Last words from Karin Brynard
Back in the day, there was one thing that was never tolerated: crude language. It was the first crack in a young mind that would eventually lead to the gates of eternal damnation, recalls Karin Brynard.
MMy mother was strict about words. I was always under the impression that she could physically see them. Able to determine their potential for offensiveness a mile away so she could quickly head them off at the pass. I was convinced there were invisible signs on the wire fence around our house: Prohibited. Only she and the bad words could read them. The front gate, one of those that one could buy at the co-op, had a specific screech to its hinges. In my child-like wisdom, I was convinced it was one of Mom’s alarms.
Because my mother was always on the alert. Even when she looked calm – in her cool workroom with her embroidery frame set up, dozens of colourful threads unpacked around her. Reminiscent of an old Rembrandt portrait, her needle weaving shades of blue melancholy on an overcast seascape. Even then. One ear was listening. Always on the alert. My older sisters in the room next door were combing each other’s hair in front of the mirror. “Ouch, you blerrie fool,” cried one.
“Child-rennnn!” my mom would reprimand, a slight frown crinkling the delicate porcelain of her noble brow. She had deep green eyes. Timid. Almost vulnerable. Until they became aware of an “undesirable” word, that is.
“Now look what you’ve done,” cried my elder sister. “Give back the brush.” “Ag, your bum, man.” That’s when my mom pricked her finger. Our family had a very different vocabulary for ‘below-the-belt’ things. For instance, we girls didn’t wear “panties”, but “skirts”. How she decided on that one, nobody knows.
We kids also didn’t wee-wee or pee or do a number one. Firstly, we had to whisper if we had a need. Secondly, we had to “be excused”. Note, not “go to the bathroom”; that was for adults.
And a number two was... “the need to squeeze”. Heaven forbid! Today’s kids would laugh their arses off. Oops, sorry Mom.
My best friend’s dad was the pastor. He was a quiet, shy man, but capable of fire and brimstone when he took to the pulpit. “Damnation” was his watchword. And that’s where foul language would take us. Unless Mom was on guard, that is.
It’s the little sins... she would explain. I think she was referring to the apparent ‘safe’ words used in other kids’ households. At our house, a girl had a “thingy”. But at my friend’s house they spoke of a “moemfie” or a “cookie”. Those words made my mom frown. “Fanny” also wasn’t an option. And “vagina” wouldn’t even have made it through the front door of our house. Damnation for all of them.
There weren’t even words to describe a man’s private parts. My little brother came home from school one day and mentioned that his friend’s mother had told him that if he didn’t stop touching his willy, it would fall off. Just like that, at the dinner table, my brother blurted it out. My father choked on his tripe sauce and my mother did something with her fork that gave my brother a reason to sit up and take notice. Much later that night one could still see the tine marks on his hand.
Eventually, my brother and his buddies all had “bumps”. And sometimes, just sometimes, a “winkie” would sneak past my mom’s ever-alert ears. For the rest, all was well with the world again. Until my grandmother uttered those words about asparagus. It happened when a travelling artist arrived in the village, a guy by the name of Gerrie Bosman. My father decided our home should have a proper painting and invited Gerrie Bosman to come and show us his work one evening. Mom baked dainty sausage rolls and filled a platter with hard-boiled eggs, cold meats and expensive tinned asparagus. And that was when Granny declared loudly that there was no way she was going to put those pale things that looked like a “baboon’s prick” in her mouth.
My Mom’s porcelain brow crinkled. And then my brother enquired: if Granny doesn’t want a baboon’s prick, would she rather have an ow!-b*tch-sh*t? The porcelain cracked. “Boetie!” exclaimed my father. “But that’s what Mom called them when she took them out of the oven!”
Gerrie Bosman saved the day: “I’d love an ow!-biscuit!” he declared. And with that he offered an escape route. Which my father gratefully took and my mother followed suit without missing a beat.
These days, my mom battles to remember words. Any words. Fortunately, the rest of us remember. And ‘ow!-biscuits’ are standard family fare.