GLADYS WILDSCHUT’S voice trembles ever so softly as she pages through the first copy of her book, which took her five years to write and a whole lifetime to research.

The 81-year-old woman from Plumstead reminds one of a beautiful set of invaluable china depicting ancient knowledge with intricate detail. Gladys’s life’s story will be published soon by Northern Cape Libraries in a 300-page memoir entitled “Children of the Harts and Tyne”.

The book is presented in two parts: first the author delves into the life of her British father and Tswana mother by writing it in a fictional yet factual manner, and then in part two, Gladys writes about her own life. It is, in essence, a tale of how the author comes to terms with who she is by examining her parents’ divergent cultures.

Her comprehensive research led her from Harts River in the Northern Cape to Tyne River in Northumberland, England.
Sometimes she relied on her vivid memories from her childhood, sometimes on recollections from long-lost family members and sometimes on factual documents such as birth certificates.

“I could write another book on how I researched this book,” she laughs.
“My children were always inquisitive and curious about how I grew up. They would ask me and I would tell them. Then they would say I must write it down, but I never gave it a serious thought until I retired.”
She was a primary and secondary school teacher for 29 years of her life, educating young minds in the art of music, religious studies and English.
“Then I went to a writing school and did well!”

Gladys recalls being asked what she would like for her 70th birthday and without hesitation she answered: “I want to go to England.”
Her research into the life of her father (James Richard Ridley Crisp) and her mother (Mosadiwatlala Crisp) was about to propel her into a world of questions, analysis, and finally, acceptance.
A quote from the prologue in her book sums this up perfectly: “In writing this book I now understand why my father seemed to live with an ache in his heart. I frequently saw that ache in his sad eyes and in his face when that red patch throbbed between his eyes, accentuated by a deep frown. I saw in the way he consistently twisted the ends of his generous moustache.

“I heard that ache in his laughter and saw it in his enthusiasm for working, even when he was unwell – sometimes till deep into the night. Papa was often deep in thought and embraced periods of solitary reflection. That ache was there even when he was at his most generous and caring.”
Her father died just a few months before her mother, when Gladys was only 12 years old, so she had to rediscover them through thorough investigation.

James came to South Africa during the Anglo-Boer War and then decided to live here, while Mosadiwatlala lived in the Northern Cape near Vryburg.
“They met along the Harts River. He was a trader, a shop owner, and knew my mother’s parents well. He then saw her walking across the bridge and they fell in love and got married soon afterwards,” she illustrates dreamily.
“We grew up with freedom of association. My father was very generous in allowing us to mix with all kinds of people. That basic principle has stayed with me. I was fortunate enough to marry a man who had the same principle.”

Her proud husband, Rudolf, used to be a seaman and also carries very little prejudice with him.
When asked how old he is, Rudolf answered tongue in cheek: “Two hundred.”
He laughs, but the teacher in Gladys quickly puts him in his place. “There’s no time for jokes,” she exclaims.
Her family is clearly a tightly-knit bunch, and while Gladys’s book was first intended only for their eyes, she now reckons it could be valuable to others as well.
“I grew up with parents of a different culture under colonial rule, then the Malan-regime, then apartheid and finally democratic South Africa. This isn’t only a story, it’s historic and educational as well. I don’t think people realise how important their culture is.”

For Gladys, the act of writing, remembering and discovering was, however, more important than sharing it with the world.
She, nonetheless, harbours hope that others will follow her lead and pen their memories.
“We live in a democratic country. By reading about one another, we will learn to understand different cultures and each other. We all live together. We must be tolerant, listen to one another, and then we will all live in a happier country.”

The last words in her book are particularly striking and heartfelt – “Amor Vincit Omnia”, which is Latin for “Love Conquers All”.