My Childhood: Garden Stories & Jaffna Cousins

I miss our small tropical garden. Of course, as these things go, I didn’t appreciate it till it was reduced to just a tiny patch devoid of any fruit trees.

I miss the Japanese roses my mum tended to in the 70’s. Just a few bloomed at a time. They were deep fuchsia and light pink.

These don’t seem to grow now and I’m sure it’s due to global warming and our rising temperatures. In the 70’s, temperatures hardly went past 30 degrees celcius and at night, it was cool enough for me to wear a cardigan. I swear the temperature has risen by at least 5 degrees since the 70’s. At least it feels that way.

An aunt of mine used to eat the roses which shocked me. I was horrified to see it. She said they were edible. She also taught me how to retrieve the honey from the stem of our yellow ixoras. I must admit the latter was pretty fun and fascinating. I could be a human bee retrieving nectar.

Once when I had no Teachers’ Day present prepared, my mum cut some roses for me to give my form teacher. I just hope she didn’t get any thorn pricks as the thorns on these roses were sharp.

Another favourite of mine were the sweet smelling jasmines. These grew abundantly.

My childhood garden attracted bees. My sister even got stung by one. I haven’t see a bee in the decades since.

But the fruit trees are what I deeply miss, even the rambutan tree that produced no fruit. I miss the dark green leaves and the shade. It did attract lots of red ants so it may be the reason why it was cut down.

The banana, mango and coconut trees gave to us abundantly and I miss them so. We also had lime, chilli and pomegranate.

I always loved the bananas. Pisang Rajah cultivated from my grandmother’s tree. It’s the only banana I like. Others just pale in comparison and I care not for them. It’s why I’m so glad my uncle E still cultivates them in his garden.

I could kick myself for not appreciating the mangoes and coconuts though. Neighbours and friends marvelled at them and the taste. My dear friend S loved the sweet apple shaped mangoes, but I complained they were no good as they contained too much fibre that got stuck in the teeth.

I have memories of my father (wearing a white singlet and shorts – his home attire then) splitting open the orange hued coconuts using a chopper. I worried about his fingers, but thankfully he was pretty skilled.

I also have memories of his nephews from Sri Lanka (they were like strangers to us) climbed up the tree effortlessly to retrieve them. I was resentful they had come when I was studying for my most stressful exams ( O and A levels). Also they had come unannounced, luggage in tow. My sister was also not too pleased.

Yes I was a terrible kid, but those were my true feelings. I recall my dad marvelling at their skills. I must admit it was quite a sight to behold. I was their privileged cousin in comparison. Their first cousin in fact.

I didn’t know them. I couldn’t feel any affection for them like I did for my other cousins whom I grew up with. Also there was zero resemblance to my dad. Affection may have grown if there was some physical resemblance.

They visited us separately two years apart, but the younger one was to consume insecticide and committed suicide upon return to Sri Lanka. My father received letters from Jaffna, detailing this.

They had both come to Singapore in order to find work, but were unsuccessful. I had zero concept of their struggles or depression. No real understanding about the civil war raging in Sri Lanka. Only bits and pieces.

But I felt horrible about how I behaved in a rotten way and wasn’t warmer or more compassionate towards them. It haunted me in that period of my life. My naive young mind assumed some of that blame for what they did.

They did teach me to feel much gratitude for my lot in life. It could have been my own father’s fate if he hadn’t shown promise in school and was allowed to remain in Singapore and continue his studies.

Many don’t realise this and often cite hard work. What about those who toil and get nowhere? Are you then dismissing their efforts? My two cousins, who felt that taking their own lives was a better option, were definitely not afraid of hard work. But most of life is luck and we shouldn’t be quick to claim credit, if we are fortunate enough to be conventionally successful.

Given the chance I’m certain my two late cousins would have done well. I still have the image of them cheerfully and effortlessly whipping up whole stacks of string hoppers for our meals. I was too dense to not detect their deep sadness.

In retrospect I think I was being too harsh on myself. I was just shy and not mean in any way. I was also deeply distrustful of men who were not my close relatives (due to SA). The only harsh part were my ungenerous thoughts. Also we hardly communicated as they didn’t speak English. Things might have been vastly different if they did.

About bookjunkie

Blogging about life in Singapore & recently cancer too.
This entry was posted in family, History, Midlife Musings, My Childhood, Singapore Living and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to My Childhood: Garden Stories & Jaffna Cousins

  1. As imperfect as your life may have been (and all of our lives are), it sounds like to coped with stress a silent insecurities better than you cousins did. Press on, my friend!

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