A fatherly trip down memory lane
ON MONDAY fathers John Hanson, Flores Anthony, Austen Jackson and I ventured out on a Boland day-trip. Like the Sankofa bird, we returned to what we’d left behind or lost sight of in heart and mind over time. In our case, it was our rural priesthood pasts.
We cruised through Worcester, Robertson, Ashton and Bonnievale in an ice-blue SUV chauffeured by its new owner, recently retired Father Hanson.
Initially, it was going to be just John and I; then Austen heard about the trip. We picked up Flores in Paarl.
Within five minutes of us being together, as we ascended Du Toitskloof Pass, a simmering issue between two of our party surfaced.
The verbal jousting carried on over the pass. I was drawn into the fracas when chastened for referring to baboons as apies after I warned our driver about their restless presence on the side of the road. Our combatant companions took the gap presented to abandon a no-win argument by recalling how traffic cops were referred to in the area, evoking the image of bobbejane, as Bob James.
The urgent need to decide on our breakfast venue – Worcester or Rawsonville – with the turn-off to the latter dorp rapidly approaching – closed arguments.
After a stabilising breakfast outside Worcester, we stopped at the original All Saints Anglican Church in what had been Robertson’s onderdorp. This was Flores’s home town. His father, Uncle Joey Anthony, recalled being woken up by a farmer early one day in the 1960s. The chapel had been sold and the parish priest hadn’t bothered to tell his parishioners about the sale. It was Uncle Joey’s lot as chapelwarden to clear the church of the essentials.
Today this deconsecrated building with its Group Areas memory scar is home to Robertson Winery’s Chapel Red with “berry and herbaceous brambly flavours”.
In Ashton we stopped at St Joseph’s the Worker. After many years I remain captivated by the lovely mural on the east end-section of the church. It depicts Joseph the carpenter and was made by Ann MacGregor, the wife of Fr Alistair, one of my Ashton predecessors.
The town of Bonnievale, our final stop, evolved from the 19th century sub-division of Bosjesmansdrift (Bushmen’s drift), a 6 073ha loan farm first granted to Gideon van Zijl in the preceding century. The name Bosjesmansdrift is perhaps an unintended reminder of the original occupants of the valley.
On entering Bonnievale, Flores directed us to the Myrtle Rigg Memorial Church. This Normanstyle building was built by C Forrest Rigg, a Scots-born entrepreneur who pioneered the white settlement and an irrigation scheme at the lower end of the Breede River Valley.
Rigg honoured his 7-year-old Mary’s death-bed request that he “build a Proper church for the people of Bonnie Vale, so that they can all become Good People”.
In 1924, the Bishop of George, Henry Sidwell, consecrated the building and placed it under the care of the Anglican parish of Swellendam. Today a 30-something Father Darian Petersen, a native of Tarka in Mossel Bay, has oversight of this church as rector of Bonnievale.
My priestly confreres and I benefited from the hospitality of the Petersens at St Stephen’s Rectory:
Father John blessed our gathering and asked in rich and nuanced Afrikaans for a blessing of wisdom and strength upon Father Darian, the young shepherd of the flock of Bonnievale.
You cannot drive into Bonnievale and not be mindful of Breyton Breytenbach. In one of his poems this poet promised to send his beloved “rooiborsduif ”.
This red-crested bird would leave glittering oceans, greening trees in its wake, that which the Sankofa spirit in all of us longs for.
As we exited along the Breede River in the direction of its source in the Skurweberg Mountains of Ceres and away from its entrance into the Indian Ocean at Cape Infanta, our driver queried in the most innocent and driest of tones: “Soe, wa’ gaan ons nou wors koep?”
We will have to return to answer his question.