Thursday 24 February marked 18 years since the passing of the woman who loved me first and I loved most. My mother. It started off as an ordinary day. I took my daughter for a BCG vaccine shot in preparation for her first trip to Zimbabwe. Then the park, supermarket (where I stood in line at the cashier only to find myself fumbling for a wallet I did not have because as it turned out, I had forgotten it at home. Way better than being robbed of course), back home for lunch, out again for a walking nap etc.
I had been meaning to call my sister because a few days had passed since we’d last spoken. When I finally got around to it that evening, and as soon as she picked up and started talking, I remembered. It was the day on which we grieve anew. Somehow, I managed to keep it together, skirted over what the day meant, and then introduced so many other topics and by the end of our call, my sister was feeling better. I had successfully played mum and big sister. Win.
Later that night after Maya was asleep, dinner was had and my partner was back at his desk working into the night, the heaviness started coming at me. Stiff neck, dry mouth, clenched jaws; resistance. As I started going through photos of her, all the emotions gave way and the crying began. Silently, I cried. All I said to my partner was, “I miss my mum”. We sat in silence, me wishing the sadness away and willing myself to stop crying. I started watching reels on Instagram, and that’s how the crying stopped. Social media helped push it all “away”.
An hour later I sensed the emotions resurfacing, so I busied myself with a load of laundry I had washed that evening. My partner asked me to please leave it and he would take over, but I insisted on carrying on. This was supposed to help me keep it together. Did it work? No, not at all. Mid hanging clothes, I crumbled. Full on loud ugly crying ensued. This was not something I could hold back. What emotions had accumulated and built up from trying to be strong came tumbling down like a ton of bricks! I ugly cried, and talked through it. “I just want my mummy”, I said, “just one more day with my mummy. One more hug, one more kiss. I want my mummy…….” Edu wrapped his arms around me and let me feel all of it. He didn’t try to discourage my crying, or my speaking, he stood by me as I felt what I needed to feel and say what I needed to say.
The next morning when my daughter woke up and came to our room, tears filled my eyes. As I laid eyes on her, and her dad who was carrying her, I realized (not for the first time but it felt different) that she was never going to know her maternal grandmother. They both would never get to know my mother; to meet her and experience her. That realization stung. It also made me see that if one day Maya asks about her granny, I didn’t quite know what I would say. What words would I use to paint a picture of my mum for my daughter? I had started forgetting. So, I decided to write what little I can remember, while I still can. To immortalize the person my mother was, so that I can come back to it when I need to remember. So my daughter can one day read it for herself and hopefully feel her granny through my words. So that the people who loved her, who love us, can have a piece of the woman who birthed, cuddled, and molded me into the woman I am.
My mother was soft spoken. You would have to have really upset her before she screams or shouts at you. I can still hear her reprimand me with a very soft, “Lovelyn mwanangu….” She was also the only person at home and anywhere else in Zimbabwe who pronounced my name right. Makes sense considering she’s the one who named me. Everyone else has a knack for mispronouncing it, which I learned to live with, but I do miss hearing my mother say my name. I remember a time when relatives started shortening my name and calling me Lavhu. I absolutely hated it, and mum told me I didn’t have to answer to it. She gave me permission to tell anyone, adults included, that I would appreciate being addressed by my actual name and would not respond to anything I was not happy with. She empowered me.
Mum was classy and elegant. Very selective about the clothes she wore. She was raised by a woman who would inspect each child after they got dressed. If it did not look coordinated, fashionable, or stylish, my granny would tell you to point out what was wrong with your outfit, and then share ideas on how to improve it. You would have to go and change. This is how my mum and aunts became passionate about fashion. Passionate enough to learn how to sew. My mother designed her own clothes. She would make patterns on big sheets of paper, and then pin them onto fabric, cut it out and saw. Sometimes this all happened within a day. She would make something to wear to an event the next day! My job was to help with cutting out patterns and help her to transfer them onto fabric. Sometimes I would attach stiffening onto cuffs or a collar. It was easy enough, I just had to iron it onto the reverse side of the fabric et voila.
She was a kindhearted, Jesus loving woman. There was a time when we lived in a 2 bedroomed apartment. Mum, my stepfather, 2 siblings, and the helper. Now you can imagine it was cramped, but cousins, aunts and uncles came and stayed for days, none ever being turned away for lack of space. When they left, they did not leave empty handed. Not because we were rich and had much to give, no; mum was just a giver.
After we started living in a bigger house with a big yard, mum put the backyard to work. This is how I learned that she had green fingers. She loved gardening so much it was the first thing she did on a Saturday morning. Sometimes even before getting ready for work on a weekday. She grew all sorts of vegetables and fruits. Some of which I enjoyed eating and some I did not like at all. I loved the lettuce but hated eggplant (I love it now). The cauliflower and spinach were just OK, and the butter beans were delicious. Cooked or raw, mum’s tomatoes were sweet and tasty. There was this one bean plant which we called nyemba beans. One year we ate so much of it we started resenting it. I have a friend who to this day, talks about my mum and how she tortured him by serving him those nyemba beans. But we had fallen on tough times and mum’s homegrown nyemba beans not only fed us but provided most of the nutrition a person needs to keep in good health.
My mother was hard working and resourceful. There were days when there may not have been money to buy grocery items from a supermarkt, but she made sure her garden kept us fed and healthy. She was mindful of what she grew. What nutrients it provided, how much tending it would need etc. And if it had potential to help with cashflow, more reason for it to grow in her garden. I remember packing bags of big round tomatoes and onions to sell out of the car boot after church on Sundays. I thought they were underpriced, but mum was not out to make a fortune. She just wanted to be able to feed us, while sharing the work of her hands for a small fee.
She did not stop at gardening. That and her teacher salary alone were not enough to sustain all our expenses. So, she took a cake making and decorating course. For a few weeks, every Friday afternoon was spent with her coach; a friendly woman who at the time lived in the garage of a house in Malbereign. She had gone through a bad divorce and was sustaining herself by baking cakes for people, and teaching cake making. Mum took me once; she wanted me to learn too. I watched them, two women to whom life had thrown curveballs. One a widow and the other kicked to the curb by her husband. There was no sadness there, but, shared joy in the creative art of cake making. In retrospect, this must have been the first time I learned that nothing keeps a mother down. Kick a mother down and she’ll fall, cry, then quickly rise and do whatever needs to be done, not so much for herself, but for her children. They baked, decorated, and if the ingredients were mum’s, we ate cake all weekend.
There was a period in Zimbabwe when soap making was popular, and she jumped on that too. Paying a guy who worked in a soap making factory to teach her. I remember driving to Mufakose at 5a.m to pick him up. This was the only time it could happen because they both had jobs to clock into at 8a.m.
When a swarm of bees created their hive in our chimney, mum bought beehives and had them installed on the property so that we could harvest honey. Long before my stepfather passed, mum had two pie makers and she would make batches of pies every morning. The pies would be sold at his office, and sometimes she would have orders from her workmates as well. She was industrious. Her last venture was a nursery school. It had always been her “retirement” plan. Unfortunately, she passed away only 3 months after having established it.
I remember asking my mum why she let people take advantage of her. I thought she was too nice, too soft, and too quick to forgive. She did not turn her back on someone just because said person had done her wrong. The same person would be welcomed back with open arms. The incident most vivid in my mind is a day when one of her younger sisters visited. She had been contracted to make parade outfits for the school mum worked at. My aunt was very good at sewing. Any sewing machine was her magic wand, and she did not need much in the form of a brief. Just what and who it’s for, and she would produce beautiful garments. But she had the habit of procrastinating, and the deadline was fast approaching. Mum asked what the problem was and urged her to finish otherwise she would not be paid for an unfinished job. She also made it known to her sister that this time she was not going to spend a night helping her with last minute finishes. From one second to the next, a calm conversation blew up into the most frightening argument I had ever witnessed. Except it was mostly one person doing the shouting. It was bad enough to make me step in and ask my aunt to leave. As she reluctantly got up to leave, mum went to the kitchen, packed a few food supplies, and handed them to her. I later asked her how she was still able to offer a gift after being treated that way, and her simple response was, “she’s still my sister, and she has children at home”. If you ask me now, I will say she didn’t set healthy boundaries, but she did not see it that way at all. Others came first, and she came second, plus being a Christian meant that meekness required her to give the other cheek.
Mum loved the people in her life wholeheartedly. Even those she may not have particularly liked. She treated them all with love. You did not have to be from her womb to be treated as her child; you were loved just as much as those that were. Whether you were a stepchild, niece, nephew, friend of her child, or child of her friend, mum gave you love. She had it in abundance and gave it joyfully. It extended even to her students. I was always amazed by how easily she remembered names of former students we bumped into, years after she would have taught them! She radiated while asking them about their lives, and then telling us more about them after they’d said goodbye and gone their way. To me, she WAS love, and she taught us love.
My mother’s favorite room of the house was the kitchen. She enjoyed cooking, and dare I say she was good at it! To my mum, cooking for her family was a labour of love. She had this happy dance which was always accompanied by a whistling kind of sound. The only place I saw her do that dance was in the kitchen. My siblings and I enjoyed being in the kitchen with her and being little helpers. Even if, sometimes, all we did was watch and wait to swipe remains of batter or custard off a bowl or pot and lick our fingers. The kitchen was a joyful place where magical dishes were made, and bonds were created. To this day, cooking is to me, a labor of love and I owe that to my mum.
Our mother daughter relationship was built on trust, mutual respect, and a certain knowing, which, I can’t explain. She did not give me a list of things I must never do. I wasn’t told not to play with boys, not to drink, or any of the other typical don’ts African Christian mums gave their teenage daughters. My mum used dos to guide me. There was no, “don’t play with boys and bad children”. There was, “I like this friend, he/she is respectful. I think he/she is a good friend”. My closest friend in our neighbourhood was a boy. We saw each other almost daily. He was free to come over and mum would chat with him as if he were one of us. She never questioned our friendship. She trusted that it was what I said it was, and she was right. When her friends teased about him being her future son in-law, she did not encourage it, nor discourage it. She just let us be. I could go anywhere I wanted, as long as she knew who I was with. I did not even have a curfew, but I never thought to come home at an ungodly hour. I suppose I had no motive to be naughty or do anything which was classified as wayward in our culture; no reason to rebel. There was an unspoken vow to never lose my mother’s trust, so I did not misbehave. Either I was just a well-behaved child, or the way she parented me worked like a charm.
Her name was Betty Tanganyika (nee Mashave). Born 12 April 1958 and died 24 February 2005 at the young age of 46. Her dear soul continue to rest in eternal peace.
If you knew our mamma, please drop a note in comments section with your fondest memory, or anything you'd like us and her grandchildren to read.
Which women in your life are you celebrating this Women's History Month? Let us know down below, we'd love to celebrate them with you!