Stories Need To Be Told...
...lest they dissolve into oblivion.
There are moments that need to be captured and made eternal simply because there is a wealth of emotions and spirituality in them. Painting a picture with words is one of the ways to immortalize these for people who were not there and for the future generation.
This is my contribution....
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
My Grandmother came from a small village in a small town, in a small country in southeast asia. Born in 1922, she was raised in a way where everything is simple. I would think her life was made unique only by circumstances and not by her own doing. For one, her mother was 50, when she was born. The only child from a second marriage, she had three elder half siblings from her mother’s first marriage. The age gap was so wide that her siblings were old enough to be her parents, and so she ended up playing and growing up with her nephews and nieces.
She was a young wife when World War II happened and she learned very quickly to cope with the chaos, as her dashing young husband went off to fight with the Allied Forces. At the height of war, her mother died and she gave birth to her first child, a son. Fending for a living with a young baby was hard; she did all kinds of things; cooking, buying and selling merchandise, cultivating a small garden then peddling the produce, almost anything. One of my favourite stories about her was how she would sing for the Japanese Soldiers so they would let her pass through the checkpoints, with her merchandise.
Grandma was pregnant with their second child (my mother) when my grandfather was captured and imprisoned in a Japanese Garrison a few months before the war ended. My Grandfather was eventually freed, and life seemed to hold a promise for normalcy once again. But war left a ravaged country and times were hard. My earliest recollection of my Grandmother always puts her at some task. She was never really still. Always working and struggling to survive. She gave birth to four more children (another son and three more daughters). I was introduced to the phrase ‘turning night into day’ through her. Times were hard and they were poor. They had no property, the whole family floated around from one place to another, barely scraping by.
Through all these, my Grandmother didn’t change. The war, the possibility of being widowed, the hard times, giving birth six times – it didn’t poison her. I was her first grandchild and I remember her smile when my parents would bring me to her for a visit, or when she would come by our house from a day-long peddling of local delicacies. Her smile seemed to hide any tiredness, any woes from the day. She had this unique way of kissing. It was like a kiss-sniff, as only someone who deeply cares can do.
As time passed, I grew up, things happened, I saw less and less of my Grandmother. She fell one day and shattered her pelvic bones. The doctors didn’t recommend surgery anymore because she was old and not in the best of health. She was perpetually in pain. She never walked again.
We reconnected again in the last year of her life, a few months after my Grandfather passed away. By some twist of fate, I had to be there for her, because I was her eldest grandchild. And so, twice a week, I went to visit her. I’d endure the same stories over and over, while she endured the way I teased her. We shared jokes and sometimes she honoured me by telling me her heart’s unfulfilled secret wishes. Ironic enough I really began to know my Grandmother during her last days. I began craving her smile and I would do stuff just to squeeze one out of her. And one day while we were sharing a pack of crackers, and a good joke, I finally realized it. She may have been an old sick woman, but her smile was still that of the shy village girl from another time.
She grew sicker and weaker, and one morning, the dreaded call came, my Aunt Sonia wanted me to come immediately. The moment I stepped through the door, I knew, her time was indeed near. My Aunt, still trying to coax her into consciousness announced my arrival. My grandmother struggled to open her heavy eyelids, looked at me... and smiled. That same smile. Pure. Joy. Unpolluted. Untouched by the horrors and hardships of the world and of her life. Unaffected by her pains. Her last smile. And it was directed to me. She died a couple of hours later, surrounded by those who loved her the most.
In her last moments, she taught me a life lesson I will never forget. Happiness cannot be taken away , not without your consent. In the direst of circumstances, a smile can still give joy and hope. That a smile is a sincere ‘thank you’, without words, an ‘I love you’, in the absence of a tight hug. Her last smile, a smile she smiled for me, was all these things and more, and although I don’t think she was lucid enough to see me smiling back, I am certain she knew that I was.
at 8:51 PM