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Oom Hennie Velsambreel  (the story from the January 2018 Story Weaver Ramblings newsletter)


A dearly loved person in Prince Albert was Marie Kruger – Suster Kruger, as she was known. She compiled a wonderful book of memories for her grandchildren and among her stories were some about Oom Hennie Velsambreel.


As a little girl in the 1920’s Marie often visited Oom Hennie and Tant Karolien on their small holding just beyond the Albert’s Mill, beneath the gum trees on the old road to the Swartberg Pass. As a young man in Gamkaskloof Oom Hennie had suffered a severe attack of sun stroke and for the rest of his life he never ventured outdoors without his pith helmet and an umbrella – but not a shop-bought umbrella. Oom Hennie made his own parasol from sailcloth stretched over a sturdy wooden frame. It must have been awfully heavy but Oom Hennie was never seen without it.


Oom Hennie’s 'symaat' Tant Karolien would be busy kneading bread or stirring preserves in the kitchen, a source of delicious scents and tastes. Before Marie left Tant Karolien would fill her little hands with dried figs.


People worked hard in those days and holidays were far and few. Marie’s father had a transport business and always seemed to be busy but eventually the chance came for the family to go to the Wilderness for a camping holiday. They took Oom Hennie along with them because he had never seen the sea. Tant Karolien wouldn’t leave their 'farm'. 


The journey was an adventure in itself – it took two days to get to the sea and they spent a night on the banks of the river which wends its way into George. The next day they followed the road towards the Wilderness and enjoyed a picnic lunch on the way. Oom Hennie said grace, for which he removed his pith helmet, placing a handkerchief over his head.


That first day Oom Hennie was content to walk along the beach, not daring to venture into the water, but waves washed in and his trousers got wet, so he peeled them off to dry and lay in the sun near the tent riding a bicycle in the sky with his thin legs to dry his long, white underpants. 


Within a few days Marie’s brothers had borrowed a swimming costume for him and they persuaded him into the water. Oom Hennie insisted on carrying his umbrella into the foam and of course the waves knocked him over and there was great excitement in rescuing Oom and the umbrella! After that Oom Hennie relied on his pith helmet to keep him safe from the sun when he ventured into the surf and he took to the sea like a duck to water. He and Marie, his little 'Peach Blossom', spent hours on the beach often accompanied by a crowd of children. For besides his eccentric attire Oom Hennie had two great drawcards: he asked riddles and he made up poems. Oh how Marie wished she had written more down but Oom Hennie didn’t hold with people writing down his 'rympies'.


His poems celebrated the moment – spontaneous outpourings of joy. Marie recalls how he held forth when he saw a wagon-load of children off to the Cango Caves to see the Prince of Wales. He had something to say about the 'Koning Queen' One poem he did allow his ‘peach blossom’ to write down was his Ode to the Sea:


Die grote see wat dag en nag leef

met al doe gewemelte wat daarin sweef

het so ‘n grote aantrekkingskrag

dat hy die mense na hom toe trek met mag

om daar te kom swaai

en te kom baai,

en al was die oomblikke dan ook maar weinig,

dan was hulle liggame tog meteens ook gereinig


Die mans was daar om die ding te reel 

en ek was ook daar met my sambreel, 

my baaiklere het ek geleen 

en neef Diederick Kruger se seun het my afgeneem.


Die vrouens was nie dom nie,

want hulle het gekyk dat die ding nie verkeerd moes kom nie.

Hulle bak pastei, koek en tert want die vreugde van die groot see is dit duisendmaal werd

En onder hulle is kus en keur 

en daarom gee ek aan die vrouens die grootste eer 

en as ek op die platteland gaan staan 

dan stem die gehele wêreld met my saam 

want sonder hulle kan geen wêreld bestaan.


A bit later Marie’s dad had to go to Cape Town and he took Oom Hennie along. What Marie wouldn’t have given to see the old friends taking in the sights. Oom Hennie even climbed Table Mountain. Little did he know that he would see the Cape again one day.


Marie grew up and married and moved away from Prince Albert but she returned with her new-born daughter. Oom Hennie was enchanted,


“Do you know,” he asked, “why a mother always carries her child in her left arm?” 


“No,” she replied, “I’ve never really thought about it.” 


“So that the child is close to her mother’s heart.”


As he grew older Oom Hennie found it difficult to walk very far, so he made himself a cart in which he sat while one of his nephews pushed him into town. Oom Hennie referred to nephew Benjamin (Beiman for short) as his ‘horse’ and he was expected to wait in the shade under the trees while Oom Hennie handled his business and did the shopping.


The years passed, Tant Karolien died and Oom Hennie was taken off to Cape Town to live with his son. It was there, far from his beloved Prince Albert that he died. But his memory lives on in Marie’s tales and his photo can be seen at the Fransie Pienaar Museum.

Here are some photos of Oom Hennie Velsambreel, received in January 2018

Oom Hennie Velsambreel at the sea   Oom Hennie Velsambreel
           Oom Hennie Velsambreel at the sea                  Oom Hennie Velsambreel (Alberts)


Oom Hennie Velsambreel with Marie Kruger

Oom Hennie Velsambreel in his cart, with his 'peach blossom" Marie Kruger.

I am so grateful to Dirk Kruger, Marie Kruger's nephew from Pretoria named after his grandfather, Marie's dad, for sharing these wonderful photos.