A Missionary Doctor's Autobiography
Good Hope and Emmanuel Mission
My earliest memories are of the house in which we lived in Athlone, on the Cape Flats between Cape Town and Somerset West. The only incident that stands out, although not with any clarity, is of a kitten and a swinging double door! It is probable that I subconsciously suppressed the gory details!
Good Hope College was the college for students of mixed race (previously called "coloured") for the whole of South Africa. Most of the teachers and all of the students were of mixed race. My parents enjoyed their time there, even though they lived in what was regarded as a rather undesirable area. The Adventist church in Athlone is on Buckley Road - which I believe was named for my father.
The Cape area is an interesting place to live, with many places to go and so much to see. Vasco de Gama is reputed to have called it "The Fairest Cape in All the World." Table mountain, with its flat top and "table cloth" dominates the landscape and serves as a reference point for many miles.
When I was four, a call came for our family to move to Basutoland, which is now Lesotho. This little mountainous country is completely surrounded by South Africa, and in those days it was a British Protectorate. We travelled by car, taking with us Rip, my pet fox terrier. I vividly remember Dad stopping the car out on the dusty Karoo and Rip taking off over the scrub-covered sheep ranges which stretched to the horizon. We never knew what it was that had attracted him or whether he was just tired of being confined in the car. Even though we whistled and called until our lips and throats were dry we never saw Rip again. We were all very sad but we had to continue our long and tiring journey.
Emmanuel Mission which was to be my home for the next few years was started by Pastor Homer C. Olmstead, in 1910. in the low-lands of Basutoland (alt. ca. 1,850 metres - 5,780 ft.) My father was "mission director," and his parish covered the whole northern part of the country.
The main source of income for the mission was the cherry crop. One of the early missionaries had wisely noted that the climate was eminently suited for growing this fruit and had planted hundreds of trees. These had now matured and, in a good year, would produce a big crop of cherries that were sold in Johannesburg, Durban, Kimberley and Bloemfontein. Some of the commonest types of cherries, that I remember, were Napoleon Bigareu, Black Tartarian and Lady Heidelfinger. There is nothing to beat the flavour of a big, juicy, dew-covered, dark-red Black Tartarian picked straight off the tree in the early morning!
Cherries are a very unpredictable crop, as there are three main problems to contend with - frost, hail and birds. We did not have smoke pots to keep the frost away and a late frost could easily wipe out half or even all of the crop, while a hail storm could knock off the forming fruit or damage the ripe crop, making it practically worthless. We couldn't do much about these "natural disasters" but the birds - they were something we could contend with!
Tall platforms were built, about 12-15 ft high, and a teenage boy would be hired to chase the birds away by waving, shouting and slinging lumps of clay at them. The clay-slinging was done by moulding a finger-sized ball of clay around the end of a long, supple stick; then by swinging this around, with a flick it could be sent on its intended course. Some of the boys were so accurate that they could hit a bird at 50 yards. The problem was that the birds, mainly red-winged starlings, quickly learned that if they approached at nearly ground level, the watcher on his high perch might not see them and they could get a crop-full (and cause a lot of damage) before a well-directed clay ball scared them away. I was intrigued to see one of these bird-scarers aim a clay-ball at a flying bird with the precision of an anti-aircraft gunner and then see the bird swerve to avoid the approaching missile.
The cherry season was short, about four weeks, in October-November and this was a frantic time for us all. We would be up at 4 am in order to get the previous day's picking to the railway station, 25 miles away, in time to catch the early morning train to Johannesburg, our main market. After making necessary purchases, it would be back to the mission to supervise the packing, nailing up and labelling of the boxes; then packing them on the lorry ready for the trip to the station the next morning. By the time we had filled in the necessary consignment notes, it would often be 11 pm.
Student labour was augmented by local women and girls who were employed to pick and pack the fruit. The "billy-cans" used by the pickers had a habit of disappearing until Dad thought of making holes in the bottom so they resembled colanders. We heard many rueful comments about "these funny white people, who take a perfectly good billy-can and destroy it by knocking holes in it!"
On 20th July, 1936, I ceased being an only child, as I was joined by Nita, who was born at the Leribe government hospital in Leribe. Dadís sister, Auntie Ada, came to help out while Mom was away. I was thrilled to have a baby sister, although disappointed that she was too small to play with, at least for a few years.