Monthly Archives: April 2012

Mom remembers more

I have noticed mom recalls her childhood memories more fluently. Yet there are little inconsistencies, particularly regarding the time, so these memories cannot be wholly accurate. After all, our memories are what we decide they are. We remember what is important to us, and discard the unimportant bits. We link memories because they mean something special to us.

Mom remembered we had spoken about her childhood and wanted to tell me more.

So I was living with my uncle, and I went to school for 2 years in Penang and 2 years in Butterworth. At the Convent in Butterworth, I did very well.

My parents moved from Pahang to Kuala Lumpur, and moved into a house on Campbell Road. So I went to live with them. No, it wasn’t a shop. It was the end of a house, and there was a sort of extension. And we lived there.

At first I went to the Convent in Sentul. Within one week of going there, Reverend Mother saw me and asked me where I lived. She said it would be better for me to go to Convent Bukit Nanas. I said but there are no more vacancies. Reverend Mother said, I will bring you there.

So Reverend Mother brought me there and we went to the classrooms. Reverend Mother found a class for me and told me to sit in an empty seat in the middle. I don’t know if Reverend Mother told the teacher about me. When the teacher came, she said, “Why is there someone else here, and why have you all changed your seats?” Every girl pointed at me.

So I told her, Reverend Mother put me here. She said, Who is Reverend Mother? So I explained it to her. I was in Form 1 in Bukit Nanas.

At Campbell road, my mother was hanging her laundry when she was bothered by a lot of ducks. She told me to chase the ducks away. You know what, we got more than 10 duck eggs! My mother put them in salt water and we had delicious salted eggs. I was in sixth form then.

I did very well in school and got into university. I had to take 2 buses to university and walk quite a bit. My elder brother told me it was so troublesome I better not go to university.

There was a girl from Chow Kit Road in my class who offered me a ride to university everyday. She would pick me up from Odeon Cinema which was a short distance away from my house at Campbell road. So I got a lift from her.

She failed her first year. But I did very well, and got lodgings at university because of my good results.

My parents lived in Campbell Road a long time. I don’t remember how long. No, I don’t think you have ever been there.

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From mom’s account, the value of education is undeniable. As mentioned in the earlier post, she left her parents to live with a stranger in Kuala Lipis in order to go to school. She must have been about 7 years old at the time. When the stranger died, she moved to Penang to live with an uncle and continue schooling. Later she moved to Butterworth with the uncle’s job transfer.

She is finally reunited with her family in Kuala Lumpur, which is a large city with many schools and the only university.

Mom emphasised education to us kids. Saying we were studying was enough to get us out of chores. Dad preferred us to be street-smart. He wanted us out of the house, to speak many languages, to have many friends.

Writing this post helped me understand how mom came to value education. Even today, she battles dementia with a studious approach. She copies out passages in her notebook. She watches the news and not comedies. She makes notes about telephone calls.

Explanatory Notes:

1. Sentul was a rather unsavoury area. It might still be. Convent Bukit Nanas or CBN in short, was a famous girls school. It still is. Many CBN alumni go on to accomplish great things. The implication about Reverend Mother’s actions in getting mom transferred was that she recognised mom deserved to be CBN.

2. 13 year olds attend Form 1. Sixth formers are 18 to 19 year-olds.

Mom remembers the war

Reminiscing is supposedly a good way to engage persons with dementia, and helps to stimulate their memories whilst feeling good about themselves. Last week I asked mom about the time I was very young, which led to my previous post. This week, I asked her instead about the time when she was very young, which was when the Japanese occupation of Malaya took place. The following is her account:

The war with Japan? No, I don’t remember it.

Oh the Japanese came, and my father gave them liquor in his shop. They sat in the shop and had the liquor there.

My father told my mother to slaughter a chicken for them. Of course, someone else, not my mother, brought the chicken out to them. So they drank liquor and had chicken.

My mother kept her chickens in a dry well outside the kitchen. The well is covered with a wire mesh to keep thieves out. People steal the chickens.

No, it didn’t smell. We threw leftovers down the well for the chickens to eat. It was a large well.

When the Japanese aircraft flew overhead, my mother would ask us children to go under the bridge. This is a stone bridge and 3 or 4 of us kids would go under it where it was dry. The adults? The adults don’t need to go under the bridge…. Maybe… they hid somewhere else.

People washed their clothes under the bridge, but my mother told us to stay away from the water. You could fall in and drown.

Later my father arranged for my brother and me to go to Kuala Lipis to go to school. We two were the ones who could study. We were supposed to stay in a photographer’s house. But the photographer went out one day and died..  of a heart attack. And then his wife died, and his son died. So my uncle came, and saw the situation, and decided to bring us to Penang. 

We went to Penang and I went to ACS girls school and my brother went to ACS boys school. Then my uncle was transferred to Butterworth and I went to the Convent school there. So for the first two years of school, I lived with my uncle, my father’s brother.

There was a vague familiarity about mom’s story- I must have heard it before. The three towns mom mentioned are on the map. Kuala Lipis is right in the middle, and as mom lived in a village nearby, it was away from the main Japanese route of invasion. The places she went to school – Georgetown in Penang, and Butterworth, are at the top left corner of the map.

I am glad for this opportunity for mom to remember, and remember accurately. Looking forward to new topics for reminiscing…

Plantation House

When I was very young and before I started going to school, we moved house and towns several times. By recalling the house, I can date my pre-school memories.

This morning, I asked mom about the house we lived in when I was 5 years old. She could not recall and asked for more clues.

Then I asked her about the house we lived in when I was 3 years old. She still remembers some things about it:

  • we three lived there, my parents and me
  • there was a gardener’s house at the back
  • the gardener’s wife did some housework for us
  • mom did not work during the one year we lived there

I have more memories in that house, which I believe are my earliest memories. I think they are 95% accurate, but who can say otherwise now. I remember…

Mom tells me to read to Daddy when he gets home. When he comes in, I go up to him with my book. Daddy smiles as if to say – okay, now what. Mom says – she wants to read to you. After I read, Daddy says – is that all? Mom says – now she wants you to tell her how clever she is. Daddy gives a big laugh. I think I burst into tears, feeling misunderstood and manipulated. It’s just how I interpreted it at the time.

Another time, mom and I were in the bathroom, and she had rough gauze wrapped around her finger. She’s wearing a loose housecoat. She makes me open my mouth and digs at the back of my throat, making me gag and cry. She later tells others that I had a bad cough for a long time, and she had cured me by getting a fragment of peanut out.

Another memory I have is having to take medicine. Most times, I would take it quietly, but one day I decided to play the fool and run off. Mom in her housecoat chased me to the bedroom and back and around the dining table until she had enough. I didn’t, but obeyed, stood still and swallowed the medicine.

Mom used to tell stories about how I loved biscuits, and was clever enough to tell her to stand on a chair and reach for the biscuit tin when she said it was too high for her to reach.

I remember sleeping in my parents room, and for awhile, Daddy moved into the second bedroom. Nobody could or would tell me why. Later it was not possible to ask.

There is one memory that is remembered in fragments over the years. Although I tried to get it clarified and verified, neither of my parents could shed much light on the details years later. This is how it goes…

Mom was not at home. Daddy was home early in the afternoon, which was unusual. He told me to take a nap, and put me to bed. As he left the room, I jumped up and followed him, thinking it was a game. Very seriously, he told me to be a good girl and go to sleep. He put me back in bed and appeared quite distracted. I decided to humour him and pretend to sleep.

I heard him leave the room quietly, and then the front door opened and clicked shut. I wait awhile, to see if he came back. Then I climbed out of bed, left the bedroom and went to the French doors at the living room. Just in time, I saw his landrover drive around the curved driveway and leave. I waited for him to turn back. The landrover doesn’t come back. I think the shock made me wet myself. I looked down and there’s a puddle of urine at my feet.

Now instead of feeling frightened at being abandoned, I was instead worried about having made a mess. Padding to the kitchen, I looked for an adult to help clean the mess. But there was no one around.

I managed to unlock the kitchen door, and went to the gardener’s hut. No one there. Now beyond the hut, there was a path, and I had been told never to go down that path. I followed the path and came to a village house on stilts. I remember going from room to room, looking at the people there, trying to engage the kids. At some point, someone said, isn’t that the girl from the house? Nobody panicked, all was calm.

I really cannot remember how I made it back. Actually, the memory of the village house has a dreamlike quality and I cannot be sure it really happened.

But the memory of Daddy putting me to bed and then driving off in broad daylight is vivid and very real. Looking back, the only possibility is that it was the day my pregnant mom went to hospital to have the baby. Daddy may have had a quick job to do or an errand to run and decided to leave me alone for a couple of hours.

Whatever it was, it will probably remain a mystery forever.