My Grandmother, the National Day Girl

Mah Mah, I love you! (Image: Francis Ng)

TURNING seventy is a big deal. I’ve got to wait sixty years before I get there, but Mah Mah will be saying “Hello, seventy!” when Singapore shouts, “Hello, fifty-two!” By “Mah Mah,” I’m referring to my grandmother, my father’s mom. It’s a cuter, more affectionate way of saying “Amah.” If you did your zodiac sums, you would find that Mah Mah is a golden pig—like me. The only two pigs in the family, and golden ones at that.

Mah Mah may be golden, but glam isn’t her thing. She’s simple, practical, sports a low-maintenance bob hairstyle, and hardly ever wears make-up or perfume. Home-wear is almost always a fuss-free T-shirt-and-shorts ensemble. And on outings, she doesn’t get too fancy, even though there’s one section of her wardrobe dedicated to some of the prettiest dresses—a white dress with a bold flower print motif, and some other delicate-looking ones, which I’m guessing are cheongsams. Maybe I should accidentally look inside to find out.

As a former general practitioner, Mah Mah is surprisingly easy-going when it comes to lazy afternoon nibbles. Her home is like a snack wonderland: brownies, gummies, chocolate, jelly beans, pork-floss cubes, chips, crunchy things, salty things, sweet ones, she’s got them all—happy, jolly snacks to indulge her eight grandchildren, who hang out at a kids’ room equipped with six doodling writing desks, hula hoops, a mini-swing and -slide, and a trampoline.

Mah Mah’s snack wonderland operates until 4.30PM. No sweets before meals is her only requirement. Fine by me and my three siblings, and fine by my cousins. We can’t complain because after dinner, we get ice lollies, sometimes even Magnums.

But I’ve just skipped the dinner part, which happens to be equally exciting. Mah Mah is a fine cook. Some of her best dishes are cold chasoba, and meatball porridge garnished with plenty of crispy, golden things. Simple meals, but totally yummy.

That’s just so Mah Mah. She’s simple, unassuming, and low profile. She doesn’t have a Facebook account. Even if she did, all her privacy settings would be turned on, and you sure wouldn’t find her profile photo featuring some dazzling portrait of herself, but more likely a verse from her WhatsApp profile: 

May the Lord
bless you and protect you.
May the Lord smile at you
and be gracious to you.
May the Lord show
his favor and give you
his peace.

For an indulgent, soft-spoken Grandma who hardly ever raises her voice at her brood of grandkids, Mah Mah has wrapped her life around her role as a grandmother, more so than as a wife or a mother. Everything she does seems to be for us and with us. Besides us, her raucous Bunch of Eight, her other devotion is to God.

In the same way she has dedicated a room for us kids, she also has a room for prayer and meditation, carpeted and furnished with kneelers and cushions. Walking right into the dimly-lit room, I can imagine Mah Mah immersed in a deep conversation with God. Shhhh! We must be quiet.

Just as she indulges us all with so many good things to eat and play, I’m sure she indulges God too not with a sweet or a snack, but with her devotion and prayers—prayers that, I’m sure, invoke our names, all of us, from her children to her grandchildren.

(576 words)


Hannah Lee, Primary Four
August 2017

For more essays by Hannah, visit Hannah Writes.

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