Mother’s Day has come and gone but not a single day goes by when I don’t remember my Oma. Oma loved flowers. She grew them, she studied them, she painted them. She was curious and imaginative. She delighted in nature. Today when I see the colors of a fallen leaf, study the bark patterns on a tree and thumb through Ansel Adam’s photographs…. I remember my mother.
Oma was an avid gardner. Back when we lived in the tea gardens she won many medals at the Annual Flower Show at the Cacher Club: once 10 in a single year (1958). That year she took Best of Antirrhinum, Dianthus, (I never heard of these flowers I had to Google them: Antirrhinum BTW is another name for Snap Dragon – who knew! ) Pansy, Gladiola, Carnation, Dahlia, Gerbera, Lettuce, Brussel Sprout and Celery! Quite a remarkable feat considering she was the only Indian memsahib competing against British ladies who are passionate, skilled gardeners and fiercely competitive! My mother gave them a run for their money by walking off with all the medals that year. Dad said everybody got tired of clapping. These medals are old and tarnished. Today I will give them a good scrub. I googled “how to clean silver,” and came up with this method using baking soda and aluminum foil. Let’s see if this works.
After mom passed away. I brought back her favorite book with me to America: Flowers of the World by Frances Perry. It’s a hefty authoritative volume and mom’s copy is much thumbed and covered with gift wrap for added protection over the dust jacket. Mom would put homemade dust jackets on all her favorite books to protect them from wear. Sometime she used pictures from old calendars. I was reminded of this many years ago when I loaned a book to a Thai friend of mine, here in Arizona. She returned my book covered with a homemade dust jacket with a picture of an Arctic wolf. I will never forget that. It touched my heart. That kind of care and reverence for books belongs to older cultures. We don’t see that in America.
Here is a small ceramic dish my mom made by molding clay over a glass form. I fired it in my kiln (I used to be a ceramic artist back then) and my mom painted a sprig of chrysanthemum in deft free-hand brush strokes completely from memory! Today I use this dish for my guitar picks and I remember my mother as I drink my cup of tea every morning.
Have a wonderful weekend, dear friends. Please remember to make time for the ones you love. I have to constantly remind myself of this. It’s so easy to forget. Cheers!
“The celery,” she said, “ makes a nice koch-koch noise when you cut it. So fresh.”
I shrugged. “It’s just celery.”
“You should see the celery we get in India,” Oma said, “thin and stringy, like lizard tails. Everything is so healthy in America. The people with big, white teeth saying “have a nice day.” Even the garbage man who drives the truck with the crab claw to lift your bin, smiles and waves. And do you know what that carpet cleaner man said to me yesterday?”
“He said ‘take care’. Take care.”
I looked at her, puzzled. “He finished his work and he was leaving. So?”
Oma shook her head. “You are not understanding me. He did not say bye-bye. He did not say ta-ta. He said take care. Now isn’t that nice?”
I snorted. “That doesn’t mean a thing, Oma. It’s like saying bye-bye or ta-ta. That’s just how they speak here.”
“Not at all,” Oma retorted. “Take care is what you’d say to your old auntie or grandmother. It shows love and concern for an elderly person. I thought it was very nice of him to say “take care,” but then the poor fellow was in such a hurry, he forgot to drink his tea.”
“That’s the other thing I want to tell you,” I said, “don’t go serving tea and Marie biscuits to workers. They don’t have time to drink tea and chat about their family. Also I overheard you ask him all kinds of personal questions. You don’t ask “are you married?”, “how many children do you have” etc. He must have thought you were being terribly nosy.”
“What’s so wrong? In India, the garbage man, the driver, the newspaper man– whoever comes to my house are given tea. I know all about their families and everything. The driver’s mother-in-law has a goiter on her neck–-”
“People don’t talk about their mother-in-law’s goiter in America. Everybody’ s in a big hurry. Time is money.”
Oma threw up her hands. “Too much hurry, hurry here. You have everything. Big house. Machine for this, machine for that. Small, small gadgets that go peep-peep, ting-ting. You have blacktooth and blueberry, i-ping and you-pong, but what’s the use? Nobody has any time! Why? You don’t even have to get out of your car to open your garage door. If Rekha, my maid saw that garage door open by itself, she would think it was a ghost and run screaming for her life.”
I laughed. It was true. Automatic garage doors are still uncommon in India.
“The other day, your dear husband forgot where he parked his car in the mall,” continued Oma. ” Now, what will you do, I asked. Don’t worry, Oma, he said, I will call the car and it will answer me. “Hey car?”, he called, just like that, and the car honked back and even winked its lights. Imagine a car answering a human? In India even humans don’t answer humans. Too much noise.”
“He’s pulling your leg, Oma. He must have pressed the car key in his pocket.”
Oma ignored me and waved at the fruit bowl sitting on the countertop. “Look at all this nice fruit and nobody to eat it. No time, No time. Hurry, hurry, hurry.”
“Why don’t you eat some?”
“How much can I eat by myself? Too many different things to eat in this house, I get confused. I sit down to cut an apple and you say eat the grapes. Then your husband says, eat the melon, eat this, eat that. Before you know it everything gets moldy and you have to throw it all away. Then back we go again to Costco and load up another shopping cart the size of a rickshaw with more fruit.”
“That reminds me there are strawberries in the fridge. Don’t forget to eat those.”
“I know. I took them out of the box and looked at them.”
“What? Have they spoiled already?”
“No, no, the opposite. They are too beautiful to eat just now. I just like to look at them. I will eat them when they get a little soft.”
“What is the point in getting you fresh strawberries, then?
“Feasting is for the eyes as well as the stomach. I have never seen such big, perfect strawberries in my life. I just want to admire them for a while. They are God’s miracle.”
“Man’s miracle is more like it. I hate to disillusion you but those strawberries must be full of the steroids, hormones or whatever junk they put in them.”
“What is steroids?”
“Something that makes you look healthy when you are not.”
“How can you look healthy if you are not healthy? Sickly people you can always tell. They are thin and malnourished. They have no energy. They look like the lizard-tail celery.”
“Here the sick people look like the strawberries, the healthy ones are thin and stringy like your lizard-tail celery.”
“That makes no sense,” Oma frowned. “I hate to say this, but America has made you into a very cranky person. All the time, this is not right, that is not good, grumble, grumble, never happy with anything. You should hear yourself sometime. Crease marks are appearing on your forehead. It is not very becoming.”
“I am just telling you the facts,” I said, glancing at the clock. I pulled off my apron and grabbed the car keys. “I must run to the post office. I’ll be back. Why don’t you eat some strawberries?”
“And ….” I turned and waved, “take care!”
NOTE (updated 19th June, 2013) Sadly, the following year, Oma departed for her orchard in the sky. These are my fond recollections from her last visit to the US and our lively conversations in my kitchen. Oma was eighty when she died.
We’ve heard this time and again: it’s not just talent that makes a successful writer but true grit and staying power. Many writers think too much, write too little. They self-sabotage by talking too much about the half-formed stories, allowing the creative energy to dissipate before it even hits the page. Hemingway never talked about his work in progress and Papa knew best. Bottling the creative genie may be a good thing.
Persist in telling your story. Persist in reaching your audience. Persist in staying true to your vision…
The writing process can be so frustrating at times that despair sets in. Stephen King says it best:”Writing fiction, especially a long work of fiction can be a difficult, lonely job; it’s like crossing the Atlantic Ocean in a bathtub.” There were times when I hit the doldrums with such a thump, it took every bit of strength to pull myself out. My old foe, Procrastination, is always lurking. Suddenly everything, except the writing, becomes critically important. I need to do the laundry right now, I tell myself. Funny how the mind tries to trick you.
Discipline is a muscle I was not born with it. I’ve had to develop it, step by miserable step. Waving a carrot or a stick does not work, because I have a cunning mind that can talk me out of things with arguments and persuasion. So I have had to resort to devious measures. Like I have to for exercise. Same principle. I trick myself. I tell myself, okay Shona we are going for a leeeetle walk – just down the road and back– When my body sets up a wail, I say, no, no, this is not exercise – goodness, whatever gave you that idea– this is just to clear your head a bit. When I reach the end of the road, I say, hey Shona let’s just see what around that corner, (then, we can go home and drink tea) When I round the corner, I say, ooooh look that nice flowering bush, wonder what plant that is? When I get to the bush, I say, let’s walk by that orange-colored house and see if that funny bulldog is still there. And so on and before I know it I have walked a mile or two. Remember how Forest Gump ran down his road of his house, and ended up running though his town and out of the state of Alabama, and all over America? It began with a single step, didn’t it? That’s the idea. That’s how I write. Teeny goals, oodles of self-deception and lots of tea.
How do you keep on track with your writing? What do you do to stay motivated? Please share.
Here’s a little bit about my upcoming book “Teatime for the Firefly” (to be published by MIRA/HARLEQUIN) You can read the synopsis and first chapter by CLICKING HERE. Please leave me a comment. Thank you!
If a man does not keep pace with his companions perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Henry Thoreau
My mom (Oma) was a natural beauty. Scrubbed face, no makeup – not even lipstick. All she wore were a few dabs of sandalwood lotion on her skin. Once her English friend presented her a with a lipstick and begged her to wear it to the cocktail party they were going to that evening. Oma reluctantly put it on only to please her friend. According to my dad (he had a wicked sense of humor!) Oma had her mouth pursed like a goldfish that whole evening. She was too uncomfortable to talk, smile, eat or drink. Finally, half way through the party, she had had enough and the lipstick came right off.
“You can’t please everyone so you gotta please yourself.”
As she was getting older, Oma’s hair started turning grey. One day sis and I decide to spiff her up. We took her to the beauty parlor and got her hair colored. Oma dropped fifteen years, right then and there. Even she was surprised. Then she glanced at the bill she let out a loud wail. “Eeeesh! How much? 450 rupees! Daylight robbery!”. (450 rupees if you must know, is the equivalent of 10 bucks. It was more back in the 80’s– maybe 25.)
Several weeks later the hair color started to fade but Oma was too cheap to spend that kind of money again. Not that she could not afford it. It just irked her to pay someone to put dabs of paint on her head.
“What’s there to it?” she said. “Why can’t I do it myself? I will buy the hair dye from New Market and paint my own head.” (FYI back in the 80’s there were no imported color rinses available in India: hair coloring was a tedious and messy job that wrecked your bathroom.)
“Please Oma, “ we begged. “Just get it done professionally. We’ll pay for it.”
Oma glared at us. “No need to show off your money,” she said tartly. “It’s is not about your money or my money. This is daylight robbery. I can buy 4 kilo mangoes with 450 rupees!”
There was no arguing with her, so Oma went and bought the hair dye from New Market and spent a half a morning in the bathroom coloring her hair. She was very pleased with the results.
“How do I look?” she said, “ Quite professional, no? Just like the beauty parlor.”
We were surprised. It actually did look pretty good. Then she turned around …
“OMA!” we shrieked, “You did not do the back! It’s still completely grey!”
“Where?” said Oma twisting around to look at the mirror. “Where? Where? I can’t see it.”
“But we can can see –other people can see it. Oh Oma, It looks completely crazy!”
“Well, then it’s your problem and other people’s problem,” said Oma. “As long as I don’t see it, I’m fine. That’s all I care.”
If Oma was alive she’s kill me for sharing this. There is a lot I learned from her. Oma was fiercely individualistic and a feminist well ahead of her time. She was also adventurous, inventive and a barrel of laughs. Funny stories about her abound in the family. Here another post about Oma from my KARMA CHEF cooking blog.
Please share your thoughts: How much do you compromise to please others? Who are your role models? What made you who you are? Cheers!