About Sydney Clarence de Melker
Sidney (Sid) Clarence de Melker also known as "Slapie" de Melker. "Slapie" is Afrikaans for "nap." A pair of sleepy eyes gave the impression that he was about to nod off. Sid de Melker used to be famous. In 1930, aged 46 and falling in love with Daisy, he had, though, already learned how fickle fame was. In 1906, aged 22, he had played rugby for South Africa; he had been a "Springbok," as the South African rugby players were and still are called, and in that year he had toured the British Isles with the team. At that time, he had thought that the fame he was experiencing would last forever, but after 24 years, few were those who could even remember the name. Daisy … Daisy remembered.
Sid was, like Alf and Bob, a plumber. He worked at a gold mine, the Simmer and Jack Gold Mine at Germiston, north-east of Johannesburg. (John Jack, a Scotsman, had founded the mining company in the late 1880's with a partner, August Simmer, thus the name. The town that had sprung up around the mine, Jack had named "Germiston" after the Glasgow area where he hailed from.)
Sid always made certain that everyone understood that he was not a miner, not as such. Miners were always black men, and they were the ones who went down into the earth to dig for gold. No, Sid, as a plumber – and a white man – was part of "management" and "management" was always "European," the legal racial classification of whites. The others, the "non-Europeans," were the country's indigenous African, Khoi and San peoples, as well as immigrant Asians and people born of interracial marriages and liaisons, known as "coloreds."
As a "European," Sid lived in a neat white-washed cottage with a red-painted corrugated iron roof – Number 19 Simmer East Cottages – that was in a compound that was owned by the mine and where only whites were allowed to live. The "non-Europeans" lived in "townships," areas outside of the white town and cities.
A widower, Sid shared his home with his daughter, Eileen Norah, an only child. She was 19 and training to be a teacher. Some time, somewhere, Eileen had met Daisy and although the age difference was too great between the two for them to have become friends, they never passed one another without stopping to exchange niceties. Early in 1930, the two had run into each other again. On that day, Sid had been with his daughter and knowing Daisy by sight and reputation – he had heard that she had been widowed twice and that she had nursed her dying husbands with tender care – he had been glad to see her again. Lonely himself, it had been only a matter of days before he and Daisy had become an item.
On Wednesday, Jan. 21, 1931, a sweltering hot summer day, Daisy Louisa Sproat and Sidney Clarence de Melker were married in Germiston, in the St. Boniface Anglican Church designed by master architect, Sir Herbert Baker, who had also designed "Groote Schuur," today the official residence of South Africa's presidents. (Sir Herbert Baker, who died in 1946, aged 84, lies buried in Westminster Abbey in London.)
On the wedding day, Daisy was 45 and Sid was 47. Neither looked like young blood anymore. Sid was a short, slightly-built man with gray hair and a lined face. (The game of rugby has since Sid's time roughened and today a man of such slight build would probably not even consider becoming a player.) As for Daisy, her waist had expanded; her stomach bulged; she had varicose veins, bunions and a double chin, and she wore dentures and glasses, and the African sun had engraved her once clear complexion with myriads of fine lines. There was also her hair. More uncontrollable than ever – she broke combs trying to straighten out the knots whenever she washed her hair – it had become sprinkled with gray.
Present in church were Rhodes, 20, and Eileen, also 20. On meeting, before there was even any talk of them becoming step-siblings, they had taken a dislike to each other. Eileen, who had started to teach, thought, and told her father, that Rhodes was a dim-wit. He even looked dangerous, she said. Rhodes, in turn, had called his mother aside to tell her that Eileen was a busy-body and that she was bound to make trouble in the marriage.
Daisy moved in with Sid and Eileen; Rhodes was still working as a mechanic in Swaziland. Cottage Number 19 was about the same size as the Terrace Road house, but there were memories, too many memories there of illness and death, so Daisy did not mind moving. She put the house onto the market and it was quickly snapped up. As she and Sid had also signed an Ante Nuptial contract, she had the assurance that should the marriage not work out, the money she had obtained for the house would not automatically go to Sid: She could leave it to Rhodes in a will.
Sid was a good husband. Daisy said so to relatives and friends. His health was also excellent and what a change that made from the constant worry she had had over the health of Alf and Bob. However, Daisy did have a worry: Rhodes. Eileen was right when she had called him dangerous: He was getting into arguments with his colleagues in Swaziland and often the quarrels turned physically violent, Rhodes initiating the violence. Daisy even had to take the train up to Swaziland to go and try to calm him down. Always, she took more cookies along for him.
Three months into Daisy and Sid's marriage, Rhodes arrived at Cottage Number 19. He had given up his job. That was what he said, but Daisy, Sid and Eileen suspected that he had been dismissed.
With Rhodes in residence, it became clear immediately that life in the cottage would never be totally blissful again. ...