My favorite member of the Family – an Open Speech
My favorite member of the family is “Ah Ma”. Seeing life through the eyes of “Ah Ma”
I looked at the photograph of the elegantly neatly styled beauty in her Lunar attire. Ah Ma, the endearment I used for her, has always presented her best to the world and this photograph is the testimony of her principles.
Ah Ma stands just 160 cm, neither thin nor overweight but I like her perfect grandmother size: ever so slightly plump and very huggable. According to Mum, her daughter, my mother, she was beautiful in her youth and her sculpted cheekbones meant that she aged handsomely. She is still a handsome lady although more prosperous looking.
She has her favorite scent, instantly recognizable and when we get a sniff of it, we, my sister, and I would be thrilled for it means an outing. Ah Ma “smells” a combination of Shiseido “Beautiful” and Revlon’s Floral hairspray. Then there is the signature copper lipstick and permed short dark graying hair, sometimes falsified with a bun. As her eyesight deteriorates with the years, often too much powder appears on her face and we would have to take it off her. We do so with much glee and enjoyment.
Mum has to go out and work so we are left in the care of Ah Ma. A day help comes in for a few hours to assist Ah Ma. Ah Ma enjoys bossing the family around, even her favorite son-in-law, my father, who treats her with genuine respect or feeding us. On one hand, she is a mother hen, clucking away at her brood, nurturing and fiercely protective of her family. On the other, she is a respected matriarch, strong-willed, and fierce-tempered. She is usually listened to and obeyed.
She is generous, sometimes to a fault. She puts the needs of the family above her own. One of the numerous ways she expresses her devotion to us is through her cooking. She is a skilled and ingenious cook, often improvising ingredients and I am sure she must have added that spoonful of love into all her dishes. She has a fantastic memory for all her recipes which she passes verbatim to her daughters and daughters-in-law, unfortunately, none to her grandchildren.
She has her eccentricities. Taught thrift from an early age although, from a wealthy clan, she does not like to throw away anything. She hoards old toys, books, clothes, and general bric-a-brac. Her attic is a trove of treasures.
My sister and I love to rummage through all the drawers and cupboards and we come up with little treasures, like the photograph of Mum in her baby suit and younger versions of all of us. Our shrieks of laughter at our discoveries leave Ah Ma bemused and exasperated but she indulges our childish escapades in her treasure chests.
Ah Ma likes to look at what we wear. She would raise her eyebrows at our brightly-colored T-shirts or faded denim jeans and mutter audibly under her breath: Modern – this is what girls wear nowadays – pants just like boys.
Ah Ma has this ritual every Lunar New Year. She would lay out all our new attire on our beds on the first morning. She takes great delight in overseeing our clothes, punctuating our preparation with subtle remarks: Comb your hair, use this ribbon, use your new socks, change your shoes.
As I grow with the years, I see the world more and more through her eyes. Ah Ma is the embodiment of the values of her generation, values that are traditional and eternal. This is in great contrast to the values of my generation, the “me’ generation, the “I’ in me which is inherently more selfish and inward-looking.
The gap in years between Ah Ma and I would take half a century to cover but as I bridge the gap with my maturity, I believe “next time I will see”. I am now at the crossroads where I can see through Ah Ma’s wise eyes. Now I can see and appreciate it. Thank you, Ah Ma!