A lifetime of love


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!

20 March 1948

Koos and Hannatjie on their wedding day, 20 March 1948

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)

It all started with a red carnation!

It all started with a red carnation!

Oupa Koos in his signature bow tie with his love, ouma Hannatjie.

Oupa Koos in his signature bow tie with the ever-stylish Ouma Hannatjie 65 years later!

City Highlights


I spent the past week working in Johannesburg. Since moving to the farm my office stamina has seriously diminished, but it is always good to spend time with my colleagues and to feel connected again. Time in the city reminds me how lucky I am to have the opportunity to move between my two worlds, but it also reminds me how stressed my life used to be. Working remotely shields one somewhat from the relentless day-to-day demands of the office, and of course living on the farm takes one away from daily irritations like traffic.

Below are some photos of central Pretoria from the 20th floor of our building. The big black building on the left of this photo is the South African Reserve Bank.

The Pretoria CBD.

We also have gorgeous views of the Union Building, which is where the office of the President is located. The beautiful sandstone building was  designed by Sir Herbert Baker in 1910 to commemorate South Africa’s Union-status.

The Union Building in Pretoria.

After work I am usually busy catching up with friends and family. This week I managed to see quite a few people. The best way to see my sister is to join her on one of her power walks through the suburbs, usually on a Sunday. For added cardio, she usually includes the Westcliff steps in her walk. I love going with her, if only to catch glimpses of the gorgeous views over the city.

Walking up the Westcliff steps with my mother and sister.

I grew up in a neighbourhood called Saxonwold, which has very beautiful tree-lined streets. It is also situated next to the Joburg zoo, which is like a great big park. One can often hear the  lions roaring at night and spot game through the fence whilst walking. The Anglo-Boer War Memorial is situated at the top end of the zoo and forms part of the Museum of Military History. The memorial was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, who was a contemporary of Sir Herbert Baker. He also designed India Gate in Delhi, which looks very similar. The memorial was originally dedicated to the British soldiers who died in the second Boer War, but in 1999 it was re-dedicated to “the men, women and children of all races and all nations who lost their lives in the Anglo-Boer War, 1899-1902”. One of my very favourite views in Joburg is the Angel at sunset. Somehow it always makes me feel at peace.

The Anglo-Boer War Memorial.

Most of my Joburg family live within a 10 minute radius of each other in this area, including my grandparents, Koos and Hannatjie van der Wat, who have lived in the same house in Saxonwold since 1955. My grandparents are truly amazing and we are so lucky to still have them in our lives. My grandmother turned 89 on 2 July and my grandfather will follow her shortly on the 11 August. I had dinner with them at my uncle’s house on Thursday night and I can’t believe how great they are looking. So stylish and elegant. This year they have been married for 64 years! My grandfather only retired from his work as a gynaecologist last year. My grandmother is an artist and she is still painting and exhibiting. What amazing role models to have in my life!

My grandparents Koos and Hannatjie.

Stylish Oupa Koos.