When we lived in a shop, my mother was the shopkeeper. When we moved to a farm on seven acres of land, where my father would realise his dream of hatching and raising chickens, my mother planted a garden. There were lots of fruit trees, some vegetables, but my mother's labour and pride went into flowers - zinnias, tuberoses, dahlias, gladioli, marguerites, morning glories, African violets. Anything that came in a pack or bulbs, she would try her hand at. Usually with fabulous results. She had a gardenia bush whose perfume scented the night; a strange "cinderalla" night blooming orchid. And at every opportunity when she was not involved in cooking or caring for five children, keeping the books for the farm or selling chicks, she would by hand or hoe ensure that weeds would not infiltrate the flowerbeds.
She put the same energy with which she would wield a heavy cutlass to whack at unwanted growth, into her children. Her love came with a strong dose of discipline, regularly administered "for your own good!" Purges with milk of magnesia or some other vile tasting traditional remedy were administered with regularity. She never wanted to hire domestic help, so her children had to pitch in on weekends, to strip beds, wash windows, cobweb, sweep and dust the tiny house top to bottom. She believed in spic and span. She also believed in licks, administered fiercely and deliberately on occasion. Schoolwork frustrated her after a long day - can you imagine having to take on the job of teacher after a full farm day? For us, the best solution was to prove - as early as possible - our independence from her supervision or need to check homework. We were being shaped - she never told us specifically for what - to be good children, good people, honest, neighbourly, caring, kind.
As long as we knew her, my mother always worked at home. Housewife does not begin to define the skills and smarts which she developed as necessary to deal with life's challenges - and for her there were many, including diabetes, coronary illness and attendant conditions.
It was when I became a mother that I would wonder about my mother's internal life. Was she happy? Was she satisfied with her life? What dreams did she have that went unfulfilled?
What gave her pleasure was to have children and grand-children around in family celebrations - but this was after a lifetime of housewifely service, and many many hours of shaping not her own life - but those of five children. When I plant trees now, I do so in my mother's name. When I cook, I remember how she taught an eight-year-old to stew chicken. And when I look at my own children, I remember her saying how "they both have the same face." And when quiet thoughts of what else I could be in this life come unbidden to my mind, I think of my mother and the determination with which she made her life.