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SO MUCH WATER, SO LITTLE WOOD
By DANIEL J. Theron
AuthorHouse LLCCopyright © 2014 DANIEL J. Theron M.A.,Th./Ph.D.
All rights reserved.
The Dawn Of Memory
"There are those special memories we cherish through the years. "Most of them are happy ones, but a few are touched by tears. "They all become more beautiful, the older they grow, "And with their age they take their place as days of long ago."
James J. Metralfe
The red ball, late afternoon sun closely and ominously hugged the western horizon as if at any moment to reflect its last, farewell rays off Basuto Land's high Malultu Mountains east of our farm, and to plunge our whole country inevitably into darkness.
In the distance a black man was galloping a horse mercilessly near top speed towards our farm house on Bankspruit as if to beat the coming darkness. He knew that he was carrying an important message. Without telephones it was the customary way to get information from farm to farm about emergencies, a serious accident, illness, death, or a funeral.
There was a crisis in our family. A pall of sadness would soon spread over all of us. I do not recall the jolt to my very young, carefree, and happy existence so customary by then.
As I later found out, it was about my maternal grandfather, Jacob Abraham Storm. He was born on June 9, l850, a son of a Dutch sea captain who had retired to the Cape Colony some time in the nineteenth century. As young men Jacob and two of his brothers had trekked to the Orange Free State, then still a small, free republic. He had married Magdalena Johanna de Villiers, the daughter of Dawid and Magdalena de Villiers, néé Louw, of the farm Helderfontein in the District of Ficksburg. My grandfather was her senior by more than thirteen years. She was born December 13, l863.
They had nine children. Before the last two were born, English War II, or the Second War for Freedom had broken out.
Jacob Storm was commandeered into the Orange Free State army. But on the very cold winter morning of July 30, l900, he was taken prisoner of war near Golden Gate north of Ficksburg. Together with thousands of Boers he was shipped to Ceylon at Diyatalowa (ironically meaning Happy Valley), to spend years in a prisoner of war camp. War ended in May l902, but he was not reunited with his family until almost a year later in l903.
He came back to nothing but his family. Their house had been burned down in Lord Frederick Sleigh Roberts and General Horatio Herbert Kitchener's scorched earth policy; his livestock either killed or stolen. But Jacob and Lenie were tough people, and in due time they recovered.
The messenger pulled the horse up short of our yard fence. He came from the farm Spitskop, about an hour's hard ride away. He jumped off, and immediately pulled a note from a pocket.
As I later found out, the urgency was about my maternal grandfather, Jacob Storm. He had suffered a severe stroke, and was not expected to survive.
Soon we were on our way in our horse cart. My sister, Magdalena sat between my parents and I was on my mother's lap. She was crying all the time. It must have upset me no end. Underneath the cart two paraffin lanterns swayed rhythmically as the wheels negotiated the uneven, dirt road while the horses trotted along slowly in the eerie lantern light.
Nearing Spitskop, the road was so eroded and dangerous that my dad had to stop and take the horses by the inside reins and led them slowly along the hazardous road while my mother held the reins one in each hand, with me in the middle.
Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, grandfather was still alive when we arrived, but he was badly paralyzed and unable to talk.
The shock that had gripped the family, the unusual trip at night, and my mother's crying, no doubt, had rudely awakened me out of my sleepy, happy, everyday, young childhood routine, so much so as to make something stick in my memory forever. I began to realize the anguish of change.
Strangely enough, it was none of the above that I remembered. Other family members had later told me about the foregoing. All I do remember is something of my grandfather. One morning, presumed the next morning, I strolled across the farmhouse yard with my uncle, Japie. Grandfather's bedroom had a door to the outside. A rather high bed came slowly into view as we walked by. A white bed cover was draped over a body on the bed. It was my grandfather, Jacob Abraham Storm. And that was all. (My mother later confirmed that the bedroom in which he died several days later, indeed had a door to the outside.) He died February 23, l922, one day before my second birthday. So this pioneer, warrior, good husband, excellent father, and grandfather was laid to rest in Spitskop's small farm cemetery, where I later saw the grave stone.
Of the funeral, I have no recollection at all, but seeing him stricken on that bed that morning would remain with me forever. He remained a fallen hero of our family.
Then followed a hiatus of memory. On the grass near our farm house a burlap bag had been lying for too long. I began what I later used to do many times as a child-turn over stones and other objects like a primeval as if hunting for bugs to eat. I raised one end of the bag, and a host of bugs of all sizes and descriptions suddenly sprang to life, scurrying for cover. This was more than I had bargained for. Scared out of my wits, I dropped the burlap twice as fast as I had lifted it up, and scampered away for the cover of distance myself.
The next recollection that stands out came with a change of our family situation which must have unsettled me greatly. We would move to a farm some distance way that my dad had bought. We arrived quite late in the afternoon. Approaching over a rise from the west, the lowering sun reflected like a bright star off a window of our new home. When we arrived, I noticed a piece of equipment made of steel, painted blue and several feet tall, next to the reflecting window. We could not get into the house. Some misunderstanding about the key—we had to go through the window.
As I found out later, it was August, 1922, the traditional time when farmers would move in that part of the country, because it still gave them sufficient time to plow their cornfields before planting time.
For the next two years on this farm many recollections were clearly engraved in my mind. Life became more coherent and events seemed more continuous as far as piecing them together.
Not far off was Cornelia, a small, rural village. The Reverend Nicolaas Johannes Louw, a cousin or second cousin of mother, was minister of the Dutch Reformed Church, the only church for many miles around.
We visited his family occasionally, and I played with his son, Hansie. Of course, trouble is the name of the game for little boys. We were fooling with a yard water faucet. We got it going full blast, got scared and tried to stop it. We pressed our hands against the opening, squirting each other liberally as we took turns dancing around the faucet. Then we tried to turn it off, but never went far enough in one direction before frantically turning it the other way, hopelessly attempting to undo our mischief. Then back to the hand pressure technique again with the same unintentional, cold showers. Our commotion brought our mothers rushing out, getting their shoes thoroughly soaked in the puddles we had created. Fortunately, they succeeded. We got duly scolded, of course. I blamed Hansie and he blamed me. We both felt better, like lawyers for creating some doubt in our mothers' jury minds as to who was really to be blamed.
Our farm house had a corrugated iron exterior lined inside with raw brick which was plastered over. It was a cheap type of construction to erect a building in a hurry.
Next to the road, west of our house, from where I saw the sun reflecting off a window when we moved there, was a large field stone enclosure, or kraal, for livestock. Inside this enclosure was a smaller one in a far corner, where the calves were kept, separate from their mothers. Here the cows were milked and the calves let out one by one as their mothers' turns came to be milked. The cows remained in the kraal at night and the calves were let out to water and learn to graze. (Kraal doubtless came from the word "corral.") In the morning, the process was reversed. Calves were let in one by one from outside as each cow's turn came to be milked. Then the cows were let out to pasture and the calves remained in.
The gates to these enclosures had horizontal bars, widely enough spaced so that a person could climb through without the chore of opening the gate itself. I soon mastered this art, and would sneak away, get in with the calves, and entertain myself immensely by driving the captives around and around at a frantic pace inside the enclosure using a stick or something to scare the daylight out of them. It was not the best exercise to engage in for my clothes, but who cared, except my mother and, once, my father, too, when inadvertently I had unlatched the gate and let the calves out.
When I had had enough fun tormenting the calves, I would wander home, turning over a few partly dried out piles of cattle dung on my way, and dig out as many dung roller beetles from it as I could, collecting them in my pockets. As soon as touched, they would pull their legs tightly against their bellies and play possum. But they were no sooner in a pocket, or they would start crawling around and depositing whatever dung of their habitat was still clinging to them. In my innocence I never dreamt that scientifically they merit a real jawbreaker to describe them—stercoricolous, no less—otherwise, I would have had a great deal more respect for them.
(These dung roller beetles are smart, and snobbish, The ancients had even assigned a god to their habitats. Although they would mess and rummage around in cattle or any large mammal dung and freely live on it, they would not lay their eggs in it. When egg laying time comes, they had no intention to have their young being born with the hoi polio of the dung piles. Instead, a pair would create round balls of still soft dung. With perfect team work, they would roll these some distance away from the dung "quarry"—one pushing and the other one pulling—dig a hole, and bury the balls in the soil. The female lays her eggs in this ball of dung. The constant heat of the soil serves as an incubator for the eggs to hatch. The little ones would have a ready supply of dung food, kept moist in the soil. The parents must know by instinct, inherited memory, that if the pile of dung would be used as a "nest," the eggs, let alone the young ones, would have no chance at all of surviving. They would be devoured in short order by other grown-up beetles, maggots, and other insects, leaving only a hollow shell and a few dry scraps of the original, hefty pile of dung.)
Later, when I was older, the fun with the calves continued, but on a much higher level. With the help of black boys, we would catch one or two calves and try to ride them, staging a mini-rodeo of our own. The rides never lasted too long as the young calves bucked fiercely and deposited their riders into the dung that always covered the inside of the entire kraal. Fortunately, the dung carpet was fairly dry, and did not mess us up too much in the course of a spill and so much fun. It still amazes me that no one ever got a head bashed open against the stone walls of an enclosure.
An accidental getting together of calves and cows during the day before the appointed milking time, which usually also meant a non-appointed time and place outside the kraal, was regarded by all as an unmitigated disaster, if not a hilarious sight to behold.
The calves would scamper off to the cows at neck breaking speed, tails erect in the air, letting out longing bellows when they could spare the breath. The cows would hear the summons and also start charging to meet their naughty offspring, swinging their hind legs clumsily to the outside, as milking cows do, bellowing their emotional response, picking up speed as if to meet long lost prodigals. And then the meeting. And in no time at all part of the bottom line of the farm's milking operation for the day was gone. You might as well have kicked over a few buckets of milk, slowly.
Commotions like these were well known on the farms. "The calves are out! The calves are out!" sounds the alarm, instantly summoning all hands within earshot to the fray—male or female, no matter what he or she was doing in the field, in the barn, or kitchen, or even in the outhouse! You just dropped everything and sallied forth, grabbing some other object of punishment. It demanded practically one person per cow, with an indulgent calf, to restore order. Without enough hands, a cow would just stand there as if laughing at you, being drained, while you tried to chase another one, and save some milk.
* * *
Reptiles, birds, and insects always fascinated me as a child, as they tend to fascinate many children. Snakes were my worst enemy, for it was a snake that got Adam and Eve into real trouble, as my mother had told me many times. Besides, they could kill you. Cobras are common in Africa. No distinction was made between poisonous and nonpoisonous snakes, except the little garter snakes. There was usually no time to decide, anyway. The snakes moved so fast. Whatever would have happened, had I encountered a snake on one of my primitive hunting expeditions, turning over stones, a burlap bag, or metal plates, goodness only knows.
Years later, when I was about ten, I almost stepped on a cobra. We were both heading for the outhouse. What business it had in the outhouse, I had no idea. It had, no doubt, noticed me long before I had noticed it, and was trying to get there before me, but the call of nature had pushed me too fast, and I arrived barely a step ahead. When I saw it, its hood had already been spread ominously as if ready to strike, as I knew all too well. Fortunately, we both decided to flee in opposite directions, rather than fight. I was so lame of fright, I could hardly run, but I did manage to let out a bloodcurdling scream that brought both my parents out of the house.
"What's wrong with you?" my mother exclaimed. There I was standing obviously in perfect shape. "We thought you were being killed."
Well, I could have been killed, had I not blown such a hasty retreat. They were both mad at me, because I had scared them. Although embarrassed, I should deserve due credit for scaring a snake away from the outhouse where it might have scared the daylights out of someone else.
Near the house with the reflecting window was a brook. It would spell trouble for any three/four year old boy. There were rather deep pools and I was cautioned not to go near the brook by myself. This, of course, meant that I had to go and explore why. The banks teemed with frogs and crabs, and I wanted to catch some of them, especially a crab or two. Little did I know how painful a wound those claws could inflict. In my wanderings, I found myself on the edge of one of those pools. There was a crab at the bottom as big as day light. I was inching closer, and slipped, making an involuntary dive for the crab. I could not swim, but the pool must have been shallow enough (thank goodness). I staggered, out droopy like a wet chicken, and without the crab. Thank goodness again! I had learned the hard way why a little boy should not go down there.
* * *
Black people who worked for us lived on the farm with their families. They received their compensation in kind, i.e. an agreed upon number of bags, usually of corn, or each head of a household had a section of land, ploughed, tilled, and planted for him. While working, their meals were provided. During the slack time on the farm—March to May—they got time off to work elsewhere and earn a few pounds sterling of cash, should they so desire. One or two of the women usually came on Fridays to clean the house to be presentable for the weekend. On Mondays they came to do the laundry down by the pools where the crabs were. On Tuesdays they came to iron. For these chores, they were separately compensated.
We always had a good rapport with the black people on the farm. As children we were taught to respect them, and when they were in need or sick, there was always a ready hand to help.
A frequent problem was theft-petty things from the house, or sugar, or other groceries. The obvious solution was the nuisance of a lock.
A larger problem was theft and slaughter of livestock, especially sheep. My dad always kept exact count of his sheep, a flock of several hundred. They were good Merino stock, and he paid a great deal of attention to breeding to assure a good quality of wool. It always amazed me in later years how well he knew individual sheep in spite of their look-alikeness and large number. We would let them move through a gate in a thin stream as he counted. Afterwards, he would take a matchbox and pencil from a vest pocket and do his figuring. (He usually wore an old vest with a jackknife, a pencil, a box of matches, and his pipe in the pockets.)
Excerpted from SO MUCH WATER, SO LITTLE WOOD by DANIEL J. Theron. Copyright © 2014 DANIEL J. Theron M.A.,Th./Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission of AuthorHouse LLC.
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Table of Contents
Chapter I The Dawn Of Memory, 1,
Chapter II The School Of Playing, 27,
Chapter III Tributaries Of Knowledge, 38,
Chapter IV The River Of Learning, 75,
Chapter V Distant Vistas Came Into Sight, 164,
Chapter VI The School Of The Prophets, 266,
Chapter VII The Sturdy Warrior, 340,
Chapter VIII KATOXH A I (Suppression), 347,
Chapter IX KATOXH II (Suppression), 404,
Chapter X KATOXH III (Suppression), 437,