I have 3 children, 2 girls and a son. Each Sunday evening, the family makes it a point to have dinner at some restaurant in town. Dinner is attended by family members comprising myself, my wife, son, two daughters, my son-in-law and my 2 lovely granddaughters, Joey and Raey. Joey is about 8 while Raey is now 5 years old.
As the family waits for food to arrive, we normally talk about old times. We sometimes talk about my grandfather, Ong Hock Chuan, a Thai descendant and a petition writer and auctioneer by profession.
My grandfather speaks perfect English. He was, I remember, a very strict person. In fact, I was always afraid of him.
My grandfather died around the age of 85. He was unfortunately hit by a motorcycle while attempting to cross a busy road one day.
I have related stories about my father, Yap Thian Yew, who is a lorry driver. Father passed away at the age of 78.
As we await the arrival of food at the restaurant, my youngest daughter, Swan Lin used to inquire of me, why I seldom write about my mother who is in reality, her grandmother.
I have often promised my granddaughter, one day indeed, I will surely pen something to remember my dear old mother.
One thing I still remember about my mum is, she could speak quite good English. Mother was the only daughter. Her mother was a nonya or bibi Penang, a sarung clad lady from the island of Pulau Pinang.
My mother had only 1 brother, Ong Han Leong. My uncle, who incidentally could speak very good English, like my grandfather was educated in an English school. Uncle, once upon a time worked with the East Asiatic Company in Port Klang before he passed away.
My mother, whose maiden name was Ong Geak Tee, received her early education at the Convent School, Klang. Up to what form or standard she studied, I am not aware. The important thing regarding my mother is she used to scold me using words of English.
At times, her comments and insinuating remarks she made against me were hard hitting and sarcastic.
I remember, occasionally, when my father was outstation driving his lorries, my mother used to take over the signing of my school’s report cards.
My mother and dad were blessed with 3 sons and a daughter. My only sister is Yap Siew Lian. I remember my sister, Molly, as she is better known, had a very close and loving relationship with my mother while she was alive.
While my mother was living with me and my wife, my sister used to occasionally visit my mum, bringing her things she loved to eat such as popiahs, pisang goreng and yam cakes. Mother, was as I remember her, was a simple lady.
In fairness to my mother, she was in fact a beautiful lady. Among family circles, she was reputed to possess a flawless complexion.
I still remember how mum used to make “bedak sejuk”, a natural beauty concoction made from rice and daun pandan in those days. This bedak or powder was cooling to the skin and was reputed to have given my mum her good complexion until her dying days.
In fact, my mum’s face, even when she was in her old age, was free of pimples and wrinkles.
My mum’s marriage with my father was a prearranged one. My mother told me, when she was alive, that one day she was given a picture of my dad. It was as one would say, a recommendation.
If readers have read the article entitled, “Remembering Yap Thian Yew – My Beloved Father”, I described my father as a handsome, Eurasian looking personality nearly 6 feet tall.
Without saying, my mother who was then hardly 14 – 15 years old, readily agreed to marry my father right away. Further, please remember, the 2nd World War in 1940’s was about to take place.
The Japanese were landing on our shores. Bombs were dropping everywhere. Parents were worried, especially about their young and unmarried daughters.
So the best solution for any parent then was to marry off their daughters as soon as they can.
One thing I can still remember about my dear mother is, she used to face problems especially with me, her second son.
What was the biggest headache I gave my mother when she was alive?
I am a little bit shy to reveal to you my little secret which only my mother and I knew. As a little boy of 5 or 6 years old, one thing I hated most everyday was to be asked to take a bath.
You see, I hated water! And as such, whenever my mother yelled for me to come take a bath, I would run helter-skelter in all directions.
As a young boy, the process of bathing everyday was left to my mother. Children of that tender age, could not be expected to bathe properly by themselves, am I right?
So, at bathing times, I would be stripped naked, while mother scrubbed me clean with soap behind my ears, under my armpits and so on.
I hated and feared cold water being splashed on me. And in the final process of bathing, whereby a bucket of cold water was to be poured over my head, this made me unable to breath.
This would normally make me scream and jump around in fear. So now readers know the reason why I gave my poor mother so much problems in my younger days.
Even today, my wife at times query me, “have you taken your bath yet today? It’s already 10 pm, you know”, she will say.
I guess I should say, my dislike of taking a bath was handed down from those yester years.
My mother, while she was alive was a fairly good cook. Mother may not be the best, but to tell you frankly, I like some of her cooking.
She could, for example, fry good hokkien mee. Luckily, today my wife cooks the above, just like my mum. Or even better! My children and grand children can verify what I’m saying.
One other dish my mother cooks well is pork ribs with black sauce or “tau yew bak” as we Penang babas say. The above dish, which is very similar to Klang’s renowned “bak kut teh” is just heavenly and beyond description!
And the best of all my brothers, sister and I like most is fried ikan cencaru filled with chili inside. It’s simply delicious!
My mother died, passing on some of the above recipes to my wife. Today, my wife cooks the above dishes just like my mother did.
As a word of reminder, my sister, Molly, has learnt much of her cooking prowess, thanks to my mother. Every new year, without fail, my brother and I will definitely call over to my sister’s place in Taman Chi Lung, Klang to order sotong, ayam masak merah, acar kerabu and other delicious dishes for the New Year.
One morning some years ago, my dear beloved mother passed away in her sleep. Prior to her passing away, my mother was not actually suffering from any major sickness or illness in any way.
Maybe, her heart was weak as the doctor said. It was indeed a great shock to us children and grandchildren. Today, we miss her.
Many years have passed by since her death. I still dream of my dear mother from time to time. Maybe that’s a sign that I still love and cherish her!
Mum, where ever you may be, may god bless you and take good care of you!
To my daughters, especially Swan Lin and Swan Nee, your dad has finally done his duty of writing about your beloved grandmother, Ong Geak Tee.
You can no longer accuse me of not writing any stories about grandmother from henceforth.
I hope in reading this article, fond memories of my mum will come flashing back to you. And in the process, it is hoped all family members will get to know the “grandmother” you all might not have known so well after reading this article.