Thursday, May 10, 2007

Mother of Mothers


A Mother's day dedication
Before the funeral services began every son-in-law was given a black umbrella. As the youngest son-in-law, I took my place among my brothers-in-law standing to one side, while the eleven children of the deceased knelt before the casket. Vegetarian food, fruits and floral offerings decked the table before it. The Buddhist priest and nuns chanted solemn prayers to the tinkling of bells.
The morning started slightly cool and breezy but as the funeral service progressed, dark clouds rolled in overhead. When the rains suddenly pattered down, each son-in-law stepped forward, umbrella in hand to try to shield those kneeling from the rain. We were joined by friends who had come prepared with umbrellas. It was only for a short while but it came like a test of devotion. She could now rest in peace knowing her children and grandchildren would be well taken care of.
She had shown us all by her example that devotion is what counts the most to carry a family through thick and thin, from one generation to the next.
* * * * *
She had lived her teenage years doing odd jobs around the neighborhood, like pounding rice from the husks in exchange for some of the rice. Their mother passed away while they were still too young to know. Their father went blind. Though she came 2nd, when the father passed on she took over the responsibility of fending for the family.
The two young brothers they had didn't survive their childhood through lack of proper care. It was understood they died after falling sick having encountered some evil spirits on an evening while bathing at a remote well near the jungle behind their house. Piped water was unheard of. They couldn't even afford to dig their own well.
The 3rd girl was given away to a rich family when she was eight years of age as a ‘little daughter-in-law.’ But she worked the household chores day and night like a maid. Such was the custom in those days. Whenever there was a chance for her to return home for a visit, there would always be a tearful parting again on the very same day. In their poverty they accepted all as their fate. In time she was officially to become their daughter-in-law. By then, the parents were gone. But if wealth were of any comfort, she could now afford to send food, money and other offerings for prayers during their anniversaries.
When they grew up, there came a suitor for the eldest girl. Her older sister had the audacity to turn him down. She didn’t like his looks. To avert the embarrassment of the suitor she accepted the proposal in her sister’s place. Thus while still a teenager of eighteen; she was given away in marriage. Her entire trousseau was a blouse, a sarong and a pair of shoes.
For her humility it seemed the Goddess of Mercy saw fit to smile upon her. In the little town where they settled, there were two brothers who shared her same family name. The elder ran a rubber trading shop while the younger owned a petrol station. They came to her like the reincarnations of the two brothers she had once lost. They adopted her as their sister and took it upon themselves to help her start a sundry shop business and also bought a few Relongs of rubber holdings in her name.
In time, the family grew to eleven, of four boys and seven girls. They continued to prosper, and the sons grew up and took over the running of the shop and the rubber estate. Having done all her share of menial labor, no task was too lowly for her. She continued to work as hard as anyone else, in the shop as well as in the kitchen or out in the back-yard feeding some ducks and chickens, and even planted flowers and herbs.
She was soft-spoken and gentle to a fault and never used a harsh word on anyone. The end of each year would see her boarding buses in turns, in various directions, bearing gifts of eggs, chickens, fruits and other foodstuffs and clothes to her sisters who have by then married and raised families of their own. She took it upon herself to visit each and every one of them to keep their ties intact in accordance to her father's dying wish.
They owned a car. In those days this little 'one-horse town’ was where you could count the number of cars on the fingers of one hand. If the occasion coincided with their regular trips to buy goods in the next town or city, she would rather let neighbors hitch a ride in the car, while with the youngest daughter in tow to help her carry her things; she'd quietly board public buses whose attendants know her by name.
Year ends would also find her traveling to all the temples that housed the deities from whom she had occasion to ask for blessings, cures and protection for her family throughout the year, bearing offerings of food or cash for charity and prayers in thanks-giving for the blessings she had abundantly received.
Poor neighborhood kids would not go hungry as long as she knew about their conditions.
At times when their next-door neighbor found it hard to make ends meet, she would quietly passed bags of rice through a side door without her husband’s knowledge.
She would make sure that any visitor to the house would have enough to eat and have as comfortable a bed as her own children if they choose to stay. And much to the chagrin of the children, many an occasional visitor, related or otherwise, could stay as long as he/she needed.
* * * * *
From the very day that I had spoken for her daughter she had treated me like a son. And all would attest to the fact that she valued every son-in-law like she would her own flesh and blood. By then, she was of the age when her legs were not as strong and steady as they used to be, which was not helped by her failing eyesight, and I, when I could afford a car, was only too willing to drive her to wherever she wanted to go.
Because it was my wife being most available to attend to her needs and being her closest confidant that she chose to spend her last days in our home. We had hoped that she was trying to recover her health, but it seemed apparent she was already prepared to go. Somehow, I felt I could have done more for her in her final days.
It was but after the funeral, when we’d returned from the cemetery and the last of visitors and service people had left, that I sat down in a state of numbness in the hallway, when it finally came upon me like there was an immeasurable emptiness inside my chest that my inconsolable emotions gave vent to an undignified torrent of tears.

7 comments:

  1. I think this is the best way to discribe this horrific feeling. Very touching story Teh.

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  2. It's been 17 years since her departure. The people who spoke well of her include those from different cultural and racial backgrounds.
    I started thinking about writing this more than a year ago. Had to dig up some real facts. This is the result of at least a dozen re-writes and countless edits.

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  3. Woww.. Happy Mother's Day to all mothers.

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  4. awwww....thanks for sharing ah ma's story. made me cry *sobs*

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