27. My Better-half.

The first two years of our married life was sheer bliss. Two months after our marriage Joan became pregnant, which was no surprise, and she had the foresight  to find a rented room in Parow, which was near where I worked, so that I could be close by in case anything occurred with her seeing how it was her first. Christopher though was born at her sister’s home in July the following year because she wanted her to be there. Then because Joan thought it more convenient to be near her sister so that she could advise her about babying, she found a rented room in Hazendale down the road from her sister. Then we ‘played’ some more and Regina was conceived. During that time, my parents from living that close to Saint Mary of the Angels church, being pillars of the church, their good works there and reputation all those years, then moved into another house that became a very unusual living environment. My dad whose good friend was Father Terence, parish priest of that parish, and whose well-off Irish parents had purchased property for him to do with what he pleased, saw him nominate my parents as care-takers there while he sorted out what he was going to do with it. Of course having taken the vow of poverty he couldn’t have any financial gain off it, so he signed it over to the Cape Town Catholic Archdiocese. The property was on Klipfontuin Road in Belgravia Estate, which consisted of a house and a disused factory, and the house and factory were to be renovated and refurbished, which was a slow process, with the house as a rectory and the factory renovated as a chapel come special school that was called Regina Coeli. The length of the factory extended in between two streets, with two front offices, a canteen and kitchen at the back, storerooms and changing rooms with showers and toilets, and extra toilets backing off the factory. Now here’s one for the books, our third child Neil attended that Regina Coeli special school due to him having had meningitis as a baby that affected his learning ability.

With Joan been pregnant and with my parents wanting to help out, we moved in with them. Yes, wonders shall never cease but Chris was my parent’s first grandchild and we know what effect that can have all-round with families. We had moved out of the acquired house that was being renovated for a rectory by then into the disused factory next door with my parents still as care takers. The front offices became bedrooms as did the storerooms and changing rooms, and with two showers, two indoor toilets and six outdoor toilets, our family of ten never had the problem of having to wait for a vacant one. The canteen and kitchen at the back because of its largeness became the family and friends hang out. The dining, rumpus, entertainment, table tennis, indoor soccer and cricket, and bicycle racing-track were the spacious factory proper. That unusual weird place of residence gave us an enormous amount of pleasure and enjoyment. Music, singing and shouting to draw each other’s attention as loud as you wanted to without having to consider neighbours for noise levels. A high wooden truss ceiling where thrown hand folded paper planes got lost in its rafters, or birds that flew in and out the large factory door to make their nests up there. Windows that high up that you couldn’t be given the job of cleaning them and with a long twig could draw designs on the dusty panes. Gusty south easterly winds, pelting rain and the hot scorching sun never deterred us from playing outdoor games in those conditions, and why would we when we could play them indoors, even to flying a kite, and our parents never had the problem of telling us to go play outside. Having a party there was a problem though because it looked like nobody had turned up. Now I don’t think anyone else would know the beginnings history of Regina Coeli as I’ve related it, and it would be surprising to most.

What we didn’t expect to turn up at the factory though just added to its weirdness. My father had a group of men friends that hung out together at one anothers homes, the pub or at church functions. Their camaraderie was well known, and they would help each other domestically and financially. There was my dad with his congeniality and jocularity, and his thing was to imitate a bass player and the sound by spit wetting his thumb so as to jab it continuously in a fast downward motion against a wooden door. My uncle John was the business type who was always looking for ways to make a quid (dollar). He was a spendthrift, generous and to kind-hearted, which left him at most times short of that. His ability to play musical instruments was renowned though, and with mouth organ, piano accordion or guitar that he always lugged around in his car, brightened up our lives tremendously. Mister Kolbe (Vincent Kolbe’s uncle) was the serious type, who always seemed to wear a tie no matter what, and that attitude always resulted in a heated debate; he though was pretty good at playing the spoons. Mister Griffith had a happy go lucky attitude and nothing seemed to bother him except where his love life was concerned and the playing of the bongos. Mister De Jongker was a reputable schoolteacher whose aloof airs belied his charming, polite and considerate manners, which impressed my sisters, and he fancied himself a singer. Then there was Mister Battle or ‘Platsie’ as known by everybody. He commanded attention, and his bearing, dress and clandestine company he associated with bore that out, he again sure could strum a banjo. Jam sessions were usually at his or our place, a few of which I attended and participated in the singing, and by pooling monies for drinks and snacks for the night they would play for their own amusement and entertainment.

Coming home to the factory by bicycle one late Friday night after finishing a shift at the Athlone Hotel, I saw when approaching the large factory doors, a person in a long fawn trench coat standing there. The only person known who wore a coat like that was Platsie who dressed in that manner as his trademark. Seeing that it was, my asking if he was coming or going only got me a glare, which was his usual manner of not answering small questions, however, seeing that he was blocking my way I proceeded to inquire if he had brought my dad home. It was the forlorn look on his face and the shaking of his head that first alarmed me, so dropping my bike and pushing past him that burst the doors wide open it wakened my family. On calling apprehensively and anxiously for my father, my mother assured me that he hadn’t come home from the jam session at Platsie’s home yet, but with me insisting that something was wrong because Platsie was standing outside looking dejected, we both went looking for him but he had gone. My mother then became worried and concerned, and just as I was going to bike it down to his place my father appeared at the door much to our relief. He didn’t portray that though, for he was ashen faced and terrible upset. On telling him that Platsie had just been around to see him but had left, I thought he was going to tear my head off. My poor mum had to jump in between us and pacify him, and we kids who had never seen him behave that way were scared shitless. After telling him what had occurred, he sat the whole wide awake family down to relate the night’s happenings and to explain his distraught outburst.

Platsie was involved in private investigation and because of that conferred and associated with the police, detectives and with the criminal element as well. The trench coat he wore was his way of emphasizing his position, but there was one exception to the movies private detectives he loved to portray, and that was because he was a non-white it was illegal to own a firearm, he though through connections kept one secretly to boost his ego. During a break in their drinking and jamming that night, the conversation and discussion had been on Russian roulette, and Platsie had made the comment that it was no big deal because his associates and he had tried it before. His bravado attitude brought forth the unloaded revolver for a demonstration of how it was done. They all had a go, and when it clicked on an empty chamber they acted as if shot in the head. He though under heavy protest produced a bullet, inserted it into one of the chambers in the revolver, spun the cylinder and placed the gun barrel to his temple. He brushed them off disdainfully when they attempted to disarm him, pulled the trigger and died in my father’s arms. We then realized that the feeling of apprehension that I had felt when confronting him at the factory doors had everything to do with him and not my dad, and it derived from the fact of the time of Platsie being at the factory door that coincided with the time that he had died in my father’s arms. My father then brought to my attention the deceased Mrs Schroeder incident we both experienced when living in Capuchin Street, and informed me that like him I was able to see apparitions of deceased people.

Needing respite from my family, Joan through her sister found us a rented room in Lincoln Estate with a friend of the van der Byl’s called ‘Spuddy’; Henry Messina. However, when push comes to shove, Regina was born ten months later after Chris in May at my parent’s home. My parent’s by then had moved from the factory because of it been renovated into the chapel come special school, and they were then living in Lascellas Street, Athlone. We were fortunate in Athlone to have the very best midwife in Nurse Ella Gow-Kleinschmidt on call at all times, and she delivered all of our five children. She was a bit late for Regina though due to Joan been one of those who just popped them out, but luckily good old dad was there because Regina came out with the biblical cord wrapped around her neck that he unwound, and all the nurse had to do was cut the biblical cord and do the rest. Then life began going pear-shaped due to there been a heavy downturn in the furniture industry and even ours been the largest furniture manufacture in the Cape closed down. When having responsible commitments and employment cannot be obtained through ones work skills, a man must do what a man must do, but what was on offer wouldn’t have kept the wolf from the door. My parents because they had ‘room in the inn’ and there was another additional grandchild, which made a significant difference to them, we shared house with them. It wasn’t the easiest or best of situations but we coped, especially Joan who amazed me even more with her good housekeeping and culinary skills that the rest of my family appreciated. My place of employment was then at Athlone Hotel in Lawrence Road with the propriety been no other than Mr Nick, who was the Jewish gentleman that owned a drapery store in Klipfontuin Road and that as a kid  I sold newspapers for. They say what goes around comes around and I sure struck it lucky, for he personally knew my worth. My dad then been employed by Emdon Catering, a Jewish business, as there head chef and caterer, saw me also working casually there.

 My off days from work saw Joan organizing for us to take the children away from the house, which was partly to keep the peace and also to instil a love of the outdoors in them. It wasn’t difficult because we had the mountainous terrain, two oceans lapping the shores, coastal bays and inlets, meandering rivers, the African animals and me as an adventurous father. The first sight that we observed close up together was Table Mountain, which had then become my third love with Joan and the children coming first and second, as it loomed out of a dawn mist when taking them all to Kloofnek. Its elongated flat top covered with a table-cloth of clouds ran in folds and poured down the sides to eddy and disappear in the foothills of the mountain that continued down to the sea with the city of Cape Town crouching along the bottom, and it was sightly for them as they observed and absorbed. To view other enchanting breath taking beauty I took them on the many roads and drives that zigzagged its way not only along the mountains with white sandy coves and beaches below, but also around and through the mountains that raised majestically in its splendor and canopied us in its green vegetation. When traveling with me along Marine Drive that took in Sea Point, Clifton and Camps Bay as it writhed between the mountain and the sea, they watched in wonderment as the blue flanks of the mountainous Twelve Apostles seen through a thin veil of silvery mist changed into a colouring of violet. Their eyes also lit up when seeing the inlets of the bays and coves below the drive shimmer and sparkle like African diamonds as the sun broke through the clouds that table clothed Table Mountain. Further along they spied the spun gold beaches lapped by curled crested waves, and the houses and bungalows that clung like limpets to the mountainous rocky ledges and crannies. Further down the coast the fishing village of Hout Bay in a blue bay ringed by rugged mountains set on a curvaceous ledge cut into the side of the mountain where it also nestled in the shadow of the almost vertical Sentinel on the steep slopes of Chapman’s Peak that graded down to a stretch of white sand and its fishing harbour. Here as a youth, and theirs then too, took our wanderings not only up into the mountains and along Chapman’s Peak Drive to view the spectacular bay, its surrounds and the Atlantic Ocean that swept to the horizon, but also in our roaming to come across perched on a rock a bronzed leopard as a reminder of some of the wild animals that had roamed in those parts and in the rest of Cape Town’s mountainous environs, which my children found fascinating. And my also strolling along Kalk Bay Harbour with them, as I had done years before with my uncle John when he purchased fish off the trawlers for his Johnny Rhode’s Fish Shop, which he was still operating, and he had acquainted me with them. This was good because we all together also had the pleasure of doing a trip around the bay because the same skippers still operated from that harbour. Cape Point was where they really got all excited because even though the foreboding storms lashed the coast at times that sent both visitors and wild animals such as zebra, elands, bonteboks and baboons scurrying for cover, it was truly an awesome place. Not only for its fauna, and flora in multicolour bloom but also for its fantastic walks, with a thrilling one amongst the rocks down to the lighthouses and deserted beaches. Our children were delighted when they saw the baboons that wandered, mingled and jumped from vehicle to vehicle as they scrounged for edibles from the occupants, and the antelope that nudged people for tit bits. Cape Town’s Zoo and Cecil John Rhodes Memorial that stood in the brooding hulk of the mountain, and looking down as far as the eye could see the southern suburbs and the Cape Flats was a sight for them to behold. I took them also to not any old neighbourhood park but to Kirstenbosch Botanical Gardens with kilometres of woodlands, lush vale and forested hills with leafy lanes, which they trampled to their little hearts content and also to chase butterflies  there. After all that serenity it was an ear splitting experience when taking them to the top of Signal Hill, which was so called because cannon fire signaled twelve noon every day. However, the spiraling road that lead up to its summit with a lookout point held them spellbound when sighting the city night lights when taken there at night, and combined with the lighted ships in the harbour that laid clustered at anchor in the bay, it looked like thousands of ignited starlight’s (sparklers) to them.

We also visited their ‘Ma’ and ‘Pa’ Fisher frequently in Woodstock where we started our married life. That residence at number 9 on Albert Road was in a row of attached cottages where when stepping out of the front door landed you on the road kerb with the main road highway’s traffic flashing continuously past. Living there with my in-laws in that city environment in comparison to out in the sticks was a complete different environment. My father-in-law Jan worked at the Cape Times newspapers, and like everybody else painted the inside of his house at Christmas time. The only problem though was that he used printer’s colored ink to change the hue of the white paint he was going to use, and for the following weeks you had to be careful where you touched or leaned on. On weekends he traveled to a fishing village along the coast called Oudekraal (Dutch = Old enclosure), and for a few bottles of cheap fortified wine supplied to the fisherman he would come home either with a sack full of crawfish or snoek (Dutch = a pike fish). The crawfish he cooked in large tin containers, and the snoek he cut up, filleted, rolled, skewered, and then placed them in wooden kegs to pickle in brine flavoured with sliced onions and spices to make rolled fish mops his German Jewish way. He sold his sea produce at The Klip (Dutch = Rock), a notorious local pub where only the locals dare to frequent. It was the hangout of skollies and others who were in the rackets of fafee, gambling, money lending, shebeens and protection. I only drunk at that pub with Jan present, for not only were there those who respected him but also those who feared him. He was strong and tough with hands like hams that were actually registered at the police station as dangerous weapons, and he had to report if anyone confronted him with hostility. The reason was that he had previously sent many would be tough and aggressive opponents to hospital either with concussion, broken body parts or both. My mother-in-law Mary-Anne as he called her although her real name was Marion; spoiled me rotten as she did her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, and I couldn’t have wished for better as far as mother-in-laws go. Her sweet kind nature must have rubbed off on to Joan, plus her culinary skills and dimpled smile, but like it’s said, ‘Some marriages are made in heaven.’

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Our ‘Pigeon Pair’ – Christopher and Regina.

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