One morning in the year 1994, our home phone rang. She called from Bandung, telling us that she saw my name on the local newspaper. I got in!
For all of us, the grandchildren, Oma (that’s what we call her–our grandma–by) and her house have always been a holiday destination. But after the news came that morning, I would be living in the same town as her. Being 18 and ready for college, it was the beginning of a new chapter of relationship between Oma and me.
I arrived at her doorstep weeks after the announcement and she let me stay in one of her empty boarding rooms at the back of her house. It was my first experience living apart from my parents. This actually reminded me of a time when I was little, about 4 or 5 years old (I believe so because I don’t recall having a sister at the time), and I was left with Oma to house-sit my aunt & uncle’s house while they went away on vacation. We were getting ready to sleep in the master bedroom and then Oma left me for a while to go downstairs. The house was so quiet and I grew scared. By the time Oma got back to the bedroom, I was crying and asking to go home. She had to call my parents and my dad picked me up in the middle of that very night. 13 (or 14) years later, it was already quiet at 8 pm in Bandung (compared to Jakarta, the big city I grew up in). A similar feeling of wanting to go home did creep in, but I didn’t cry. This time I knew everything would be okay.
For the next two weeks I stayed at her place. She woke me up at 4 every morning so I wouldn’t be late for the orientation. She ‘prescribed’ me with toasted bread when I got a bowel problem. She was also the one who introduced me to Lusti, the daughter of Opa’s old colleague who lived just around the corner and was also accepted to the same faculty so I had someone to go to campus with every day.
After those first weeks, I got my own place, a bit closer to campus. She called me every now and then to tell me to stop by whenever she cooked something special, like hutspot, potato salad, pastel tutup (I don’t know what it’s called in English.. it’s like a veggie pie). She usually made all those food to be distributed to underprivileged students that she helped and I got the leftover (which was still a generous portion). I visited her about once a month. I also introduced her to my then-boyfriend (whom she liked because he was not ashamed to carry an umbrella) and some of my college friends. She usually showed (and gave) us her handicrafts: cross-stitched stuff, rag dolls, and many more.
Also in 1994, Oma celebrated her 80th birthday. We held it big since we thought it was such a milestone (who were we to know that she set the bar high for her peers, creating the real milestone almost 20 years later). Every single family member came and my sister and I got to sing at the event.
To this day, I remain the only grandchild who went to Bandung for university. And it was not any university. It was the same place where Opa taught for many years of his life (I never knew him, he passed away long before I was born). Despite the difference in faculties–he taught Engineering Physics and I learned Graphic Design–when I graduated in 1998 I went straight to his laboratory (Laboratorium Adhiwiyogo) and had a picture taken in front of it to show Oma. It also marked the end of Oma (and Bandung) chapter for me.
Oma moved to Jakarta not long after that (I think it was in 2000) and her house was sold. It was a sad decision but also for the better because she lived by herself and was not getting any younger. We couldn’t bear to think what would happen if she fell (like she did) and no one knew (unlike what happened). And so another chapter began.
In Jakarta, Oma lived at my aunt and uncle’s. She had her own room and it was never tidy (I guess now I know where that trait came from). Scraps of fabric, framed photographs, and cute knick-knacks everywhere. She kept herself busy sewing bags with applique and cross-stitch designs, which she sold and then donated the proceeds to fund ‘nasi murah’ (cheap meal) program. She also sew cushion covers, drawstring pouches, and the likes that she proudly gave away to us, her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren, whenever possible. If you were ever invited to one of her birthday lunches in April, you would get one for sure. Usually after she enjoyed herself watching us compete in a game (which I was almost always appointed the host–don’t ask me why). Once, I was asked to do a speech about her. I told them that she was an inspiration for me. With no time and talent wasted, how could she not be?
In 2011, Oma outlived my husband despite her being diagnosed with breast cancer and had undergone mastectomy a couple of years earlier. Apart from being a fighter, she had a good taste in men, saying “I’ve always liked Manadonese men!” (referring to my late husband). That made the two of us, Oma. 😉
I went to visit Oma a week before she was admitted to hospital. She was unusually weak and silent. Every now and then she would say, “Ik ben moe.”–I’m tired, in Dutch. Well, I guess if you have lived for almost a century you’re entitled to say that.
The last time I saw her still breathing in the hospital, I whispered to her ear, “Oma, if you’re tired, it’s okay to rest. Really. You’ll be with Jesus, Opa, and Victor (my late husband), so don’t worry. We’ll all be together again soon, anyway.”
Oma passed away later that night, a month before her 99th birthday. She was so blessed to have lived that long and what a blessing she was for us and those who knew her. We bid our farewell to her yesterday at the crematorium. Somehow I could picture her giving away her hand-sewn drawstring pouches like she always did, only now they’re not filled with bars of soap, but good memories. 🙂
Related post on my sister’s blog: http://saxsilverain.wordpress.com/2013/03/09/about-oma/