Tuesday, July 10, 2007

1978 Apartheid, My Durban Wedding

1978. Mark Esslemont's Wedding Party, St. Martins, Durban North. Mom & Fraser on Mark's right. Charlie & Leah's Parents on Leah's left. (Fenner)

Leah and I visited St. Martins priest. We sat in his lounge, asking him to marry us. He poured us glasses of Benedictine, sanctimoniously asking, "Why'd you think God wants me to marry you?" We had no answer to his hubris. Pom discussed our marriage-service, told us what to pay the church-organist, hinting priests were paid back -handers for weddings. Pom sent us to Lifeline marriage-guidance classes. Pom's sister committed suicide, so Pom flew to England. Leah and mom organized Broadway Methodist's Rev. Learmonth to marry us in St. Martins. Charlie, who'd emigrated after completing his CA, flew from England to be my best-man. He was questioned by BOSS police. Leah's old school pal was her bridesmaid. She later emigrated to England.

01/07/1978 Durban July Handicap day: Leah arrived at St. Martins in her cousin's blue, Ford Mustang. Leah's mom had sewn Leah's wedding-dress and white veil. Leah's dad walked Leah down the aisle. Charlie and I wore light-grey suits and powder-blue ties. Rev. Learmonth said, "It's a unique experience for me. I've never married anyone in an Anglican church before..." BONG-BONG... rang the new bell. Cantabile sang: The Prayer of Saint Francis; Lead Me Lord; Psalm 23; The Lord's Prayer; hymns. Charlie handed over our wedding rings. Gee had engraved our names and wedding dates inside the gold bands.

At our Gugini Hall, Bellair reception, Eivand, SAP dog-squad cop, married to one of Leah's many cousins, was MC. Eivand's boss was Basie Smit, big shot amongst Durban cops. Eivand's parents were Swedish missionaries in Swaziland. Eivand later rejoined them, then retired to 'Maritzburg.

Charlie and I made speeches, proposed toasts, quaffed champagne. Pompies took photos, while booze flowed. Donna and her fundamentalist husband glared. The band played Bee Gee's It's only Words... Leah and I danced the first waltz, and 200 guests jolled.

Leah's mom had done the catering. Leah cut the cake, which her mom had baked. Leah's mom worked in a Jacob's import-export shipping -office, was a great cook and homemaker, having champagne at family dos. Leah's mom was hospitable and helpful, living for her family. Leah's mom loved her five children and thirteen future grand -children, calling them the "Brat Pack." As she grew old, Leah's mom cajoled her family: "Come to Christmas dinner!... Come to New Years dinner!... More champagne Mark?... Are we ready for shopping?..." Although she had her driver's licence, she rarely drove, so her family drove her. But I digress. African curse: "Marry your mother-in-law."

Rosie wasn't at our all-white-wedding, nor our reception. Her presence would've been sacrilege to conservative white guests. Zulu servants washed up in the kitchen.

Roy Cowgill ballroom-danced with a girlfriend. Fraser boozed and ogled girls. Mom sat next to Fraser, chatting to ol' ballies. She'd invited multitudes to our wedding, no matter where they lived in SA. Mom knew most wouldn't come, but would send wedding-gifts. We greeted aunty Esme's son Peter, who still farmed Elandspruit.

Leah circulated amongst friends and relatives, like aunty Belle, and a clan of Leah's paternal uncles, aunts and families. Leah kissed her paternal gran, who'd emigrated from Nairn, Scotland, with her engineer husband. Leah remembered her maternal granddad, gunner McInnes, bony POW in Stalag V111 C, who drank himself to death after WW2.

Leah flirted with Donna's husband. Donna freaked out. Skelm and Rhodie swiped champagne bottles from Leah's teetotal, maternal -uncle Rob, the barman. "It'shha besh' wedding we've been-to-in yearsh," said Skelm. "Hic."

Leah stood on a chair. I groped up her wedding-dress, and threw her garter. Leah's older twin sisters Bebs and Jay both leapt for the garter. Both married within a couple of years, and both produced a son and a daughter.

Fraser, Charlie and Leah's brothers Gee and Al tied tin-cans to our powder-blue Mini, then painted Shoe Shine graffiti all over our Mini. Of conscripts present, like Charlie and Skelm, I'd had the Commando basic and 16 camps call-up (total one year - later changed to longer basic and five camps). My two older brothers-in-law weren't drafted, and did no military service. Gee, like Fraser, slightly younger than me, did the 1 year and camps Citizen Force call-up. Leah's brother Al would get the CF 2 years and camps call-up, but opted for 4 SAP years, no camps. Broeders fucked up the minds and souls of my conscript generation.

In our going-away outfits and suede shoes, Leah and I drove through rain to an Umhlanga Rocks hotel. At every robot, we got hoots and laughs from cars.

Leah had gyppo-guts. What a night...

1978. Confetti, Esslemonts & Mackintoshes, St. Martins, Chelsea Dr., Durban North. (Fenner)


Mark JS Esslemont said...

July 2007 email from a SA military conscription researcher:

"...It's all about getting the stories out there!... I am glad that military conscription is something future generations won't have to face."

Mark JS Esslemont said...

July 2007 email from Charlie in England:

"...I was surprised to hear that you think nothing much has changed in Durban North? We were there over Christmas and the place is nothing like it was when we were riding our bikes all over the place. Huge amount of change and we didn't see too many spoilt or snobby people either. Things have moved on substantially (in some cases for the good and others not) and a lot of those who are left are the ones who want to be there (my brother and sister included) and they seem to be pretty regular folk to me..."

My July 2007 email response to Charlie:

"...Perhaps you can add 'insular' to my descriptions of Durban North people, as quite a number I knew never left..."