“Mydin Sa abang kita” my mother sang to her parrot (Mydin Sa is our brother). The bird promptly replied, “Mydin cha abang tita”, but “sa” became “cha” and “kita” became “tita”. I loved to hear stories about her talking parrot and would make her tell them to me over and over.

My mother was very fond of animals. She kept birds, cats, rabbits, chickens, ducks, geese and goats.

Our house was built on stilts and each morning I would creep under it to collect the eggs laid by the hens. And invariably knock my head against the low beams.

I helped my mother feed the chickens and take the geese to the nearby stream where they swam and caught fish to eat. One of my brothers tended to the goats. I followed him once to their grazing ground far away and was parched and drenched with sweat by the time we got home.

One night I awoke to the sounds of loud bleating, ran out of the house to where the goats were kept and saw my mother playing midwife to a goat that was delivering a baby.

My mother raised seven children. She cooked and cleaned, washed and ironed, sewed clothes and window curtains, embroidered tablecloths, pillow cases and chair backs, darned torn stockings, washed shoes. She baked the most delicious cakes and cookies.

My mother loved the cinema but she spoke no English so my father was her “interpreter”. She signed up to learn English in an Adult Education Program but the classes were discontinued after a few months because of poor enrollment.

I adored seeing her dressed in fine clothes whenever she had a wedding to attend. An elegant black sarong kebaya with gold thread was her favourite and she would complement it with sparkling diamond earrings, brooches, bracelets and rings.

One day I found her looking very pretty in a three-quarter length white dress belted at the waist with matching white high heeled shoes. She was off to do something she’d never dreamed she could do, have a joy ride in a little airplane. We have a picture of her and my father standing in front of the plane with the pilot, all wearing goggles and safety helmets.

My mother survived the Japanese Occupation of Malaysia, a long grueling trip to Mekah, and a stroke which left her bedridden and unable to speak for some time.

Her knees finally gave way and she spent her last few years in a wheelchair. But she remained fit and well with a memory as sharp as that of an elephant. Her favourite past-time was watching the news on television. She yearned to know what was going on in the world. On her deathbed she kept asking me about Princess Diana who had been involved in a car accident. She passed away peacefully in her sleep at the age of 93, two days before Princess Diana died.


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