Christmas, was and is a family tradition with very strict rules governing the type of tree, decorations and shopping day, some have had to change due to the fact that times have changed and certain events are no longer possible. Christmas started in earnest in our house on the return from our annual holiday, which was usually about a week before the big day. Unlike the vast majority of South Africans, father insisted that we celebrate Christmas on the evening of the twenty fourth, Christmas Eve in other words.
During my childhood, in the weeks preceding Christmas, the Johannesburg council used to erect Christmas lights over the streets of the city and turn Joubert Park into a fairy wonderland. So sometime in the week preceding Christmas, we were all bundled into the car and taken to the city we would then join the motorists of Johannesburg slowly driving through the city staring at the wonderful Christmas lights strung between the light poles on either side of the street. It was for us children at least breathtaking The fancy designs of European Christmas characters seemed to go on forever, it was truly awe inspiring.
After having seen all the lights that were on offer, we would then park the car and proceed to window shop down Eloff Street. For those people that lived in Johannesburg during the sixties, I am sure that they will agree, that Eloff Street was an Aladdin’s cave of fine jewels, exotic toys, tailored clothing all displayed in shop windows that promised all that anyone could lust over and more, all bathed in the golden glow of the overhead filament lamps. It is one of the things from my childhood that I wished my own children had the opportunity to experience. Then it was back into the car and off to Joubert Park.
If the streets of the city were wondrous, it was nothing compared to the fairy land that we as children were treated too. The park was filled with all sorts of creatures, some of a Christmas theme, some from fairy tales and the paths were aglow with coloured lights, unless seen, it is way beyond my ability to describe, suffice to say it was a child’s wonderland. As a family we would wonder through the park all animosity forgotten only pausing at the large fountain in the middle of the park to throw a few coins in and make a wish, the setting at that time of year lent credence to the world of wishes being granted and the total belief in magic.
Just across the road from the park, lived my Great Grandmother, Granny’s mother, she was an incredibly formidable woman and the patriarch of the Allan family. She had made her money in property, firstly in Durban, where she owned numerous buildings in Point road and then in Johannesburg where it is told, at least by Granny, that she had been the first person to build a three story block of flats in Johannesburg by the name of Roeallen Mansions. The legend goes further that when the Jewish state of Israel was founded her lawyer, who had had power of attorney over her assets and other elderly women, had fraudulently stripped their assets and made a hasty exit to Israel.
Whether that story is true or not, is of no consequence. What is however is true, is that after the wonders of the park, going to visit her in her flat was hell.
She terrified us children. I do not think she liked children very much explaining the fact that she had stopped having children after only two, my Granny and her sister. Maybe, she only detested male children, who know. Anyway she had retired to bed after losing all her money and never left it until her death.
She had a flat boy that looked after her, and I think that he was the only person that could get the ancient witch to do anything. We were not the only people afraid of her; the gentleman that owned the grocery store in her street was also terrified of her. For example, when South Africa changed their currency from Pounds, Shillings and Pence to Rands and cents, sixpence was equal to five cents. It just happens that at the time a loaf of bread was priced at five cents. She would send her man to buy a loaf and give him a sixpence, when the man came back she would demand the change of one cent, after many fights and screaming sessions when the poor man had to present himself at the foot of her bed, the store keeper resigned himself to the fact that he sold his bread to her for four cents.
Anyway after the visit to the park we would always pop in for a visit and a cup of very weak tea, (Granny called it camels piss) or rather I should say the grown-ups visited, we children were marched into her bedroom, said hello, were patted on the head once by her and banished to her living room. About an hour later we were rescued by our parents and always left in a hurry. We never visited with her at any other time during the year and I think the Christmas visit was more out of duty than Christmas cheer. Then it was back to the car and home.
Lots of hugs and more,