An elegant Krugersdorp Family
The Katzen family was unbelievable, among the social circles of Krugersdorp that I was familiar with. I think it's because they never played bowls, as my parents did and the parents of all my friends of those days.
I imagined them pursuing more cultural activities, like reading poetry, and painting. They lived the inner life. In my opinion this is evidenced by the absence of a well tended garden, which passers by could admire. The only way to see the beauty of the Katzen family, their features, their politeness, their quiet reserve, was to penetrate their inner circle, not an easy matter as I discovered.
Willy, the father spoke in a deep baritone voice as if he was singing an aria from Rigoletto or the Barber of Sevillle. I actually heard him sing once in shull (synagogue), where lay people would conduct the service on one or other family memorial day. He sang like Caruso and it was clear to me, and I think to him also, that he had missed his calling in life. His days were spent behind the counter of his hardware store in West Krugersdorp, not on the stage.
Mama Nancy, was a very short, sharp eyed lady, who used to carefully scrutinize me as I sat on the little black bench, just big enough for two, waiting for Josephine. I had a date with her. To this day I don't know whether Nancy had told daughter to stay back in her room until she'd had time to carefully check me out, or whether Jo had sent her mother as a put off technique. Jo was a polite girl and would never have told me straight out that she didn't want to date me.
Her questions were simple enough; where was I taking her to? What time would we be back? And so on. But I could see a thousand other questions lurking in the look she gave me; "what diabolical plans are you scheming for my precious daughter", for example.
Now that I think about it, taking Josephine on a date was no lighthearted affair. In fact my lack of confidence made dating any girl a challenge for me.
Not that she chose her boyfriends according to her mother's judgement. She was too independent minded for that, but she was an obedient daughter. There were times when I called, and Nancy had told me that Josephine was out, while I was certain that she was home and had instructed her mother to say that she was out. Jo never opened the door to me, it was always her mother.
Jo and I were made for each other and we were neighbors, but strangely, we never bumped into each other by accident. The Katzen family also never showed themselves on the broad balcony of their home, which I used to pass, nearly every day on my way to the shops in town or to afternoon Hebrew School or to Shull.
The only way for me to see her was to pluck up courage, knock on their front door and ask for Josephine. That was difficult because I needed to have an excuse for wanting to see her. I didn't think that wanting to gaze on her beautiful face would be an acceptable excuse.
The sisters were characters out of a Victorian manual on good upbringing of young ladies; there was Josephine, who I adored because of her elegant ways and her ability to write poetry. I was especially impressed by the way she restrained her expression of pleasure or amusement, that made it clear to everyone that she was much more amused than she cared to show.
She once wrote a poem for me about flowers, clear skies and sweet scents, which I liked, and kept in some forgotten place. I was too dull to realize that it was a love poem. All I thought about was how I lacked the ability to make up rhymes like she could. I could hardly rhyme cat with mat.
I always had the feeling that she was fragile and when I went out with her on dates I held her very gently as if she would break into pieces in my arms, but she really had a very robust appearance, which didn't fool me. I learned a few years ago that she died quite young.
The only time I saw her was at school, where she and I were in the same class, but we never got together. There was an unwritten law, honored by boys and girls, that a boy and girl kept feelings of intimacy secret or at least out of the school precinct.
My great fear in the days of my youth was that,reading my mind, revealing my desires to hug and make love to her, a girl would reject me. Now I know that it was foolish to hide such desires. Being aware of them a girl might be attracted to me.
I made such strenuous efforts at suppressing my desires that I disguised myself, as serious and studious, even becoming renowned as a holy person, by some, and a religious fanatic by others. This really put girls off and I spent my youth without making love to a girl. I missed having a lot of fun and my life would have been different. What an irony; my objective in life is to make love to a girl. In my efforts to attain this goal I suppress my desire for love and in so doing achieve the exact opposite of my goal.
Jo and I remained luke warm friends and only undeclared lovers. The moment had passed, and I left Krugersdorp for far away Port Elizabeth, and Jo married a farmer from Delmas. I met her once more, many years later, after I was married. I paid a short visit to S.Africa and enjoyed a cup of coffee at the luxurious home of our mutual friend, Sheba Bagg.
Then there was Florence, the youngest. I never knew what talent she had, but I decided that she was a great artist, like her aunt, Yetta Lenhoff, Nancy's sister, who used to come all the way from Upington, with her husband and two children, who looked like Hansel and Gretel, standing in front of the witch's sugar icing cottage in the forest. She really made the most delicious cakes decorated with the most colorful icing imaginable with pink and blue ribbons made of sugar.
Rivette, who was a star pupil at KHS, and who everyone admired, was, of course the genius of the family. I only knew her from a distance and would have liked to know her better. One day I got to know her daughter, who immigrated to Israel and even came to us for Friday night dinner.