In the early 1940s, just over seventy years ago, there was a beautiful young art student named Hannatjie Schabort. She left the farm where she grew up to explore the wider world and develop her talent as an artist. Not long after starting her studies, she befriended a group of first and second year medical students from Wits University. They were a spirited young lot, known as the “Sparrows”, who could often be heard serenading young girls in the early hours of the morning with their violins and guitars. Hannatjie was not taken in by their crooning, but she enjoy playing along and teasing them. One day she shouted from her window: “The next time you come I will throw you a red carnation. The one who catches it I will marry!” In due course she did exactly that, but having done it all in jest she never bothered to find out who caught it.
After graduating she went back to the farm for a gap year leaving behind a trail of disappointed suitors. Half way through 1947 she received a surprise letter from one of the “Sparrows”, Koos van der Wat, asking if he could visit her. Thus started a courtship during which he travelled to the farm every weekend to see her while he was studying for his final medical exams. He was charming, handsome and intelligent, graduating as the top gynaecology student in his year. It did not take long for Hannatjie to fall in love!
One day when they were travelling back to Pretoria to register for his medical internship, he asked: “So when are we getting married?” She was confused by this indirect proposal, but nothing more came of it. When he did eventually propose and put a ring on her finger, he confessed that he was the one who caught the carnation. He had kept it in his bible for 6 years before proposing and didn’t tell her because he knew she would simply laugh him off! They were married on 20 March 1948.
This is the story of how my grandparents, Oupa Koos and Ouma Hannatjie, met and fell in love. Last week they celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary – a lifetime of love and dedication to each other. My grandmother always revels in telling the story of the carnation and how my grandfather, in his quiet and steadfast way, tricked her into keeping her promise! Written in the stars or not, their union has been a true inspiration to their three children, eleven grandchildren and three great grandchildren. We were extremely fortunate to celebrate another milestone with them last week and look forward to their 90th birthdays later this year. What an amazing example of happiness, faith, grace, style and health they have set for us through their lives.
To top off this momentous year, my grandmother’s career as an artist is coming full circle with a retrospective exhibition of her work from 9 May – 22 June 2013 at the SMAC Art Gallery in Stellenbosch. I can’t wait to be there at the opening! (click here for her past exhibits at the SMAC gallery)