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Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Remembering Reuben

Early childhood is a mysterious thing - many meetings, impressions, connections made but also many lost forever because of circumstances beyond the control of a small person. Memory plays tricks too, but some things seem to remain to be recalled years later in the most unexpected of moments.  This is what happened to me when I saw a blog post in February this year on Sasha Doll UK blog.  The last doll shown on this blog post immediately made me visit Shelly's site to find out more details. His cheeky face and pose reminded me of the characteristics of many small Cape coloured boys, but particularly a lad I knew at Sunday School at St George's Cathedral, Cape Town in the early 1970s.

It was the height of the apartheid era.  The Cathedral in the heart of the city had a really mixed congregation - white people, black people and mixed race people (who had developed a very distinctive, vibrant and warm culture of their own).  Somehow we all got on fine even though the government across the road from the mother church was intent on separating us.  Close to the centre of the city was District Six, a very mixed settlement of people who were mostly not very well off but whose families had been in the area for over a 100 years.  Quite a few of the Cathedral's coloured congregation lived there, including my young friend Reuben.  He was probably one or two years older than me and was full of fun and mischief.  He had an older sister and two younger brothers. His parents were stalwarts of the Cathedral, much loved by everyone there.

When the apartheid government ordered the clearing of District Six because it was an affront to their 'Group Areas Act' the family and many others were faced with the prospect of moving away from the heart of the city out to the Cape flats.  This was at least 25 minutes drive by car to the Cathedral if a family was fortunate enough to own a car, which I don't think they did.  I recall visiting Reuben's house in District Six once before they moved, it was an old fashioned double storey housing block with a verandah - it housed several families. I was too young to take notice of the street name.  It was probably bulldozed as were most of the houses in that area.  Soon after that we said goodbye to the family and I have never seen them since, they probably found a church near their new home (probably Mitchell's Plain which was a coloured area).

The Cathedral continued to have a mixed congregation despite the erasing of District Six, as there were other places in the city where black and coloured people lived, and it later became known as the People's Cathedral during the final days of apartheid, due to the inspirational leadership of the Dean and a very famous Archbishop.

More than 36 years later a photo of a doll brought back my memories of Reuben my friend.  The doll was described as a late 1970s Caleb in his complete outfit with the addition of an orange Gotz hoodie (a bit large for him) and a grey fleece hat.  He arrived in May and I kept him under wraps until June when I made his shirt and took him to Dawn's Sasha day.  He went back into hiding again until a few days ago.  It is good to have him on display with the others now.
Reuben, as pictured on Sasha Doll UK (Photo: Shelly B)
Nicholas James, Miranda, Reuben, Laura, Florence and baby Mabel
And in case you were wondering, I did go looking on-line to see if I could find out whether my childhood friend was still alive and am fairly sure he is fine and doing well.


Sans! said...

What a great story to share! And that Reuben doll? Just adorable.

I know a little boy called Reuben too and he's chubby and cheerful and very well loved :).

Serenata said...

A wonderful way to remember your childhood friend whom became lost to you through the terrible regime of apartheid. Good to read that the church carried on having mixed services though, that takes strength.

Sharon said...

This was a lovely blogpost and it just goes to show that love and respect for others, can overcome even apartheid. Reuben is a lovely little boy and it is a wonderful 'tribute' to the 'real' Reuben that you now have him as part of your Sasha/Gregor family!
I tried to post on your last blog spot but something strange happened, so hopefully this one will work!

Papillon Bleu said...

Thank you for sharing this with us.
You are right, sometimes memory plays funny tricks on us and you never know what is going to trigger a recollection like this one.

( Thank you also for the kind words on my blog)

I am trying to go back to Blogland but I haven't been very creative lately. Still love the dolls though!


DollMum said...

I was a lucky girl today, my aunt is visiting the UK from SA and brought a book about the history of St George's Cathedral with so many photos in it of people I remembered. This book tells me that some of the coloured congregation came from the closure of a church in Waterkant Street (not District 6) which happened in 1970 and this in the long term lead to the integration of the mainly white congregation with coloured and black at the Cathedral.
My Reuben is very happy to be on display with the others and I smile when I look at him. He is also helping with my 'Back to school' swap - more about that in a future post.