This week is my least favourite week of the year.
Why, you ask?
For the past ten years, this week has been book-ended by Mother’s Day (in the UK) and my mother’s birthday.
I do not have the funds to celebrate this week, friends.
I do not have siblings with which to share the financial cost of surviving this week, friends.
My mother does not have expensive tastes, but she does demand I celebrate both days as distinct and separate occurrences on the calendar. This line, if nothing else, should prove that my mother is African, because only mothers from that continent are that extra. Whenever people are like “Oh my birthday is the same time as my cousins, so we just have one big joint party” I laugh until my sides ache because that’s Not My Mother. My mother’s birthday also lands on St Patrick’s day, so she has the decency to wear green out of respect of the Irish folk while she demands a birthday card AND a St Paddy’s day card. Y’know, on top of the Mother’s Day card. And then when May comes around, she wants ANOTHER Mother’s Day card because in St Lucia Mother’s Day is in May. I’m surprised she hasn’t started asking for reparations on International Women’s Day too.
Of course, I don’t actually mind. For one thing, I am finally gainfully employed. Plus, my mother has had a long life full of hard work, crazy adventures and intense experiences, so if she wants flowers twice in one week, I get her flowers (then I sit back and wait for the “what, no card?” text). I talk about my mother a lot because at the end of the day, she’s one of my best friends and the coolest mum anyone could have, but I think I promised a while back to write some more on Lady Di (as my uncle calls her), so here it is! Let’s call this Part 1: The Mom, The Myth, The Legend.
My mother, despite her looking about 15 years younger than she actually is, was born in the early 50s in South Africa. In case world history isn’t your thing, South Africa in the 50s was not a nice place to be if you weren’t white and affluent – and in those days, those words were synonymous. In those days they did various tests based on pseudo-science to assign a race to you. My mother, owing to her skin colour and her hair not holding a pencil forever, was considered coloured, as was my grandmother. (I asked her if I would have been considered black, as my hair is thicker and my skin is darker than my mother’s, and was told that children often took the race of their mothers, which makes no sense… then again neither did the whole system). My grandmother was a real renaissance woman. She could play any instrument she picked up, she could speak several languages, and had the singing voice of a lark. I have her name, but I have never met her. She divorced my grandfather, a nasty and abusive man (although my grandmother, my mother would note with faint pride, could throw a punch herself), and, slinging her child on her back, walked barefoot down the highway through the desert in the hot sun until they settled in Lokasie 11 in Calitzdorp. My grandmother worked on the local farm owned by the Calitz family, and would pick and dry fruit, often bringing some home for my mother. She would also dry meat, bringing home biltong and droewers. She took care of her kid.
Being coloured in those days meant you had to learn Afrikaans, so my mother went to school with other children in the coloured category and learnt of the wonderful Dutch who “tamed the savages” (Shaka put up one hell of a fight. You guys wouldn’t judge me if I named my kid Shaka, right?) before being fought by the wonderful British who added South Africa to the whole “sun never sets” empire, until they became independent and apartheid became A Thing (summary of events). She never learnt the languages of the savages like Zulu and Xhosa, but she did learn English, which amounted to the same thing amirite?
My mother was good at math (still is), and good at netball (not so much). She used to play with her friends in the spruitje, taking care to avoid hippos (who are, I have been informed, way more dangerous than alligators), and run around in the Klein Karoo, making sure to check trees for boomslangs before climbing them. When she got older she did her matriculation, and had a boyfriend, who was the cousin of her then best friend Drika. She also worked as a baby sitter for a white family, helping to raise their 3 kids.
My grandmother passed away when my mother was 16. She was a smoker, and one day fell asleep with a lit cigarette in her mouth. The house caught fire. I wish I could have met her.
This was in the 60s. Unrest, already a steady undercurrent of South African politics, was starting to build up. The white family my mother worked for was headed by a kind, Atticus-esque man who defended black people, considered everyone equal, and most of all considered my mother an important family member. This was not well received by the rest of the Afrikaner community, and so this family decided to leave. They turned to my mother and said “We are leaving. Do you want to come with us?” My mother, who at 19 was an orphan and wasn’t in contact with her other family members (and who didn’t know much about her father), agreed. She left her boyfriend (girl power), hugged her best friend goodbye and set off on Die Oranje to England.
Sometimes I wonder if my mother realises what a big decision that was at that age. Many 19-year olds don’t even know how to use the washing machine, yet my mother went forward in search of a better life for herself. She went in search of adventure. And boy did she find it. But that’s for another blog post.
Stay tuned for part 2, tentatively named Mums Just Want To Have Fun.