Memoir of Uys Krige who passed away on 10 August 1987.
“Things I remember about Uys“
I guess when I think back on Uys the first thing that comes to mind, and which obviously left a lasting impression on me was his attire. It was like a uniform. Always in a pair of short shorts, a ratty looking brown V neck jersey and stokies no matter the weather or time of day.
His shiny, bronzed, bald, head and wiry grey hair that grew outwards. It always made me think of a bird’s nest, perfectly circular. It was his calling card because if you look at sketches of him done by his artist friends the caricatures all depict that distinctive look.
We used to visit him quite a lot because in those days Onrust was a very small community and it was incredibly quiet. Ironically the new tendency is for people to look for an excuse to get away from each other where as back then they used to seek each other out and Uys was always on the look out for company.
He’d often arrive at our house (The Mission’s House) just to come “inloer”, would stay for a cup of tea which then became “‘n dop” and eventually became supper after which he’d wonder home through the Milkwoods, down Lagoon Drive and up past the Greek chapel. I know this because my older brother was sent on his BMX to make sure Uys got home safely.
We used to visit him at his home, Swartdakkies, too. It was a modest house, un-plastered brick walls which were painted white, black roof and black slate floors throughout. Because of the black and white colouring, the house always felt very cold to me. It was sparsely decorated with a few bits of odd furniture.
Uys had a worn out armchair in the one corner of the open plan living room. It stood with its back towards two bookshelves. Clearly this was his spot and where he spent most of his time. Everything an elderly man would need, within arms reach. He always had the TV and radio on at the same time so as not to miss anything.
Just behind him on the shelf, stood a stuffed ostrich chick. About 30 cm in height, with it’s speckled black and grey plumes. This bird both fascinated and haunted me. I felt it’s beady eyes always on me. When entering the room it was the first thing I would look for to be sure it was still there. I’m sure Uys found my fascination with the bird amusing and told me of its history and his name for it but alas I do not recall these details.
So the house was one story and spread out in a very odd manner. What was most peculiar to me was that both the bathroom and his bedroom where outside, off the stoep.
So although his house was cold, his little “ramhok” had quite the opposite feeling. A tiny room, off the end of the veranda on the north facing side. Wall to wall bookcases filled with old, dusty books, many of which were borrowed and not returned. The books not only made the room feel much cozier but also made a difference to the acoustics. The main house was cold and echoed, whereas his bedroom was warm and quiet. All that stood in this room apart from the library was his single bed and a chair. What more did he want?
The north facing stoep overlooked the Onrust mountains and there was an empty plot just below it where we as children used to bring him tortoises that we found wondering the streets of Onrust and surrounds. He used to sit in his wicker chair on the stoep, in the sun, overlooking us playing in the fynbos and shout instructions to us. Not to squash the succulents or to look at the sunbird feeding at the aloe flowers.
From very early on my mother tells how I would follow Uys everywhere. Well there is a very simple explanation for this. Uys always had chocolate eclairs and mints in his pockets.
I remember it like yesterday, being sat on his lap. The leathery, bronzed skin of his face, shaved but with the grey stubble just appearing, shiny silver when caught in the right light, endearing chatter as he unwrapped the shiny purple & yellow sweet wrappers for me. We were great mates Uys and I. His nickname for me was Twirpie.
A common site when my friends and I were playing in the sand on Onrust beach next to the lagoon, was to see Uys arrive in his usual gear, with a towel over his shoulder. He’d then proceed to change into his swimsuit under his skimpy towel. (these were the days before The Milkwood Restaurant and ablutions).
It wasn’t uncommon for the towel to drop mid exercise but luckily we were more focused on our sand castle constructions or catching crabs in the lagoon.
And so the familiar little figure would stroll down the beach into the breakers for his daily dip, wonder back up and make conversation with anyone he found on the beach.
In later years when Uys was less inclined to take a bath, as I explained before his bathroom was outside of the house, my mother took to taking us all to Caledon for a swim in the hot springs. This was before the casino existed. All that stood there was the old Victorian Baths behind a metal gate in a dusty car park. We thought it was wonderful being treated to such regular outings, but of course we had no idea that it was Mom’s way of getting Uys to have a weekly bath.
I recall that Uys loved Caledon and Bredarsdorp. We used to visit the old museums or picnic in the botanical garden where he used to tell us of his childhood stories, where he’d lived as a child or where his relatives had worked in the little towns. Just the way I’m telling this story now.
Then, it was just the way it was but looking back now I realize how magic it truly was.
Ramhok = room for boys outside the main house
Stoep = veranda
Dop = drink
Inloer = pop in
Stokies = fabric slippers
Fynbos = indigenous flora
Milkwoods = indigenous trees
Copyright of pictures and text - Mission's House | Braelea Pope