At the age of 68, Katie du Toit’s zest for life is infectious. Known as Auntie Katie, she’s a member of the writers’ club that meets every second Monday at Parow Library.
Here she hones her writing skills with people who share dreams of getting published one day.
Auntie Katie’s love for stories was borne out of desperation – her youngest son, Ashwin, born in 1983, was very bright and she told him many made-up stories – until the ideas dried up.
“Then I got him the Storieman series,” Auntie Katie says. “And he could read it himself.”
But before all of this, she remembers her mother bringing books from work, and encouraging her children to read.
“My mother believed we had to read. She also wanted us to read English because that would help us in the future,” she says.
Auntie Katie remembers Huisgenoot cost 10 cents when she was at primary school, and they read Jongspan and Jakkals en Wolf
Her big regret is leaving school in 1962 in Standard 7, or Grade 9, as it is known now.
“There wasn’t a uniform for me, so I decided to go work.Times were tough. But I was very sorry about it later, because no one told me to quit school.”
Auntie Katie got married, but was widowed at 25 with five young children to support.
“It was March 23, 1973 that he died,” she remembers.
They lived at a nursery in Paarl, where her husband had tended roses for the export market. After his death, she was offered his job, and the family could stay on in the house on the premises. It was back-breaking work, she remembers.
“In 1979, I told the children, if you come back from school and I’m not here, then I’ve gone to look for another place for us to stay.”
She soon found a new home.
“It was such a dirty place, but I made it nice,” she says.
Already in 1973, after the death of her husband, Auntie Katie joined Eike Boekeklub. It was his wish that the children should get an education. And she proudly tells how among her brood there’s a business owner, teacher, social worker and engineer.
“If they’re at home, not working, it’s because they want to,” she says.
There was a second marriage in 1981 – it produced Ashwin in 1983, but the relationship didn’t last.
Over the years, Auntie Katie lived with her children and helped to raise her grandchildren. But it was in 2008, while living with one of her sons in Paarl, that the learning bug bit.
“There were no children to keep me busy, it was boring,” she recalls.
So she enrolled for matric at night school at Paulus Joubert High – at age 60, she was the oldest student there.
Auntie Katie remembers she did Afrikaans higher grade, English, Bible study, history and economics. A sixth subject, she can’t recall.
“At that time, the lights still went out, then I would sit with my books by candlelight.”
The first history test came – her result was a disappointing 7 out of 50. But when the March exam followed soon after, Auntie Katie got only two answers wrong. She remembers it was Mandela and Poqo (the armed wing of the PAC) that stood in her way to full marks.
She remembers how her son, Cyril, used to say: “Mommy, you’re sitting with your books, and the young children are sitting on the corners.”
Auntie Katie passed matric with a D aggregate, and she recalls how proud her children were.
The passion for books remained, and over the years she wrote poems and short stories. “It’s my big dream to have my work published,” she laughs. She tells how she will use a name over and over for children’s stories. “For adults, you must move on, or it won’t be interesting.”
Naming her favourite writers, she says Sophia Kapp draws inspiration from her family, while André Brink, who died in February last year, wrote across colour lines.
“There will never be another one from André Brink, but I still have Deon Meyer. Sophia Kapp’s books I finish in three days. ‘Dan sit jy weer’.
“I’m reading Jack Reeder now. Then you should know that I’ve been through everything at the library,” says Auntie Katie.
Of her own writing, she has this to say: “When you write, you don’t talk about it. You must be like a ‘skim’ (shadow) in the community. Writing is very lonely.”
Auntie Katie is keeping her dream alive, living by the motto that “What I failed in, I don’t regret.”