Thursday, April 16, 2009
Mama (1935 - 2009)
Isn't she a babe? My mom. I remember the good and happy times with her.
Mom was a stoic and soft-spoken person, a good person who never sought attention or credit for her quiet industry. She was a modern thinker for her time. Our lives were never cluttered with superstitions, archaic rituals or limitations. I owe her a very sane, normal childhood.
She was a teacher at a Chinese primary school but sent us to learn English and Malay, while she taught us Chinese at home. She and my dad instilled in us a love of books from an early age. They also encouraged art, drawing and painting. She herself was creative. She could make her own dresses, and craft objects out of almost anything. Mom had home skills I will never have. And she was able to make plants and flowers bloom abundantly.
We were lucky that she was a pretty good cook - oh the divine braised pork knuckles, wonderful soups and stirfries. Simple vegetables became delicious things. And til today, no dim sum restaurant can deliver phoenix claws as good as the way she did them.
Every school day, she was up at the crack of dawn to prepare breakfast - half-boiled eggs with a splash of soy and dash of pepper - so we could catch the school bus on time. And every day, after work, she would come home and prepare dinner. How tiring that must have been.
I am very grateful too, that she was a liberal mom when it came to pets. Oh the menagerie we had! All kinds of dogs, birds, fishes, rabbits, terrapins and tortoises, a flurry of chicks, even a pig-tailed macaque ("Beruk") and three monkeys. Oh, and an owl that flew into our living room and stayed a few weeks. That was cool.
I also remember many holiday trips. No fancy overseas destinations, but every one of them was an adventure. Penang, Malacca, Port Dickson, Genting and Cameron Highlands. Annual road trips to grandma's in Kuala Lumpur, and dad's hometown in Sitiawan (Perak, Malaysia) took us through many little towns along the way. Mom was Dad's navigator, always.
Like many who have been through tough times and the war, Mom was frugal. Frugal to a fault. She never spent a single cent on herself, squirreling away funds and investing for the future, for us. We learned the importance of thrift and delaying gratification, but never greed.
She also stressed the importance of filial piety but never pressured us to take care of her. She made sure she was not a dependent burden. Money that I gave her after I started working was given back to me, untouched, when I was going through a jobless patch.
My mom was very protective of us but she respected our judgement and gave us freedom to choose our path in life - be it a faith she did not follow herself, or studies and vocations that would take us away from her side. She worried about us constantly, but tried not to nag too much.
This is my little shrine to you, mama. My best tribute to you is still to be a better, kinder and wiser person.
Illnesses in the last few years have made your life unfairly painful. We nearly lost you six months ago, but you pulled through to spend with us one more Chinese New Year and your birthday last Thursday. And on Saturday night, 11 April, you left.
We miss you terribly (Pa is especially sad and lost), but we know you are in a happy place.
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