The Leaning Bucket

Old Uncle Koos van der Merwe lived in Main Street of town. His wife had predeceased him some years before and his children had moved away to other towns to seek their fortunes.

His house must have been built in the days of horse and cart as the veranda fronted on to the sidewalk of Main Street. Uncle Koos tended a much-loved vegetable garden, together with a small orchard of fruit trees. The property pushed quite a way back past the old Anglican Church building and into a laneway at the back. The outside toilet was still there with its bucket system backing on to the laneway so that the night cart driver could attend to his business.

Uncle Koos used to sit on the veranda of an afternoon smoking his pipe and having a yarn to passers-by. We as children used to be wary of him, as he seemed to have a nasty demeanour towards us. His demeanour was the most likely result from our ritual of stealing fruit from trees when they were fruiting. Yes, it was dishonest in the strictest sense of the word, but it was a dare or be damned pastime amongst us, and usually spurred on by a dominant older boy who delighted in seeing us prove our worth as soldiers of fortune. Uncle Koos used to see us and feign to rise out of his chair, shaking his walking stick at us and yelling “Begone ye varmints!” or something like that. He had good cause to do so as in fruiting season fruit would ‘mysteriously’ disappear from the orchard. Stealing fruit was just a naughtiness we as country kids enjoyed to do and there was no malicious intent. It was a game that was played with the sole purpose of enjoying a ripe peach or apple without paying for it, and getting away with it. Unless the ‘thief’ was trapped by the property owner and ‘dealt’ with, the game was one of high excitement. Normally these ‘thieving’ matters would not be attended by the local police, as the owner of the fruit usually contacted the father of the apprehended child, and punishment would be meted out in due course, normally in the form of a severe thrashing!

Although we may have been guilty of various ‘offences’ in the past, this particular time we were totally innocent. As we were walking by Uncle Koos’ house he sprang up from his chair, waving his stick and stated “It was YOU!”. We were duly reported to our parents and as much as I protested that I was innocent of this heinous crime I was guilty by association. I was meted out a heavy duty thrashing by my father. My bum hurt for days afterwards and my father growled at me for a week after that, making sure I kept on the straight and narrow.

It was summer and we kids were allowed out until after dark and up to 9pm on weekends. The parents would take refuge from the heat after a busy working day by sitting on their verandas drinking their favourite mixes. There used to be a social crowd, who, would either walk over to one another’s houses for a chat and a drink. Great merriment could be heard from various places in the quietness of the evenings. We kids would be in the way as adults needed to do adult things and so we soon learned that if we asked for permission to be elsewhere it was usually granted with the last word being, 9 o’clock!

Our revenge on Uncle Koos was brewing in the back of our minds. Although the welts on our bums had healed, our egos and pride had taken a severe battering, and we had to exact justice on Uncle Koos in our own manner.

One night, just before 9pm we slipped around the back of Uncle Koos’ house into the laneway. We all wore dark clothing so as to disguise ourselves in the shadows of the night. We extracted the ‘bucket’ from the outside toilet ever so gently and tipped it over just spilling the liquid contents out on to the ground. Then we carried the bucket around to the front of his house and laid it at and angle against his front door.

Now, all of this was possible, because after dark, there was very little traffic movement up or down the Main Street. Streetlights illuminated some corners, but they could be extinguished, with a well-aimed stone projected from our home made catapults, also known as ‘ketties’.

With the bucket in place at an angle against the door, we rapped on the brass doorknocker a few times and one of us shouted in muted voice, “Uncle Koos, Uncle Koos, come quick!” The old man usually went to bed not long after dark but may have read for a while by a dim table light or candle. It wasn’t long however before a light in the hallway went on. We scattered to the dark shadows across the road and waited.

Uncle Koos fiddled with the doorknob and then yanked the door open. The bucket spilled its contents over his feet and into his hallway. Being a deeply religious man Uncle Koos was not prone to uttering profane language but this night the words of blasphemy echoed loudly down the street.

We melted into the dark ever so quietly. Having burnt our bridge with Uncle Koos, we left him in peace after that, and targeted some other unlucky fruit grower instead.

Posted in Life Stories.