When Mom Was My Age (#37)

Naomi Dawn Heinemann

Naomi Dawn Heinemann (1989 & 2010)

“When Mom Was My Age” is an interview series between daughters and mothers. New interviews appear every Monday. If you would like to participate, contact Jane.

The following interview is with Naomi Dawn Heinemann (age 76), reflecting on her life at age 53, interviewed by daughter Judy Croome.


From Judy
I live and write in Johannesburg, South Africa. Jozi, as we call it, is a vibrant, charismatic city and, like all big personalities, can dazzle and charm you with its complexities. Much like this energetic metropolis, my beloved Mom, Naomi Dawn Heinemann, is another big personality.

Where did you live?
After our years in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) we were living in Welkom, the centre of the Free State Goldfields in South Africa.

[Note: South Africa is one of the world’s largest gold producers and the Free State Goldfields one of its major sources of gold production.]

What was a typical day like?
I’ve always been an early riser, and Dad’s shift at the mine started early. I liked to get up with him, around 4 a.m., to do the multitude of small household tasks needed to start the day. Then once you and Iona were safely at school, I’d do the big household tasks—cleaning, washing and ironing—before heading off to play tennis or squash. Then it was walk to the school to pick you girls up.

Afternoons would be taken up with supervising homework, sewing, preparing dinner. Evenings were for finishing whatever needed doing, then into bed at around 11 p.m. to read and relax. Weekends were spent following Dad around with his sport, camping in the bush as a family, or socialising with friends.

How did you manage to do all that you did in a day?
I made lists.

From Judy
As a child I hated my Mom’s lists; the whipping out of the latest list from Mom’s pocket usually meant trouble for me. Even when we went on holiday, there were lists taped inside our suitcases so we would know what went with us, and what must go home with us. I swore that when I married and had my own home, I never wanted to see another list. Ironically, on the first day of my honeymoon, my accountant/lawyer husband whipped open his suitcase … and there, taped to the lid of his suitcase, was A List. Then and there, I gave up and decided if I couldn’t beat ’em, I’d join ’em. Now—but, shhhh! Don’t tell Mom—I live by my daily and weekly things-to-do lists, and couldn’t manage without them!

When I was 24, I’d been appointed the first female assistant accountant in the Free State Goldfields which, in the early 80s, caused some consternation in our small mining town. I’ve always had your total support in following my careers and yet, once you married Dad at 21, you never worked outside the home. Did you want to?
Never. My biggest dream was to be a mother and a wife and to be part of a family. But you always needed more than that, and that’s why I encouraged you to follow your own dreams.

What did you worry about most? Did the future scare you?
Of course I had the usual worries that my family would be safe and healthy and, most of all, happy. When there were earth tremors and Dad was still underground, I’d say a quick prayer for his safety. But I’ve never been a conscious worrier about what the future holds – perhaps that was God’s greatest gift to me. My way to survive what life throws at me is to live my life on a comme çi, comme ça basis: whatever happens, deal with it as best you can. You can’t change it, and worrying about whether something turns out for good or bad is a waste of time I never really had to spare.

I have many vivid, vibrant memories of you, but the ones that have most influenced me, have been the ones of you helping others, no matter what the cost to yourself. One memory that scared me the most was when those four enormous men were harassing that African grandfather with his grandchild. You were sworn at, physically threatened, spat on and called names. By the time I’d found Dad and brought him to the scene, you had controlled the situation, and were buying the old man and his grandchild lunch at a whites-only coffee shop. Why did you never join a political organisation like the Black Sash?
I’m not a political animal. We can’t all be a Ruth First or a Marion Sparg, who give their lives to heroic causes. Some of us are just ordinary folk, and possibly because I never had a family as a child, all I wanted in my life was to concentrate on bringing up my own family to be safe and happy. But people are people, and even a beggar in a street should be treated with respect and allowed to keep his human dignity. That old man was being humiliated in the eyes of his grandchild and I couldn’t bear watching it. So I stopped it. I didn’t want that little girl to have a memory of her Grandda being shamed. I wanted her to remember him, one day, with love and pride.

How do you look back on that age now? Do you have any regrets?
I loved my fifties! That decade of my life was my golden age: I feel I was at my best physically, mentally and emotionally. If I have one regret, it’s that we didn’t travel more. But money was always tight and there was always something more important to spend it on.

From Judy
Yes, like my mom’s soup kitchen for the homeless street kids or buying blankets in winter for the township poor or … well, whoever needed help was never turned away from my parents’ door. No wonder they never had any money left over to spend on themselves!

Perhaps it’s only because I love my mom that I can see how her natural humility can’t recognise what I can: that, although she is—as she says—”only an ordinary Mom,” she is also a woman of courage and compassion, a shining example to her daughters, her grandchildren and all who meet her.

From Jane
Judy has asked me to draw the name of a random commentator (you can leave comments below), who will win a copy of Judy’s novel Dancing in the Shadows of Love, available in paper or electronic editions. The winner will be selected and contacted by Jane on July 10.

Posted in When Mom Was My Age.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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Judy Croome

Jane, thanks so much for this series! It’s such a great way to share what we know about our Moms, and in such a fun way too!

Judy,
South Africa

C Currin
C Currin

Judy, the interview with your uber-cool mom was so touching,and so illuminating,and like everything else you touch, just so REAL!

No wonder you are who you are…how could you ever have made a wrong turn in life with such a strong, compassionate mother as a role model?

Lots of love to both of you – what a privilege to know you!  Col

Judy Croome

Col! You visited the internet! All I can say is that when I sit and chat with you I feel like I’m talking to my Mom, because you remind me so much of her! Your own girls are as lucky with their Mom as I am with mine!
(((Hugs)))) back!
xx 

Barbara (40 & Loving It!)
Barbara (40 & Loving It!)

I think this is such a lovely idea.  Please keep posting!  With my mom dying I wish I had taken the time to interview her.  Make sure you copy the interviews out and make them into a book. 

Judy Croome

Barbara, ((hugs)). One of the many things I have to be grateful for is that my Mom is strong and relatively healthy. As I get older I appreciate the opportunity to say all the things that when one is young, one doesn’t think to say. And what a brilliant idea for Jane to collate the interviews into a book!
Judy,
South Africa
 

Ocean Girl

Hello Judy, thank you for sharing your Mom with us.  It is a very nice meaningful way to get to know you better. 

Judy Croome

Ocean Girl! So glad to see you here! Hope Malaysia is warmer than we are at the moment. I never thought that readers would get to know me through my Mom…but it’s true; we do reflect a lot of our Moms.
Judy,
South Africa

Lynn Kelley
Lynn Kelley

What a wonderful interview of your mom, Judy. Naomi Dawn Heinemann is a heroine in my book, for sure. Cheers to you and your mom!

Jane, you’re doing a great thing here with these mother & daughter interviews.

Judy Croome

Lynn, my Mom’s a heroine to me as well! 🙂

Judy,
South Africa

Hilarymeltonbutcher
Hilarymeltonbutcher

Hi Jane .. how great this series is/will be – I must come back to read some more. Interesting read .. brings back many memories for me of Africa (Africa sinks into ones blood, even if you don’t live there, or just visited) .. my time in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe … GoldFields – my work at the Chamber of Mines, a friend who was in the Black Sash when I worked at Edgars – another Jozi and SA institution – playing squash mainly … Ruth First – I met here in Eastbourne and have her book “Red Dust” to read …  Sadly… Read more »

Hilarymeltonbutcher
Hilarymeltonbutcher

Hi Jane .. how great this series is/will be – I must come back to read some more. Interesting read .. brings back many memories for me of Africa (Africa sinks into ones blood, even if you don’t live there, or just visited) .. my time in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe … GoldFields – my work at the Chamber of Mines, a friend who was in the Black Sash when I worked at Edgars – another Jozi and SA institution – playing squash mainly … Ruth First – I met here in Eastbourne and have her book “Red Dust” to read …  Sadly… Read more »

Hilarymeltonbutcher
Hilarymeltonbutcher

Hi Jane .. how great this series is/will be – I must come back to read some more. Interesting read .. brings back many memories for me of Africa (Africa sinks into ones blood, even if you don’t live there, or just visited) .. my time in Rhodesia/Zimbabwe … GoldFields – my work at the Chamber of Mines, a friend who was in the Black Sash when I worked at Edgars – another Jozi and SA institution – playing squash mainly … Ruth First – I met here in Eastbourne and have her book “Red Dust” to read …  Sadly… Read more »

Judy Croome

Hilary you have no idea how many stories I could tell of how my parents helped the migrant mine workers – so far from their homelands, with no-one to turn to when personal problems arose, my Dad’s team members naturally gravitated towards our house. My favourite memory is of the time Joao, a Mozambican man, arrived on our doorstep at 2am one morning…bleeding profusely from the head and stark staring naked, with his equally stark staring naked girlfriend in tow…and her irate husband charging after them with a panga. To my young eyes this was a revelation and an adventure.… Read more »

Hilarymeltonbutcher
Hilarymeltonbutcher

Hi Judy .. talk about experiences .. the story itself is a bit of a shock, but then the ‘indaba’ to ‘solve’ the problem …   Poor chap dying – still at least it was quick (I presume) … it is a vibrant part of the world .. and I do know what you mean.

Love your comment below – that your niece is learning more too – that’s wonderful .. cheers for now – Hilary

Misha

Aw I loved this interview. Judy, your mom sounds like a wonderful lady. 🙂

Judy Croome

I’m biased, Misha, but I’ll agree with you…she is a wonderful lady! 🙂

Judy,
South Africa

Stephanie Faris
Stephanie Faris

What a great idea! And you’ll always have this to look back on…and hopefully to save and pass down for generation after generation.

Judy Croome

Stephanie, interesting you should comment on passing these nuggets from generation to generation; my niece (living in London) read this interview and sent me an email saying there were a few things in it that she didn’t know about her Nana. So Jane’s series is a marvellous way of gathering these memories for the young ‘uns!

Judy,
South Africa

JudithMercado
JudithMercado

Wonderful interview, Judy. It gave me insight not only into your family but also into your country. Thank you.

Judy Croome

Judith, yes my beloved country is as vibrant and complex and charming as my Mom. Once you’ve been here (as Hilary above will testify) this incredible place eases itself into your blood and captivates you. So…when are you coming to visit this land of splendour? 🙂
Judy,
South Africa

Judy Croome

Jane has just advised me that the Random name drawn was HILARY MELTON BUTCHER. Congratulations, Hilary, I’ll be in touch about your prize.

To everyone who participated, thanks so much! And a special thanks for Jane for running this delightful series and for giving me the opportunity to share a little bit about my Mom.

Judy,
South Africa

Septembermom
Septembermom

I love the passion for life in your mother’s responses.  Clearly she is a woman of amazing strength and compassion.  You mom fights for justice and “right” inherently.  Loved this interview!

Judy Croome

SeptemberMom: You’ve hit the nail on the head – my Mom acts as she does because it’s a natural part of her personality. And her zest, her passion, draws so many people too her, it’s lovely to watch! 🙂
 

Judy,
South Africa