A Family Secret

Painting by Tan Gaik Hoon

My cousin Peggy and I were playmates when we were tiny pre-schoolers. Our parents were very close and hung out every weekend. In those days, hanging out meant a game of mahjong, bringing the kids to the public pool or chatting along the corridor till the bugs forced everyone indoors at dusk.

A few days ago we talked about our childhood, about how I hated her then because my life was ruined by this younger child with curly hair and big eyes, about how I had to give in to her all the time and watched her as she slept while all the kids were playing. But besides that I do love her and we stayed close all these years.

We shared a grandmother and as kids, we hardly discussed about the adults. They were, afterall adults and there was really nothing interesting about adults when we were kids.

Then Peggy told me something new – that she enjoyed having Grandma around and described this wonderful happy person whom she loved very much and how Grandma’s visits created so much joy in her home.

Hey, is the same person I knew? The grandmother with thick white powder on her face and wore the sarong kebaya? I had never seen that side of her before or enjoyed that kind of closeness that my cousin did.

My grandma, I told Peggy, was a sad soul whom I never had any affection because I didn’t get to know her at all. My memory of her was a miserable woman who carried her belongings in a flimsy paper bag visiting us at odd times of the day. She and my mum would spend hours in the kitchen talking, sometimes Grandma would raise her voice and often I could hear her weep.

So Peggy had the happy granny and I had the troubled one. That’s over 50 years ago and it was so strange that we only found out this week.

Grandma, you must have your reasons for your different personas and we will never know why. One thing’s for sure, your grand-daughters are now learning more from each other and are starting a project to capture these little untold stories. Who knows what we will find. I may finally come to love you as much as Peggy did.


Joan Yap


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