Friday, December 16, 2011

Ode to Mom

She used to freeze water in old Energade bottles in summer, so she could have icy cold sips as she read in her bed before bedtime. Summers were hot in Stilfontein, just as it became really cold in winter. She hated winter. When the sun was out in wintertime she would seek out the warmest spot in the house and sit there, reading. She’d always say:” Ek soek son op my lyf” (I want sun on me). Mom made thick vegetable soup in winter with little “vetkoeke” – a memory I cling to every winter I make vegetable soup with little “vetkoeke”.

Mom was named Marésa, but her nickname was Résie. She was loud, fun and sometimes hard to live with - but she was never boring, dull or uninteresting. Her world revolved around us – her only children. My sister Natasja and I were sent to Varsity 200 odd kilometres away from home despite her wanting to keep us near. "Because", she said, “ek gun julle die beste” (I want the best for you). She was our biggest fan, our most avid supporter and also our filter and peacemaker when we fought. She built our little three-woman family into a unit of strength and a “mean team”, as mentioned by the reverend that lead her memorial service six years ago.

Living without Mom is a mixture of yearning, seeking for advice non-one else can give and happy memories. And also very sad ones. Especially as this was a big year for me, personally. A year where I particularly would have loved to have her around. So many great things happened this year, and I missed her bitterly. Standing on stage getting my PhD conferred; standing in front of the altar marrying a man that I know she would have loved – these are two prime moments that I wish she could have witnessed.

Myself and sister Natasja at my graduation:

I got married in May - a very small service at a beautiful place (Cathedral Peak). Natasja and I joked a lot while planning the wedding, because Mom had this way of saying “Ek stel voor...” (I suggest...) that drove us wild. We used that phrase a lot this year when picking colours, choosing a dress and deciding on flowers. I guess it was our way of feeling she was there – like lighting a candle for her.

If Mom was still around she would have done my wedding make-up. She was very good at that – a talent, fortunately, my sister inherited as she took over that job and did it extremely well. There is a lot of Mom in my elder sister. As Natasja grows older she reminds me more and more of Mom. I don’t think she realises it. It could be the way she smiles, her pride or the way she expresses her love. I guess when mom passed away she left a lot of her in both her girls. Mom loved classical music but also bouncy songs, which Natasja loves, too. She was arty and sang beautifully – my sister got a lot of that from Mom. I inherited her stubbornness, her deep love of Barbra Streisand and her face.

Mom would write long poem-like letters filled with beautiful words and love – my sister writes prose and I poetry. I hear her big-hearted laugh in my sister’s mirth; I see her dark eyes and prominent brows when I look in the mirror. Her dedication, loyalty and strong work ethic are alive in both of us: we are both academics - Natasja is a professor at a large university. Mom would have loved to brag about that – her pride in all that we achieved was embarrassing at times. She could be very strict and tough on us, but then again she was the only one that could heal a broken heart or mend a shattered dream. She’s still someone I want to call when good or bad news comes.

Mom passed away on December 23rd, 2005. I know she’s “in a better place now” after suffering from cancer for years. I know we are supposed to move on and forget the pain and longing. It is not so easy – I miss her so very much, especially around this family time of year.

Merry Christmas, Résie. We love you.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

I will bask (For Pieter)

I will bask

in the sunshine of your smile

I will bask

in the goodness of you heart

I will bask

in everything you say to me

I will bask

in the blue rays of your eyes.

Yes, I will bask

in the love you give me:

purity beyond compare…

I’m blessed that you chose to love me.

Thursday, November 20, 2008


My friend from school is getting married this weekend. After eight years with her boyfriend, they are tying the knot in a sweet little town called Dullstroom. It is wonderful and I am looking forward to the privilege of witnessing their vow to love one another for the rest of their lives. This event has, inevitably, set me to thinking about marriage again.

The journey

Getting married is a big step and a big deal in the cycle of life, especially at an age where your life is already well on track and your habits are really set. You choose now to share a life, a world, with another person, someone not of your blood, someone apart from yourself. I have great respect for people who decide to embark on the journey of marital pilgrimage. I call it a pilgrimage because that is what I believe it is. defines a pilgrimage as “any long journey, esp. one undertaken as a quest or for a votive purpose, as to pay homage”

As we all know, in the common western wedding ceremony, the parties vow to love one another for as long as they both shall live. In the over-dramatized and often unrealistic Hollywood movies, this vow often becomes a promise to love beyond the grave. Now I will not spend time on the merits of life (and love) after death, suffice to say that in real time, loving and being with another person for the duration of your natural life is daunting – at least for me.

Realistic Jade vs. The Anti-Marriage Fallacy

I once attended a wedding where my (gay) date enquired of me whether I find the whole thing exciting (that was before gays were allowed to get married in SA). My response was no. I found it frightening at that point, and 10 years later I still find it scary. The learned ones and people who’ve known me a long time will relate my trepidation to my parents’ failed marriage or a myriad of rejection and abandonment issues, and they would not be completely wrong.

What they are wrong about is that my past and my issues make me averse to marriage. Being scared of getting married is not rejecting the idea; it is a realistic and maybe a bit of a jaded viewpoint. I mean, with the high divorce rates and worse still, the incredible pain people inflict on one another when removing themselves from marriage, is it any wonder so many people prefer to stay unmarried? Co-habiting in harmony for years without the “chains” of marriage, or simply deciding to never marry have become less of an exception to the rule. Why co-habiting is different from marriage is often basically a legal and religious thing (as in “don’t live in sin”). Or when you’ve lived together for six months you are considered “married” and can take legal action should the relationship turn sour. Therefore, pretty similar to traditional concepts of marriage. But I will leave the distinctions to the clever people, and keep to what I wish to opine about today. And that is the marital relationship.

Marriage Lite: Low in carbs and Fat-free!

I believe that a healthy relationship contains two people of equal status: equal rights, equal inputs, equal respect, and equal love. Maybe I am being idealistic here, but humour me. I have seen too many divorcing couples tearing each other apart. These are the same people who, ten years earlier, vowed in front of God and witnesses to be together for better or worse. They didn’t think they would ever get to the point where the sight of the other would make them sick. Or that that person, who lovingly gazed into their eyes over the rings and the cake and the register, would stare daggers into their heart.

I believe that fairy tales and movies have enhanced the idea that love conquers all the moment the two finally get together and get married. I believe many people, especially young women, grow up dreaming of the wedding dress, the cake, the doves and the self-written vows. The romance, the dreamy scenery and the sunset farewell en route to the honeymoon... What comes after, is seldom considered, and in the prelude to the wedding the hectic preparations very seldom include an “after the wedding” part. Or if it does, it is often done because it is required by the church or the pastor, and not for the purpose of actually preparing people to face the realities after the honeymoon is over.

Marriage is a dangerous pilgrimage. It has unforeseen bumps and rough terrain; it has misleading tunnels and dark side roads. To stay on it till the end takes courage, conviction, dedication and faith. Faith in each other and faith in God (if you are a religious person) or Fate (if not). It is not the wedding dress, or the vows, or the cake or even the honeymoon that makes a successful marriage. These things just make a great wedding, a “Marriage Lite”. A real marriage requires so much more. There is no short cuts or ”lite” version – the real thing is a full-course, nutritious and fulfilling thing. It is healthily organic and devoid of the pesticides of laziness, quick-fix and window-dressing.

Work it, baby!

“Love is a verb” I have often heard. Yes, that is true – more so in marriage perhaps that in serving others. I also believe that love is a choice, not only a feeling. Because you have chosen to spend the rest of your natural life with another human being: one with faults and issues and fears and joys and laughter and tears. A human being that you have chosen to love because of all these things, and sometimes even despite them. In the pilgrimage of marriage, we pay homage to our insecurities, our past hurts and our future hopes. We pay homage to the person next to us, who will be the one person to know and love us in ways no-one else will; in ways that expose our vulnerabilities. For me, that is the true test of lasting love: that you can trust that other person with your complete, naked, vulnerable self – and know that they will choose to not use it against you.

If I can have that, I think I will be ready for the pilgrimage.

I would like to end with an excerpt from “Don’t break my heart” by Vaya Con Dios:

“The anger and the fury
And the fears living inside me
Should you love me
Would you love them just the same?”

I concur with that.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Going back (North) West

A short note to share my trepidation: tomorrow I will be heading back to the province and town I grew up in. We are attending a music and arts festival in the North West province of SA. The town is called Potchefstroom, the festival is Aardklop. Potchefstroom is near Stilfontein, the town I spent most of my puberty in.

Growing up in a small town has its advantages - you tend to find creative ways of keeping busy (no movie theatres or malls), and you do not get shot at when acquiring fruit from neighbours' trees... Ringing the church bell in the wee hours of the morning is fun when you have exhausted the video collection at the local video shop during school holidays. Children could roam the streets in safety and the ice-cream at Keurboom Motors was divine.

There is only one high school - where the entire grade 11 group refused to take part in singsongs by shouting an empathic "NO" to the teacher when asked for their participation in'92... and paid for that with resultant laps around the field for disobedience. There we played hockey in winter, coached by a man affectionately called "Jan Bom" (meaning John Bomb), whose philosophies on injuries included "if there's no blood it doesn't hurt". The school housed the usual group of teachers with weird and sometimes wonderful quirks - the accounting one who called the pupils "papkoppe" (cereal heads); the English subject head (Mad Mam) who listened to children's radio shows during class time; and the sexy biology teacher who had all the boys in hormone-ridden suspense.

I remember the incredibly cold winter mornings on the hockey fields - your hands so icy you could hardly feel the vibrations of the stick when you hit the ball. And the exam hall in winter... The cold seeped into your legs - we ended up bringing blankets to school to wrap around our legs like old people. Summers were long and hot, the yellow school shirts with blue tunics almost unbearable; and the sunburn at the local athletics hurt even more than losing to the other schools.

The town holds many many memories. That's where I got my first kiss (wasn't nice); learnt to drive (dangerous!) in the old unused drive-in area; where we rode our pasolas past the Afrikaans teacher's house after someone burnt unmentionable words into her grass using petrol... In Stilfontein I laughed and cried and played and grew. Although I will never regret growing up there, I detested the narrow-minded "box" mentality of small-towners that expected you to act in a certain way. I wanted out of the smallness and therefore spread my wings in the city of Pretoria after school. I never went back there except to visit my mom while she was still there. She was the only reason to go back. That is why I cannot think of the town separate from my memories of my mother.

I think that is where my trepidation lies: I haven't been back to that place since we moved my mom's house (September 06) after her passing away in December 05. My mom was an icon there: the English and drama teacher of the only High School, she left no-one untouched. She was one of those teachers that you either adored or couldn't stand. She lived out loud: she laughed loudly, she cried loudly, she sang loudly (and beautifully) and would support you through anything. And that is not just as our mom - it was the kind of person she was. She could be difficult as hell and sweeter than honey. She was tough and fragile and mean and caring all at the same time.

I realised people's perceptions of her when we held her memorial service in town. So many people attended, most we didn't know. We held many men and women who cried on our shoulders - sobbing "she was like a mother to me". I felt like screaming: "she was MY mother!!!!" They wrote poignant notes in a "memory journal" for her; they shared stories and memories.

Yes, my mom made an impression on the town and on its people. Now I'm going back - back to the memories and the house I grew up in. I'm scared because I heard the town is run-down now... I also heard the later owners of my mom's house had all the trees cut down, including the big shady one in the front yard, the fruit trees in the back yard and the huge apricot tree. I'm not sure I want to see that.

I'm not sure I want to face the tiny ghosts of my uneventful past - but I will. In a way, it will be a rite of passage, a last good bye. Not just to my childhood, but to the raw part of the sorrow I still bear for my mom. Because in the gold dust of the town lies my mom's footprints. And my own.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

A Case of you: thoughts on lust and desire

"I could drink a case of you, darling
and still be on my feet" Joni Mitchell (1971)

The above snippet is from one of my ultimate favourite love songs of all time - "A case of you". In my opinion, Tori Amos' version is the best. These specific lyrics have made me think about many things love-related over the years. Two concepts have taken up some space in my mind off late: lust and desire. Two terms often used interchangeably; similar in meaning, but for me, two very different things.

A question of lust
Lust is defined as an overmastering craving; an intense sexual appetite ( Synonyms include insatiable, lecherous, lewd, libertine, lubricious, lustful, randy, salacious. All these terms relate to something relatively uncontrollable and ultimately primal in nature.

Desire is half of life (Kahlil Gibran)

Desire as a noun is defined as a longing or craving for something that brings satisfaction or enjoyment; as a verb it is to wish or long for; crave; want. Synonyms include ache, hanker, long, pine, want, wish, yearn. These symbolize an intensive yearning for something that will bring great satisfaction.

Out of the frying pan and into the fire
I wish to liken lust and desire to the element of fire. Fire consists of heat and air and some sort of fuel. Without one of these elements fire cannot exist. Similarly, lust and desire both contain elements that make them work. Passion is the heat that feeds the fire for lust and desire. The fuel is also similar: usually an object of intense affection. It is in the air that lust and desire require that I see a difference. And that air makes the difference between a destructive wildfire and the comforting flames of a winter fireplace.

The air that keeps lust going consists of a need for immediate gratification and this drive leaves no thoughts for consequence. Lust inhales its own pleasure above all others. Lust breathes with the body: with its most primal sexual nature. It is wild and uncontrolled, and in the drive to fulfill lust, it often sucks the life out of everything around it. Bad addictions are often the result of lust raging uncontrolled.

Desire's air is relational. It is something more than just an insatiable yearning. It is more than mindless passion and bodily drive. It is both primal and sophisticated; it inhales its own pleasure and exhales into the pleasure of others, like emotional CPR. It breathes through the heart, the mind and the body. It is vibrant and it gives life to all it touches. Its vigour comes from the same primal drive as that of lust. This is revealed in its passion and its fire, but it transcends the pure basic instinct of lust.

In many ways desire takes lust and turns it into a masterpiece in much the same manner as an artist takes formless clay and makes a figure. Lust is the clay, desire is the sculpture. Lust transformed is recreated as art. And that art is desire.

A Case of You
"Oh you are in my blood like holy wine
And you taste so bitter but you taste so sweet
Oh I could drink a case of you
I could drink a case of you darling
And still be on my feet"

I think Joni Mitchell knew desire when she wrote these beautiful lyrics. These words speak of pure, unadulterated desire. They talk of being intoxicated with the one you love: filled with the wine of that person's love. Intoxicated but not uncontrolled...

You see, lust will also want to drink the whole case. But it can only handle one bottle.

Desire... now desire will have the whole case. And in its warm intoxication, it will still be on its feet.