I do not really recall much about Granny Dix as I was about twelve years old when she died. Notwithstanding that, I have vivid memories of her house from the stuffed animal head and a veritable herd of animal horns on the walls of the huge back veranda to the huge loquat tree in the stony back yard.
Main picture: Granny and grandpa Dix-Peek at 37 East Bourne Road Port Elizabeth
By upbringing Granny Dix was Afrikaans and had been born in Middelburg if I can correctly recall. Grandpa Dix – Harry St George Dix-Peek – who I never knew as he died in 1957, four years after I was born, was English speaking and Anglican. As a compromise, they elected to become Methodists. Granny Dix’s maiden name was Nel but her family was originally of French Hugenot origin with a surname of Neil. Whereas Grandpa Dix was wore the air of an urbane, worldly-wise man, Granny Dix was a Plain Jane or should that read tannie.
Being in a different milieu, I am uncertain whether Granny Dix was ever formally employed. On the other hand Grandpa was a wool sorter at Mosenthals. Apparently it was some chemical used in the wool washing process which was to kill him. Probably that is how my mother, Eunice Letitia Dix-Peek, managed to obtain a job there as a typist. In its day, Mosenthals was one of the largest wool merchants in the town with an excellent reputation of fair dealings with both their customers in the merchanting business, which was their initial business, and their wool suppliers, the sheep farmers in the Karoo. It was in November 1842, that German-born Jew, Joseph Mosenthal, relocated his merchanting firm of Mosenthals to Port Elizabeth when he recognised the commercial potential of scruffy, sandy town.
Remember that this was an era shortly after the Anglo Boer War in which relations between the English and Afrikaners was precarious, if not openly hostile. This was to result in a family feud during WW2 when my grandmother’s relatives would stay with them over the Christmas holidays. They would openly support German victory whilst enjoying my grandparents’ hospitality. What caused the “feud” was that Granny Dix’s four sons were in North Africa with the 8th Army fighting those same Germans whom her family supported. On one of the rare occasions when I met the distaff relatives, I can recall one of them remarking to me that it would have been preferable if South Africa had been neutral like Switzerland during WW2. This reflected the stubborn anti-British viewpoint of the majority of the Afrikaners during this period.
One of my Afrikaans cousins was converted from being a SAP, a member of the United Party of Jan Smuts, whilst a student at Stellenbosch University by fellow students forcing him into cold showers until he recanted his “pro-English” stance. Ultimately he rose to become head of Eskom.
My grandparents stayed at 37 Eastbourne Road. Staying with them before their emigration to New Zealand was my Aunt Sylvia and uncle George together with their 3 children: Michael, the eldest, Shaun and then the youngest Diane.
They had six children as follows:
|Name||Date of birth||Date of death|
|Redvers Percival Dix-Peek||5th March 1911||26th April 1990|
|Milton Dix-Peek||1st February 1919||31st August 1992|
|Fredrick George Dix-Peek||12th May 1913||15th April 1978|
|Eunice Letitia Dix-Peek||27th December 1920||13th August 2002|
|Harry Dix Peek|
Blaine’s recollections: Granny Dix – Nix to Do
Granny Dix (Dix-Peek to give her full name) was Mom’s mom. She wasn’t the matriarchal figure like Granny Mac, but like all that generation, I found them stiff and besotted by drinking tea. There was nothing playful about their houses. The rooms were dark as their furniture and the photos were all daguerreotypes of long dead family members. Granny Dix’s place was a bit more kid friendly as it was a bit seedier unlike Granny Mac’s which was sternly neat. I predominately remember visiting alone with Mom so it must have been the 2 years before I started school as Cheryl was 2 years ahead of me. I also only remember the summers and not the winters. That hot trudge from the bus stop in Cape Road, past our doctor’s surgery and down Eastbourne Road was only surpassed by the worse trudge uphill on the way home.
I was always intrigued about one of the front rooms, called the sitting room. I used to peek in there and, sure enough, there were chairs, but we never sat there. Somehow we always had the dreaded tea in an open plan (how advanced) room in the middle of the house that had a lounge on one side and a dining room on the other.
I was always bored there as I was normally alone. There was no front garden, just a stoep. The back garden was scrappy and had a Loquat tree that one could climb but in no way was it as impressive as Granny Mac’s Syringa tree. Maybe if it was a Hiquat tree or if I enjoyed the fruit I would have loved the tree. The only thing of interest was the alleyway behind the house. This was so that the rubbish bins remained unseen and the rubbish collectors too! It was interesting because nowhere else did this exist.
The aforementioned hill was the scene of my most memorable experience there.
Aunt Sylvia and her family stayed there before they left for new vistas – New Zealand. Apart from some junk they had left behind a single roller skate on which had been fixed a plank. Who knows where the other one was? Perhaps they took one and left one? The mystery of life. Those old skates had a metal base, solid iron wheels and straps. This single skate with its modification now made a rudimentary skateboard. One day I decided to get in touch with my inner Evel Knievel by starting as high as possible up the hill. Our childish technique was to squat on the plank and clutch onto the leading edge with our fingers wrapped around it. The outcome was obvious to you the moment I described how carefully we arranged our fingers. Kids have an intuitive knack of optimising the damage that will result from any activity. That is how we learn. We slowly and painfully replace our fears of the unknown with the fears of the known.
The skate caught a speed wobble and, with whatever expletive kids use, I had skinned first my left and then my right knuckles on the asphalt pavement. I did what all brave little boys have always done – I ran inside crying for mommy. The wounds were treated with the trusty Dettol and I was given a glass of sugared water for the shock. “Way to go Mom. What about coke and sweets?”
In my dotage I have time for reflection and have pondered the following questions:
Do I have a sitting room?
Do I have stern family daguerreotypes on the wall?
Is my house dark and excessively neat?
Do I sit around and drink tea and eat tennis biscuits with my daughters?
Do I have a Loquat tree?
Do I still roller skate?
Well, 5 out of 6 isn’t bad. I’m going to be a great grandparent one day when I grow up!