Threading Through Terrors

11 November 2021

Seeing colourful friendship bands from Nepal transports me to my childhood days of watching my grandmother roll coloured cotton threads into necklaces and anklets for babies in our village near the Singapore River.

Beaded friendship bands from Nepal.

Parents of restless babies, or babies with no appetites would come to our verandah to ask my grandma to make a thread necklace or anklet for their child.

Apparently her hand rolled cotton accessories worked like a charm because babies’ mood and appetite improved once they started wearing them.

I have no idea who taught my grandma to make these things or how they came to be associated with auspiciousness & protection for babies & children.

After all, my grandmother’s personal life was far from auspicious. At 7 years old, a change of family fortune sent her sailing from Kinmen Island to Singapore to be raised as my grandfather’s future bride. She never saw her own parents again and would spend her whole life pining for her childhood home.

An aerial shot of my grandma’s city of Houpu on Kinmen Island where she was born.

At the age of 26, my grandma lost her husband and her two little daughters to a lightning mishap. Her last child who was my dad was only 8 month old then.

Overnight, by “an act of God” as lightning strikes are categorised in insurance claims , my grandmother became a widow and a single mother.

She laboured at a factory shelling prawns to provide for her in-laws and son. Her gnarled fingers bore witness to her contact with the unbearably icy water that would also give her a lifetime of aches and pains.

Later on the bank where she kept her hard earned money would go bankrupt and her first grandchild who was me, would contract childhood poliomyelitis.

So by the above accounts, my grandmother was an incredibly unlucky woman. Logically, she should be shunned and babies shouldn’t be wearing anything her hands had touched.

Yet parents regularly dropped by our home to seek my grandmother’s advice or ask reverently for a piece of her cotton threads to soothe their sickly child.

Perhaps ironically, my grandma’s incredible ability to absorb terrible losses and misfortunes, and still lived to produce beautiful embroideries for wedding couples and cotton anklets for babies, have given her the status of a lucky charm. 😊

And because my grandmother refused to be defeated by the bad luck in her life, her only grand daughter whom she constantly worried about because of her handicap had the opportunity to speak at an event to honour women brilliance where she was seated at the table with women leaders, including Singapore’s first female president.

Because my grandmother did not give in to bad luck, but pressed on to give the best life she knew to my dad, I had the opportunity to speak at an event to promote women brilliance & share a table with women leaders, including Singapore’s first female president.

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