Lessons from Old Age

I think all children should grow up having old people in their home. I think the experience helps to highlight their roles and responsiblities as a younger person and makes a great difference to the way they treat and perceive the elderly in the society.

I grew up living with my maternal grandparents and thus am fluent in the Hokkien, a dialect which the younger generation these days may find foreign. I grew up learning to enjoy and appreciate carefully prepared wholesome meals, traditional delights such as Ngoh Hiang, Hae Zoh, watery porridge, Hokkien mee, and double-boiled rich soups. I learnt to love dishes my grandparents liked but didn’t usually appeal to kids: black olives, pickled chai sim in jars, chai por with egg, sweet potato leaves and steamed fish.

Growing up with my grandparents not only taught me to speak my native dialect, to appreciate fresh food, but also taught me love, tolerance and respect. To want to love and care for them, to want to have meals with them at the table, to accept and live with their quirky ways.

Perhaps that’s why I don’t particularly feel difficult to live with R’s mum, who will be celebrating her 90th birthday next month. I don’t find it hard to understand why she has some weird conceptions about certain things since I grew up with my grandma who imposes equally strange ‘restrictions’ on my family. For example, my grandma doesn’t like us to use the washing machine, gas stove, water heater or air-conditioner.

The only thing I took some getting used to living with his mum, was calling her by her name. For the first few weeks I kept calling her Mrs H until she said to me, ‘Call me V, love, not Mrs H.’ It seemed wrong and disrespectful because back home I certainly didn’t address any of my elderly relatives or neighbours or anyone who looked vaguely middle-aged by their names. Because back home you should address them as ‘Auntie’.

It took a few days of practising and getting over the intial awkwardness, and then gradually I felt comfortable enough to suppress my instinct to call her ‘Mrs’ whenever I see her little wrinkled face, but to call her V instead.

Sometimes I think about what she thinks of me. This girl who just bursts into the family and starts sharing the space. She’s been lovely to me, and ever so generous. So there are times where I just sit in the living room with her as she tells me the same stories over and over again, though I now know it well enough to repeat it word by word. Still, I nod earnestly and pay attention, just like I did at home when grandma goes over her tales again and again.

Then I realised that old people all over the world are the same. They just want a tiny bit of our love and attention.

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5 Comments on “Lessons from Old Age”

  1. cmm Says:

    sounds like you’re doing just fine & v’s so sweet! hey, we want a bottle of your homemade jam too lor. heh

  2. Eric Says:

    I don’t think….I can do that with my grandmother…

  3. fefe Says:

    They feel extremely happy when someone is willing to listen to them. They have so much to share and they don’t ask for more but our attention, which is not difficult to give…I saw my friend’s in law, she is about 80 and live alone in a house. She refused to move in with any of her children but feels extremely happy when we visited her. Her face brightened up and smiled the whole day…I bet when we are of their age, we feel the same too…

  4. Eric Says:

    fefe what’s your new blog address???

  5. tintedglasses Says:

    CMM, will make you jam when I come home. Eric, I don’t think I’d be able to relate to all old people. I am often left frustrated by my grandmother. But like any relationships, it’s all about give and take. Yes fefe, agree with you that when we grow old and no longer have anywhere we have to go to, we would too appreciate some company and concern.

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