Tobago

Tobago
Horizon at Sandy Point

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Lineage from the mother

Our grandmother was in her early 30s when she left China forever. Still a young woman, she had already borne three sons and a daughter. She midwifed herself - if we believe the evidence of subsequent births - in interludes to the back-breaking tasks in the rice paddies. She would continue to work when she had to, with the baby nestled in a sling close to her breast.

Her first son Wong SeYon preceded her to Trinidad, travelling with his father Wong Fook Chong in or around 1934 or 1935. Young Tai Yow would make the journey in 1939 with the next three youngsters.

If she had any apprehensions to leave the land and the family and the work that shaped her life to that time, we do not know. In her journey, she would be supported and guided by sons who were already 15 and 14 year old men. The girl was five and most likely the one to be chased after, entertained and kept safe by the three grown-ups, on the boat across the Pacific, on the train across North America and another boat south in the Atlantic.

What did she feel when she landed in Trinidad we can only speculate. First wife to her husband, what must she have felt to see the family already growing down the road: a seven year old boy, a girl the same age as her own, and boys of three and one. Would she have returned to China if she could? We know that she never forgot those she left behind, collecting and mailing whatever she thought might be useful. Some of these items included string and the fabric of 100-pound bags in which sugar or chicken feed was transported. Those were treacherous days for travel, the beginning of the second World War. There are those who would say that she and the children had gotten out "by the skin of their teeth" in 1939.

You could probably date the arrival in Trinidad in 1939 from the arrival of the baby boy in March 1940. He was followed by a girl two years later and another girl one year after that. Above and in between the child-bearing and rearing, the home-making, Apo (grandmother as we learned to call her) was constant in the shop on St Francois Valley Road: all day, every day. With barely any English of her own, she understood more than she let on. Outside the family and the shop, what was her internal life? Cut off from China, who were her friends?

We know she was devoted to her family. As her younger daughters were growing, she welcomed the grandchildren. SeYon's two girls were born in 1945 and 1947. Henry's eldest boy was born in 1950. Then QuiOn's girls in 1951, 1952 and 1955. Whenever Apo saw us, her face took on a particular glow and half-smile. We were embarrassed by her Chinese-ness, the aggressive intonation, punctuated by "huh!" We didn't even understand her English, so we communicated in food, much of which my father her son learned to make: the steamed sponge cake; soup cooked in a whole winter melon; char siu bao.
Young Tai Yow, mother of three daughters, grand-mother of 12 grand-daughters, great-grandmother of many!
She was a strong stubborn determined woman. Maybe she had no choice in being a wife, but it didn't alter or affect the mother she was.  Though not independent in her day - it wasn't fashionable then - she fostered self-reliance and independence in her children, especially the daughters. And generations of daughters, grand-daughters and great-grand-daughters will be hard-headed, wilful and "own way" in their own times. That's the Tai Yow gene!

(This is written to honour women everywhere who struggle to raise families, to assert selfhood, to remain "useful" to the end, on International Women's Day 2015. Let us remember and be grateful for what we have from our mothers, grand-mothers, aunties, sisters and our own daughters!)

2 comments:

  1. So many untold stories, of women who were strong, determined and never gave up! Thanks Pat!

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  2. Thank you Gail! A very significant eternally sacred part of us made that journey then and is taking those important steps now. You are bringing so much fuel to this brilliant flame!!! What an Incredible woman our Apo. I Love you, Ants

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