Now in her 80s, and widowed just about 3 years ago, she is still a sharp and sprightly lady blessed with good health. She enjoys food and she eats anything and everything; nothing is too ‘cooling’ or too ‘heaty’ or too fat and she does not bother too much about cholesterol or uric acid or whatevernots. Her motto, “Eat Also Die; Don’t Eat Also Die. So, Eat lar.”. I call her a ‘jet-setter’ - she travels frequently to visit her brood of 8, (one passed on last year) and her own brothers and sisters scattered all over the world. Auntie Molly is an accomplished musician too – she plays the electronic organ and the Chinese table harp, the guzheng. Besides, she also fills her days with church activities and her taichi classes.
Life was not always wine and roses for Auntie Molly. With her basic education at the local Chinese convent, she managed to secure a job as teacher in one of the small privately-funded Chinese primary school in her hometown.
Auntie Molly then met and fell in love with a fellow teacher and got married after a few years of courtship and soon the children arrived; first a set of twin girls, followed closely by five other sons and another daughter. She continued teaching for a short while more and when the brood grew too fast she had to give up her job to be a fulltime mother and housewife. It was tough, very, very tough…bringing up 8 children on one small salary but somehow, husband and wife pulled through very successfully and all the children have done well. Now, in her twilight years, Auntie Molly is enjoying life to the fullest, adored by her children and more than a dozen grandchildren and if any of her elder grandkids decide to get married and start family now, she will be a great-gramma many times over. Life is good and life is beautiful for Auntie Molly.
And I met with another old friend, Auntie Yin this morning. Auntie Yin is in her 70s, widowed much earlier when she was only in her early 40s and left with 8 hungry mouths, aged between 5 to 15. Being illiterate, she took on laundry jobs – she would go house to house to collect the soiled clothes and bring them home to wash and then send back the fresh laundry house by house on foot. She never learned to cycle and she walked to save on bus fare. When her ‘clients’ bought their own washing machines and some shifted further away, Auntie Yin saw her income dwindle. Auntie Yin then took on house-cleaning jobs and that was how I got to know her in the late 80s. Auntie Yin helped me with my cleaning for many years until I got a stay-in Filipino helper and I had to let her go. We kept and touch all these years and became good friends.
Now Auntie Yin is ‘retired’ from her cleaning/washing jobs and is a devoted grandma babysitting 3 grandchildren. But Auntie Yin is very unhappy, if what she confided in me is anything to go by. She is having financial difficulties having to pinch bit by bit from her own meager savings which is fast depleting. I asked if her kids (all working) are giving her some pocket money and almost instantly, I saw tears weld up in her eyes. Initially they gave her a little when they started work but slowly one by one claimed their own financial constraints and stopped giving her altogether; even the daughter whose kids she is helping to babysit. This daughter had pleaded with Auntie Yin to give up her office tea-lady job to help look after the grandkids, paid her erratically for a few months and then the money just stopped and Auntie Yin’s infrequent requests for money to spend is always met with a scowl. And whenever Auntie Yin needs to go somewhere and asks the kids to send her, they would yell at her, calling her a troublesome old woman. She would rather take the cab, she said, even though it can be costly and a rip-off at times. She told me that each time she had to go to the dentist (she had to go many trips to make her dentures), there would be a lot of unhappiness around – her son will ask the daughter and the daughter will ask another son and they will play merry-go-round and pass-the buck games; no one is willing to pick the tab. Auntie Yin is hurt….very, very hurt and her tears rolled as she poured her heart out to me. I truly feel sorry for her.
Two of my old friends …..One living it all out and welcoming all the tomorrows; and the other just wished tomorrow never comes…….