My maternal grandmother was not a woman of many words. Although her hands were never idle or empty, endlessly moving with crochet hook and yarn, she was not quick to speak or share her mind. I remember her seated in her favorite chair, head bend down over her needlework in her hands, seemingly oblivious to the world around her, caught up in her own world of solitude and silence.

She did not leave much of a legacy in terms of material possessions or money, or a wealth of wisdom besides for a few seemingly simple words of advice to her five daughters.  “Sê niks, dan is daar niks.” (say nothing then there can be nothing) was her most important counsel to a new generation of wives, urging them to refrain from being argumentative with or questioning their husbands and rather be submissive as it befitted a good, Christian woman. Her other suggestion was that every woman should have a little “runaway money”. These two proposals seem contradictory to me, urging to be the good, submissive wife on the one hand and the reckless runaway wife on the other, but who I am to judge. This was my grandmother’s gift to her daughters that would make its way also to their daughters.

My grandmother applied her own counsel to her home life and was the exemplary submissive, good wife. She did however, never made use of her “runaway money” whether it was because she chose not to or whether it was because she did not have the said monies, that, I do not know. What I do know is that not one of her daughters either made use of this shred of advice.

Through the years I tried to cherish this counsel passed down from the one generation to the other, but as the years passed I found it increasingly difficult. I saw how my mother struggled to apply the “say nothing” clause of her marriage contract but I also saw that she refrained from making use of the bailout condition. In my own marriage I found the “say nothing” requirement restrictive and detrimental to the overall wellbeing of our relationship. I also did not find the accumulation of a small savings account reassuring or beneficial to a relationship in trouble.

Then the day came when I had to make use of the bailout option. It coincided with a time when the secret savings account was depleted of funds. The state of my marriage and my finances were both in disarray. Despite the lack of funds, I bailed.

And that is how I know that a lack of funds is never an excuse or a reason to stay in an unhealthy, unhappy marriage. Strong financial back-up will definitely make the transition logistically easier, but the pain and the sorrow that goes with the break-up of an intimate relationship, stays the same.

Can I then conclude that my grandmother, my mother and all of her sisters had good, satisfying marriages and therefore they never needed to make a run for it? Maybe the “say nothing” clause secured them the home and life they wanted. Only they will know.

Six years after my great escape I am still working hard on recovering financially but physically, emotionally and spiritually I am wealthy. More than ever I believe that the “say nothing” clause is highly toxic in intimate relationships and I am fortunate to be in an intimate relationship with a mature man with whom I can speak my heart and mind without fear or remorse. Our relationship is based on choice and not on contract, leaving us the freedom to daily choose to be with each other and to regularly renegotiate the parameters of our partnership. As I do not feel trapped in or by our bond, I do not have the need for an escape plan.

Suffice to say that I will not be needle pointing Grandma’s words of wisdom onto a sampler nor hand these “gems” onto my daughter.

I still think fondly of the old lady, but I wonder who the silent woman bent over her handwork really was.

©Micelle Coetsee 2017




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