Friday, March 14, 2008

A Washerwoman's Tale

In the 1970's when I was reading the Chinese newspapers I came across a Chnese style obituary of man whom I knew as a child and on the list of relatives, the children had put up two names under "spouse", with one deceased and another, the name of a good Chinese lady I knew as a teenager. But what was very interesting was that the old man had adopted three children who maintained their own surname.

Being curious, I called up my aunt who related a most unusual story of the 50's in Sibu.

Apparently the surviving wife had come from China in the same way as many brides in the 1950's to marry her fiance. After a few years, and after having three children, her young husband passed away.

Because she could not read and write,she went around washing clothes for a few families. She could not do much else. The lady and her three children shared a house with several other families, which was typical of the 50's in Sibu. I believe at that time, she also received some allocation of rice from the Welfare Department. And furthermore there was no micro-credit to help her finance a little retail shop.

After many years of struggling, a shopkeeper who had became a widower, saw that she was very kind and still pretty, asked for her hand in marriage. It was like a gift from heaven and she asked her children for permission to marry this fairly older man.

From then on, her life was smoother. According to my aunt, the shopkeeper's children treated her extremely well and they were ever so grateful that she was willing to be their stepmother. These children also treated their step brothers and sister very well.

She had agreed to marry the shopkeeper on two basic conditions. Her children must carry on their own surname and the shopkeeper must educate them.

The shopkeeper agreed and they were married in a very simple ceremony in front of all the children.

I don't think there are many similar stories but I am glad that there was this little heartwarming story of an older man who took in a young family in this way.

According to my aunt, the two sets of children are all very capable people and received very good education, and probably they are now all overseas. Because they followed the Confucian rules of correct behaviour towards each other, the family members have been especially blessed. However, the old man's business was not carried on by any of the children, so the small shop is no longer in existence in Sibu.

People move on,some memories fade. But the strong imprint of an exceptional woman of character would remain.

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