Categorie: Proza

Without a face

My only memory of my grandmother is the one of her grave. My father’s only memory of his grandmother is the one of her funeral. I don’t know what I received from my grandmother by way of heredity. My father doesn’t know what he received from his grandmother, and couldn’t ask her anymore by the time I asked him about it.

Maybe I inherited my grandmother’s moods. My father recalled his mother was moody. He wrote this once in a letter to somebody, a carbon copy of which I later read. Nowadays moodiness is called: sensitivity to moods. Moods are subdivided into depressions, fears, and melancholy. Melancholy is probably the finest among these three moods. Homesickness in a minor key. Maybe my grandmother was homesick for a country she didn’t know, her mother’s country: China. Homesickness handed down from her mother, who was from there. Or inherited from her grandmother, whom she in turn perhaps also hadn’t known.

My father recalled that his grandmother still had those little bound feet. As a Chinese woman she had thus complied with the old Chinese ideal of beauty. My great-grandmother came to the Dutch East Indies from Canton a long time ago, probably with part of her family, because Chinese uncles and aunts wandered around in the stories my father told. Exactly when she came to the Dutch East Indies, I don’t know. She would have been born after 1860, when slavery in the Dutch East Indies was abolished and the Indies had to struggle with a lack of personnel.

The Dutch went to the Mediterranean to scour up guest workers during the sixties of the last century, as they did on the Chinese coasts back then, 100 years earlier. Many guest workers settled in Holland for good, as they did in the Dutch East Indies. There they arrived in rickety little boats, and they were called koelies. I don’t know what she was called, my great-grandmother. She may have had Nio in her name: girl.

My father was about four years old when he lost his grandmother. She must have been slight of build, but in his memory her coffin was big and made of djati-wood and heavy to lift. Under his mother’s supervision, Chinese dishes were prepared and offered to the gods. My father, his two brothers, and two sisters got chalk smeared behind their ears. Those chalk smudges were to protect them from evil spirits at the funeral service.

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