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.

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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.

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