Monday, June 10, 2013

Blast from the Past: Mom's History

My mom is the youngest of six children - actually seven if you counted one elder sister who died young due to some kind of disease. People kept saying that this sister was the most beautiful one of all. After my mom was born, grandma split up with grandpa. I don't think they had an official divorce, but they lived in different houses. Being a "dragon lady" (grandma had such a strong personality), grandma started selling food in the local market and due to this fact, she couldn't take care of the kids, so the kids were sent to relatives' places. My mom was taken by one relative whose daughter was almost the same age, so this cousin's mother breastfed my mom as well. They played together a lot* and only after my mom reached a certain age did she realize that she had blood siblings spread around in different places.

Grandma split up with grandpa because she couldn't handle his jealousy. Back then birth control had just started being promoted in Indo and because grandma was fed up of being pregnant and giving birth almost every year, she wanted to use some form of birth control, but grandpa wouldn't have it. He thought that it would give grandma "access" to "do it" with other men. He also got jealous at her whenever she dressed up and put on some makeup. 

Anyway, after some time the siblings decided to go back and live with my grandma. I don't know who made the decision, but finally the siblings lived in the same house with grandma. I'm pretty sure the siblings still kept in touch with grandpa as well, because when I was really young, I also went to visit grandpa, though I don't remember anything about it because grandpa died when I was still so small. All I remember of him came from a memory of his pic - he has white hair and a long white beard. Typical old Chinese man at that time he in a kungfu movie (like in the pic below, but white). :-D In fact, we always referred to him as Grandpa Beard or Engkong Jenggot in Indo (seriously! I'm not making it up!).

All I know about grandpa was that he came from mainland China and then met my grandma. Grandma was born in Indo already, so she didn't speak Chinese. And grandpa was some sort of medicine man. When his second son (my uncle) couldn't have kids for years, grandpa made him some Chinese concoction and I suppose it worked for them 'coz afterwards he and his wife did go on to have two children of their own. 

Back to my mom's story...after the siblings went to live together with grandma again, they started helping her out. My mom would tell me how she had to get up early before going to school so that she could help out prepare the food to sell at the local market. That's why all the siblings (including mom's brothers) are able to cook great food, because they were born in a family that made a living by selling food. Even until her old age, grandma kept on selling food in the local market. Only after her health declined did she finally stop doing so. 

I'm not sure my mom's other siblings got a chance to get a proper education other than elementary school, but my mom finished High School and she did go to a university, but she stopped halfway because back then there were some communist activities in Indo and so she started focusing on earning money by selling food since then. So my mom never worked in a company or any other place. She's always been her own boss. :-D She has retired when my brother's son was born 'coz she's been helping take care of him, but every now and then some people who miss her food would still call her up and order some of her specialties. :-D

Quite a childhood, no? But my mom grew up to be such an independent, mature, and stable woman, though she's not a feminist. Next time I'll talk a bit about my dad's childhood and how my parents met. :-D

* Even until now she's still close to that cousin of hers whose mother breastfed my mom, because they feel like sisters in a way, I suppose. :-D  

P.S. Grandma loved grandsons better than granddaughters (grandma lived with us for years until the day she died, so it was easy for me to observe her). I'm really glad that my parents aren't like that and that they treat me equally with my brother.


  1. My great-grandmother had rather similar life course here in Finland than your grandmother in Indonesia. Great-granny got divorced in 1920's when it was very unusual, gave her 3 children to relatives' houses and started working as servant in wealthier farmhouses. After some years she had got enough money to buy a secluded cottage in poor condition, and could get her children back. They all, also children, worked from time to time on nearby farms, fished in the river and had potato field and some domestic animals. I don't know the reason to divorce, but maybe it was alcohol.

    1. Riikka, THANKS for sharing your great grandmother's history. Interesting to read! I'm glad that after working for years, she could collect all her children back. :-)