During school days, whenever we saw Grandmother's rattan basket in the living room even before we set our eyes on her, we would scream with delight.
Her basket was so much part of her and we knew that she had come for a visit. We would check the number of pieces of clothes she brought. If she brought only one change of clothes it would mean that her visit was going to be very short. A few more samfoo tops and black trousers, it would be a nice, and longer visit. What a comfort to us when she was staying with us.
"Why are you bringing so little to wear? Aren't you going to stay for a long long time?" we would ask.
We would be disappointed when she said that she would only stay " three nights". Her way of reckoning days was in the number of nights. It was as if a night was 24 hours and a day, was indeed just a few hours of a trip in day light. Having her sleep over was the greatest news for us.
I cannot remember her not staying a night. And I cannot remember her not bringing a basket. It was her "handbag". She never carried a modern leather handbag as she was fond of little purses, with a zip. Abd she would hide it under the folds of her clothes.
Remembering grandmother's travelling basket also helps me to remember the rattan maker of Sibu. Grandmother' travelling basket was made by hand, by the rattan maker whose shop was in Blacksmith Road, next to Chop Wang Ming. The shop was there until the 80's. It must have been started in the early 40's.
The shop was a half shop. All the rattan items he had made could be hung from the ceiling to save space. There were no shelves in his shop. All items which were made to order had to be taken away as soon as possible. His craft work was very traditional and he did not use any machinery to help him. The old man would sit very patiently on his low stool to weave the baskets,big and small, and other items like baby chairs. I ordered a rattan baby car chair from him before the on set of the safety baby car seat from the United States. This rattan baby car seat was used until my youngest outgrew it. Many foreigners enjoyed buying rattan goods from him. One favourite item made by him was the table food cover, or the "doh now". Restaurants ordered their baby high chairs from him. His rattan wares are indeed very durable.
I bought a school book basket from him to fit onto my bicyle. I used this basket until I completed my secondary school. Years later, I used it to keep my baby things and other stuff to go to the hospital and for travelling. It never seemed to wear out.
We enjoyed her visit because she had tales to tell, extra food to share and most significant of all, she would be there to make the dumplings for the festivals for us.
The best time was the Duan Yu Chieh or or the Chang Festival. My mother would buy all the ingredients and she would make as many as she could, and more than we could eat. So we had the great pleasure of sharing the dumplings with others. Her dumplings were of good quality, perhaps the best in the world , by my standard.
A birthday would not be missed by her too. She would remember all our birthdays, especially my father's. That was really nice of her as she would help with the cooking and the whole household would be so much merrier.
I liked her visits especially because she was good at sewing. I would watch her cut her materials, and sew the pieces together usually by hand. And then it was amazing to watch her do all the patching. She had a special way of patching clothes. Her handiwork was so good that we could feel very confident about wearing the item. And she was particularly good at patching up her samfoo collar. As a Chinese,I learned from her not to throw away good clothes.
The life of a blouse or a skirt would not even end when it was a little faded and worn. It would be cut up to make into a patch work quilt. I love the blankets made in this way. Some of them are still around, because they are of great value and beauty.
Another specialty that she had was her neatness. She could fold clothes in such a way that the clothes looked as if they were ironed. Her deft hands would run over the clothes lovingly and smooth them out. Each fold wasd a perfect straight line. Each piece of clothing would be identical in size and shape. And the neat stacks would be placed so perfectly on the shelves in the cupboard. Chores never seemed to be difficult when she was around.
My little boy once asked, " Can grandmothers last forever?"