At first there were one hundred houses. The number of your house pretty much reflected your rank on the mine in East Geduld, Transvaal, South Africa where I grew up. The mine manager lived in house number one, and it was downhill from there.

We lived in Number 79, for my father was a junior mine captain. In Number 78 lived Carroll Dixon; her father was a young doctor in the mine hospital. She became a chemical engineer working on some mine somewhere - I never established where.

My first vivid memory is talking to her over the fence between our houses. Then I recall our nursemaids, black women of great dignity, walking beside us as we pedaled our tricycles to the nursery school in the mine community complex. We were joined by Rosemary whose father was an accountant for SAPPI, the paper company that was the source of the familiar odor of the place, and which like the mine was owned by Union Corporation. Rosemary married a fellow Wits graduate who became a mine manager and she attained the ultimate rank of living in house number one on a remote mine in the Bushveld.

Along the way to nursery school, we picked up Hylton Ackerman whose house number was in the eighties. He became an international cricketer and he is still quoted on the internet as a firm supporter of inter-racial sport. When we graduated to primary school, Hylton and I would ride the two miles to school and pick up Alex Loxton. I do not know what happened to Alex although he was a good person.

Soon enough they built a five-bedroom house and gave it the number 101. Carroll’s family moved in, for her father was now the chief mine doctor. I recall his sparse bedroom with a fireplace, a mantel piece, and the five pipes neatly ranked thereon. Her mother had the ultimate luxury in our minds: her own bedroom and an attached sewing room.

Our parents still shared a bedroom even though we had moved up to house number 13 (my father was a fully-fledged mine captain) and my best friend was now Christopher Rawlins who lived in house number 10. His father was compound manager, a position that enabled us every Friday to watch Hollywood cowboy movies in the compound arena with thousands of native mine workers. A rare privilege.

The adults played lawn bowls all weekend and drank in the mine club in the evenings. We kids swam in the pool sternly ruled by Mr. Pellisier who had but one arm and who spent most of his time shouting at us for transgressing the rules of decency - like blowing up plastic things we found in our parents’ bedrooms and floating them in the pool. He taught us to swim though; and we loved his fake gruffness.

We all spoke English. Except in house number 15 were three children who spoke Afrikaans. They were unique. They threw stones at us and called us “rooi-neks.” This term was a gross insult as it referred to the sunburnt necks of the British soldiers who came in the Boer War and took the Transvaal from the Afrikaners causing Kruger to flee.

In turn we threw stones and called them Dutchmen, a term that implied they had not yet developed a language or culture apart from the sailors who stopped over at the Cape and fled their ships rather than go on to Ceylon.

Of course we eventually became friends and together rode our single-speed bikes around the tailings dams where we were forbidden to go. What language mix we used to communicate I cannot recall, although I was eventually fluent in Afrikaans and they fluent in English.

We also were able to converse with our servants in Fanogalo, a pidgin language still in use on the mines. It combines elements of Zulu, English, and Afrikaans and still evokes happy memories. It is now one of the thirteen official languages of South Africa.

There were variants of Fanagalo. My mother was fluent in kitchen kaffir which she used to converse with the folk who cleaned the house and cooked our food. My father spoke a different tongue to those who helped him underground in the mine in the mornings and who came to garden in the afternoons when he did his paper-work.

I climbed the social ladder. I had a girlfriend in house number 101. And I was friends with David Pretorius. He lived in house number 2. His father was mine secretary, though I had no idea what that entailed. His mother was a teacher, a gentle soul, who read and read all day in the study, a room no other mine house had. David was far more intelligent than me. He had magazines to cut for school projects whereas I had to make crude hand sketches to illustrate those interminable school projects. He even got correct the question that I flunked in a school test: express 1/3 as a percentage.

David and I would occasionally go off the mine to play with a fellow who became a patent attorney. His father was manager of SAPPI. He was a sad kid though, for his mother had died young driving to the south coast as she overtook another car, and his father, well we did not understand, but there were other women in the huge, beautiful house situated in acres of landscaped gardens.

With time this placid landscape and way of life changed. Christopher’s father died and he and Aunt Molly moved to a house off the mine. My father fell ill and grew weak and moved to Evander. To continue my high school years at Spring Boys High, I spent the week days with Aunt Molly and Christopher and the weekends in that new town that was not really a mining community, for there were no local tailings dams to ride around and play on.

Then we longed, and I still long, for the long days at the club swimming pool and the bike rides around the green, yellow, and orange ponds and streams of the mine. I still long for the bark of the mongrel dogs we had with us who would run happy through the black, burnt grass of late August.

We still had but one old man-servant who could fix our bike and who cleaned the house and kept a desultory garden. We still went to the Sunday School where religion was second to play, stories, and prejudice. Aunt Molly played bridge every Thursday. We studied and studied, for high school was a challenge and we liked the learning.

By then I was riding five miles to and five miles back from high school. My riding companion was Brian Fraser. His father and my father had been boyhood friends in Brakpan and they still lived in number 56. It was Brian who introduced me to the National Geographic and what counted in those far-off days for knowledge of how babies are made.

But those carefree days ended when the boyfriend of the girl next door, Moria Main, was killed in a bike accident - he rode straight into the back of a bus. We all wept at his funeral for he had been our headboy, a hero, and a leader. His father was a mechanic on a local mine and his name was Hendrik Bezuidenhout. I still think of him and can write no more of that time.