Mother's Day Special Series - Guest Posts
Noor Saadeh with her mother Sashay Stella Stutz Van Wyk,
may she rest in peace
Noor Saadeh, based in the United States, is a Muslim Perspectives writer for Family Flavours. She also writes, composes and performs on Islamic audio and video for children and produces and distributes multimedia educational products worldwide. She recently joined Plaid for Women's #No Mean Girls campaign
Sashay Stella Stutz Van Wyk was the illegitimate product of a shipboard romance between an immigrant peasant girl and a young man from the Russian aristocracy. No one knew she carried the stain of her parent’s sin. Except me, perhaps. She refused to travel abroad, necessitating a birth certificate with that scarlet word emblazoned in bold print. In the 1920’s, children suffered the sins of their parents.
Until she was 16, Shay didn’t understand why her dark hair and flashing brown eyes were in such contrast to the fair and flat features of her siblings. She didn’t understand why her father’s fist always found her nose, her ear; why she was pulled up by the roots of her hair until it fell out. She was the eldest and assumed guilt and responsibility. She didn’t understand why her parents cursed the features that everyone else admired. She didn’t understand until the Russian aristocrat finally took an interest in his beautiful 16 year old daughter. She would never have anything to do with him.
I learned how horrible ignorance is from my mother, Shay. How when she reached puberty, in fear and shame, she would hide her soiled garments deep in the closet. Upon finding them, her mother would curse and call her a ‘dirty girl’. How on the memorable night of her first date, granny stood at the door with a fisted warning, “Don’t come back pregnant!” Ignorance. Mama swore she would never be a parent like that and so she never was.
Shay left that house the day she turned 18, gratefully accepting an invitation from a married friend 160 kilometres away. The young couple welcomed her. The plump, placid farm girl was no match for Shay’s vivacious personality and exotic looks. The close proximity was too much for the young man. With the wiles of earnest youth, my father convinced them both that divorce from the one and marriage to the other was best for all. Incongruously, yet another blight added to my mother’s heart.
Shay had the heart of an artist but not the wherewithal. Her genetic code passed to me and she vicariously enjoyed herself through my career as a professional musician. Though only a high school graduate, she constantly rose to leadership positions in whatever service organization she felt her calling. Women in our community named their daughters Shay.
Her heart accepted another pain with the loss of her middle child who drowned in the river that flowed by our house. Somehow she remained in that same house for another eleven years, watching the swift current of the river carry things away day after day. It is any wonder she would later develop angina in a heart that had borne so much.
I never saw her sad, never heard her voice raised; she was always singing and optimistic. She taught us to live by the Golden Rule and her oft-uttered belief that the spoken word could not be recalled. Even when osteoporosis claimed her hour-glass figure, she was always beautifully groomed and painstakingly colour coordinated. Though I easily passed her in height by age 13, she remains statuesque in my memory. Loved by everyone who met her, this once rejected, illegitimate girl.
As I sat by her deathbed, I recalled a verse of faith – that we take nothing with us to that Final Reckoning but our deeds. Gone was the trophy figure, the dark, sparkling looks. Yet the sunny smile, the optimism, the kind words remained. May the Most Merciful of the Merciful have mercy on you, mama – Shay.