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Life Lessons

(by Lana Te Brugge)

At this time of year, I miss my late mother terribly and feel her absence more poignantly. Wow, what a woman! To this day, she is still my strongest inspiration. So much of who I am is the result of her life lessons. She taught me never to give up, no matter what, and that doing the right thing is always the right thing to do.

Claudette Te Brugge was a force to be reckoned with, a woman of power, strength, compassion, and love. She was a gifted writer, producer, and director of plays that were performed at the two largest theaters in Cape Town, South Africa. Her larger-than-life persona consumed the stage, and everyone knew “Claudie” was in the house when she walked in. Her wit and the ability to laugh at the most difficult of circumstances were a constant source of entertainment. Somehow, she could turn a negative into a comedy that would have us rolling on the floor.

Our favorite moments were spent in the kitchen, cooking and baking, not only for our family but also for the various soup kitchens and church charities where my mother was involved. The food was almost always delicious, but one day the soup was “off,” and we buried it in our back garden. The fermented soup and hot earth were the perfect recipe for an explosion that left a few holes in our garden and the smell of fermented vegetables around the neighborhood.

It was in the kitchen that my mom and I spoke for hours about what was right and wrong in life. It was where I could ask questions, and where she taught me to love cooking, passing on the recipes her mom had taught her. I miss the conversations, the wise advice, even the scoldings I would get when I had done something wrong. (Yep, I was a rebellious one.) My mom taught me that it is not a mother’s responsibility to change her children but to love unconditionally and direct her children on the path of morality.

(My mother and grandmother)

It was an important lesson because of where and how we lived. My family was involved in missionary work, and when I was eight, we moved to the Anastasis, a ship in the fleet of Mercy Ships ( My grandfather was the first white man to take the Gospel into what was then known as the “colored” areas of Cape Town. It was the apartheid era—absolutely forbidden for a white person to be seen with a person of color—and he was often arrested for giving lifts to non-white women in the rain or cold. My grandfather taught my mother to be colorblind; he taught that race and upbringing did not define anyone. My grandmother was always cooking extra food and handing it out to the people walking past her home every day, many of whom were homeless. There was never a moment of going to see her when the gorgeous aromas of her cooking didn’t greet me. While we were visiting, she would continue talking to us while putting parcels of food together with precision.

I am now at a different but similar point in life. My youngest daughter is 14, and again I find myself in the kitchen, thi