Thursday, May 7, 2015

No matter what, mum's the word.

I was going to write something sappy and sweet for Mother's Day, as everyone's rushing to buy flowers and candy, and making reservations for lunch and dinner. My own mother is gone, but if I could tell her how she influenced me, I would say, "Aauurrrghh, I'm turning into you!"

A girlfriend of my nephew once remarked that his grandmother was such a sweet old lady. My nephew muttered under his breath, "Not when you get to know her better!" My mother was anything but sweet. Hard-headed, fiery, opinionated, ornery. Those are some of the words that come to mind, more likely. She was small, made even tinier by osteoporosis in her later years, but she could take down the mighty with just a few well-chosen words.

She would have gone far had she received higher education, something she greatly resented her brothers for, because girls weren't as important in those days. Still, she became a much-respected teacher and then principal of a large kindergarten. She had a sharp ear for languages and could speak at least three of them. She even picked up enough Japanese to land a job with the Imperial Army during the Second World War. She invented her own secret language, something she shared with my father that still fascinates me till today.

A self-taught cook, she could turn out restaurant quality meals single-handedly and all kinds of comfort food in a matter of minutes. She had what my sister and I call "the touch", making even a simple fried egg super yummy. She was also an accomplished seamstress, making her own clothes and knitting the tiniest booties.

My mother's been gone for more than five years and I still feel her loss. In the little things like how she made her Chinese wine and Hakka dumplings. And the big things like what she thought about God. I have inherited much from her, including thinning hair, all her joint diseases and skin ailments. I also have her stubbornness, and my son, B has repeatedly reminded me not to be like Nenek when I grow old.

But I suppose turning into my own mother is no bad thing and I could do worse. Instead of a sweet old lady, I'd rather be strong, feisty and generous. My mother was a constant presence in B's life during his childhood, as he spent hours in her house after school while I worked. She doted on him, cooking all his favorite dishes, and B in turn adored her. I look forward to the day when I, too, can spoil my grandkids.

For all her orneriness, my mother was still mum, and I would give anything to be able to take her out for her favorite lunch this Sunday.

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