Religulous Reminiscing

When Mom turned ninety schoolfriend Mariette van Wyk Greyling wrote and started a long, rambling and nostalgic back and forth between us, paraphrased and embellished here:

She wrote: Goodness, you all look so good. I simply cannot believe your dad is in his nineties. He looks exactly the way he used to look when we were at school. Remarkable genes. Thanks for sending.

– Ah, sepia looks better! – Mom’s 90th Bday –

Please wish your mom happy happy from me – if she still remembers me: The daughter of TP who taught them to sing ‘and the dogs say goodnight’ – Louis Armstrong.


Oh, Mary will remember you alright! We only had a few families we’d hang out with, kuier with and sing with, and for a while there that was Theunis and Martie. They both still often talk about the factory and the characters who worked there. Stan Moseley was one. I learnt recently that Petra Bissett worked there a while. That factory your Dad ran was a HUGE part of Harrismith in its day.

Later: I phoned Mom; Mother Mary; Mary Methodist. She never ceases to amaze! I said : Do you remember going to Theunis and Martie van Wyk’s home and listening to Louis Armstrong?

I didn’t have to say another word. She said: I heard it just yesterday! Someone played me Satchmo singing “What a Wonderful World” just yesterday! It was so good hearing it again after all these years. Theunis had a record player and he used to play it good and loud and Satchmo said “and the dogs say goodnight” instead of “and the dark sacred night”! Mariette was in your class and then there was Anita and Boeta. And you know Martie’s really not well; She just cries and cries.

I asked: Where did you hear about Martie? She said: Oh, Dossie Farquhar tells me everything. Dossie was Mom’s bridesmaid. She’s in the same home as Martie in Bethlehem. She is Dossie de Villiers now; She has two sons in Bethlehem, Neil and someone. Dossie phoned me for my birthday and she’s also turning ninety this week, so I’ll phone her on her cellphone. No-one sends cards anymore. I got four: Yours from Jessie and Tommy; Sheila’s that you all signed that was originally a card to Sheila from Annie in 1974. And two others.

‘No-one sends cards anymore.’ And now Dossie won’t even be phoning. She died recently. Fewer and fewer friends remain once you live this long . .

Mariette wrote:

Your mom is incredible! What a pin-sharp mind! Goodness. If only my mother could speak to her it would mean the world to her. None of her old friends have been in touch. I mentioned to you that I dread the twice weekly phone calls because she just cries and cries. One-way conversation. But she is trapped inside a body with no motor functions – only has hearing and a fairly sharp mind. Binswanger’s Syndrome. Absolutely tragic! Can there be anything more cruel!? I cannot imagine it.

Where did the name Mary Methodist come from? Just because of her church denomination? Sounds good though.


Mom is ‘Mary Methodist’ cos she was the Methodists’ johannes kerkorrel for a hundred years. We had to go to church every single Sunday morning for two hundred years solid. And we had to wear shoes. I was born on a Friday on a hill above town (in a manger, I think, though I may have that part wrong). That very Sunday, two days old, I had to listen to the whole church service, plus go to Sunday school and make notes and this continued every Sunday for four hundred years uninterrupted. I am going SO straight to heaven where I’m going to be the pearly gate-keeper. The holiest oke called Peter always gets that job.

We were well compensated, though. We got to hear Mom playing the piano at home. She would play her classical pieces, her popular music for their inebriated guests – including Theunis and Martie – to murder in song, and she’d practice her hymns for Sunday. My halo is only starting to fade now, fifty-footsack years later.


Mariette wrote:

When I was fourteen my father wisely gave me the choice of church or no church. He wasn’t the church type. ‘Ek gaan nie daar sit met daardie skynheilige spul nie’. I chose not to go. And turned out quite alright. Hence the fact that I was never popular with the bybelkunde lot.

Did your dad go to church?


Theunis TP van Wyk was a wise soul. No, Dad never went to church, but nor did he take any stand. Mom would have been devastated if he’d interfered and he didn’t. We went happily to church and – especially – to guild, as it was social and fun and after dark. A gathering of rooineks – except the poor Anglicans who had to go to another church and worship the queen, shame. Oh, and the poor Catholics – mostly the new immigrants from Holland, Portugal, etc who were mostly in die Engelse klas. They had to go and kiss the Pope’s ring, shame. There wasn’t any fire and brimstone from our pulpit and the dominees even downplayed the Methodists’ famous hatred of drink. Turned a blind eye out of respect for Mary Methodist behind the orrel, maybe! Her being a purveyor of booze as her day job. Also, there were so few bliksems gooi’ing pennies into those velvet-lined wooden collection plates I think they thought, “We’ll take sinners, we’ll take rokers, we’ll take drinkers, we’ll take drank smouse, we’ll take ANY contributors!” Just like Jesus. They would even have taken lawyers, though I don’t think we got any of them. The dearth probably wasn’t quite as bad as the Anglicans, but still dire. Have you seen where I wrote about the desperate Anglicans?

Mariette wrote:

So what happened? Did that beautiful building survive? No Anglicans for evermore in Harrismith? Loved that building. What a loss.

Confession: when we lived in England I went to the Church of England Sunday school a few times. Only because my best friend Beatrice Evans went. But then the appeal of spending Sundays driving around the Yorkshire Dales with Theunis in his new blue Zephyr won the toss.


Oh no, the old sandstone Anglican church is still there, and its congregation of rooineks limp along as always. Heydays may pass unnoticed, but weddings and funerals still have to have a place to happen! The only outcome was – Tabs didn’t become heilig! He wasn’t consecrated. I saw him the other day just before he went off on a groot trek thru Zimbabwe and we had a good laugh about how he ducked a bullet there. Joan Simpson saved him!

– The door that was not darkened . . –

As for your slipping into an Anglican church: Going to church where your best friend (other than Jesus) goes is a time-honoured tradition that only a lelike church would ever interfere with. As the NG Kerk did with Cappy Joubert after WW2.

The Yorkshire Dales! I’ve seen movies made there. And the bicycle Tour de Yorkshire shows wonderful footage. Sure looks beautiful.

Was Theunis’ blue Zephyr like this?

– Mariette said yes . . a ‘winged zephyr’ just like this –


Until the sessions and the discos arrived thanks to Round Table, there wasn’t any alternative fun in the dorp really. The Sunday School picnics in the park, on Lud Coetzee’s farm on the Swinburne road and at the foot of One Man’s Pass were a highlight of our year. As was standing on the back of Michael Hastings and Charlie Crawley’s flatbed Chevy truck with an orrel on it, driving slowly around town at night singing Xmas carols! Little old ‘Uncle Wright’ Liddell pumping the pedals to belt out the noise. He was our johannes kerkorrel before Mary inherited the mantle. Leon Strachan says for a while he was the only Engels-sprekende Nat in Harrismith!

What did Martie do? Trek n hoed aan, or stay at home? I’d say you were unpopular with the skynheiliges for TWO reasons: One: Not going; and Two: Doing so well at school! That woulda pissed them off.


Mariette wrote:

Martie did the kerk en hoed thing. Theunis let her be. Gave him time with his aviary birds and woodwork.

I was confirmed as a Methodist for some or other reason but never knew about the Methodist dislike of drink. Shows you what a farce that whole confirmation thing is. Had to ‘read’ a bunch of stuff, and then was confirmed.

I remember you had a bunch of fun with the extramural Methodist activities. The only NG Kerk event I didn’t miss for the world was Die Kerkbazaar. Yum. All those lekker koeksisters, toffee apples, fudge and melktert. Sjoe, makes me very lus now. Somehow the Woolies koeksisters and melktert just ain’t as nice.


So you briefly became a Methylated Spirit? How’s that! So did Cappy Joubert. When he got back from World War 2 the NG Kerk – his church – kyk’d him skeef when he arrived in his South African army uniform. So he hived himself off to the Meths boys and stayed there for evermore, hugely enriching the lives of us rooineks. His generosity and involvement and sense of humour and moral compass influenced a generation of kids in our dorp.

I learnt my bible stories very mildly from the enchanting Stella Euthemiou. We sat at her feet and gazed up in awe and wonder. Everyone fell in love with Stella! A dominee’s son who left Harrismith in about 1962 – Lincoln Michell – found my blog recently and he also remembered worshipping Stella back then, fifty years ago! She almost got us to heaven, but we had the six other days and twenty three hours to maak things reg and get unholy again. She had to start afresh every Sunday!

The only bible story we really learnt without a shadow of doubt was the holy unerring infallible fact that we got gifts at Christmas time. The old oke in red with the white beard got a lot more coverage and adulation than the younger oke in white with the brown beard, I can assure you.

We had another three gorgeous older girls at Sunday School: Shirley Mason, Anne Euthemiou and Lynn du Plessis. When I first heard “Shirley, Goodness and Mercy were going to follow me all the days of my life” I knew exactly who they were and verily, I was pleased.


Mariette wrote:

Anne Euthemiou, Lynn du Plessis and Martie Marais were all gorgeous. Saw a photo of Anne and Martie at one of Barbara’s famous get-togethers a few months ago and they still look fabulous.


Famous author Chris van Wyk also had dreams on hearing that bible passage and in 2006 he wrote a wonderful childhood memoir called Shirley, Goodness and Mercy, a Childhood Memoir. He grew up in Riverlea and his lovely smile reminded me of fellow Riverlea character Gerald Durrell (‘yes, like the famous animal and zoo author‘ he’d say) who ran the Riverlea Eye Clinic when we used to go there as optometry students in Jo’burg in 1976 and 1977.

1 Comment

  1. Jon Taylor says:

    Lekker historical rural legends . .

    Liked by 1 person

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