture of my head.  He accentuated my big ears and gave my head a triangular shape with a lot of hair on the top.

During that time Edwards was asked to sculpture the first State President of the Republic of South Africa CR Swart. One of the other students  at the Art School- Philip du Toit -sat for the body of the President so Mr. Edwards could concentrate on the head alone when the President came for his sittings.
Sophia Luckhoff by Mike Edwards

Another of our lecturers where Miss Luckhoff. She taught us pottery and water painting. She was rather odd and elderly already but she lived for art.She spent her summer vacations n Europe going from town to town- visiting churches and museums.She awakened in me the desire to go to Europe and see all these great art works for myself. She was so passionate about it all that she made you love it as well. She could describe a painting in such detail that one believed it was the real thing in front of you and not a photograph in a art book.
She loved Philip as he love pottery and the two of them did great things together.
I was rather half hearted in all of this. I wanted to study fashion but I had to get these three  years behind me before I could follow my dream. I did enjoy the figure drawing as that was the closets to what I was interested in .Painting I did enjoy as well, but I was not as passionate as the rest of the subjects . Hardy was a maniac when it came to painting, and we knew he would be great artist .He was mad about El Greco's paintings.

Here is his website:-

El Greco.

Lettie and I got along very well. I loved her personality and sense of humor. Her twin sister Kobie went to the Teacher's College and she was always around us as well . She and Philip were were  big friends. They would scheme to get their mother to give them her  Sonop credit card and we would go nuts.They would buy what they needed ,and then some.... We would treat ourselves to  Ice Cream Sundays and have a ball spending money. Later they would have to explain all this to their mother that would swear they will never see that card again. Soon they will work it out of her hands once more  They knew how to work it .Lettie as well as I just got our driving licenses, so when I could get hold of my father's car, I  would call them and we will be off to the road house for a hamburger.
Lettie ended up working for Sarie Marais as an artistic director in Cape Town.
Philip went into Interior Designing also in Cape Town .
Neither  Bossie or  Beatrice ever worked in the art field as far as I know.

Commemorative stamps. Republic of South Africa 1961-1966.

Mike Edwards got the commission to design and build the floats of the Orange Free State as well as Bloemfontein for the big celebration of the South African Republic's fifth  birthday in 1966.
It was going to be held in Pretoria .I think Hardy got paid to help Mr. Edwards but the rest of us worked for free. The night before the floats had to be ready we spent the night at the college preparing them for the trip They were put on over sized trucks and driven to Pretoria under a police escort. Hardy and Mr.Edwards traveled with them. Philip and I went by train a few days later to meet them and to touch up the floats when they got to Pretoria. They arrived safe so had very little to do but to partake in all the festivities around the city.
I remember going to the gallery and I saw the sculpture of my head on the exhibition that Mike Edwards was asked to participate in.
As representatives of the Orange Free State we got some good seats on the stands at Voortrekkerhoogte. We saw Dr.Verwoerd arrive with all the other dignitaries. The parade went on for hours and I was pleased when it was over and we could get out of the sun .


Twee Toring N.G. Kerk. Bloemfontein.

Philip was a music student at the Free State University before he came to Art School. He was still in close contact with many of the students there. Dolly Heiberg was the organist for the Twee Toring Kerk, and many of the students sang in her church choir .She was a magnificent organist and the Sunday evening service there use the be a grand affair with great music, choirs singing and the organ  threatening the blow the church's roof off.  She would play Bach's Toccata and Fugue that the hairs will stand up straight on your head....I played that organ once when our neighbor's daughter got married. Wonderful experience. Bloemfontein was a very musical city.  It had a Youth Orchestra ,several Youth Choirs. The Oranje Kamerkoor and music was appreciated. It was quite common for  the rugby captain to be  in the Youth Orchestra or singing bass  in the choir. Grey College also had a famous choir.

One day Philip asked me if I would like to sing in the SUKOVS  choir. The South African Government sponsored a state theater in each of the provinces for opera, ballet and  plays. This season they were gong to do the "Zigeunerbaron " by Johann Strauss. They needed male voices and I would get paid.After my voice broke I did not sing anymore and missed it .I was a Ok  tenor but had no high notes anymore. I could read music and that was a big plus.

It took a lot of pleading for my parents to agree to   this. At the beginning we rehearsed once a week . It then became three times a week and a month before the performance it was almost every evening and Saturdays as well. They were worried that this would affect my studies at Art School. I was also studying organ part time so I had very little free time. My parents agreed  as long as it did not affect my studies. As I did not have a car Philip offered - for a fee- that he would pick me up every time for rehearsals and bring me home. His parents where wealthy farmers and he had his own apartment as well as a little two door white Vauxhall car.

Vauxhall  1966.

I can still remember the excitement receiving the book of all the music of the operetta. I was a real pro now -getting paid and all. Derek van der Merwe was the conductor and he was also a professor at the Free State University in music. He was a brilliant pianist as well. He would accompany many famous singers when they visited Bloemfontein.

Derek van der Merwe.

Cecilia Wessels.

Dramatic soprano born 7 August 1895 in Bloemfontein, died 14 December 1970 in Cape Town.

I remember a concert by the famous South African Soprano Cecilia Wessels.
She was close to 70 by this time and would give her swan song concerts in Bloemfontein almost every year. Derek van der Merwe accompanied her and I went with Philip to listen to her concert in the University Hall. During interval I slipped backstage and there she was sitting all alone in her dressing room. I told her how much I enjoyed her performance. She said" Thank you Darling-God bless you."She was dressed in a cream colored lace dress that had seen better days. As  Philip remarked "the hem was rather dirty sweeping on and off  stages of the many concert halls she frequented..."  her face and chest was  powered white all the way down into the rather low cut neck line.Afterwards Derek said she forgot so many of the words that he had to jump back and forth to keep up with her. When they got backstage she said so him "I helped you out there many times- can't you read music?!
Click below to hear her voice :- She was in her 60's when this was recorded. It is an Afrikaans lied that was composed specially for her. She said the composer was a boyfriend of her daughter. He went to fight in North Africa  during WW2-  and never came back .It is beautiful and one can hear what a great singer she was.

The next is an opera aria "Und ob die Wolke" from Der Freisch├╝tz by Weber.

Derek van Merwe rehearsing the SUKOVS choir. Ina Kruger third from the right.

Philip knew most of the choir members at SUKOVS ,so he introduced me and I felt at home .I was the youngest there. It was so exciting to learn the whole opera piece by piece .First the male choir will practice on their own then the full choir and slowly the soloists will start drifting in. Closer to the final rehearsals we will have a sit down with the  orchestra  .That was so amazing to hear the whole piece come together. We had to go to be measured and all the costumes were made to measure- even the boots. When we moved into the theater a week before the performances it became an unreal world of make believe. The story also affected one and I could not look at the singer  that was the bad guy in the opera -even if he was the nicest person off stage. I now can see why actors fall in love with their co -star. It the world of make believe it is difficult to separate reality from fantasy.

Karoo Farm.

After classes Philip and I will have to wait to go to the opera rehearsal and we would go to his apartment and listen to music.He had a very nice apartment and had money to spend .He only had one brother and his parents were very wealthy sheep farmers in the Karoo near De Aar . He had a great sense of humor and his mother was just as funny. He would regale us at Art School with stories that his mother told him over the phone the night before. We would be rolling on the floor.
One weekend he invited Beatrice Kobie  and myself for a long weekend to the farm. I was laughing so much that had to lay on the floor. I could not sit anymore.

His mother was just as funny. She  bred Siamese cats. The cats were  magnificent creatures, very highly bred. .He gave me one as present to bring back to Bloemfontein with me .His father was rather serious but would chuckle once in a while when the humor got to him as well .

Philip had a  new recording of Maria Callas singing "Carmen."

 Later I begged my mother for money and bought my first recording .It was Maria Callas singing Mozart, Beethoven  and Weber.Today I still own that recording but in CD format

Maria Callas.

I sang in two operas in Bloemfontein Johann Strauss's "Zigeunerbaron"  with Louisa le Roux Cronje en Sjoerd Beute.The next year the opera company did  "The  Barber of Seville" by Rossini under Eberhard Kunckel  with Desiree Talbot and Helmut Holzapfel.

I did all the music rehearsals but my paternal  grandmother died in February 1967  ,so I missed the dress rehearsal .When I walked on stage the second dress rehearsal Gregorio  Fiasconaro -the director threw me out. SUKOVS had to pay me as I asked for permission to leave and go to the funeral .I had to be at every performance to sign in and get paid .I would find an empty seat in a production box and watched that opera more times than I can remember....

Later in Cape Town working with the CAPAB Chorus Fiasconaro directed  again ,but obviously he did not  remember me.

Oranje Kamerkoor.

Derek van der Merwe also was the director of the Oranje Kamerkoor ( Orange Chamber choir )
He would select the cream of the opera choir to sing in it for the rest of the years after the opera was done.. I did not even try. My friend Ina (Kruger) Whelan  sang in the choir. She is in the front row far right.
Their accompanist was Elizabeth Joubert. A very elegant and chic woman that could play the piano like a dream.She later married Etienne le Roux, the South African writer.


Philip de Vos and Luisa le Roux Cronje 

Philip de Vos was the most famous tenor in Bloemfontein and on Saturdays during the summer  he would sing at some social weddings .I met him at the opera rehearsal and one evening he called and asked if I could accompany him for  two weddings as his accompanist was ill and could not do it. I was rather excited that the local Pavarotti asked me to do him this favor.When we got to the reception (he sang in church with the organist) we sat down and had some refreshments. After all the speeches it was rather late and the candles on the tables looked beautiful.I knew the first few bars of the music by heart and started to play the introduction. When I looked up I could not see a dam thing -the lights were so low and I never checked that there was enough light to see the music  .It was a disaster and we hit every 10t h note at the same time.He never asked me again.Soon after he left Bloemfontein for Cape Town where he still lives.He is a famous writer , poet and photographer today.

In the arcade in Maitland Street where my father had his business was a Bridal Store called Adrie  .The owner was  Kotie Britz ,but we all  called her Adrie. She was always  having tea and visiting .I think she adored my father and loved talking to him and him giving her advice about running her business. Her husband was less energetic than she was and it was not a match made in heaven They had a daughter Ina that I became friendly with. Adrie had a heart of gold and would love to have us over to their holding outside of the city. She could not do enough for you .She stuffed us with food whenever we visited. She loved my mother and all us kids as well.I would visit her in her store  after classes -if I was getting a lift home with my father.My father insisted that I take a bike and use it to go back and forth to the college. He felt I was not exercising enough. I hated that bike. I would puncture the tire  more than once .Adrie was amazing .When she had a bride coming in for a fitting that afternoon she would start around 11:00 am. Clean the cutting table lay out the fabric take a measuring tape -make a few marks on the fabric and cut it- no pattern. Sometimes very expensive laces. She had a pattern for a sleeve.- but that was it.....She would get in behind the machine and stitch the gown together and be ready when the bride walked in. She would fit it on the bride and then Leonora her African seamstress would finish the dress do the beading etc. If you came in to see her - Leonora had to leave the bridal gown and first make tea. Between the two of them they did all the work , and Adrie did very well. She was known to have a great fit. She taught me not to be scared of fabric. She always said you can always fix a mistake in a dress. I would make some sketches for her and when I came back the next day the gown will be on the display mannequin  in the window! I could never do what she did as I don't sew. I can work miracles on a paper pattern but once the garment is cut and sewn I go back to the pattern to correct the changes.....She never had a lesson .Her mother taught her to sew and the rest she taught herself....

At home things were going better as I was almost never home and I could  not get bored.
The house my parents bought had a courtyard with my bedroom opening into it .I don't think my father ever knew how late I came in .My mother did.  We did not run around. After  the opera we would just go for a quick coffee and the latest I would be home will be 12:30 am.This happened very rarely. I knew if I messed up my father would put a stop to all this fun. My parents still had a very tranquil life -reading and listening to the radio at night

Frikkie, Zackie ,Henry,
My mother and father,
Quintin, Carin .Charel.

One day at my organ lesson Ms. Louw asked me why I was not prepared for the lesson and I told her that I was not in the mood.Well that was it! When I came home my mother was waiting for me at the door. My organ lessons were costing a fortune . I don't practice and when I am called out by my teacher that I was rude- well -hat was the end of my nine year music  career! I am sad to say that today I can not play a note anymore. Perhaps when I am ninety I will play again.I was just not that passionate about it anymore. It did awaken in me a great love for music and for that I am very thankful.

South African Airways Viscount.

I also flew the first time when I saved money and flew to Johannesburg and back for Shani ,my cousins  21st  birthday party.A few days before a similar Viscount airplane crashed in to the sea at East London so it felt a bit weird looking at the interior of the plane and thinking there is one like this in the  Indian ocean not far away. There were no survivors.


Pierre, Tania. Nadine, Liz and Karen.

Our neighbors in Bloemfontein were  Pierre and Liz van Zijl. They had three little girls:- Karen Nadine and Tania .Karen was the same age as my sister Carin so her two sister were below 8 years old. Liz was not yet 30 and we became great friends. Pierre traveled a lot so I would stay over at their house when he was away on business, We would sit and chat the whole night .They were from Cape Town and Liz would tell me about her years of growing up in Lambertsbaai off the Western sea coast of South Africa. She treated me like a grown up and would answer all my questions about sex and stuff that  I could not ask my parents. She was - and still is- a wonderful friend. Pierre had passed on but I still see them all when I get to Johannesburg.

Henry and Liz in New York 2010.

Henry, Tania and Clive.

After I left  Bloemfontein for Cape Town, they sold that house next to us and Dale and Lucia Pretorius bought I became friendly with them . Dale and Lucia invited me many years later, in 1982 to visit them in New York where Dale was working for the South African Tourist Board. I visited them for a month and then decided to immigrate to the USA. That was almost 30 years ago!

Lucia in my New York apartment .

Back in Bloemfontein the three years at Art School was almost over and I had to decide what to do with my future. I was not very keen about going back to Johannesburg .I was intimidated by the big city . Cape Town had a very good Fashion School The American Academy of Technology. They offered a year course in Fashion Design. I knew very little of Cape Town. We visited once when I was much younger. It was a beautiful city and not that big and overwhelming.  
It was decided that I would move  there in January of 1968. I was nineteen years old.

My Mother, Charel Zackie Frikkie
Carin  Quintin

Bloemfontein station.

I was to take the train  that arrived from Johannesburg at 5:00 am in Bloemfontein. We would then be on the train for the whole day- and night- and arrive in Cape Town the next morning at 6:00 am.
I asked  Pierre and Liz to come to the station as well .They very kindly agreed. I was in such a dream state and did not know what I was feeling. On the one hand I was excited but I was not going to see my parents again for  at least 6 months. I wanted Pierre and Liz there as they were not as emotionally involved and would calm my nerves. They were wonderful- joking and making the farewell easier .Both my parents  were very  quite and almost stunned. I could not wait for the train to move.
At last the whistle blew and it started pulling out of the station. I had to control myself as I was in a compartment with four other men and could not show any emotion.It was the first of many farewells that I had to endure through the years. It still is not easy to say goodbye to somebody you love .
My mother later told me that was one of the most difficult things she had to do .It was if I had died and left them forever.

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