A trip to the beach for a family of Sandvelders is a glorious thing – except if you’re a goat. Annemaré Engelbrecht remembers an eventful journey from her childhood.
Annemaré Engelbrecht remembers an adventurous trip to the seaside in her family’s DKW minibus.
I’m an Engelbrecht from the Sandveld – a potato-farming region up the West Coast – and this is a story from half a century ago, when I was a small child. It was only a few years after my Ouma Leentjie had passed away. My family, along with my aunt Anna’s family, were visiting Oupa Johnnie on the farm Witwater, which is about 12 km along a sandy jeep track from the sea. Early one morning, Oupa and Pa got beach fever. Those who know us Engelbrechts will know: We love going to the beach and when the time comes, nothing will stand in our way to get there. (Apparently we have some ocean blood in our veins – the first Engelbrecht to set foot on African soil at Lambert’s Bay hailed from a coastal village in northern Germany, where another Engelbrecht is the mayor to this day.) Usually Pa would simply tow the old horse cart with the tractor, but there were too many of us for the cart. There were six adults (two fathers, two mothers, one oupa and his domestic worker, a lady called Mietjie de Klerk) and six children, two of which were still toddlers. There were many mouths to feed, which also necessitated us taking an animal along to slaughter for the braai. Pa drove a brown DKW minibus back then and it was big enough to fit everyone. But it wouldn’t make it through the thick sand so it was hitched behind the tractor using a strong ox chain. Conveniently, all the seats except the two in the front had already been removed for a previous trip to Witwater, when Pa had delivered a dairy cow to Oupa from our farm on the Olifants River. For that trip, the kids either sat between the front seats on rusk tins covered with a blanket, or on Ma or Pa’s lap, or next to the cow in the back. She was a much-loved little Dexter called Jana and no threat to her fellow
passengers. Although it was wise to avoid her backside… But back to the beach trip. The tractor was a Lanz Bulldog and it would have been able to pull a tank through the sand. Its driver, Pieter Abrahams, had pretty much grown up behind the wheel. The real problem was who would pilot the minibus. It would have to be my uncle, Bertie Mellet, because Pa had to go ahead on horseback to catch a nice fat goat for us to eat. (The goat would join us in the bus later.) To the eye, Oom Bertie seemed like a good choice to sit behind the wheel. He was powerfully built and also hailed from a farm, so he was used to rough roads. But his family farm was near Ladismith in the Little Karoo and he was much more adept at handling rocky mountain tracks. His lack of experience in the sand would only become apparent later…
Vehicle and driver (and a plan for the goat) all sorted, we started loading up. Tannie Anna, her baby and her kids squashed onto the front seat next to Oom Bertie. I sat behind them, on a scratchy old bedspread on the floor, with my mother Anita and my siblings. Mietjie the domestic worker sat with us, to maintain order. She was a formidable Boesmanlander with an even more formidable vocabulary of curses up her sleeve. Oupa also sat in the back, on a folding riempie chair, wearing his characteristic wide-brim hat. In terms of gear and provisions, we had wicker baskets filled with boerewors, a rack of ribs, farm bread and butter and a bottle of boiled milk wrapped in a damp cloth. There was also a big flask of black coffee (sugar already stirred in), a bottle of beetroot salad, a container of coarse salt to salt the fish we planned to catch, tin plates and mugs, and a small barrel of fresh drinking water. Last but not the least: Oupa’s handmade bamboo fishing rods and a potjie for his special periwinkle starter. We had trouble from the start. Communication between Oom Bertie in the bus and Pieter on the tractor was poor. Pieter pulled off and the tractor yanked the bus forward, causing everyone to fall off their various seats. Oupa tumbled off his chair and had to wrestle the water barrel to regain his balance. The kids screamed and Mietjie swore like a sailor. Oupa didn’t say a thing. He readjusted his hat, folded his chair open again and sat down. The second pull-off was slightly better. Oupa stayed on his chair and Mietjie only swore to herself. At the first (closed) gate, communication between the drivers failed once more. Pieter pulled away and everyone who could fall, fell – and then screamed or swore. Thankfully we couldn’t hear Pieter’s commentary on the tractor because his vocabulary was even more colourful than Mietjie’s. This time, Oupa said in a stern voice: “Mellet!” Bertie straightened his back. He was feeling the pressure now. For a while it went well, until we had to stop where Pa was waiting for us with an enormous goat…
Despite the protests of the women and children in the back, the goat was loaded in with us. Its feet were bound so at least it was mostly immobile, but it refused to have the sack put over its head. The sack was supposed to keep it calm but it bleated as only a goat can bleat. Mietjie wasn’t in the mood. After she was struck by the goat’s sharp hoofs one time too many, she grabbed it by its neck and stuck its head in the potjie. It went quiet… And then made up for the silence with stench. Still half deaf from the bleating, we now became dizzy holding our breaths to avoid breathing in the smell. As we progressed and one incident followed the next, Oupa’s cries of “Mellet!” became more urgent as he struggled back onto his chair over and over again. Eventually Pieter’s patience ran out and he stopped dead. He ordered Pa off the horse and into the driver’s seat. Oom Bertie had to sit with us. He tried the barrel as a seat, but anyone who has ever tried to sit on a barrel will know that the edge of the metal hoop at the top cuts into your backside. And a big man on a little barrel is not very stable. He fell off onto Oupa and was summarily shunted to the back, where he found a seat next to the smelly goat.
We finally reached the beach and Pieter towed us to a rock overhang overlooking the bay. The goat got out first, with its head still stuck in the potjie. Mietjie got out and tried to pull the potjie off, swearing all the while, but its head wouldn’t budge. Oupa called Pieter to give it a go. Same result, except Pieter used some different expletives. Oupa finally cracked. He was here to catch fish and time was running out. Plus, he needed that potjie for his famous periwinkle starter. He took out his knife, slit the goat’s throat and cut off its head. After that, the head came out fine. Pieter butchered the goat and hung the meat in the shade of the overhang. Oupa went on to catch some beautiful fish using his bamboo rods while us children collected periwinkles in the rock pools. We headed back home as dusk fell, sunburnt and covered in sand. The braai was a success and what was left of the goat was parcelled and wrapped in skin for the return journey in the dark, which went off without a hitch with Pa in the driver’s seat and Pieter on the tractor. We were all blissfully happy; our beach itch had been scratched. At least, all the full-blooded Engelbrechts were happy. The same probably couldn’t be said for Oom Bertie – and the goat.
Mietjie wasn’t in the mood. After she was struck by the goat’s sharp hoofs one time too many, she grabbed it by its neck and stuck its head in the potjie.