I was about 3 when my gran, Ouma, who raised me, decided I had to have some sort of religious training. She was Nederduitse Gereformde Kerk and my grandad, Jim (everyone called him Jim) was Presbytarian, like all good Scotsmen. So one Sunday morning, Ouma marched me down to the Salvation Army on the corner, where I was introduced to Aunty Val who sat at the door welcoming all the kids to Sunday school. A little later, I was shown through to the hall where the children gathered for Sunday school. I remember clearly the rows of wooden chairs… the kind with the flip-up seats (many a boy lifted one of those while I was sitting and made me fall over the years). The floors were wood. To the left of me as I walked through the door was a strange entrance. I found later it led to a den under the stage – a most exciting place. Up ahead was the kitchen, an office, a store room and the ablutions. But this day, the gathering was in the main hall. Ouma took me on a good day. There was no Sunday school. We were going on a march.
We walked through the main streets of Port Elizabeth, Aunty Val holding my hand. Everyone looked so smart in their uniforms and the band played beautifully. My eyes must have been like saucers. I was in awe. It became my dream to wear a uniform. The Salvation Army taught me about the Bible. They taught me about caring for others. They taught me about love for my brothers and sisters. They encouraged our talent and trained us for leadership. It was my second home for so many years.
Christmas time! If there is a part of my childhood Christmases I treasure and holds happy memories for me, it is the part that I spent in Salvation Army activities. A while beforehand, we would go from door to door with our little wooden boxes. Naturally, I was accompanied by an adult. We collected, so that we could make Christmas special for those who would otherwise go without. In later years, I became part of the sorting of other donations for this as well. Then the most exciting part – the carolling! We would all stand on the back of a truck. The band sat at the ‘front’ behind the driver’s cab and, as the truck drove slowly through the streets, we would sing our hearts out. I loved those evenings on the back of the truck carolling! I was listening to ‘Away in a manger’ playing tonight and the memories came flooding back.
I still love carolling. Oh, another favourite Christmas memory has just come to mind – Carols by Candle-light in Happy Valley, Port Elizabeth. Happy Valley was where the river that ran through Settler’s Park ended before running into the sea at Humewood beach. The place was a popular picnic and strolling spot by day and by night, a fairy tale come true. In among the bushes and trees were lit-up scenes, sprinkled with fairy lights. If anyone out there reading this blog has photos of Happy Valley at Christmas time in the 70’s, please let me know! Nativity scenes, Disney scenes, fairy tale scenes…. a child’s dream come true. I honestly believed that those scenes would spring to life at any moment. In the flatter area, closer to the beach with the fun fair up on the hill, they had Carols by Candle-light. We each held a candle in a paper candle holder and by the light of those candles, in front of the huge Christmas tree and the lit up Nativity scene, we sang carols in the dark. What a beautiful scene from the hill… all these candles and lit up faces and the music…!
If my Ouma were alive today, I would love to thank her for giving me those very special memories to hold on to and hopefully pass on to Tatiana and the generations to come. My wish for all my friends is that you also build special Christmas memories and traditions and experience the love and joy of the season in so many ways.