My Ah Ma’s name is Lee Lay See. Born in 1953, she has 4 siblings −− an older sister and 3 younger brothers. Although she has 4 siblings, one of them (her youngest brother) was given away to a relative when he was born, so she only grew up with 3 siblings. Her youngest brother was given to her mother’s brother as he had no children of his own. It was quite common during those days so she did not really feel anything and she was still too young then to understand why. Ah Ma was close to all her siblings but she was slightly closer to her sister as Ah Ma and her sister were the only girls in the family. Although I am quite close to my brother, we fight like cats and dogs over every small matter, unlike my Ah Ma and her siblings who got along so well.
When Ah Ma was young, her mother looked after Ah Ma and her siblings as she was a full time housewife. She was closer to her father when she was young as her mother was very fierce and unreasonable. She and her siblings were very afraid of their mother as she caned them very often. If any one of them were naughty, her mother will punish all of them. Her eldest sister would get the heaviest punishment as she was the oldest and was expected to set a good example. Ah Ma’s youngest brother was the naughtiest in the family. However, he was the youngest and a boy, so Ah Ma's mother was a bit more lenient with him. During those days, there was a stronger preference for boys over girls. Nowadays, there is no longer any preference for any gender. My parents treat my brother and me fairly and whoever is naughty will be punished.
Ah Ma lived in a two room HDB flat when she was young and she did not have her own bedroom. She and her siblings had to share one room while her parents occupied the other. As there was not enough space for beds, Ah Ma and her siblings had to sleep on the floor too. This is unlike my brother and I, who live in a condominium and have our own room. I also have a comfortable bed to sleep on and I cannot imagine having to sleep on the floor like poor Ah Ma when she was young.
Ah Ma had an aunt, who would stay at her home sometimes when Ah Ma was young. Ah Ma’s aunt was her father’s older and unmarried sister. She was like Ah Ma’s caretaker when she stayed at Ah Ma’s home. She was very kind and Ah Ma was very fond of her. Whenever it was time for her aunt to leave, Ah Ma would try to persuade her aunt to stay at her home. When her aunt would not stay, Ah Ma would hide in the toilet and cry.
Ah Ma attended River Valley primary school when she was a child. At that time, mothers were allowed into the school compound during school hours, and there will be a spot for mothers to sit and chat. During recess, her mother would not allow Ah Ma and her siblings to play with their classmates. She was very strict with them as she was afraid that they will fall into bad company. Therefore, Ah Ma and her siblings will sit and watch their classmates play during recess. Ah Ma's favourite subjects were art, music and English. She attended Bukit Ho Swee when she was in secondary as it was very near her home.
Ah Ma left school at the age of 17, after finishing her O levels. Actually, she had to repeat her O levels, as her aunt died during the first year she was supposed to take her O levels. Her aunt’s death affected her very badly and Ah Ma was too upset to take her O levels so she had to retake it the next year.
Ah Ma started to work at the age of 18 after she finished her O levels. She started to work when she was so young. Her first job was working as a salesgirl. She worked as a fashion shop salesgirl, then as a bookshop salesgirl. Ah Ma got to know Ah Gong when she was working as a salesgirl in the bookshop where he was working as a bookshop manager. She married Ah Gong when she was twenty years old and her first holiday was her honeymoon trip to Malaysia. Ah Ma gave birth to my mother when she was twenty-one, my aunt when she was twenty-three and my uncle when she was thirty- nine. The age gap between my mother and uncle is so big that he is closer to my age than to my mother's age!
Ah Ma is most proud of bringing up all her three children and being a good mother to them. However, she has one regret in life, and that is not studying hard enough. After listening to my Ah Ma, I feel that I am so much luckier than her. Her life has been less fortunate than mine in so many ways. I feel that I should be grateful for all the things I have that my Ah Ma did not have when she was young and I should make use of these opportunities I have been given to study hard and do well in school.