On the third day of this Chinese New Year (16 February), Jen my sister went visiting. This was a rare occurrence because previous years, she and family would be away (a lot of people go away during festive holidays), but this year, they couldn’t find anywhere interesting so they went back to my brother-in-law’s hometown for a couple of days.
It was such a rare occurrence that when we arrived at our 3rd aunt’s house (the first relative we visited), the old lady exclaimed “Which wind blew you here – north, south, east or west?”
Yes, “we” visited because I went along, partly as navigator and partly for company (I’d already visited on the first day with my brother). This really shows how long since Jen last visited our various uncles and aunts – she’s mostly forgotten the way, and this was not helped by the fact that the roads have changed and also the familiar scenery along them.
We visited three houses that day – 3rd aunt’s, 2nd uncle’s, and Sai Goo‘s (she is father’s youngest sister; sai means “little” or “youngest”, while goo is the word for aunt on father’s side).
Jen managed to meet up with two cousins of her age that day. This was a treat because the rest of the year, everyone would be too busy to keep in touch, except over the phone. Meeting up with cousin Kat, Sai Goo‘s eldest daughter, was probably the highlight as she and her family live in Brunei so the chances of meeting up at other times were really rare. This was why we waited for her after Jen spoke with her on the phone while at her mother’s house.
As kids, the older cousins used to hang out with one another a lot. Maybe because they hadn’t met for so long, but cousin Kat started asking my sister “do you remember?” questions when they sat down to chat after she eventually returned from lunch (as it turned out, with another cousin and her family).
“Do you remember grandfather’s big black car?” she asked my sister. “The driver would fetch me in the evenings to the main shop and we would all go to play at the roundabout.”
My sister said yes, but after comparing descriptions, it turned out she was remembering the wrong car.
“Do you remember cousin Jimmy used to stage talentime shows on Grandma’s 4-poster bed? He was our ringleader!”
My ears perked up. Grandma’s 4-poster bed? Talentime shows? My mind pictured all these little kids running on top of its mattress and pretending to sing.
Grandma’s 4-poster bed had a special place in my childhood. It was the bed that I shared with my nanny when I was under her care.
The bed was big. How big? I remember nights when I couldn’t sleep and I would get up, tie the corners of my little blanket into a “bag” (the way I’d seen it done in Chinese sword-fighting movies) and walk on the bed, pretending I was travelling, going from one village to another (the way the heroes in those Chinese sword-fighting movies used to do).
The bed was high, too. How high? Nanny used to store boxes of stuff beneath it, and I had my little secret place there, hiding my little notebooks (paper) in a box way inside the underside of the bed. It was especially cooling for naps on hot afternoons.
I remember being told Grandma had given the bed to Nanny when Nanny came to work for us. For a long time, I thought they were friends. It was only recently that I realised it couldn’t have been. Grandma had died when father was just 8 years old, and Nanny had come to work for us soon after Jen was born, when father was around 22. Grandma and Nanny couldn’t have been friends. A piece of family history has now been rewritten – well, not rewritten, but set in its proper time frame.
My guess is that Grandma’s 4-poster bed remained after she passed away. None of father’s siblings took it because its size made it difficult to dismantle and move (it was also heavy, made of brass.) Some of them were living away from the shop. The more modern ones preferred, well, more modern furniture. So, when Nanny came to work for us, and our family was living under the same roof as the bed, she was given the bed to share with the baby (my sister), and later with my brother, and then with me.
When we moved out of the shop in the early 90s, it was to a house with rooms that would not fit the bed. I asked around and a friend from my schooldays asked if she could have it. She had seen the bed before when she used to visit and always thought it would be a neat bed to own. She didn’t mind the trouble of dismantling the bed and moving it. She later told me her niece and nephews really enjoyed sleeping on the bed – they had never seen or slept in such a big bed before!
It’s years since I’ve asked about the bed, and I hope it’s still providing rest for someone somewhere. Not sure about talentime shows, tho.