My Mother’s Hands . . .

Mom and DonovanBy Dianne Bayley

It appears to be my earliest childhood memory. I don’t recall the bus ride to see Santa Claus at Stuttafords, or the doll I wanted from Lilliputs – those are little family legends that have only become real in my mind because they were spoken about so often through the years.

My first real memory – my very own memory – is of sitting on my bed and watching my Mother’s hands working a small white sock onto a chubby foot. The vision is so clear I can almost feel her touch and hear the voice that was talking me through her actions.

Her fingers were long and slender and tipped with the most beautiful nails; hard, well shaped nails, always perfectly red and perfectly polished. We discovered early, she and I, that running those nails across my back gently would calm me to the point of sleep. That never changed, and even as an adult I would visit her and say, “Tickle my back, Mom.” And I’d be transported back to when my Mother’s hands could soften the world.

They worked, those hands, from when she was 17; and I was always in awe of how quickly her fingers could rush across a typewriter – and later a keyboard – and never have to go back to correct anything. Just as she always managed to find the right words to comfort a crying child, the right letters flew from beneath those red nails and formed sentences that paid for school uniforms and places to live.

I loved it when she came to our school to collect us. She was a mother to be proud of, so beautiful and young. I’d reach up and take one of those hands, with the beautiful red nails, and hope everyone could tell that she was my Mom. She raised three of us who felt that way. When the youngest of us was called too soon, I witnessed my Mother’s hand touch the Holy Water on the shiny coffin and make the sign of the Cross for her boy. Her nails, perfectly painted, shook visibly as she bade her son farewell with the saddest touch a Mother would ever have to make . . .

Years later, a stroke took the use of her right hand for a while and – as if in defiance of the handicap – she often forgot it was there. She wrote me a letter later that year, using her left hand. I have yet to read a more beautiful note. If I was offered a signed letter from Nelson Mandela or even the Dead Sea Scrolls for the few short words my Mother’s left hand crafted on that card, I wouldn’t trade. It must have taken hours for her to write . . . that she was proud of me.

She never gave up, my Mom. She worked until that right hand was hers again and she could paint her nails once more. She was worn, but never beaten.

It has been some time since she left. I like to think that my brother was there, to take one of those beautiful hands in his own and lead her to a world without pain. In the joy of being together again, he probably didn’t notice that hand he held was blue, covered in bruises from too long a stay in a hospital bed and a heart that was forced to finally give up.

As I watched in such fear and sadness the life that had given me mine slip slowly from her, I looked at those hands. The many years of folding them in prayer for her own parents, her siblings, her children and others was etched on the outside of them now, in frail blue skin. I took her hand in mine, the softness of it so sweet against my palm, and tried to ignore the tubes and needles that defaced the beauty. I kissed her forehead and said goodbye, knowing that I couldn’t watch her leaving anymore. I held her hand one last time, then slowly walked away.

This morning, I watched my own hands tying my shoelace. Mine are not elegant, nor do I have the beautiful polished nails she had. I have few of the keyboard skills she had, and I will never change a child’s world by taking her hand in the schoolyard. But folded in my heart, in prayer and in praise, my Mother’s hands – always so quick to comfort and uplift – will live forever.

Oscar, Africa, social media and schadenfreude

The tragic Oscar Pistorius issue aside, I’m tired of the inference that the “wealthy” in South Africa are all hiding behind walls, when the truth is, we are ALL hiding behind walls. The more we earn, the higher the walls. I have been robbed several times – twice in my “wealthy, gated community” in one of Johannesburg’s northern suburbs (it’s an apartment block with walls, like many, many others in South Africa) . Once by Annanias Mathe, then the most wanted criminal in South Africa, a murderer and rapist. Once, years before, I fired a shot (yes, from a gun I owned back then when women were being hijacked and take to places where they were gang raped etc) at two men who had robbed my house and were coming out of my house and towards me as I arrived home. My OWN home. Where I should be entitled to feel safe. Fortunately for me, I didn’t kill anyone. Fortunately for me, I wasn’t raped or murdered either.

To understand how each and every one of us is living “inside”, we have to understand that the “fight or flight” response (already fixed when people still refer to us a “foetuses”) is tested every minute of every day in South Africa. Stop at a light and you don’t know if the person who appears at your car window has an avocado pear for sale or an AK47. Our society, as a whole, is NOT normal. You discover this when you go to civilised places like Toronto and walk the dog at 11pm without getting murdered.

Whether I think Oscar is guilty or not, it would benefit all of us to look at how WE are . . . how quickly someone is an “asshole” on the road; how much sheer hatred (with little action taken) is generated by our opinions on the Middle East or the horse meat issue or any number of other things we hear and see on Facebook and in other “news”. Where does that anger/hatred go, once generated?

The Oscar tragedy has brought out some interesting and disturbing reactions – blood baying, disregarding his right to a fair trial before finding him guilty, massive jealousy about wealthy young people . . . and yet I haven’t seen as much outrage about the crowds around the taxi driver being dragged to his death. HIS death, yes – but the people standing around CHEERING the police on?? THAT is what our nation has become . . . But we’ll find something to blame that heinous, cheering behaviour on – laws, history, poverty etc etc – when what should really terrify us is our collective propensity toward violent and vicious thoughts ourselves.

Rant almost over – here is one of the best pieces I have read on the Oscar killing, by the reasonable and thoughtful Justice Malala  – note this piece:

“The truth, however, is that South Africa is a country of violence. We have often been labelled the “crime capital of the world”, and many like Pistorius own firearms, supposedly to protect themselves from burglars and robbers. Last week, the country was in mourning after a 17-year-old girl died after being gang-raped. It is who we are. Perhaps that is why we struggled to accept that “one of us” might have pulled the trigger – with tragic consequences.”

It’s time each of us turns our energy towards looking at ourselves, rather than at others every time a heinous crime is committed in South Africa. In fact, it’s time we all stop and look at how quickly we “take sides” before knowing all the facts; how we continually pass on “the bad news” in social media; how few times a day any of us reads any good news at all (or makes a decision based all three sides of a story), let alone passes it on.

Schadenfreude – pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others – creates sick societies. And “slacktivism” – the idea that you may do some good from behind your keyboard by “making people aware” on social media rather than actually taking some action – is schadenfreude’s first cousin.

Playing nice on Facebook

By Dianne Bayley

If you’re reading this, you’re online. It’s a fabulous place to be and the single biggest communications event of our lifetime. Like any playground, it has rules. Chief among these is “play nice”.

  • You know how when you post something on Facebook that reads, “I am OUTRAGED at this politician/store/product” . . . and some arb Facebook friend writes underneath it, “Hey– haven’t seen you for years! How are you?” Don’t be that person! It’s one thing to divert the thread of a conversation with something similar, but another thing entirely when you use a post to write something that should have been a “hello” between the two of you on the person’s page. Continue reading

Why WiFi in the sky shouldn’t happen

By Dianne Bayley

So last week one of South Africa’s domestic airlines – called Mango, even if it doesn’t count as one of your five daily fruits and veggies – became the first local airline to offer in-flight WiFi on a promo flight filled with journalists. Continue reading

Anonymous online abuse: it’s all about crabs

I wrote this a few months back. With every second social media post now slamming “the wealthy” (whatever we individually percieve “wealth” to be, it may be appropriate to publish it again here . . .

Many years ago I heard a story about why fishermen never need to put a lid on a barrel of crabs. Apparently, when one crab climbs up the barrel and heads toward freedom, the rest pull him back into the barrel.

Now, this is only a good story if you’ve come across crabs, not those of the fisherman or even those that require medical attention, but those that populate the very places you think you’re going to find delight, and perhaps, someone to share it with you.

Continue reading

Freelance writers in the USA: Will work for coffee?

By Dianne Bayley

Every good freelance writer continues to look for writing opportunities on a variety of topics, from all around the globe. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been contacted (and commissioned) for work from companies in Switzerland, Australia, Ireland, the UK and, of course, my homeland, South Africa.

Each time I have delivered what was asked for and been paid promptly. Unless you count the UK connection, where the editor was dealing with a certain African country that shall remain nameless, but is notorious for getting work done and suddenly not having the money they said they had . . . Continue reading

Can someone put the fun back in travelling?

By Dianne Bayley

I’m going to give away my age when I tell you that I remember a time when your Dad took you out to the airport on a Sunday afternoon so you could watch the planes taking off and landing. No, really. You’d get an ice cream and stand at the window that overlooked the runway, watching planes for hours. And when your Grandma left to fly home, you could see her waving her white handkerchief from the plane window.

Now you go to the airport only if you have to catch a plane or meet someone coming in. While OR Tambo International is a fabulous airport – and now has the Gautrain service to make getting there and back an absolute pleasure – it’s not the fun it used to be. Continue reading