Wednesday, 15 February 2012

1945 - The Year When a lot happened.

           I cannot remember how we spent our first Christmas on Hopewell but the church must have been important.  We were members of the Salem Methodist Church and most of our neighbours were Methodists.   My mother, Thelma and Bertha were busy with confirmation classes in the Free State and this had to be discontinued when we moved.  I can remember when they attended classes at the home of Aunty Joe Payne.   After we were settled on the new farm, they continued their classes on Sundays after the services at Salem.  So it was that during early 1945 they were confirmed in the historical Salem Methodist Church, and at the same time my dad was welcomed into the church as he had been a member of the Church of England until then.  He and my mom were married in a Methodist church and all we children were christened as Methodists but he had never been recognised as a member.
            The church at Salem is the oldest Methodist church in South Africa. The original church at Salem was built in December 1822, but this was demolished ten years after erection, to make way for a more solid edifice.   Just across the road from the church is the oldest cricket pitch in South Africa that is still in use”.
            Salem is a settlement about 20 km South of Grahamstown and 20 km north of Alexandria. It was founded as a settlement of the party of 1820 Wesleyan settlers under Hezekiah SEPHTON. The name is of Biblical origin (Gen. 14:18) and means "peace"; the local application refers to an incident in which Richard GUSH succeeded in securing peace with marauding Xhosas by means of a sermon, and gifts of tobacco and pocket knives. The original foundation stone of the church was laid by WH Matthews J.P. on 18 July 1850. The church hall bears the date of 1832.
            Daphne and I were joined at the Alexandria School by little brother Leslie.  Our cousins attending the same school were Walter, Florence and Gracie.  Les started school in July but soon caught up to the other Sub A’s as he was clever and had been schooled by our sisters (he was always known to the family as Boetie).  Walter was back at school after taking a year’s break to help his dad on the farm, but all the same he was still sixteen when he wrote matric.
            At school we all had to participate in sports but there wasn’t much to choose from so for me it was PT, rugby and running.  I hated rugby but ended up playing hooker for our school’s barefoot team.  I can remember coming second in a two or three mile running event.  That was quite an achievement.  Unfortunately I was never a sporting type and only participated because I had to.
            I can remember attending a welcome home party on a farm with the family somewhere near Seven Fountains when one or two prisoner of war soldiers returned home.  I can remember Ossie Long specifically, but I can also remember the great sadness of Mr and Mrs Fred Gush whose only son had been killed during the war and for him there would be no homecoming.  It was at this party where I saw and met my dad’s cousin, Aunty Pearl Pittaway, who lived and worked as Mrs Mabel Gush’s companion.  She was the daughter of my Grandpa’s sister, Harriet Pittaway.  I understand that the death of the Gush’s son was a devastating blow to them which they never overcame.
            Thelma and Gordon became engaged during 1945.  After his parents had met mine she was allowed to spend some time with them in Port Elizabeth where Mrs Bradford taught her the customs of city dwellers.  Mr Walter Bradford was a pucker Englishman, always well dressed and wore a bow tie, whereas Mrs Miemie Bradford was from an Afrikaans family and she never lost her Afrikaans accent. She was a very smart lady who dressed well and had beautiful manners.  Her one sister was married to my mother’s brother, Uncle Arnold Randall, and it was because of this relationship that Gordon and Thelma had met.  The wedding was planned for March 1946 and in the mean time the Bradfords would extend their house to make a flat for the young couple.
            It was on the 29th September of that year that our little brother Johnny was born.  Any “Laatlammetjie” is a special child and this was no exception, he was loved by us all and when his sisters were working, they would buy him toys and clothes like not one of us ever had.  Like the rest of us, Johnny was breast fed and grew into a healthy and strong little boy.
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Monday, 13 February 2012

My Mom and Dad’s Surprise

            I cannot remember whether or not I was surprised to hear that my mother was expecting another baby during 1945.  To me it would make no difference, but my sisters were all very busy knitting baby clothes.  In those days you had no idea whether it would be a boy or girl and I think to my parents it didn’t matter either.  Farther down the road, my mom’s sister, aunty Dickie, was also expecting.  My sister, Thelma, was being seriously courted by Gordon Bradford and he would come from Port Elizabeth for weekends to spend some time with her.  On the farm was an old Fordson tractor and Gordon decided that he would repair and overall the engine and have it running again.  This he did to my dad’s delight.  It had huge steel wheels with steel grips on them to prevent it from slipping, but it used to cut up a road if driven on it.  It was very useful and made farming easier and ploughing much quicker.
            My parents decided to go in for egg production and built wattle & daub chicken houses and bought day old chickens from Greenwood Poultry Farm to rear themselves.  In those days there was as yet no sexing of chickens, so you had to take what you got.  They bought Black Australorps but found that these did not slaughter well because of the black feathers.  The cockerels were slaughtered at about three to six months but did not dress well, so they decided to go in for the brown New Hampshires as well as a hybrid breed of white Leghorns crossed with the Black Australorps.  (The hybrids were white fowls with the odd black or brown feathers). The Australorps were beautiful fowls that shone with an iridescent green sheen in the sun and the Hampshires had beautiful light brown feathers.  These fowls all laid eggs with brown shells.  It is a fact that while fowls like Leghorns with white earlobes would lay white shelled eggs, our fowls with red earlobes produced brown shelled eggs.
            The milk on the farm was separated in the dairy and the cream sent to the creamery in Grahamstown.  There were many types of wild flowers growing on the farm and we would pick stems of Strelitzia flowers (called bird of paradise), blue Agapanthus known as blue bells, pink Nerinas as well as white & yellow Chincherinchees which we would send to the florists in Port Elizabeth and Grahamstown.  It all depended on the seasons, and at times it would be fynbos and proteas.
            On the 29th of September my mother went into labour and my dad rushed off to fetch the midwife in Alexandria, but the baby seemed to be coming sooner than expected so Thelma told me to run as fast as I could and go and call the old black woman on the farm who had experience with delivering babies.  As I was running back with the old woman following me, I saw Mrs Suttie also running down the road, but my dad arrived with the midwife before the baby could be born.  The baby was born without any trouble and it was a boy!!  He was named John Henry Whittal after our dear old grandpa and he was the only Whittal to bear the old man’s names.  A little more than a month later aunty Dickie also gave birth to a boy.  He was born on the 6th of November and named Robert James Whittal after a bachelor cousin of our fathers.  He has always been known as Jimmy and today lives here in Port Elizabeth, not very far from me.  Today Johnny has a granddaughter of about twelve years old, and his son’s wife is expecting their first baby, whereas Jimmy is the grandfather of three little children (two boys and a girl).  I wonder what the old man would have said!
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Farming with Chicory.

What Is Chicory?
Chicory is derived from the root of the chicory plant, which after it has been dried and roasted, consists of mainly compounded sugars, and more specifically, fructose (fruit-sugar). It contains no caffeine and is really safe to the human system.
            Alexandria is one of the most important chicory producing areas in South Africa and is also known for pineapple production and dairy farming.  This area also includes the Alexandria State Forest, known as Langebos to the locals, which is a narrow stretch of pristine indigenous forest bordering the Alexandria dune field, one of the largest active dune fields in the world.
            Recently the Woody Cape Nature Reserve, which stretches from the Sundays River mouth to the Bushman's River mouth and includes the dune field and the indigenous forest, has been incorporated into the Addo Elephant National Park

            I mentioned in my previous story about Dudley Foxcroft who was married to Thora Smith.  She was the daughter of Robert Thornton Smith who started farming chicory at Groote Vlei, but he soon realised that the soil at Kaba was better suited to the product.  The Mullers were farming there and Robert bought up all the chicory that they and other farmers grew. By 1920 they were netting 6500 pounds of chicory.  An early co-op to market the product foundered but a later one did much better.  (From the family history of John Baird Smith, ancestor of Thora Foxcroft.)
            Chicory roots are very similar to parsnips and the seed looks like carrot seed.  After the lands have been tilled, planters are used to sew the Chicory seed in rows.  It sprouts pretty soon and then the green leaves can be easily seen.  The lands should be kept clear of weeds by cultivators or chopping out the weeds with a hoe.  When the plants are big they send out tall stems of pretty blue flowers and this would usually be the time to use a plough to turn the plant out with their roots pointing upwards.  The roots are all collected and left in the sun to dry after their tops are cut off.
            The chicory would be transported from the lands to a shed adjoining a kiln which my dad had built.  The roots would be cut up with a chaff cutter turned by a belt attached to a tractor.  The pieces of roots would then be spread on a steel mesh tray and pushed into the kiln above the oven which was fired with big logs of wood.  The kiln had not to be too hot or the chicory would be incinerated, but it had to be hot enough to dry and roast the roots.
            The roasted roots would be taken to the factory of the Chicory Control Board for further processing from where it would be ground and sold to be mixed with pure coffee.  These methods have long since been done away with and farmers now deliver the raw roots to the factory for processing.
            Chicory was a better product to grow as it was not as badly affected by droughts as pineapples.  Unfortunately ill health and difficult times caused my dad to eventually sell the farm.
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Friday, 10 February 2012

Growing Pineapples on Hopewell.

            Pineapples are grown in rows from suckers or offshoots of the older plants.   If you wanted to grow more pineapples you had to hook a sucker from an old plant which had multiplied from the roots up by sending out new shoots.   The old plants were so tall and thorny that no one could jump over a row and would have to walk to the end of a row to reach other rows.   When the fruit ripened a picker would walk along a row carrying a bushel basket into which he placed the fruit which he picked on both sides of his row.   The fruit would then be loaded onto a trailer and taken to the store for sorting and packing.
            Pineapple packing cases would be made from planks and there were two sizes which would hold one or two dozen fruit each.   My dad would place advertisements in the Farmer’s Weekly and the orders received would then be sent off by bus or rail.  In those days the railway staff were honest people and the orders would reach their destination in record time.   If there was fruit left over after despatching the orders, this would be sent to the Port Elizabeth market or to the Jam factory.  This was a very busy time of the year and we children all learnt how to assemble the wooden crates and to paint my dad’s name on them i.e. “BRW  ALX” so that empty crates could be returned to our Railway station.
            When we first moved to that farm we used to cut the pineapple in half and eat the fruit out with a spoon, but I soon preferred to hold the fruit by its top, peel it and eat it, holding it in my hand.  The black staff received dozens of fruit which was loved by their children.   Baboons used to come early in the morning to raid the lands, but they would take just one bite out of a fruit, throw it away, and go on to the next one, causing a lot of damage.  They would have a sentry keeping watch from the top of a pole who was not afraid of women or men without a gun.  They could spot a man carrying a rifle from a mile off, give a loud alarm call “Boggom!!!” and the whole tribe would disappear into the bush.
            One day my dad shot and killed a big male and the black staff argued about eating it.  Some felt that it was too human with hands very much like their own.  They decided to chop off its hands, after which it was no longer human and they skinned him and cooked him.  His head and genitals were sold to a witch doctor who used that for “muti” to cure some or other disease!   These people were still very superstitious.  (muti =medicine)
            To loosen the soil between the rows of pineapples, a horse would be used to pull a cultivator and the man steering the cultivator also had to guide the horse by holding the reins.  They would be up and down the rows all day with rest periods in between when the horse was allowed to graze and led down to a fountain for a drink of water.  The wealthier farmers would use a tractor to cultivate a few rows at a time.
            During droughts the pineapples would be scorched by the sun, leaving the fruit dried out on the one side and rotting in the lands.  Unfortunately the Eastern Cape is known for its very dry years and during such times farmers operated at a loss.  There were no insurance policies where you could insure your crops for such losses.  At any rate, who had that kind of money, so it meant that you had to just hope and pray that the rains would come!   Thinking back now, I realize that my dad had to live through more years of drought than good years with enough rain.   He never told us about his problems, but we knew not to ask for things which he could not afford.  He seemed to spend a lot more time on the bed as he had developed stomach ulcers.
            Whenever relatives from upcountry came for a visit, they would enjoy the pineapples and ate so many that they ended up with sore lips!  My mother tried canning the fruit, and making jam, but the nicest of all was the pineapple beer which is made from the skins.  These days I seldom buy pineapples and even yesterday when I was shopping at “Fruit & Veg” I walked right past beautiful ripe queen pines without being tempted!
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Thursday, 9 February 2012

Uncle Dudley Foxcroft from Alexandria.

           From Alexandria you could take a road which ran through the beautiful indigenous government forest to an open area where you found farms with a lot of dairy cows. After driving through the tall trees which formed an arch all along the road, you came out at the coast where the first farm was the well known Greenwood Poultry farm of that time.  The Green children also attended the Alexandria school and Sheila was in my class.  Looking across the ocean you could clearly see Bird Island where thousands of sea birds bred and it was also the home of the Cape fur seals.   This area was called “Grootvlei” and overlooking the sea was where my mother’s cousin, Uncle Dudley Foxcroft, lived and farmed.  He was married to Thora Smith from the well known Smith family of Alexandria.  It was her father who first grew Chicory in South Africa.  They had one child only named Joy who was a year older than myself.
            During the war uncle Dudley had to keep a watch for any strange craft at sea and he had a clear view of the ocean from his house high above the coast.  One day he could clearly see a German submarine moving along the coast under the water, so the authorities were notified, but I do not know what happened after that.  In the sea sand and among the rocks you could see the rusted ribs of ship wrecks from the past. 
            We once went camping in that area where there was a fresh water fountain flowing from the rocks down to the sea.  To get to the camping spot you had to leave your vehicle at a certain place where a man with oxen and a sledge would take your tent and equipment down to the camping place on the dunes.  There were about 4 or 5 families camping there at the time.  The army tents which we stayed in were pitched in a sheltered spot behind a big clump of trees away from the sea.  You could not take a lot of things with you so I do remember us picking up planks from the sea with which we constructed a table.  We had little fold-up camping stools to sit on and at night we made a hollow in the soft sand where you rolled yourself in a blanket and slept.  For my mother we made a fireplace in the sand where she could do her cooking in her cast iron pots.
            It was my job to take containers every day and bring them back to our tent filled with sweet spring water.  Near the spring were middens of shells, roof high, where Strandlopers used to live a long time ago.  These people were tribes of Hottentots who lived on shell fish. There was also evidence that they had constructed fish traps among the rocks where they could catch and kill the fish at low tide once the waters had pulled back.  They used to live under overhanging rocks and wore seal skins.  During gale force storms, seals would be washed ashore on the mainland where these people clubbed them to death, ate their meat and dressed the beautiful skins to wear.
            While we were camping there, there were very strong winds one night causing huge waves to come crashing on to the beach and washing up many baby seals.  These little animals were calling like little lambs for their mothers, but there was no way that they could get back to the island some miles in the sea.  We actually saw some black men arrive who killed some of the pups and leaving later with the some meat and skins.  The next morning we noticed some paw prints in the sand around our tent and on closer examination found them to be that of a leopard.  These big cats came from the government forest to partake of the free meal provided by the sea and had passed among our tents.  We followed their spoor right to the beach were there was evidence of them killing seals.   After that all the children were warned not to run around in the dark at night just in case a leopard came looking for a meal.
            My dad caught a lot of fish from the rocks and I had to net them from below and move them away from the water.  What we could not eat, my mother pickled and packed in containers which she had brought along for just this purpose.  Aunty Thora was an expert at finding and stabbing soles on the under water sand.  These strange looking fish with both eyes on the one side of the head would wriggle themselves into shallow sand where they would lie dead still.  She had a three pronged stabbing instrument with which she would continuously stab into the sand until she could feel the fish wriggle, lift it out of the water and pop it into the bag that she carried on her back.  The fish could not escape as the prongs were arrow shaped.  Soles are the best eating of all fish.  She was very generous and would divide her catch among all the campers.
            One man camping with us wanted to show a baby seal to his little children, but when he picked it up, it bit his ear which was then hanging on a skin and he had to be rushed to a doctor in town where the ear was neatly sewn on again.  It was the end of his camping holiday, of course, and he was lucky that his ear was saved, although it was rather strange looking after that.  My father always warned us that a wild animal was not something that you could play with.
             We never went camping there again as uncle Dudley and aunty Thora moved from there to another farm.  On that farm was a very steep hill above the house and we children would climb it with home made sledges to slide all the way down the grassy slope.  It was a very tricky art to stop when you reached the bottom.  A rather dangerous game but fortunately no one was ever hurt.  It was all so different to what we were used to in the Free State where we had come from.
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Tuesday, 7 February 2012

More About The Black Staff.

        Old George had a very fair skinned wife.  She was obviously a half caste or a coloured person but could only speak isiXhosa.  She had long frizzy hair which she kept in a bun.  She told my dad who could speak perfect Xhosa that her father was a white farmer named Emslie from Salem.  She and George had two daughters, the one I have mentioned before was married to a black man named Pay.  They had quite a few children who obviously had lighter skins than the other little blacks.
            The other daughter was much younger than her sister, also fair skinned and rather intelligent.  Her name was Maggie and she worked for my mother in our house.   My mom had taught her a lot and she had learnt to speak English reasonably well.  She was happy in her job.  Her father came to the house one day to inform my parents that Maggie would be leaving as he had agreed that an old man whose wife had died wanted to lobola her.  She had as yet not been told about this arrangement as it was not necessary for a girl to know the details of her marriage.  My mother was horrified and poor young Maggie was shocked, if she was to marry she wanted a young man and not an old one with children.  My father tried to talk sense into old George, but to no avail.  He was too old to work and Maggie was the only person in his family who could.  He already had his quota of animals on the farm and could not bring any more there.  As he would not listen to reason, he was given notice to leave the farm and we never saw poor Maggie again.  We heard that she was unhappy, but that she had had a baby every year.
            The custom of lobola is handing over cattle to a bride's father as compensation for the 'loss' of his daughter.  The number of cattle so handed over for a prospective girl depends on her marriage ability.”  Maggie, having a fair skin and being able to speak English as well as knowing how to cook and work for whites, made her desirable for a man looking for a competent wife.
            My mother then employed noWanted to work for her.  She was a very happy person and laughed a lot and was pleased to be away from home every day where her husband’s second wife, noAmen, taunted herHe obviously liked his second wife more than noWanted. Wanteed, as we called her, smoked a long pipe as most black women did traditionally, and she used to smell bad, but nothing on this earth would stop her from using her “inqawa & icuba”- her pipe & tobacco. She was hardworking, trustworthy and did not mind my mom grumbling about what she did not do.
            When I was about 16 I had built a rockery and collected succulents to grow on it.
One Sunday afternoon while working on my rockery I could hear the little black boys playing and romping in the dam which was about 100 yards away.  Suddenly there was a lot of desperate shouting and screaming.  I knew that there was trouble so, while running to the dam as fast as I could, I started taking off my shirt, and when I got there I saw just the very top of a child’s head bobbing in the water.  I jumped in the dam and got to the little naked boy as soon as I could; I lifted him above the water and carried him to the bank of the dam.  I noticed that it was Doen, Wanteed’s son, and that he was limp and seemed to have stopped breathing.  I lay him on his side and started pumping water out and then he coughed!  By the time that his parents got there, he was sitting up and still coughing. These people had very little in life but Wanteed wanted to give me something so she brought me a half-grown chicken pullet.  (To tell you a secret, I have never been able to swim properly so I never go into water that is over my head, but somehow that day it did not matter.)
            When I caught a young black boy stealing one day, I pulled his ears and took him to his mother who would give him a hiding, which she did, telling him it was not for stealing but for being so stupid as to allow a white boy to catch him doing that!!!!!
            I got on very well with all these people and they were all keen to teach me their language and traditions.
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Monday, 6 February 2012

Our Black Staff on the Farm

            I do not know who our black labourers on the farm were when we moved to Hopewell but I will tell about some of those who worked for us over the years and what I do remember about them.  They all had a lot of children as they did not practice any type of birth control.  Each family had their own huts away from the others as they did not want to have any problems with their poultry or animals.  These people were not amaXhosas but amaFengu although they spoke isiXhosa.  Today they call themselves amaXhosas for political purposes.
            From the Internet we read –The name amaFengu means "wanderers" and the Fingo nation was formed from the tribes that were broken up and dispersed by Shaka and his Zulu armies in the Mfecane wars. Most of them fled westwards and settled amongst the Xhosa. After some years of oppression by the Gcaleka Xhosa (who called the Fengu their "dogs"), they formed an alliance with the Cape government in 1835 and were invited by Sir Benjamin d'Urban to settle on the banks of the Great Fish River in the region that later became known as the Ciskei. They subsequently became notable allies of the Cape Colony in the frontier wars against their former oppressors. In this capacity, they won several victories against their Xhosa enemies (particularly the Gcaleka Xhosa), and through shrewd and successful management of regional trade, formed a developed and materially successful nation. In addition, many bought farms and started businesses in the small towns that were springing up in that part of the Cape frontier.”
            There was old Tuben who was too old to work, his married son Kaiser, had two wives, noWanted and noAmen.  When a man married he gave his bride a new name so he must have wanted the first one very badly and as he could not afford a third wife he called the second Amen!  These two women were very jealous so Kaiser had to make sure that they were both pregnant at the same time.  There were hordes of kids but I can remember only noWanted’s two eldest who were named uDoen and noMama.  I saved Doen’s life once when he was drowning.  Doen used to live with his grandfather for who he had to mind goats and cook.  The old man did not have a wife but had another son called Nos who was a reliable and very pleasant young chap.  When he turned 18 it was decided that he had to be initiated.  He would enter the bush where a crude hut would be built for him and where he would stay for 3 months while being instructed how a man should behave.         
            Early one morning he was circumcised by a competent old man with a sharpened assegai.  His wounds were dressed with the leaves of a sore eye flower’s bulb and bandaged (The bulb is similar to an onion).   His whole body was painted white with clay and he wore only a skirt made from coarse grass.  He was the only boy to undergo this procedure for the transformation from youth to manhood on our farm that year.  During this period he would have to find food for himself and would be assisted by boys who brought him cooked whole mealies known as iinkobe.  I often went with the boys to help him gather firewood and hunt for small animals.  His father and the other men on the farm would visit him at night relating the history of his tribe and instructing him how to be a man.  Many of these evenings would be spent by the men drinking beer and they would go home in happy moods.  He, however, was only allowed to observe.  After three months he would have to burn down the hut with all his boyhood belongings.  He would then be welcomed back into the community as a man with gifts and he would now be painted with special red clay!  Everybody would now have to call him Boetie and he would be allowed to flirt with girls.
            The other men on the farm were Gilbert the ox wagon & plough driver, old George and his son-in-law Pay.  Piet was the milkman, he had never married but had two retarded sisters who would bring home a baby each every year.  There was old Joe who only had one child in his old age, a boy named Zolele, who he had circumcised and initiated at 16 and for who he found a wife immediately after that so he could see his grandchildren before he died.  Old Joe had many cattle and goats.  He left us to go and work for Mr Eb Long who wanted an old cow herd and a young man to train in the shop.  They were Ideal as Zolele could read and write.
            I did not mean to write so much but once my memory box opened, the stories just kept tumbling out.
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