My mother was, you could say, the leader of the family. She was a strong, silent and determined woman. I remember her as someone who made many sacrifices for her children.
By Sr. Sutisa
I was born almost 50 years ago in what was then a remote village in north-eastern Thailand. Our family were farmers. We owned about an acre of land, where we cultivated things like rice and vegetables.
My mother was, you could say, the leader of the family. She was a strong, silent and determined woman. I remember her as someone who made many sacrifices for her children. She wasn’t very jovial and outgoing like I am, but she was cheerful and kind.
Mummy had 14 children in all (including one miscarriage), seven of who later died. I am the youngest of all her children, born eight years after mummy’s second last child. I was a ‘surprise child’, because mummy didn’t expect me to happen. She was seven months pregnant when she realised she was expecting! She had thought that her extended belly was a result of putting on weight in middle-age till a doctor told her she was pregnant!
Mummy was 44 when I was born. She bled very badly and almost died. To make matters even more difficult, the same day I was born mummy’s sister died. Imagine what a shock that must have been for her!
Mummy was a very hardworking woman. She’d get up very early and would leave the house at around 2 am, taking the early morning truck to a town located some 35 kilometres away. She would take along 2-3 baskets of vegetables from our farm and a couple of chickens to sell in the morning market there. When she got to the marketplace which was around 3 am she would spread a plastic sheet on the ground and arrange her wares. By 9 am, she would be back home and would then spend much of the rest of the day doing household chores and tending to people in our large extended family.
Mummy worked very hard for the family. When I was in secondary school, she would give me one baht so that I could buy myself lunch. But some days she wouldn’t give me the money maybe she forgot, or perhaps she didn’t have any money with her to spare. But I never grumbled or complained.
After I passed secondary school I decided that I wanted to enrol in the best high school in the area. But money was a problem because we were very poor. One day, I received a letter from a sister in religious organisation encouraging me to carry on with my schooling. Accompanying the letter was what was then a big sum of money 700 bahts! This sister wanted me to use the money for my high school education.
That evening, mummy asked me about the letter I had received and requested if she could read it. I handed the letter to her. After she read it, there were tears in her eyes. I was amazed but didn’t say a thing. She then told me, “The people who sent you this money don’t know you at all, but still they want you to study! I know you did very well in school in the last three years but I didn’t help you at all. Don’t worry. You choose the school where you want to go. I will work hard for the money so that you can study.”
That day the anger I had nursed against my mother vanished! I realised that, contrary to what I had thought, she cared for me deeply she just didn’t express it, because she had so many other worries on her mind.
My mother died before I turned 19. I had been away from home, spending time with a religious organisation, but three months before she passed away, when she was very sick, I came back. On her last day, people told mummy not to worry about me. Maybe they thought mummy would fret about me because I was the youngest. But Mummy, whose head was then bent low, looked up and said, “Sutisa never gave me any trouble. I am never worried about her. Right from childhood, she has taken her own decisions. And I believe that in the future, she will be successful in whatever she does.” Saying this, mummy breathed her last.
I can’t remember any time that mummy shouted at me. There was just one time when she beat me. She had repeatedly told me not to play with my boy cousins who lived in the neighbourhood because being boys, they played roughly. But I didn’t listen to her, and one day she gave me a beating. It was the only time she did that.
Another wonderful thing about mummy is that I never once saw or heard her fighting with my father. It isn’t that they didn’t occasionally have differences, though. My sister tells me that if they had a quarrel, mummy would tell her to take me away so that I wouldn’t witness the scene.
Mummy was very particular that we should all eat together and pray together. All of us papa, mummy and we seven siblings would have breakfast and dinner as a family, seated on the floor. And before going to bed, we would all gather and pray, taking turns to lead the prayer.
Mummy was very strongly rooted in the faith she had been brought up in. But she was also very open. When I was 17, our teacher announced that we were going to spend four days at a monastery where we would live like nuns. Now, the monastery belonged to a religious tradition other than ours and I wondered how my parents would react. After I got home, I told mummy about the monastery visit. She was quiet for a while. And then, instead of saying “No, you can’t go!”, she asked me where I was going to get the white dress I needed to dress like a nun. “I don’t know!”, I replied.
And do you know what? The next day, when I came back from school, I saw a plastic bag placed on a bench with a white robe in it! Mummy had gone to a neighbouring village, where she had a friend who belonged to the same religious tradition as the monastery I was going to. She had explained the issue to her friend, who very kindly lent her the robe for me!
That is why I say my mummy was really angelic! She was very particular and strict about her religious beliefs and practices, but when I had to do something different, she didn’t stop me! She really trusted me and had faith in me. That is why her last words were that she never fretted about me.
(Based in Thailand, Sr. Sutisa, a member of a religious organization, works on a wide range of issues, including education for children from economically vulnerable families)