Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Saying Grace before Dinners

My childhood days were spent in three places: my own parents' home, my maternal grandmother's home along the Rejang River, and my paternal grandparents' home in Sungei Merah. Having meals in all three homes were very different because of the different outlooks.

Having meals with our father was always a very serious matter. We would sit properly on our wooden stools and mum would be serving the dishes straight from the stove. It was not often that she would sit down with us to eat.

Sometimes she would eat by herself after she finished washing all the dishes. That was before we were tall enough to do the washing. It was only much later in life that I realised that all married foochow women behaved in this way. They would never sit down to have meals with their husbands, especially if the mother-in-law was part of the family set up. And no food would be especially reserved for her . She would eat what was left by the others.

A few women relatives had whispered to me that sometimes they would just have the "empty soup" (just the soup and nothing else) left and probably the sauce for the rice. All the meat and vegetables would be gone. Naturally nothing could eradicate such domestic injustices. It would be just "live and let live....and what to do?"

One husband ,I was told , was reprimanded because he went out to buy two meat buns for his long suffering wife so that she could have something in her stomach before she went to sleep.

One day, while we were getting ready for our meal, and before we picked up our chopsticks, my usually taciturn father suddenly told us a story of a Chinese student eating together with an English family in England. He was very surprised why everyone waited for the head of the family to bow his head and say thanks. Because he was not a Christian, this boy did not understand the Christian ritual of saying grace. He had already heartily tucked into the pie and had his mouth full when he realised that all eyes were on him. He was too embarrassed for words.

My father had brought a great awareness to us that day. It was always good to wait for others to start the ritual of parting of food at a table.

Furthermore,whenever I give thanks for my food, my mind would always be full of all those mothers who had to wait before they could eat.

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