In memory of my parents
By Marlene Davis Stanger
This story is written as a tribute to my late parents, Abe and Pearl Davis, who lived in Muizenberg for 56 years before moving to Highlands House, Oranjezicht, in 2005. Abe passed away October 22, 2007 aged 94 – less than a mile from where he was born – and Pearl passed away on July 24, 2016, aged 92.
My granny, Mrs. Esther Bryna Herman, from Malvern by way of Vilnius, had a friend called Sonya Blechman. My dad, born at 2 Prince Street, Gardens, had an aunt called Tilly Josman. Mrs. Blechman told her friend, Aunty Tilly, about the beautiful daughter of her friend and Aunty Tilly thought, “Ahh, time for my nephew Abie to settle down…enough of the post-war gallivanting…” So next time Abie was up in Joburg – Roodepoort to be exact, to see the relatives – Aunty Tilly invited Mr. and Mrs. Herman and the Blechman’s and Pearl came along too.
Abie was smitten. The blond, blue eyed, water-polo playing Davis boy could not stop thinking of the dark-haired, tall, thin and elegant Pearl and when he got home to Cape Town, he wrote her a letter. It was written on thin, air-mail paper on two pages on the letterhead of his brother, Simon’s company that was simply called Simon Davis. But he had crossed out the name Simon and replaced it with Abe.
It was a love letter and said he believed they could have a happy life together. An engagement followed and Pearl, an only child, flew down to Cape Town to meet the Davis family. She wore a new white suit and a new stylish hat but by the time she arrived, air-sick and disheveled, she felt anything but stylish. Abe brought her to the family home at 7 Marais Road, Sea Point. There she met “Mother” (Chaya Itil “Annie” nee Josman) and “Father” (Hyman Davis formerly Melnick in the old country prior to telling Cape Town customs that his name was Chaim Dovid….). This is how the Davis children referred to their Yiddish speaking parents. The children consisted of Abe and his siblings, who were Simon, Louis, Issy, Ethel, Harry, Alfred and Lily. Pearl was welcomed into the fold and soon found out about the gregarious, sporty, movie loving boys – all fast eaters – and the sisters, the older one sassy and irreverent and the baby, sweet and adored.
The wedding took place at Marais Road shul and Pearl and Abe had to decide where they wanted to settle down – Camps Bay, where brother Alfred and his wife Rae (nee Katzeff), had set up home, or Muizenberg, where Simon and Rose and Issy and Rose lived. Muizenberg it was. 1948 – what a year! As Hedy no-relation-Davis aptly stated, veritable Shtetl by the Sea. They moved to Clevedon Cottage in Clevedon Road and had their first baby, Stan, in 1949. The following year they moved to Windermere Road and in 1951, baby number two, Annette was born. They named their house “Stanette.”
I came along in 1954. And what do I remember? I will first of all say that Bobba Bryna Herman was living with us by that time, since Morris Zelig (after whom I was named Marlene “Masha” Zelda) had passed away suddenly while on holiday in Muizenberg a few years before. I remember the promenade walks on summer nights, the ice-creams at the Milk Bar in the pavilion, the Sunday trips to Mr. Raad’s café for toffee apples and Tex bars, the egg-salad sandwiches at Sunrise beach on balmy February evenings when we all went swimming after dad came home from work, the Kushners next door, playing in the park across the road from shul, playing at the park near the vlei, playing marbles on the field next to the Liebrecht’s house – all under the loving protection of Abe and Pearl, and of course, Bobba. There were the Sunday drives through Tokai, stopping to buy Hanepoort grapes when in season, to see Zayda in Sea Point and have tea with the extended Davis family. The large dining room table surrounded by uncles, aunts and first cousins.
By then, my dad had his own business importing home wares from China and traveling on sales trips. He had a driver, Courtman, who taught me Xhosa and who named his firstborn Stanley. Then Abe’s fortune changed and he lost the business. I remember the anxious day when a man came to meet with my parents to talk about the insurance business. He was with Sun Life of Canada. My dad joined them and continued through to Liberty Life, leaving only in his 80’s. The young staff by that time called him Uncle Abie. My mom got a job as well. I was six. She was secretary at Floyd and Emery, prominent architects in their day. Zayda (my dad’s “Father”) died round that time as well. His tailor shop, Davis and Stevens, on Long Street, purveyors of fine cloth and excellent taste, had the distinction of making the graduation gown for Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) when she received her honorary Doctor of Laws degree from UCT in April, 1947. He also rode a Harley with a side car and was the tall, handsome patriarch, rocking in the chair at 7 Marais Road, always dressed impeccably with his pocket watch an object of fascination for all the grandkids.
School, cheder, the beach, the freedom to play, catching the train to town on a 21c ticket to go to lunch at Garlicks and a movie and still having change from R1, and the knowledge that the world had an order defined by a fine moral compass and the love of family. It was a village. It took a village.
Then there was the music. Dan Hill and his orchestra, Frank Sinatra, Buddy Holly, always music. And standing in my parent’s room at my mom’s dressing table watching her get dressed to go dancing with my dad on a Saturday night. The beautiful brocade dress with roses on the waist sash, the purple satin dress with the built in petticoat, the impossibly small waistline… I learnt about perfume behind your ears and on your wrists…
Into the teens. Socials at the Herzl Hall in Wherry Road. How embarrassing for me that my dad and others on the shul committee who had organized the event were in the kitchen selling Fanta, Coke and Bar Ones…didn’t want him to see me slow dancing with Joburg and Durban boys in Muizies for the season. Bands were Shag and Jimmy Retief and the Idiots. Jimmy used to play the guitar with his teeth…
My mom always had an expanding Shabbat table. When my dad came home from shul, we never knew how many Navy boys he would bring with him on a Friday night. Another incentive to look nice for Shabbat! My mom also had a remarkable, expanded vocabulary and I called her my walking dictionary. She graduated from Jeppe Girls’ High and her leather bound prize books which I cherish attest to her brilliance. First in Latin, First in Math, First in class. She could have been a doctor like her Reichman cousins in Joburg, but instead she learned to type.
Baking, collecting rummage, organizing meetings – always involved in the community. My dad, shul chairman or president for as long as I can remember. Both life members of the shul. Charity and acts of loving kindness were part of the fabric of my home, with early lessons about helping others very clearly imprinted in my mind.
Overall, we made one another happy and laughed so much. I watched Monty Python with my mom at the Empire and by the time the opening credits for And Now For Something Completely Different came on the screen, we were already in tears from laughing so much. I learned about fun and laughter, music and dancing, from my parents. I learned about reading voraciously and hard work, from my parents. I learned about faith and loyalty and relationships from my parents. When Stan, Netty and I remember our father, we go : “He he he” (the e like staccato air without the r.) We learned about happiness and contentment, the riches of good family relationships, from him.
I cannot even begin to tell the whole story of who they were and what they meant to me and those who knew them. My beloved parents, village elders who held the community in their hearts. Both in Muizenberg where they lived their halcyon years and at Highlands House where they lived their final years, together there for a short time and now together again. Joburg girl and Cape Town boy with Muizenberg their medina.
So when I walk on the beach in Del Mar or Torrey Pines and I wear the floppy hats I brought home with me after burying darling Pearl next to her Abe, I will think of those who wore the hats before me on the sands of Muizies and walk tall and happy knowing that their spirits are both alive and flowing in me. The music, dancing, fun and reading, learning, working and giving will continue.
Wherever you may be, Mrs. Blechman and Aunty Tilly – thank you for the great mitzvah.
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