When Elma van Vliet decided to start asking her mother about her life, the results were remarkable

It wasn’t until Margreeth van Vliet-Smit was diagnosed with inoperable cancer in 2001 that Elma van Vliet realised how much she didn’t know about her own mother. She didn’t know what dreams and adventures Margreeth had had when she was a young woman. She didn’t know what her mother had done on Saturday afternoons as a small girl. She didn’t even know how to make the chicken soup Margreeth had always made when her daughter was ill. “And she was the only person in the world who knew how to make that soup,” said Elma.

So Elma began jotting down questions for her mother, to tease out who she was – and why. “As soon as I started writing, the questions kept coming. I realised that when we had talked, it had always been about my life, not hers,” she said. Elma’s questions ranged widely, from “What kind of parents did you have: were they progressive or old-fashioned?” to “Were you an easy-going or rebellious teenager?” and “What changed in you when you had children?”

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