Life never came easy, and it never did for most of our grandmothers.
The title says it all. I have always wanted to sit my grandmother down for a good chat and just listen to her life story. After all she is one of the oldest person whom I know personally. The elderly can in fact get carried away talking about everything under the sun. This was a long chat but I was truly amazed at my grandmother’s willpower.
That evening when she was at our place, I asked her: “Mama, can I interview you?” “Of course!!!” she replied enthusiastically. She was more than happy and even more ready for the interview than I was.
We were in the living room with the television beaming in the background. She shared all about her struggles as a teenager and how supporting her family was what she did her whole life.
“When I was very young, I lost my father. He passed away and my mother didn’t know how to run the goldsmith business so she sold it off. It was a hard for her,” my mama started her story. My great-grandmother, chor-chor, had to work painfully hard to raise her daughter and son, so she sent them to her brothers’ place to live.
However, one-day mama decided she wanted to return to her mother, leaving her brother to stay on with their uncle. “I love my mother, so I followed her and then we rented a house,” she said. At that time, rental was only $15 a month but it was still hard-earned money for a small food business that chor-chor did for a living.
When she flung her PSLE, she decided to stop studying and found a sewing job. “I told my mother ‘I don’t want you to work, stay at home and I will work,’” she said. That was the first job my mama had to support her mother and herself.
The two of them shifted to another apartment when she turned 17. At that point of time, chor-chor had decided to match-make mama and that was also she met my grandfather. “At that time you cannot look for boyfriend, you go out to work and then you come home immediately,” she explained.
Soon after she was pregnant with her first baby and yet as a housewife she did the laundry for her clients as a business and her husband worked at a Chinese medicine shop. Together, they worked hard to support the family as well as chor-chor, who was still ill.
After having two sons, the hard worker was in her twenties when she found a waitressing job at a hotel where she actually enjoyed what she was doing. She did not just stop at one job as she coupled herself with a second job at an office doing administrative work. Being hardly home, her mother helped with looking after the children.
“When I earned the money, I could buy a black and white television for my children and a refrigerator,” she said joyfully. Then she shared with me another story.
Back then, usually only one household in the block had a television. Whenever the neighbour (with the television) felt like it, he would leave the window opened for the children to watch. But if he wasn’t in the mood, he would close the window.
So one day after work, her four children ran up to her complaining about how the neighbour had closed the window. Heartbroken, she said: “So I said never mind! I will buy a black and white, 19-inch for my children to watch. Do you know how happy they were when I brought one home?” Mama had tears welled up in her eyes while she shared that story with me.
My mama never once complained about her hardship. Even after I was born, I still saw her running around working or cooking for people. She started work young to support her mother; worked two jobs for her children; and even when her husband fell ill she supported him with small jobs. She never failed to support the people around her.
A grandmother’s story never ends off with a moral of the story isn’t it? Mama told me to be thankful for my parents who pay for the school fees instead of making us go out to start work. At the same time, whatever we ask for we get it while she could not fulfill everyone’s wishes even as she juggled two jobs in the past.
“It is a tough life, but you can’t ask for a comfortable life because you have to work for (a comfortable life) it,” was what she told me sternly.