From the relatively high age of 87, I look with some longing to the loves of the early years of my life. And what springs to mind with sudden ease is my memory of the summer holidays I spent at the Hillcote Hotel in Muizenberg, South Africa, which was then a favorite beach resort for many Jewish families in the Cape Province.
It had an unimposing facade in a small grayish building, but it seems to have had a powerful effect on the memory of what you love and why. In those early years, when we didn’t go to Habonim camp, it was the holiday I remember most warmly.
From the moment we arrived in the town on the main road to Cape Point, we would drop our suitcases in the room we shared with our parents, and Philly and I would make straight for that beautiful beach that arced around Muizenberg Bay.
It’s where we realized that there was an element of guts in our stay there, where we learned to body surf, catching the high tide in the afternoon and having to maneuver our way between the change booths to avoid being bashed against the wooden foundations. Not once did we fail.
Further down the concrete promenade was the Snake Pit, where well-oiled teenagers lay heel to head in a small space that demonstrated where it was the right place to be at that time.
Once I even found that I could stand up to challenges at a dicey time. On a late afternoon, under the concrete promenade, I saw out of the corner of my eye that Philly and a friend had been drawn into the depths by a young man, and unthinking I called them to come away. They came, and he disappeared from the scene.
Real love was wrapped inside the walls of the Hillcote.
We, like other families, slept in one room with just enough space for the beds. The true pleasure was to be sought in the lounge. There the parents drank tea and gossiped while we kids played all our games on the floor. The owner was Mrs. Gluckman.
The eldest daughter, Hilda, went to Klerksdorp – my birthplace – in the early 40s and ultimately married my dad’s first cousin, Julius Rudolph, a town solicitor. The other children – Lippy, Collie and Monica – used to always amaze me when they carried the food out at mealtime: they would balance three to four plates on an outstretched arm, while taking care to avoid the swinging doors from the kitchen to the dining room.
I don’t remember the names of any of the other families, except for one young girl with a carre haircut and flashing passionate eyes. Her name was Lamassie.
Only years after did I learn that she got the intriguing name from the Hebrew Shulamit, or Shulamith in the Ashkenazi form.
She was a natural leader, and drew the rest of us out onto the hillside that impacted the back of the hotel. We would walk into the growing dark with her at the head. Once, on the sharp thorned gorse she tore her pants. She totally ignored the incident and abandoned the pants without a care.
That’s how the holiday passed for us. And now, eight decades later, it stands in full color in front of me. Here in red-roofed Zichron Ya’acov, where my wife, Dorothy, and I live close to our children and grandchildren, I suddenly thought the other day what would happen if Lamassie were to come walking down the mall.
And then I thought I would cross over to meet her and say: I had two unadorned loves 80 years ago at the Hillcote – the little, unimposing Muizenberg hotel itself, and – you. ■
The writer, an immigrant from South Africa and former director of Kol Yisrael English News, lives with his wife in Zichron Ya’acov.