A HISTORIC NOVEL By Valerie Goliath Parents realized the importance of education and offered their children the best opportunities they could. Small wonder that from among the ashes of these people, the salt of the earth, miraculously rose a generation of intellectuals and academics, among whom two nationally recognized Dutch Reformed Church reverends, Eddie Appies en Jack James: Freddie Silaner went on to become a professional teacher and an internationally renowned and acknowledged playwright, who in 1996 won the New York Radio Festival’s best Radio drama category from entries from thirty countries world wide. Eleven years earlier, in 1985, Wellie’s oldest brother was also awarded the town’s higest accolade in absentia for his cultural contribution to his home town and South Africa, the first Silander who had been recognized and acknowledged as a true intellectual by the town’s people; a number of professional teachers, nursing sisters and fashion designers. Horticulture basically ran in everyone’s blood and was the strongest collective natural element present among the whole community. Families keenly went out of their way to set up small flower beds, vegetable and fruit gardens, primarily to augment their measely monthly railway incomes. Water had been in abundance and was provided free of charge by the South African Railways and Harbours. The Silander premises was also gradually transformed into a sort of mini -dairy farm complete with densf illed with chickens, turkies and geese neatly set up all around, combined with precisely laid out small plots seasonally yielding green peas, tomatoes, carrots, pumpkins and green peas and beans. The yard was rounded off with a shady and heavily laiden grape pergola, structured along the footpath leading to the front door at number 411. The Silanders became sort of self-reliant and never had a shortage of vitamins needed for bone structure development, because their diet was weekly complemented and varied by way of self-grown garden vegetables and meat products, courtesy of Doedoes’s inborn love for the soil like his late father, Kallie de Hagen. The Silander children are now all at school, primarily at Teske Gedenk Skool, including the last born son, Dudley, in Sub A. Wellie has quietly, but expectantly joined Stanley at Libertas High Secondary. Jean, Shirley and Freddie are respectively in Standards 2, 3 and 4. As an end-of-year gift, all the children are about to be compensated for excelling in their school work with a long overdue but deservedly family holiday, their first, by train. “Trip Around the World” THERE’s a lot of domestic activity in the Silaner home, two days before a planned train journey “around the world”, to cities such as Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town, at least the Silander children’s world. Enthusiastic preparations for the week-long trip is now in full swing. All officials of the South African Railways qualify and are elligible for an annual free family train pass to any railway destination in the country of their choice, a perk constantly used and highly appreciated by most of the railway workers. Ma Bettie wipes the sweat from her forehead, removing the last two loaves of bread from the oven of the Welcome Dover kitchen coal stove. “That’s it,” she observes, expertly smearing the crust of the two loaves of bread with margerine. She adds it to five other home-made loaves under a cloth on the green wooden bench on the stoep to cool down. “Dudley, come take the food basket and clean it thoroughly,” the mother of six tells her youngest son, who rushes outside with the basket to sit and clean it under a tree. “Ma, what am I supposed to do with these meat balls?” Wellie inquires removing the meaty edibles from a primus stove in the kitchen. “Put it in the Pyrex bowl in foil,” Ma Bettie orders her eldest daughter whilst skillfully throwing some liquid silt, produced from a mixture of fine sheep intestines, into an expensive glass bowl to naturally stall in the absence of a refrigerator. At this very moment the neighbour, aunty Koelie, appears on the chaotic scene in the house. Since the first time they met, Ma Bettie and Koelie have become bossom friends with who have shared each other’s hopes and secrets for years. She hands her friend a bowl of offal as only she can make it, called tjou-tjou. “Come, aunty Bettie. Sit down and enjoy some nice home-made food. By the time you get onto that train tomorrow, you willl be dead tired,” Koelie says encouragingly on opening the bucket with a mixture of flavoursome meat, potatoes and dumplings. “What smells so good?” Freddie casually observes on entering the kitchen. “It’s only me who farted,” Bettie jokingly tells her son in getting some plates from the wooden kitchen cupboard. “Jeewiz. That fart smells good. Can I have some of it, please Ma,” Freddie begs and gets the first filled up plate. “I really don’t know what I would have done without your help, Koelie,” Bettie says appreciatively handing her friend a plate. They sit down to enjoy the meal. In the voorkamer Jean, now an apprentice dressmaker, is enterprisingly fitting on a dress onto her younger sister, Shirley. Jean works for the nonnas (nuns) at the Roman Catholic Church training centre, which regularly receives secondhand clothing donations from Germany and other countries for free handouts among the poor in the town. “Will you please stop fidgiting?” Jean , dilligently sewing and altering the size of theforeign donated dress, tells her younger sister. “But you are hurting me every time you use the needle,” Shirley complains in a painful, crying voice. Outside Freddie chases after some wild fleeing poultry to catch a selected chicken and a turkey to be slaughtered on the orders of Doedoes, all part of the preparations for the pending family train journey. “If you weren’t so tasty in the pot, I would have thrown in the towel a long time ago,” Freddie says, diving at and catching a specially fattened turkey, which he ushers to the wooden slaughter block in the back yard. “Just one more bottle of ginger beer to fill up,” says Stanley, filling up bottles from a porcelain calabash. “That’s it, done,” Ma Bettie announces late that evening. “Now you all can go take a bath and go to bed. You have to be up early in the morning. If you don’t you’ll be travelling with Jan Tuisbly se karretjie,” the mother orders her offspring, who all instantly obey the instruction. No one wants to be left at home. Ma-Bettie and her children, neatly dressed in their best Sunday-go-to-meeting fashionable wear, are seated on a bench in front of the “Coloureds Only” train station waiting room. Instantly Doedoes joins his family with the free pass tickets he has just collected from the train station ticket-office, also sporting a sign, “Coloureds Only.” This morning the children cannot control their excitement. “Mummy, when is the train coming?,” Dudley asks for the umpteenth time. “Maybe the train got lost along the way,” Freddie says jokingly. “I hope the train hasn’t derailed, otherwise we will have to wait longer,” Wellie tells both her disillusioned brothers. Shirley has an opinion of her own on why the train is late. “I think the train’s wheels are flat,” she says, to the laughing delight of everyone else. Various station activities precede the arrival of the passenger train steaming in to the platform: signal wires noisily controlled and a station guard warning whistle mechanically usher in the passenger train generally known as Seven Down. When finally the train stops, Doedoes eagerly hands over the free pass to a white train Conductor, who steps out onto the platform and in the process is almost run over by the excited Coloured children in their efforts to get first to their booked and reserved compartment. Suitcases, bedding and food baskets are helter-skelter handed through windows when the diesel train engine is expertly connected to the train. At Beaufort-West station the steam engine is diconnected for diesel engines to take over. “I’ll take the window seat,” Jean announces authoritively. “I will sleep on the upper bunk,”Dudley adamantly reserves his place for the one night journey by jumping up a ladder to the top bunk in the second class compartment. Stanley and Freddie each choose a middle bunk on either side of the compartment pew. Then the whole train engine switch-over process is completed. Green flags go up, whistles blow and the train pulls out of the station on its long journey to the North. via De Aar, Kimblerly, Boemfontein and arrives in Johannesburg early the next morning. In the City of Gold a clandestine taxi ride is undertaken by Doedoes. For the eye-blind his three sons accompany him to meet up with a black colleague he went to police college with. As a stern supporter of the African National Congress, Doedoes’s friend, Tokyo Kholani, had a profound political influence on him at the Potchestroom Police College during his training. The man then already tried to recruit Doedoes as an ANC member. The women folk are left to themselves, waiting on Doedoes and his sons’ return for a train connection bound for Durban on the Indian Ocean side of the country a few hours later. They have at least ten hours to kill. The taxi at high speed transports Doedoes and his sons through the central business district, past the Johannesburg Stock Exchange to the western outskirts of the city and finally into Sophiatown, the biggest black township on the African continent. The boys are taken to a nearby park by some black children of their father’s friend. The adults are involved in political talks… “So, Doedoes, you finally accepted my invitation to visit after all these years,” Tokyo Kholani says welcoming his friend of years ago into his humble home with a big Russian style bear hug, the ANC way of greeting. “Yes, I kept the address all these years,” Doedoes responds taking out a battered piece of paper from his wallet and showing it to his delighted host. “Now listen brother, to be fully representative of all the people in South Africa, the movement needs you and others. I know Coloureds have been very hesitant in openly joining the liberation struggle, courtesy of the unfounded fears of the white people, but with your help we can recruit some support, especially in rural areas. Our people suffer tremendously, everywhere,” Tokyo says resignedly. “Tell me something I don’t know. I live with it everyday in Beaufort-West,” Doedoes manages to say. “Beaufort-West in the Middle Karoo?” the black man pinpoints the geographical situation of the town. “That’s right,” Doedoes replies. “Let me see, I don’t think we have anybody there, yet. I will propose you become our eyes and ears as over there. You think you will be up to it? If you are, I can make a strong recommendation to the excecutive committee of the movement,” Tokyo proposes. “I’ll think about it,” Doedoes says at the very same time as the children return to the humble Sophiatown home. “Think it over and be in touch. Here’s my home telephone number,” Tokyo says shaking his friend’s hand as he gathers his sons to get into the taxi that has been waiting for them for almost thirty minutes.
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