Soon after Sheila, Nicholas and Timothy and I established ourselves in Warmbaths, the question of Sunday school for the boys arose. Sheila and I had both been Anglicans, so naturally it was to this church that we first turned. My parents were regular attendees and Dad was a lay minister, helping out the Anglican parish minister, Theo Schmitt and a newly appointed parson, Mike Hall, an ex-forester. We felt that if they were going to get involved in Sunday school, we ought to go to church to set an example.
Accompanying my parents to the little Warmbaths Anglican Church, in which Greet and I had got married back in ’72, Sheila and I felt that we could not partake in the Communion, as we had both been divorced. Theo Schmitt made an appointment at my parents’ home to see us about the matter. Theo said words to the effect that if we could convince him that we were sorry for breaking our previous vows of marriage, he would write to the bishop and ask that we be accepted back into the fold. He made it sound as if he was our only hope of salvation!
We said we were not sorry, so that was the end of that! Nicholas and Timothy told us that they had much more fun at the Catholic Sunday School, anyway, so they became Catholics. Sheila became one of the organists in the Catholic Church at St Vincent’s Hospital.
At the time, Sheila was getting a meagre income as a sign writer, and getting to know some of the locals. We found the English speakers, on the whole, were rather snobbish, whereas the Afrikaners were often salt-of-the-earth genuine.
When the head Sister of the handful of nuns that ran the St Vincent’s mission hospital heard that Sheila had been half-trained as a nurse, she persuaded her to join the two-year Enrolled Nurse bridging course to be held there and could do it in one year due to her previous training.
There followed a difficult period for her in which, as the only white among the class of Pedi and Tswana students, she was treated with great racial suspicion and bitchiness until they not only accepted her, but respected her. My ingrained racist upbringing was rocked to its foundations when I saw her fellow students kissing her in congratulations after some successful exam results! If I could pinpoint a significant milestone in the road to my own new South Africa, that moment was one.
Sheila went on to ask for and receive permanent night duty which suited her dairy and milk-sales better. She always was a workaholic and still is. Then she was persuaded to take on a two-year midwifery course at St. Vincent’s, which she completed by 1991, despite falling asleep in the lectures, and became a registered Midwife. One night she delivered a baby in the back seat of the car in which the mum arrived. That is not the only baby born at St Vincent’s to have been named SHEILA!