Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Our wacky St. James Street neighbours - The Kemlo's

Our wacky St. James Street neighbours - The Kemlo's
23 April 2013

I spent the majority of my childhood, in fact in my opinion, the most important years of my life, before marriage and kids, at 29 St. James Street, Somerset West.  These were my formative years.

Some of my happiest days were in those years.  The irony of course, being that I didn’t realise it at the time.  That insight only came with advanced years and more life experience.  Life was simpler then.  I didn’t worry about bills, the education of my kids, running a home and a business, guiding my kids along the correct path, the moral fibre of society, the fact that Riaan Cruywagen had finally left our TV screens, or what to make for supper.

Oh no!  In those days, I worried about far more important things, like my split ends (practically non-existent at the time), how lame my folks were, how hard done by I was (we never even had a video machine in the house – I thought it was akin to living in the dark ages), the fact that my brother always seemed to have a handy excuse at the ready when us kids had to tidy the kitchen, a never ending cycle of practicing the piano for my next lesson, my teenage sister who simply ALWAYS borrowed my clothes (without asking!), the way I had to cycle or walk to school every day because my selfish parents wouldn’t lift me, the annoying habit my folks had of forcing me to do homework, the accountability they taught me for my actions, the pathetic curfew I had to submit to when I went out, the healthy food we had to eat (we NEVER did Take-Aways or restaurants), the snacky food in the house always being boring fruit (or raisins – yip-de-doo – NOT), the nagging I had to listen to about lying on the phone chatting to my friends when my folks were wanting to make so called “important” calls instead, the annoyance of not having the latest and most fashionable clothes, the horrors of hand-me-downs, my parents simply ALWAYS listening to their taste in music, loudly (they didn’t appreciate my much cherished Rick Astley record – can’t imagine why), the subjection we always endured on Sundays of listening to LOUD classical music ( yip, they were seriously lame), the way they wouldn’t let me go away for a weekend, unsupervised and un-chaperoned, with a boyfriend (pathetic!), their indulgence in family meetings, my continuous aspiration in getting the latest teen magazines, trying to save up money to buy a Roxette album, having a strict bedtime (We had to go to our rooms every night at 8pm – positively archaic!!!  We didn’t have to sleep immediately, but we were not allowed to hang around in the lounge, kitchen or in front of the TV.  So selfish and rude!), their obsession with us tidying up after ourselves, etc.  You know what I mean?  I was worrying about seriously important life and death stuff way back then.  At least it felt that way to me.

Now the thing with St James Street, is that it lay below the Main Road in Somerset West, towards the railway station.  A no-no.  Yip, we grew up on “the wrong side” of town.  29 St. James Street, was not a prestigious address, in the eyes of “the popular”.  Yet our house was golden.  Magnificent in every single way.  My folks had, with the assistance of an awesome team of labourers (Helene, Albert and Katrine), managed to lovingly restore and renovate the house to a place of beauty.  We spent weekends, wielding a belt sander, scraping a window frame, painting or varnishing.  I wish I could capture it’s magnificence for you.  Though there are many, many photos that sort of do her justice.

But the marvellous thing of St James Street, was the sense of community and camaraderie between neighbours.  It was a time and a place when being neighbours still meant a lot.  We knew the people who lived next door to us, and further up the road.  In fact, it proved to be quite a prolifically talented road.  It produced my brother, Albert Frost, obviously.  My dad too played in a band and was a musical maestro, promoter and organiser of note.  So was my mom for that matter.  It also produced the two Swart sisters, Lise and Nina.  Nina spent years playing someone called Willemien on 7de Laan, I think.  She has gone on to do many, many local television series, and has now even taken to directing and producing programmes too.  In fact, the Afrikaans programme, Boer Soek ‘n Vrou, is her brainchild.  As for Lise?  Well Lise is one amazingly talented lady.  She spent years doing the music scene, playing with amongst others, Anton Goosen, Valiant Swart, etc.  She is also SA TV royalty, especially on Kyknet.  She hosted the cooking programme, Roer, and Pitstop as well as the Revlon Supermodel too.

But this is not the Swart-Sister story.  This story, is about our other absolutely fabulous neighbours - the Kemlo family.  They were just such fun.  Part of their charm, was the fact that they were also quirky and different.  Just like us.  They comprised a Dad and a Mom, three sisters, a younger brother, and a granny we almost never seemed to see.  In fact, we often debated around our dining room table, if she was still alive.  Still, every so often we would see her again.  Only to start another round of dining room table debates, as to exactly where she had been?  Furthermore, irrespective of the season, come rain or sunshine, whether in the middle of the week or during the weekend, albeit the crack of dawn, midday, late afternoon, evening, or the wee nightly hours, the smell of a braai simply always wafted over the wall.  Followed by the sound of chopping wood for their braais.  Which inevitably led us to long discussions once more as to the last time we had had a live sighting of the granny?  They used to have marvellous parties, braais and unprovoked jols.  Most often accompanied by singing.  Lots and lots and lots of singing.  Singing of old songs.  The songs of my parents era.  The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Cream, Eric Clapton, Jethro Tull, to name but a few.  And just for fun?  Well the odd South African folky number too, like “My Sarie Marais”.  Occasionally it even sounded like howling.  Like the type one would expect wolves to make.  And naturally, this too led us to long discussions about the whereabouts of Noni, as granny Kemlo was called , once more.  Their life seemed a never ending series of fun and excitement.  A continuous never ending social gathering.  They always had friends around and were in a festive and holiday mood.  All the time.

And I suspect, that like my folks, they too had financial struggles.  It is tough making ends meet and feeding kids.  Not to mention schooling and clothing, and things of that ilk.  Their Dad was an excellent draughtsman.  The mom a home maker.  Their kids were amazing.  The daughter closest to me in age, was Vice Head Girl of the school, the year after I matriculated.  They are all successful, well rounded, independent individuals, making a positive contribution to society.

They always seemed jolly and happy.  Everyone always friendly.  I don’t think they had a Hi-Fi.  Ever.  Which was probably partially the cause of their late night singing/howling (about that granny…).

And what was so marvellous about that, was the occasional phone call we’d receive from next door.  Or even the odd holler over the wall.

“Please play that Stevie Ray Vaughan song again”.  Or “Track number three is cool, play it again”.  And then were was always “Louder!  Louder!!!”.

You Kemlo’s were the best.  Miss you long time and hope you’re all well.

And just to report back, granny Noni Kemlo died many years later.  Of natural causes.
Some of the St. James Street gang - from l.t.r. Tanya Kemlo, Jayne Holtzhausen, Katrine Auld and Lise Swart in the back - the fearsome foursome
View of St. James Street garden - too beautiful!

Now this one is a real gem - a St. James Street fancy dress at the Kemlo's.  Included in this pic - Cara, Tanya and Dean Kemlo, Jayne and Robin Holtzhausen, Lise Swart and Katrine Auld.

1 comment:

  1. 29 St James Street - never ever to be forgotten!! Home from home!! Lovely blog Helene, as usual!!