Ode to the Dassies
As we let our light shine, we unconsciously give
other people permission to do the same.
As we are liberated from our own fear,
our presence actually liberates others.
I was kind of the black sheep in the family from a young age, and this led to me being sent to a “guvvie” school in Paarl at age 12 (midway through standard 6 or grade 8).
H.S. van der Walt High School was kind of a dumping-ground for young girls with all sorts of problems and for which the government of the day had no other solution. It was not a reformatory, but what was known as an “industrial school” in the old days… a “trade-school” which no longer taught one a trade. The only available subjects were commercial ones although apparently it was only the “brainy” naughty girls that crossed that threshold…
The school has existed for many years, with the centenary being in 2015, and it finally closed its doors as that type of institution in 1992, although the structures are still being used for learning today, as part of Boland College. A few years ago a Facebook page for the school was formed, and as more and more ex-scholars (and even some ex-teachers) joined, talk turned to a reunion… the thought of which terrified and excited a lot of us “Dassies”. We were referred to as Dassies because apparently many moons ago the students were known for always trying to find a spot of sun in which to sit… the hostels and classrooms were not really warm and comfy.. they were typical institution models… cold and sparse….
Thanks to a very determined young lady named Maryna who refused to give up and who, together with a very able team of volunteer helpers, begged, pleaded, Facebooked, BBM’d, e-mailed, phoned, arranged, bartered and put in a lot of time… the HS vd Walt Reunion Weekend became a reality on the weekend of 27-29 March 2012.
Attendees flew and drove in from all corners of the country, some of them spending Friday and Saturday nights in one of the hostels at the school, others only coming for the cocktail party on the Saturday evening. The oldest ex-pupil that attended on Saturday evening was an absolutely awesome lady, in all senses of the word, Sally Storkey (Lucas), of nigh on 80 years old, who attended in the mid 40s. The youngest weren’t even born when I matriculated from there in ’75!
There were quite a few teachers, hostel-mothers, and an ex-principal that attended, and this made for a very interesting cross-generation mix. The teachers spoke about how they enjoyed their time at HS, how it made better people out of them and mapped their path forwards… had we only know that THEN *grin* Words were spoken in speeches, in general and then there were also some personal aside comments made that had a profound effect on the recipient…
Over the months the members of the Dassie Club chatted on FB, some mini-reunions were organised in various parts of the country, and memories were recalled and shared… like those famous ones about “skivvying” which was one of our chores that had to be done ( going down on your hands and knees in really long passages, first removing the old polish with fine steel-wool then polishing the floor until you could see your face in the reflection….).
“Pikkens” is something that is remembered by everyone, no matter whether you have blocked out everything else about your time there or not… this was the “snack” we got once a week (peanuts and raisins). I remember a time when some of the girls collected all their raisins for a few weeks and then used them to make raisin beer… Another favourite food was “melk-kos” which is this really rich dish made with milk, egg, sugar, sometimes condensed milk, and pasta… my teeth curl just thinking about it….
And so the sharing of memories continued through the weekend too…
Sally Lucas had us in stitches with the tales of the shenanigans that she and her crowd got up to when they were there… many of which I am sure were the precursors to what became an institution for the Dassies… such as running away to Paarlberg, or hitting the nightclubs in Town, or raiding the orchard behind Hostel 1…. midnight swims and midnight pantry raids for the midnight feasts we then held in our roooms later…
We were also very privileged to hear the testimony of Rita,
a Dassie who had literally been to Hell and back most of her life, but who has turned her life around and is now spreading Love, Light and Joy to youngsters… there were many looks of surprise and disbelief about what all she has survived and overcome, and many a tear shed, but the main emotion that filled the room was pride for her and in her.
Rita, you are a true inspiration – never be anything else but yourself!
I was also rather privileged to be able to connect with a few of those who had been there at the same time as me, some in the same hostel, some in the same class, to share a few memories and to listen to a few stories… I also spoke to quite a few people that I had never met before… not strangers though, just friends who had never met, because we all share one very strong bond; we are all Dassies till the day we die!
I heard anger, I heard hurt, I heard laughter and I saw tears, but what I saw most of all was a sense of “riding the tiger,” the facing down of fears, and an immense amount of tension, stress and baggage was released in a torrent of emotions upon re-visiting what was, for most, a very difficult time of their life. I hope that those that needed healing found it this weekend past… and remember, look forwards with joy because the best times of your life are still ahead…
Once again to Maryna I say a heartfelt Thank You! Without you this would never have happened – you did a great job and each and every one of us that attended will remember the past weekend very fondly!
Thank you for all of the arrangements, the thoughtfulness in the decorations and the mementos, the great food, the certificates, the presents for the staff and some others, and for motivating us to get there!
Our thanks also go to Susan and Julie and all the other “behind-the-scenes” helpers.
So, to all Dassies, whether you were at the reunion or not… I salute every one of you as Women of Strength!
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our Light, not our Darkness, that most frightens us.
Marianne WilliamsonNamaste Billi Credit must go to various Dassies for the photos used… sorry Ladies I don’t know who took the particular photos I used on this post, but thanks to all who took somewhere in the region of 500 photos of the reunion!