My Brother Gerry: The Dust of History

Here is Gerry’s personal history as it appears in the Probation Officer’s report:

Scholastic performance

Gerry commenced his scholastic career in the Cape Jewish Orphanage, Cape Town. Gerry was there four years and he passed Std 1 (Grade 3). He was discharged from there at the end of 1949 because by then the father had done well in business and was able financially to undertake the care of the child. His parents then came to Claremont and he subsequenty atttended the Landsdowne Primary School for six months and passed Std II (Grade 4) at the school. He then atttended the Newlands Primary School.

(They must have kept Gerry back a year, because I also was in Grade 3. So already at that age, he was having learning difficulties. I recall that he was expelled during the middle of the year and then went to Newlands Primary School. Perhaps the Probation was ill-informed (by my parents?), or was just being nice).

As a result of truancy and general misconduct at the abovementioned school he was struck off the role in November 1950, while he was in Std III (Grade 5). At this stage the boy was brought to the attention of the Social Welfare Officer and the Secretary, Cape Jewish Board of Guardians.

Behaviour

From information received it would appear that Gerry has for many years been a difficult child. At school gerry’s behaviour was very bad. The only source of information here is the impressions of the Principal [of Tenderden] According to him the boy has a tendency to play truant. His schoolwork deteriorated during the last month or two of his school attendance. He also attended his classes without thorough preparation of his school work. The child attended the child guidance clinic, and in her report the Secretary states:The boy is quite normal mentally and seems in fair condition physically. This proves that Gerry can benefit by the ordinary school curriculum, but through his adverse behaviour, laziness and undisciplined conduct could not make any progress.

Gerry’s behaviour at home lately became of such a nature that his parents could not cope with it. Both parents state that he has become uncontrollable, disobedient and that he insults them whenever they try to reprimand him. Gerry hates to be reprimanded and is opposed to all authority.

According to his parents, he keeps bad company and spends most of his time on the streets coming home very late. He refuses to  do any work at the house and is usually idle.On several occasions it was proved that he stole money in the house.

Both parents admit that they find it impossible to exercise the necessary control over Gerry.

Conclusions

From the above it is clear that:

1. Gerry has no respect for or fear of his parents and acts as he pleases.

2. Gerry has without a doubt taken advantage of his parent’s inability to control him.

3. He has grown accustomed to this mode of life, and will persist in hurting his parent’s feelings unless drastic changes are made.

4. Gerry is determined not  to return to school.

Recommendations

In view of the above facts it is recommended that an Enquiry in terms of Section 1 of the Children’s Act No. 31 of 1937 be held, and if it is found that Gerry Gamaroff is a child that is in need of care, he be dealt with in terms of Section 29 of the same act and committed to a suitable institution.

This report was written a week after Gerry’s 11th birthday. This 11-year-old boy “has become accustomed to this mode of life” (no. 3) and “is determined not to return to school” (no. 4). At the time this report was written, only Sammy (14 years old), Minnie (Minnie (16 years old)  and Joe (19 years old; who was working) were at home. Rachel and Benny were at the Orphanage, and I was at boarding school in Wellington.

A month later, Izzy read the Probation Officer’s report (above) and wrote this letter, which was appended to the other reports about Gerry: (Original punctuation; I have added the words in brackets).

I am the father of Gerald Gamaroff he was born 30.6.40. His birth has been registered. I have read the probation officer’s report it is correct. I cannot control the child. It could be in his interest to send him to an institution. My wife is not well and cannot attend court, but she agrees with me that the child should receive institutional treatment.

My total salary is 60 per month but I have to pay ₤8 p.m. for one child at boarding school, Wellington (Raphael) and for the children at the orphanage (Benny and Rachel). I have to pay ₤5 p.m. I am obliged to keep a car to reach my place of employment my transport amounts to about ₤10 p.m. My rent is ₤14.15.6 (14 pounds 15 shillings and sixpence).

I am prepared to contribute ₤1 p.m. and should my financial circumstances improve I will increase the amount.

Six months later (5 March 1952), approval was given by the Secretary of Education for Gerry to be admitted to the  Industrial School in Queenstown.

The School posted a  train ticket to Izzy, because he couldn’t afford the train fare, and Gerry arrived at the Industrial School on 19 April 1952. Three months later he wrote the June exams. He did well in English (83%) and Afrikaans (77%). This is the only school report I have of Gerry. His high language marks are a portent of his later language ability, which he was to use to great effect later on in life. His best was firing salvos of big words such as;  “Phantasmogorical innuendos rattling across the fragilistic perspicacity.” He must have taken his cue from Mary Poppins: supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. When  I think about it now, the above sentence, is only gibberish to the ignorant. Let me try it in English for dummies: “Shifting allusions rattling across my spongy fragile brain.” Now, I’ve gone and ruined it!

In the many documents on Gerry,  there’s  no inkling of Gerry’s incipient humour. For the people who had to care for Gerry, humour is not a trait that  they would have noticed, or cared about mentioning. They had enough on their plate. His humour only became evident later in life; born out of the turmoil of his early youth, perhaps. Once it was out, it was irrepressible.

Why is there so much about Gerry in the Orphanage archives and so little about all his other siblings? Because, no bad news is no news. Orphanages, schools and social workers don’t hold special meetings to discuss what to do about good children.

I was very happy to find so much information on Gerry, because he was always this mysterious brother that did all those naughty things, often on the run from government agents searching for him. I remember on one occasion when he had arrived home at our house in Claremont when he was about 16 years old – I was on school holidays from boarding school – a car stopped outside our house with GG number plates. He was always on the lookout for GG cars (Government Garage), because there was often someone looking for him.  As far as I was aware, these people were Probation Officers or Social Services people. GG pursued by GG; Gerry, his own worst enemy. Gerry holding up a mirror to us all.

Gerry came home for the school holidays from Queenstown.d. Izzy couldn’t afford his train fair. Izzy, in his application form for Gerry’s holiday to the School (13 August 1952), had pledged to “forward the trainfare as soon as I am notified by the principal to do so.” Ten days later he wrote to the principal: “I cannot afford to provide Gerald with his train fare, as I am out of a job jut now, and have a large family to support.” The School provided the 3. 10 shillings train fare.

The Principal of Gerry’s school assured my parents that the school catered for all religions. In spite of the Principal’s assurance, my parents wanted him to be in Jewish environment. As a result, Izzy approached the Jewish Board of Guardians and requested that Gerry be readmitted to the Cape Jewish Orphanage.

In November 1952, before Gerry came home on holiday, the secretary of Cape Jewish Board of Guardians wrote a letter to the principal of Gerry’s school in Queenstown.

“You may be aware that prior to Gerald’s admission to your institution, attempts were made by the superintendent of the Tenderden Place of Safety, Wynberg, Cape (where Gerry had been in 1951) to have Gerry admitted to the Cape Jewish Orphanage. As the Cape Jewish Orphanage was without a superintendent   they did not deem it wise to admit him.”

The secretary of the Cape Jewish Board of Guardians informed the principal of Gerry’s school that the Orphanage had found a suitable superintendent, and requested a report of Gerry’s progress at the school. Arrangements would then be made to transfer Gerry to the Orphanage; backto the Orphanage – he was at the Orphanage with me and his other siblings from 1945 to 1949.

According to the acting principal of Gerry’s school in Queenstown (in a letter to the Social Welfare Officer in Cape Town, 29 December 1952) “we sincerely hope that the lad, who behaved really well while he was here, will cause no trouble at the Orphanage.” (My emphasis).

Before I learnt so much about Gerry’s life from the Orphanage archives, I always saw him as a constant rebel at school. This last comment (in bold above) shows that this was not so.

Here is an extract of a description of Gerry’s conduct from the report of the principal of the Queenstown School of Industries. I quote the original Afrikaans and provide an English translation:

“Die vorige geskiedenis van Gamaroff is uiters moeilik om te verstaan as ‘n mens sy gedrag en vorderings hier in die skool nagaan. Al wat hy skynbaar nodig gehad het was net ‘n bietjie strenger toesig.

Translation: The previous history of Gamaroff is extremely difficult to understand when one takes into account his behaviour and progress here in the school.

The report goes on to say that Gerry was well-behaved, did his work, was progressing well in general subjects at the school, but was not doing well in his main subject  (metalwork). His attitude to boarding school staff is very good, and to teachers and instructors is good.

I ponder (the pondering Jew) on the acres of files on lives like Gerry’s collecting dust in archives and storage facilities throughout the world, relegated to the dustbin of history, yet never erased from the database of eternity, where no thief comes near or moth can destroy (Luke 12:33).

Gerry was readmitted to the Orphanage on 24 February 1953. Where was I in 1953? At the end of 1952,  I returned home from  two years at boarding school in Wellington. In January 1953, I entered Wynberg Junior School in Grade 7 (Standard 5). I spent a further two years at Wynberg High School (Grades 8 and 9). In 1956, I went back to boarding school in Wellington. I describe these boarding school years in the next chapter.

Gerry came back home some time during my three-year “sojourn”  of home life.

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