Lots and Lots of Sugar: A Memoir of South Africa
their hearts with dread and despair, … she was not aware of their fears. It was a beautiful star-studded night …
Maria was not aware of the stars.
On that night, Maria was a frail six year old girl, both bewildered and excited, standing on the train station of a
remote town in Africa with her parents, her sister, Rene and their Nanny Dora Makumba. The wild pounding of
her heart could hardly be drowned out by the thundering rumble of the approaching train, the screeching of the
massive wheels and the deafening hiss of the steam engine as it rolled to a final stop. Then came the hurried
crunching sound of footsteps on the pavement gravel as the passengers, carrying their baggage, approached the
And then,—the bursting of Maria's heart as her father's arms enfolded her and held her for a moment,—then
her mother's. She heard a sob and felt tears on her face.
“Oh, my little girl, I'll miss you so!” came from Fred before he let her go.
“I love you, Maria!” were the final words that broke from Freda's lips.
And finally, there was Nanny Dora's long embrace as she gave last minute instructions so typical of her:
“Now you be good girls. Remember your fine manners and listen to the teachers!” she said, trying to sound
stern while gathering the girls in her arms.
So this is goodbye. In all the months of preparation for this event, the excitement leading up to it had over -
shadowed the reality of parting. All the sounds of that night were so amplified and the feelings so tumultuous
that an imprint of that moment was made on Maria's mind that would play itself out, over and over, for the rest
of her life.
Minutes later, the train whistle sounded again and slowly the monstrous engine creaked forward, puffing and
fussing like an impatient old man, dragging its coaches of waving passengers behind it. Then, picking up speed,
it rocked and swayed as it headed south into the night. It was a bitter moment, which mercifully soon turned
sweet. The girls' focus changed to the cozy space of the brightly lit train compartment, the hustle of storing
baggage and to settling down in the new surroundings which would be theirs for the next few days.
• • •
Maria and Rene were being sent off to a boarding school far from home to the ver y Southern tip of the African
continent. Boarding school was the only recourse their parents had, considering the situation: Fred was the
Chief Geologic Consultant for the Anglo American Gold Mining Company in South Africa. He headed up the
wide-spread drilling operations of Anglo-American which pulled up revealing core samples from deep beneath
the earth's surface, — the imperative precursor to the sinking of mine shafts that produced most of the world's
gold. The drilling operations required that Fred frequently relocate to regions known as the „goldfields' by the
mining industry where there were no cities or schools nearby. For this reason, going to school out of their home
was not feasible for the children. Besides, in that era in most of Britain and its colonial cultures, the discipline
that boarding school afforded was considered to be „good for children', if not essential, and was not at all
Fred had researched all of the most outstanding boarding schools in the country and had discovered this one
situated thirty miles from Cape Town. It was nestled in the foothills of the beautiful four-peak Helderberg
Mountain range within view of the majestic Hottentots Holland mountains to the East and breathtaking
Gordon's Bay to the South. It looked out over the point at which the Atlantic and Indian oceans meet and was as
secluded as any private school administration could wish a school to be.
If Fred De Villiers had been looking for the most beautiful spot on earth, he had certainly found it. If he had in
mind a place where his children would benefit the most—scholastically, socially, culturally and spiritually, he'd
found it. Sadly though, the wrench of separation for Maria from her parents was often the source of pining and
tearfulness. Rene, on the other hand, never looked back and thrived in this boarding school setting.
Fred had arranged that the girls be chaperoned on their three-day train journey to school. He had a long-
standing friendship with a Catholic priest with whom he and a steady group of avid anglers used to go on deep-