Superwoman No.1

Yes, it is not part 1. This is dedicated to the Number ONE superwoman in my life. She is none other than my grandmother. She was affectionately called Mama by all her children and grandchildren (including all her sons-in-law and daughter-in law). Mama lived with her eldest daughter (my mom) and my dad who never really had the chance to grow up with his biological mother so he regarded Mama like his own mother. Mama doted on my parents and us, her grandchildren even more 🙂

You see Mama in the 1970s wearing her signature `sarong kebaya’ (a batik long skirt and a delicate blouse set) as shown in the photo below:

Mama in the 1970s wearing her signature sarong kebaya

Neighbours, friends and relatives would address Mama respectfully as`Bibik’ when they greeted her. This was the title given to peranakan (straits-born chinese) women of a certain stature, including matriarchs. She was not only a wonderful and loving mother and grandmother, she was a great cook and you can read more about it in a previous post called Chicken Curry. I would like to focus on giving a background about Mama so you would understand better why she is so deeply loved and cherished.

At 16 years old, Mama was match-made to a grandfather I never knew and the little that I know of him was that he died at the age of 36 and did not really provide for the family.

Wed Mama 1e

Mama’s only wedding photo believed to be taken in 1931.

I grew up very much under Mama’s watchful eye (and hands) especially during my kampung days where I often run around and had to be yelled at to come home for meals (not very different from my dog ‘Tramp’ except that he did not get to go out as much or as long as I did). She would cook for the whole family almost everyday except when we had dinners out over the weekends. She would do almost all the household chores as my parents were working and the grandchildren would be at school or playing elsewhere.

She had the habit of having a lit cigarette hanging on her lips like an incense stick most of the time. I never recalled her puffing her cigarette and I learnt that she had this habit from the time she was married. I was often tasked to run errands for her in the kampung to buy groceries from nearby provision shops and the items would mostly be her cooking needs and cigarettes. Another errand that I ran regularly in the evenings would be to the bookies for her lottery habit known as `chap ji kee’ which means twelve numbers. It was essentially a 2-digit game of chance where you would choose 2 numbers from 1 to 12. The results would be announced via telephone from the bookies every day. This was the most popular form of lottery then and it was illegal and there were 4-digit ones that had both legal and illegal versions. Ok, by now you would know that Mama had a gambling habit and `mahjong’ was her favourite game which she would regularly go for when she had done all her cooking and chores for the day.

Mama would come home at night and would sleep late and wake up early. She said she did not need to sleep much so I had the privilege of being around Mama alone late at night quite often. Those were the times when I was able to ask her about things and matters of the past as I was curious about them. Even my parents did not relate matters of the past to me so Mama provided much of the historical information of both herself and my parents.

On one of these times, Mama reflected about the years soon after her marriage when she was pregnant and had very little provisions from her husband who hardly held down any jobs. She had to bear 8 children where only 3 survived; her first and last two children (girl, boy and girl), all in that harsh era of the1930s.  Five children in between either died at birth or at a very young age. In most of her pregnancies, she wondered whether the baby would survive as food was scarce and she was illiterate and had no money to buy milk or baby food. This is just too overwhelming for me to relate further so I shall  focus more on better times Mama had, especially when she had grandchildren like me 🙂

Things became better for Mama when her children were able to get stable jobs, a proper home to stay and proper food to eat. Life did become a bed of roses but not without all the thorns that came with it like world war, racial riots and political instabilities of those times… in Singapore. Yes, it did happen in Singapore like it did all over the world then. When times changed, Mama was able to dance and laugh and those were the times when I came into her world too as you can see her dancing and enjoying herself in the following photo:

Mama dancing

Mama dancing with Uncle Swee in 1987 at dad’s 60th birthday party.

 All the years I was with Mama, never did I hear her complain or moan about her past or the sufferings she went through. She only focused on doing her chores and cooking for us faithfully. She hardly fell ill or complained of any ailments. She would simply look after herself and was independent until her bones became too frail. I will share more about Mama especially the interesting observations and experiences I had with her. For now, it is undisputed that she is the No. 1 Superwoman.

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