WHEN I was a little girl, I was in awe of my mother who seemed to know everything —people, places and protocols. She also appeared to have eyes not just at the back of her head but everywhere else too! She always seemed to know what we were up to. She either had spies in every corner of the world, or she had special antennas and communicated with aliens. We were in awe of her.
She gave the impression that she was omnipresent and before we did anything we weren’t supposed to, we’d always ask each other: “What if Mak knew? If she didn’t, what if she found out later?” She was bound to, at some point or the other. There were no secrets to be kept from her. That thought always struck fear in our hearts and kept us on the straight path.
What we couldn’t fathom was how she seemed to know everything. She was so worldly-wise and so many people sought her counsel and held her opinions and decisions in high regard. She couldn’t have been much older than I am now, when I was a child. Yet I don’t feel anything like her nor do I command that kind of authority. She had vision and she was tenacious. Somehow “steel magnolia” comes to mind when I think of her.
My mother was strict and had no patience for nonsense. I suppose raising seven children and running a household filled with people, ranging from relatives to staff, was no mean feat. She was a hardworking woman who was one of the earliest caterers in the Klang Valley. She also operated two office canteens for decades until she could no longer cook.
In the early days while mum was still hale and hearty, I used to remember her going to the Chow Kit Road wet market to purchase her supplies. Wearing her waist-pouch and knee-high rubber boots, she never failed to greet and banter with the merchants, bargaining for the best price.
Everyone seemed to know her. She’d point to the things she wanted, sign off in a little book, and the items would be sent to the waiting van. I loved the colours of the market and the fresh produce. But I always made such a fuss about having to scrub my feet to get rid of the muck after each outing. Mum would just laugh it off.
The day I got my own rubber boots as a gift from mum was like winning a medal of honour. I wore them with such pride but, most importantly, I loved wearing them for they protected my feet from the stinky puddles in the market.
The vendors would always call out to my mother: “Tengku! Apa khabar? Mari tengok barang kami!” (How are you? Come and see our things!) and shout their specials for the day. I always found this animated scene quite exciting. The energy level was high. Sometimes we’d get to sample the sweetest fruits. At other times they’d share their breakfast kuih with us. We never ate full meals with them — just morsels of this and that. Mum would sometimes bring food or sweets that she had made for them, especially for the festivities.
That was the thing about mum. She seemed to know the right thing to do at the right time. She was gracious and as at ease with fishmongers as she was with royals.
It was ingrained in her to take other people’s welfare into account. She told me that whenever someone visited the house, she would always inquire if they had eaten. She’d say: “Even if you have nothing in the house, just cook some rice and fry an egg. At the very least offer them a drink. You never know what challenges they might have faced that day.”
Over the years, mum took this one step further. It became important for her to visit the sick and needy, and feed people, especially children. When she was alive, she cared for so many people, many of whom we came to know about only after her passing. One by one they came, with testimonies of how mum had helped them. She was as caring as she was giving.
While she was alive, we’d celebrate Mother’s Day with food and flowers. She’d always chide us for spending money on flowers, protesting that the blooms would wilt and die in a few days. “Bukannya boleh makan pun!” (It’s not like you can eat these). But we could see her eyes light up as she lovingly cradled her bouquet.
Maybe this Mother’s Day, I’ll put some yellow roses on her grave. Mum always loved them. Perhaps I’ll also celebrate her memory by sending some food over to the children who attend Quran classes during the weekends.
I’m nowhere near the woman my mother was but when I mimic her acts of kindness, I feel her spirit and love. Memories are all I have of her. Cherish your mum if you still have her. Keep on making memories to treasure and warm your heart.
Happy Mother’s Day!
**The article above was brought to you by AmMetLife Insurance Bhd