Sunday, May 12, 2019

The mothers

Nomatiptip at Babylonstoren, on January 23rd, two months to the day that my father died. He died on her birthday.

Names: When the little, bright girl arrived at the farm school that she would walk to every day, barefoot and for miles, the white female teacher asked her name, as she did with the whole roomful of children. When Tipsy gave her name, the teacher said, You are now Selina. So each child was rebranded on the spot. And those were the names they carried into the white, ruling world.

When I am trying to locate Tipsy and don't know where she is I sing in a high voice, Teep? Teep? And she sings back, Hooooooo! And I find her.

Since I was 14, she has cared for my family, protected, deflected, absorbed. She has given. She has held secrets. She has held her tongue. She has spoken out.  She has cheered. There are so many stories, and some I am still learning, from Thabang, her son, who grew up without his mother, and suffered for it. The great tragedy was that I benefited from his mother's warmth where he had not. And this is just tip of the iceberg stuff.

So two months later we went Babylostoren for the day as a belated birthday, and walked the beautiful gardens and picked figs and ate lunch, and talked.

And here is my mom, on Sunday, December 2nd last year, with the patio table set for an incongruous three. This was her birthday, a day after the memorial for my father in this garden. The Frenchman had flown in the previous week, when I knew my father would die, and he had the chance to say goodbye to him. And to be with us. For my mom's birthday we drank bubbly, and didn't try to be happy. But we popped the cork loudly over the patio, as my father would have done. He didn't believe in a discreet pffft.

So it has been a hard year, and for all kinds of reasons that would require a novel to explain. But for now the two mothers have each other. And sometime today two beautiful bouquets arrived for them (thank you, Lush, as always). Tipsy will see hers late, when Thabang brings her home from the house my father bought for her some years ago, and where she sees her family every weekend.

Mother's Day, Father's Day - my father was scornful of these so-called holidays, thinking them cash cows for businesses and pressure for people who could not afford the splurge. I think I belong to his camp. Why just the one day? And how hard is the hooplah for parents who have lost children, whose children don't care, or for children who have lost parents, or simply want nothing to do with them, possibly for very good reasons? One size does not fit all.

So don't go chirping, Happy Mother's Day! without thinking.

Sometimes, it isn't.


  1. Not a day my mother had much time for.She took greater pleasure in a hand-picked bunch of weeds or a hand-written card with a shaky crayon drawing.
    I have memories, none with a Hallmark stamp.

  2. Not to mention those who longed for but never achieved motherhood...

    1. Yes, good point. Thank you.

      I remember being rattled when a business owner who wished me, Happy Mother's Day! as though it was a compliment. And I said, Why? I am not a mother. I did not tell him that I have chosen not to have children, nor why, but somehow the cheery greeting's subtext was that if you are a woman you had better also be a mother.

    2. I have had this same experience too many times and always cringed. This year i managed not to shop the last few days before "it" and therefore escaped such ill-offered wishes. Both your mother and Tipsy know how much you love them - everyday.

  3. Marie, are you familiar with the South African poet (and artist) Lidi de Waal? Look for her on Facebook, I'm sure she will strike lots of chords.
    I may have mentioned her before - I'm a proselytiser

  4. I also abhor contrived holidays. Recently announced was a 65th wedding anniversary. Most of the family that saw these people marry are dead. Showers: so you are going to have a baby. Good for you. Gifts and gifts and more gifts. When does it end? Have you priced a greeting card recently. Even at Walmart they are $5 - for paper. I wince.

    Thank you for your blog, you have brightened my day. Ann

    1. I think anniversaries can be valid reasons for celebration, depending on the state of the marriage? But it is all very subjective. On the subject of greeting cards, I confess to a stationary fetish - I love buying beautiful cards that I hoard until needed. Mostly as thank you's or just random acts of cardness.


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