Friday, April 8, 2011

Ma-ma and Yeh-yeh

Someone had posted this in Facebook today. And for that 10 minutes, it was my own grandmother that I was thinking of. Yes, my own Ma-ma.

You see, when my brother and I were kids, we were sent to my grandparents' during our school holidays. My parents said it would be good for us to spend some time with them and keep an eye on the old folks. Ma-ma is only about 4 feet tall, and Yeh-yeh was touching 5'10". I could be mistaken, as I was a lot shorter than Ma-ma then.

As usual, instead of us helping out with the household chores, my grandparents doted on us both. We were only allowed to take the garbage out only if we insisted on doing it for about 5 minutes.

Ma-ma cooked for us, she washed our clothes. She didn't like washing machines. Yeh-yeh, well, he was the entertainer. He taught us many card games and bought us candy.

In the evenings, sometimes Ma-ma would allow us to join the cousins in a quest of spider hunting. We'd keep them in our clear candy jars and make them fight each other. Yeh-yeh would watch with that smile he always had.

It was no secret that my brothers and I were always their favorites. We were well-mannered (Daddy would punish us if we weren't, anyway) and very obedient. If we weren't allowed to do something, we wouldn't do it. As far as I can remember, neither of us have ever been told off by my grandparents before. The cousins, well, that's a different story.

When we were much younger, they lived in a village house with no running water or electricity. My parents would take us to visit on weekends. Sometimes, we even get to stay over. The raw cement floor was always cool and clean, thanks to Ma-ma's incessant habit of cleaning. Leftover food was kept in a mesh cupboard that stood on stilt legs; they kept the mice and flies out.

I was quite a princess even at the age of 3. I couldn't stand the heat at night as there was no electricity to power a fan. And I was prone to mosquito bites. Ma-ma and Yeh-yeh would sit by our cots and fan us both, make sure we weren't sweaty and the moquitoes didn't bother us. In the day, Yeh-yeh would get ice cool water and Ma-ma would boil it for my daily baths.

We were usually confined to the house, as there were dangers lurking outside. Once, I was running outside in the dirt, one of the chickens pecked at my little toes. I ran away screaming and in tears. The geese would also threaten to attack us sometimes. Besides, there were all sorts of bugs and insects that we'd be gullible enough to catch and bring home, poisonous or not.

They'd take us out to feed the chickens and ducks and geese. Or simply to look at the chicks. Yeh-yeh would allow me to help collect the eggs sometimes. He'd be the one bearing the lamp at night if either of us needed to pee outside.

Yeh-yeh was 80 when he succumbed to stomach cancer. It was then that Ma-ma's health started to decline. She became bitter and forgetful. There was always something that didn't quite meet her expectations. She needed attention more than ever before.

Sometimes, I think she lived for Yeh-yeh. He must be the great love of her life, her sparring partner. At his deathbed, he was still giving instructions to everyone to take good care of Ma-ma. In his morphine induced state, his instructions had never been clearer.

In the final years before Ma-ma's death, she had lost so much weight and her skin was papery and thin. She bruised easily and it took her so much effort to get dressed to go out that she'd be sweaty and in great pain by the time she was done. Although she could hardly walk, she refused to be pushed around on a wheelchair. She's not an invalid, she'd protested repeatedly.

Still, we remained her favorite grandchildren. My brothers and I were always treated to snacks and candy even after we were grown up and much taller than she was. Long after I returned from China, she asked about my health and work, as if I was back here only for a short holiday. She asks about that one boyfriend she met years ago, when I was 18, and always seemed surprised that we were no longer together.

There were many things that she couldn't remember, recent things. Many things that made her suspicious. Who is that? Why is he here? He is a little boy, surely this young man isn't who I think it is. I put it on the table. Who took it away? Don't open the door, I don't know that person.

11 years after Yeh-yeh, Ma-ma followed suit without gaining consciousness. In so many ways, I was relieved that she was gone. The fact that she held on for 11 years still amazes me to no end. To take a page from countless movies and books, I think that they were meant to be together, from the start. There are no two people in this world who were more right for each other than they were.

Ma-ma said to me, so long ago, that she wanted to be buried a Christian, with flowers at her wake and the sounds of hymns. She never liked the incense and the chanting that came with Buddhist funerals. I regret that it was the one thing that she told only me, and the one thing that I never fulfilled. It was at the morgue that her words came back to me, and I had fought for her wishes.

Yeh-yeh was cremated the Buddhist way when he passed on. His ashes are kept in an urn at a pagoda. Ma-ma and Yeh-yeh, they belong together. And the only way we can reunite them was for her to be cremated and her ashes placed beside his.

Sometimes, I think of them and it makes me laugh out loud. They way she used to tell him off for not helping around the house when he's showing us yet another card game. It was a funny sight with almost 2 feet in height difference between them.

I wonder, now that they're together, if they are the same as I remember.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Love this post - your experience of childhood with your grandparents reminded me of mine too...

Regretfully, none of them are around anymore to see their baby grandson going through life as a man :(