Randy Seaver challenges people to post their most vivid childhood memories Genea-Musings: Saturday Night Genealogy Fun – A Childhood Memory.
INGOGO – APRIL-MAY 1948
I lived in Westville, near Durban, until I was nearly 7. Then my father got a new job in Germiston, and the house in Westville was sold. My father went to Johannesburg to find a place to live, while my mother and I stayed at a hotel at Ingogo for a couple of months in April and May 1948. Ingogo was a small village in northern Natal, about halfway between Durban and Johannesburg.
The hotel, Valley Inn, was a mile from the main road between Newcastle and Volksrust. and was owned by my father’s cousins, Win and Sheila Bradbury, though my parents had not known that when they first arranged for our stay there. The Bradburys had two children, Michael, who was 12, and Gillian, who was about my age (there was a third child, Winona, the eldest, but I have no recollection of her at all).
The hotel itself was built of stone, and had only four guest rooms. My mother and I stayed in the biggest one, on the corner of the veranda. It had an old-fashioned washstand, with a stone top, and a large enamel jug and basin; there was no running water in the bedrooms.
There was a hill behind the hotel, up which wound a deep rutted track which had been the main road from Newcastle to the north. There was a wood and iron general store over the road where this track joined the road from the station. The road from the station turned to the left at the store, and passed in front of the hotel, and after passing through some wattle trees crossed the Hart and Ingogo rivers, which joined quite close to the hotel. There were lots of doves around, and every day the place was filled with the sound of their cooing. Since then, whenever I hear doves cooing, I am reminded of that autumn in Ingogo. Ingogo was overlooked by three hills, Majuba, Inkwelo and Mount Prospect, and amajuba means doves in Zulu, an appropriate name.
I used to play with Gillian a lot while we stayed there. We would sometimes walk to the railway station, a mile down the road, and look at the signal cabin, with its big red levers. Or we would walk the other way, down to the river, and play there. We once found an old corrugated iron canoe, which didn’t float, however. We salvaged it from the bottom of the river with a great effort, but it was quite useless. We swam in the river, and went for rides on ox wagons that came past laden with fire wood. We went riding on donkeys a couple of times, but not very far. They were stubborn beasts, and had to be led and chased.
Once we went into Michael’s room, and found a bottle of Vaseline hair oil which he used, and Gillian and I used about half of it in experiments. The hair oil was lovely and greasy, but Michael wasn’t pleased when he found out that it was gone. The wrath of big brother was to be feared, but Michael was also admired for his knowledge and worldly wisdom and experience. He added several swear words to my vocabulary, whose meanings I only discovered later.
Michael also taught me to play marbles, though I was never very good at it. We dug a hole in the ground, and had to shoot each other’s marbles out of it.
One day Michael trapped and killed a dove and Gillian and I watched fascinated while he took its guts out — looking like red and blue spaghetti, and then cooked it. We tasted that, but there was not much meat on a dove. He caught doves by setting a trap, using an old builders sieve which he propped up on a stick with a piece of string attached to it. He would sprinkle seeds on the ground under the sieve, and then hide away, and when doves came to eat the seeds he pulled the string, and the sieve fell, trapping one or more of the doves underneath it.
Most of the business of the hotel came from neighbouring farmers who dropped in for evening drinks. It was the social centre of the neighbourhood and they would sit in the bar, or on the verandah, talking about their farms, politics, the weather — anything. We children weren’t allowed in the bar, or at least not when it was open to the public, but we went into it when it was empty and saw the high wooden stools and the counter that was as high as we were.
One of the farmers who came from far away said he had crossed baboons with dogs. One day we went to his farm to have a look at these creatures. He had an old coupe, and we went for miles and miles along the gravel road. Eventually we left the road altogether and drove across the veld, very close to the Free State border. There was a quarry next to his ramshackle old farmhouse, where these strange savage dogs were living. They had hump backs and deep chests, and did look a little bit like baboons.
We also went to see another farm, and had to cross a drift (ford) to get there. It was a weekend when my father had come down from Johannesburg to see us, and we went in our new Wolseley 8. The had a milk separator which rang a bell every time you turned the handle. It was the first time I had seen a milk separator, and it fascinated me. My father said that on his journey down the Wolseley had gone at 50 miles an hour for the first time. In those days new cars had to be run in for a long time, and for the first thousand miles one was not supposed to drive them at more than 30 miles an hour.
One day everyone went to the station to vote. It was the 1948 general election, when the Nats got in. The grown-ups said that one good thing about the election was that we would be able to get white bread again. We couldn’t get white bread during the war, and the Nats had promised that they would bring back white bread if they were elected. During the war my mother used to buy brown flour and sifted it to make white bread.
There was a school for black children a little way beyond rivers, and Gillian and I went there a few times and sat in the lessons. The school was in a corrugated iron church building and the children played netball outside in the breaks. The teacher was very nice; she was the nicest teacher I knew. She treated us like people and not like children who must be seen and not heard. Perhaps that was because she was black and we were white, and maybe she didn’t treat her regular pupils like that; but whatever the reason, we enjoyed going to the school. Thirty years later, when we lived in Utrecht, I was called upon to be manager of several farm schools like that one.
My paternal grandfather, Percy Hayes, died while we were there, and we drove to Paulpietersburg for his funeral. We drove through Utrecht and Vryheid, and the journey was hot and dusty. We stopped at Vryheid for tea or lunch at a hotel. I was not allowed to go to the funeral, but had to sit in the car. We collected some things from my grandfather’s cottage, including a sailor hat that my father had worn when he was young. We drove back late in the afternoon, westwards into the setting sun over bumpy and dusty roads, and reached Ingogo after it had got dark. I had never seen my grandfather, Percy Wynn Hayes. He was manager of the Dumbe coal mine in Paulpietersburg, and before that he was a stockbroker in Johannesburg. When he died his Afrikaans friends all dug his grave because they liked him. My mother told me that my father didn’t want to see him because he was afraid that he would cadge money off him. My father and his younger sister Doreen wanted nothing to do with him while he was alive, but the older sister Vera cared for him.
Once we had discovered that we were cousins, Gillian Bradbury and I tried to work out what our relationship was, but it never became clear to me until after i had grown up and brgan researching the family history. I had assumed that we were related on the Hayes side because Gillians father was Win Bradbury, and my father’s middle name was Wynn, and so was mine. It tuned out, however, that her father’s full name was Harry Winston Churchill Bradbury, and he was born in Ladysmith during the Anglo-Boer War, around the time of the siege. Winston Churchill was captured by the Boer forces nearby, and perhaps his name recalls that event.
It was actually through Gillian’s mother that we were related. Sheila Bradbury was born Sheila Bagot Cottam, and though she was only a few months older than my father, they were actually a generation apart, as her father, Richard Herbart Cottam (who had died only a few months before we stayed there) was actually my father’s great uncle.
After we had lived in the Transvaal for a couple of years my mother and I went to Durban on holiday, and spent a night at the Valley Inn on the way, and we once again saw the Bradburys.
On a later journey, however, we found they had moved away and we lost touch with them. It was many years before I saw them again, though I did write to Sheila Bradbury a few times about the family history. When I did finally meet Sheila and Gillian again, when they were living in Oribi, Pietermaritzburg, after nearly 35 years, Gillian did not remember me at all, though Sheila did, and said that I was the only one from the Cottam side of the family who had kept in touch. She died a couple of years later.
We were at Ingogo for less than two months, but I remember more about that time than I remember of most of the time before I was twelve years old, probably because I liked it and was happy there. I suppose that for Gillian we were just two of many visitors to the hotel who came and went over the years, whereas for me it was new and different, and so my memories are much more vivid.