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Ingrid Wolfaardt

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Mama is the mode.

You stay someone’s child until, they die…or you do. That’s it. No debate on this one. I am the mother of my children, now and forever, literally till the grave and death do us part, no matter that they beat me at arm wrestling, earn more than I do, are sharper, wiser, and more with-it-I am their earthly I am, and neither of us can change that, even when I see they are going grey before me.

Today was just a confirmation of that.

Of course for the past decade or so, they have been determinedly snipping away at that umbilical cord, at the bond that binds us, and it’s been good and right for them to separate their personas from mine – at my 50th a year or two ago…my third daughter confessed that here in her early twenties she was only now seeing me as a separate human being with my own life, feelings, opinions etc…

I need to say here, quite objectively of course that I have daughters who are brave and beautiful, who know how to muck in and out, dig trenches with their father, win beauty pageants on the side line and awards for their cleverness in between. But now that they are in the world, if not of the world, one would think now that they are complete women, an appendage called, mother and the act of mothering would be unnecessary, a nice to have, here and there, a sweet reminder of their childhood, like the rather scruffy teddy tucked away in their very upper cupboards but I find the “tots’, the “girls,” the “poppe” the “beauty boxes,” are surprisingly in need of encouragement, words of wisdom, an ear to listen to on love gained and lost and this wisdom of mine, which I give out sparingly and only on request, is hard-earned, gained from bitter and sometimes sweet experience on matters ranging from the heart to the head to the home, I’m even consulted with great earnestness on how to cure a beloved horse’s ulcers, and I’ve never even ridden one, so I remain the girls first port of call- phone a friend sort of thing- I suspect they think this old bird has lived long enough to know it all…but I am quick to say, I feel honoured and special and grateful that those ears that turned off at the stroke of twelve on their twelfth birthday are open to me…I value it greatly.

So, when people ask me about the empty nest, and what I spend my time on- my standard answer is, life-coaching my grown up children, daily, wherever they find themselves in the world.

But now and again like today, the girls just need an old fashioned mama, of their baby days, a motherly body, a kind soothing voice, loving hands and an attitude that all will be alright.

My happy-go-lucky, never-a-problem, daughter, suddenly collapsed in the streets today, not from the heat, hunger or thirst but from an excruciatingly, screw driver-in-your-guts, pain and it happened in a vreemde dorpie with no chemist, no doctors to be found and suddenly I had to take charge, take action, instinctively my mama-mode kicked in.

I looked at her grey, I’m not quite here, face, got her into the car and headed home, an hour’s drive away and I put my “voet-in-die-hoek,” pushing that engine to its limit (what’s the point of a sports car anyway?) with one hand on the wheel, one hand on her stomach, praying for her, cursing the slow traffic and speaking on the phone simultaneously, to get hold of a doctor and in all of this reassuring her it was going to be okay, mama was with her, it would all be fine.

It reminds me of my own father and mother-with every crisis during my married life they have been the first to call, the one’s I trust implicitly with my life and that of my loved ones, even to my father’s death, he would check if I had packed in a jersey, reprimanded me not sit on cold cement and to wear something on my feet in winter.

Mothering, (by fathers too,) caring, nurturing, never ends it seems to me, it is as part of me as breathing the air, there is an unseen cord that binds us to each other, that can never be severed, by age, distance, or even indifference.

And I do it gladly. It makes life so much more worth living.

(and yes, tot was doctored and sonared and injected, so that all is well)-
till next time.

Bathing at Bethaisda

There’s sea everywhere, constantly on the move, whipping foam and frothing waves, broad as the horison, rolling on, lifting up, curling over and coming with speed, power and grace, hitting the wall hard, then fading into faint ripples-again and again.

There are stone steps too, leading down to the tidal pool, dozens, worn and walked by many and there is a man with crutches, taking them, one by one, down to the water, down to the healing waters and he is old and worn down too and his face could be a battered rock covered in limpets and our eyes meet briefly as I skip past.

It is low tide and the water is as clear as glass.
There is a jolly, well-fed family eating breakfast under an umbrella and they look up with smiles to greet me. Two skinny boys, all on their own, the colour of earth, jerkily jump up and off the rocks, over and over, and I wonder where their parents are and whether I can leave my belongings unattended and then there is me of course, come to swim strokes.

I can see urchins, stones, seaweed, broken things lying on the bottom.
I float on my back.I see birds in the sky. I see clouds and sun. I see blue but I don’t feel blue. I feel simply wonderful,a piece of wood, drifting into infinity.
There is no wind. I hear the children’s voices.
To be able to swim like this is worth more than gold, I think.

Old people in white gowns, wearing flowery caps and plastic booties, disrobe, hanging their towels neatly on the public rail, and with caution, begin to swim, rolling slowly, like large sea creatures, spouting forth water, lifting their heads to gasp as they breaststroke from side to side, in unison.

And the delighted earth boys, each have a piece of golden melon in their hands, given to them by the family, while the old man, finally makes it to the steps that take you into the water and he sits down, exhausted, rolling up his pants, taking off his scuffed shoes, watching us swimmers with patience and interest.

The family do not swim either. One of the young girls from under the umbrella presents him with a plate of food and he accepts, dropping his hat to eat.

Such kindness I think, given with not much thought or debate or ado, them sharing bountifully that which they had, with those around them, with strangers, building bonds, healing unseen wounds, without knowing, while I, with all the world to give, jealously guarded my little pile of worldly goods behind a rock.

So much to learn about Life, I thought with shame, as I came out of the water getting a huge smile from the frolicking boys. My own selfish heart in need of healing – of another kind, to that of the old man on the steps.

Who would have thought an early morning bathe could change me so?
My heart now a different one, to the one I brought along with me.

A bok for books

Have you shed tears for the beauty of a book? Have you walked into a bookstore and seen a book that for its beauty blew you away? Have you? Or is it only I that is moved to sniffle, discreetly wiping my nose on my sleeve while I turn page after page as though I hold a great artwork in my hands? » read more

Go with the Flow, Farm-style.

The life of a farm-worker is one of the open road, mostly. That’s how I remember it. There were seasons spent, as spring and summer working on a farm, then there was a time to move on, as the fruit trees shed their leaves in fall. And if you were born on a farm then it would be this place that would appear cyclically in your life, revisited over years, drawing you back if only for a time like the swallows in summer. » read more

It’s show-time, folks.

As a child I sat at many agricultural shows in the Eastern Cape. From Butterworth to Komga to Bathurst to Stutterheim to King William’stown to Cathcart…such shows were the norm and part of our social landscape. My uncle did show-jumping and dressage and judging and so we went along in the lorry and hung around the stalls and ate tough pancakes and drank cold coffee from tartan jacketed thermos flasks.

Ja, it was lekker because there were other children hanging out there too and some were quite grand as they had their own horses and were jumping over jumps too and whenever their surname, Snodgrass was announced over the speakers we would snigger, in revenge… » read more

In the Eye of the Beholder.

Love is a wonderful thing. It is not necessarily blind to the faults and failings of another, in fact when you love someone or something you are very aware of their shortfalls, very aware of their foibles and fragilities but love does something that infatuation cannot do and that is make peace with the warts of another, still think they- or it- are the best thing after sliced bread, despite their shortcomings, loving them just the way they are, focusing on the beauty and not the beast in them.

Why I clearly refer to IT in this case is because I am in love with a thing, which is a place, which is a community which is a one-stop, never-to-be-repeated experience. And this IT – this thingamagig has seen better days, has had its glory, has been the belle of the ball, now a fading beauty of the grand stage that is with every visit, more sidelined and increasingly marginalized in a world that requires you to have a make over, once in a while, for heavens sake, it’s just good manners to those who have to view you. » read more

Naught for your comfort.

There’s a book that’s been on my bookshelf for a very long time. It has stood there waiting for someone to notice its brown cover and faded lettering, after a journey of in and out of cardboard boxes. It has stood for fourteen years in Huis Krige on a simple piece of painted wood and before that I assume in grander libraries and yet in all this time, what has lain waiting, between its pages has not changed, truly what is caught in black and white stays the same, yesterday today and tomorrow, the word is patient, hibernating, not aging until eyes fall on it and minds engage with it.

“History is the mother of truth, ” a quote from the short video clip on Borge’s life. The word written either sanctifies or condemns…in time.

J reached up to the top shelf and brought it into the light. His grandfather’s signature was on the first page and his initials carefully written across the side of the pages. It’s a book with no flashy cover, no hype or marketing, no twittering or blog to back it, a book that stands on its own and I believe a book that should be read by all who live and love this country, called South Africa.

Trevor Huddleston’s 1956 memoir on his life in Sophiatown as Anglican priest, “Nought for your comfort.” I remember a quote from the man, that had a profound affect on me, all newly married on a farm in 1981, that my humanity was reflected in the way I saw and treated another and it shaped the way I went about things but for the man himself, I had never given much thought, until now.

I am on page forty-six and I have stopped reading to think a while but also to overcome my weeping heart. I am deeply moved but even more deeply disturbed by the text, it is painful, achingly painful to read.

There are passages from history that I know of, theoretically. I know about this and that and if you mention an incident or two I can help myself superficially to engage with you on it but last night it was as though for the first time the deep emotional scarring and damage done to people of this country hit me hard, here in the gut with Huddleston recalling simple stories about real people with real names and a real law called the Pass Laws Act of 1952. Men going out for a colddrink and landing up in jail for days, men dying in jail for a piece of paper forgotten at home or torn up in the bin of a police office. Young men trapped in Alexander Township, as bad as the ghettos of the Second World War, and he warns the present generation but those to come too that a culture of criminalism was being fostered by this, a culture of total disrespect for the law, a culture of gangsterism, all of this in 1956 and even earlier, talking to an earless, hearless, heartless people and it feels that I have been one of them and I still am.

So much damage. So much damage done to the very core of our South African beings.

So once again I repeat the inevitable question to myself.
Who stands accountable for this? Or do we say not us – the sins of the fathers are not ours, and we anyway pay, living with the down the line fruits of their decisions, of their blindness. We are clean and washed and therefore not beholden in anyway to any of this stuff, this messiness, this darkness, this cancerous rot that will not go away. Let us take to our golf estate laagers. Let us drive in our tinted windowed sport cars, let us electrify our fences or bid farewell for greener pastures…

Where does our hope lie? What will heal and bind and act as balm?
Is there something like a national day of weeping? A day of “sak en as” where we rent our clothes for the past or is it too late for that and who has the heart to do it anyway and what difference would it make?

Not much I hear you say.(Most public holidays are an excuse for a lekker braai in the middle of the week.)

But I long for the end to the killing, to the bitterness, to the viciousness that is endemic in our homes and on the streets.

We have given birth to a monster as a nation and we cannot contain it, we do not have the means or the collective will to do it.

And yet I have seen what love can do. I have lived it, more than a decade ago, “in die kleine” on a forgotten farm amongst the renosterbosse and stone, where a broken community came to wholeness simply through the engagement of love, over time and against all odds.

And so once again I go out onto the street and try and live reconciliation, (a word that itself has become a tad tardy.) A spit in the bucket it feels to me most days and yet every spit counts. When the bucket is full it will tip over…eventually I believe and it is this that keeps me going.

Skills transfer of another kind

The BEE bill to promote transference of skills has been quite some toffee to chew for most, those who need to transfer and those who need the so-called transferring. As a mother I regard myself a queen in this department: the transferring of good manners, the transferring of how to enjoy life, the transferring of how to stick it out, the transferring of making a meal from the leftovers in your fridge, all highly important skills needed in life – I’m fit in this art and so the bill came as no big surprise to me, or me having to change my style, with an office full of young girls, the average age is twenty-four I have a field day anyway in life coaching, brainwashing, and “staan jou man in die werkplek” type of transferring which is quite up my street. » read more

A little bit of Eden.

There is a secret garden that I know of. It is a garden within a garden, a garden of great proportions and infinite delight. You take a little path to it, quite an ordinary path in fact, a single track of grass and weed and stone, that cuts through veld which delights me with the tiniest, sweetest smelling flowers that come and go as the wind that blows to and fro from this mountain of millennia and plantings by an unseen hand, finely sown as an Aubusson tapestry. » read more


Animals choose their owners, or rather animals choose those they want to be served by. I met a lovely lady at Langebaan who had been involved with Alsations for years and she confirmed that when you visited a litter all you needed to do was wait for the one to come and pick you, simple. » read more