she's going to travel very far

I was born in 1925 and grew up near Hermitage Street, on the hill in Paarl. We were four brothers and four sisters. My father, Henry Josephs, worked at a butcher. When he became ill, the doctor said the climate in Paarl was not good for his health so we moved to Cape Town where he worked as a gravedigger in the Observatory cemetery. We stayed there for a short while and then came back to Paarl where we settled down.

My father was interested in politics and had to have a newspaper every day because he wanted to know what was going on in the country. He would tell my mother about it but she was just occupied with raising the children and cleaning the house. She would just listen to what he had to say and just agreed with everything, but I always questioned him.

However, I was always interested in what he read in the newspaper. I was in primary school and in those days children were not allowed to sit in the company of adults. But whenever I told my father that we wanted to go and play, he would say we must stay so that they can know what we are doing. Then I would sit and listen, until he indicated to me that he wanted me to leave.

Bryma Moerat's father used to visit him a lot, and then they talked about these matters. Bryma's 1father noticed that I watched and listened while my father talked. He used to look at the gap between my front teeth and said, ‘She's going to travel a lot, and she's going to travel very far.' I don't know if that was a warning.

My father was strict, but he was a good man. He never told us what to do, but he was very unhappy when my two brothers went into the army. He did not want them to go to War, and he always gave their letters to my mother. He was a sportsman, and Saturday was their sports day. He was a pleasant man, especially when he was a bit tipsy.

I loved being in the veld, almost as a tomboy, climbing trees. I had very few female friends. I really liked to spend time with my parents and my sisters. We were a knitted family and I wasn't interested in dancing and bioscope. I was very interested in other people's lives and their problems. Where we lived was mixed and next to us were two African families and I really liked to go play there. If I didn't want to stay at home or someone made me angry I ran next door and ate a little – I really liked their stamp-mealies and beans.

I went to school at the age of nine, because you were considered too young to go to school at the age of six. We attended Bethanie Congregational School, opposite the therapist and near to Du Plessis' garage, but they now use it as a kindergarten. Our teachers, like Mr. Matthews, were very strict and you had to do your schoolwork. At that time the lessons were mostly oral, we did not write a lot. So, we had to concentrate and pay attention. You got the lesson and then they asked questions. Because of that it felt like a place of learning to me. I found the way in which they were teaching us very interesting. We could understand and process it, because you will get a lesson today and you had to remember it and tomorrow you are questioned about it.

I was a very shy person and didn't want to get a hiding or be ‘uitskel' in front of the children so I always tried to study hard. I enjoyed school but I did not enjoy reading very much, but whenever I went for training I got things to read at home. To this day, I read the newspaper a lot. Otherwise, I am not someone for reading; I only read when I have to.

In Paarl life was very difficult because there was very little work, and most of the work was in the factories and people were only hired when the fruit arrived. It was very difficult if a father had to work alone. If a husband worked and his wife did not help him, or the child did not help the father, you could not make ends meet. You had to make do without some things and people had to get by on very little clothes, food, and other household things. You had to take in two or three other families if you could not afford to pay the rent.

Many of the children came to school without having something to eat. They were hungry, and it is not really a nice thing to beg. One day a child in my class was listless but she was not really sick. She told the teacher that she did not feel well because she did not eat. The teachers were very concerned and whenever they noticed that something was wrong with one of the children in class, they were there to investigate.

I passed standard six but left school before high school, which started at standard seven. My father was never a healthy man and he struggled to support us. We experienced financial problems because my father fell ill and could no longer work. My father had injured himself playing football, and was never the same person. The butchery where he worked was cold inside and he developed TB and died shortly afterwards.

My mother never worked regularly but when my father became ill she had to. At that time two of my brothers were in the army, so my mother had to go to work to support the family, because all the other children were still in school. She started working at the same factory where I subsequently worked.

My brothers were in the army so my eldest sister and I had to do the housekeeping. I really felt for my mother because I saw that she couldn't cope financially. So I left school to go and help my mother. I went to work at the factory with my mother to put the other children through school. At a later stage I felt the need to continue my schooling but it was impossible at the time.

We experienced a lot of difficulties and there were times when we had to go without food, although our parents did not want it that way. There were times when you wanted more. You felt that you were working alone, and there were eight children to take care of. That was a difficult period for us.

Everyone tried to make the best of their lives. When you had problems you could always go to the church because they were very supportive. There were no other formal support structures but the community itself was very sympathetic towards one another because we lived in a row of ‘barrack houses'. The toilets were at the back, and there was one toilet that was blocked for some time and the drains were overflowing. It was dirty and miserable but the municipality was not very co-operative. Dirt would lie around. Things would happen to your dwelling. We complained but they did not take any notice. Nothing was done about it. So the people decided to send a delegation to the municipality. They were not prepared to meet with us so we got together again and elected another delegation. We went and explained the dangers to them and asked how they could expect anyone to live in a place like that. They finally came to fix the toilets.

Diana Ferrus