I’m so lucky. I have Oma.
Growing up in Taiwan meant that we had a family we didn’t really know about, halfway across the world. We would get presents sent through the post, and my dad had a few rather old photos of his family in his photo albums in the attic. I would go look at them sometimes, just to familiarise myself with people that I would call ‘first aunt’ and ‘uncle-in-law’… well, I thought I would, anyway, because that’s what I was used to.
I knew that the big brown teddy bear I had was made by this grandmother, or Oma, as my dad kept calling her. And once or twice my grandparents visited, but I was too young. My earliest memory is also a story Oma tells often while chuckling. My sister and I were home alone with our grandparents while my parents went to teach English at their school. We couldn’t really speak because, well, we spoke Taiwanese and Mandarin and they spoke Dutch. All I knew was a few English words, maybe, like, four? I remember uttering the phrase ‘I don’t know, I don’t know’ over and over as my younger sister screamed down the house and shouted at the grandparents in Taiwanese. I don’t even remember what she was screaming about or why she was crying. But I knew that they had come a long way in their big suitcases smelling like perfume and brought us presents and she was really angry.
We moved to Holland for two years and that’s when my memories start kicking in. We didn’t see them often, but they were lovely. We got to watch kids TV shows and sang songs. My sister and I each got plastic kiddie chairs for their massive garden. Mine was yellow, Tanya’s was red. We once went to stay with them for the weekend, and she called us her little ‘dungs’…. I know it sounds horrible, but we call rabbit dung ‘keutel’ and it sounds a lot cuter than ‘dung’. So I was ‘big dung’ and Tanya was ‘little dung’, and she would waddle around their two bed flat exclaiming, ‘where’s the little dung?’ It’s safe to say that Tanya and Oma’s relationship improved significantly when we got to know them better, except maybe for the dung. And Opa was so set on showing us the amazingness that is Dutch pancakes that we drove around the forested area they lived in for hours trying to follow signs to this pancake house. We fell asleep in the back of the car, and we ended up going to the pancake house next to their house.
When Opa passed away, we were already back in Taiwan. My dad convinced my grandmother to come visit us later that year, and that’s when it began- In ten years, she came every year bar one, to ‘fly south for the winter’. The longest she stayed with us was five months in one go, and I think the shortest was 3, because she had planned to stay 6 weeks and extended her stay. We had a lot of fun. She taught us what indulgence was, and even made us dresses for our Christmas concert at school. My parents worked four nights a week, and she would keep us company, tell us to do our homework and let her do the dishes so we could play board games when we were finished. Then when we were finished, she would send us with some money to the corner shop and buy some snacks, and we would play cards or Yatzee.
We would also go on holiday with her. One winter we went to Australia to visit our family friends, the next we met up in Bali. We drove up to Taipei to celebrate new year in a fancy hotel, and go up somewhere in the mountains for the weekend. She was there for a lot of our formative years. She listened to us talk about our friends and boyfriend (… just the one that I was stupid enough to fall for), and we helped her type emails to family and friends back home. She also got involved with our school- I don’t remember there reason but she came to our Psychology class and told us about her experience of the second world war. I was the coolest kid in school that week.
Now, she’s a bit older, going on 87, and she’s still going strong. I phone her once a week because I don’t get to see her anymore, and now I listen to her gossip about the people in her old people’s home and I try not to cry when I tell her when I’m having a bad day, and the reason I called her was because I knew she would make me feel better. She’s always so proud of me and when I’m struggling, she reminds me of where we came from. She reminds me of the time my Mom got someone to lend me a dress for a party I was going to and I looked like Queen Beatrice, because that’s how old the dress was. She tells me of all the times we lied to my parents about what time our youngest sister went to bed, and pretended that everything had gone smoothly when in actual fact it was a battle to try and get her to write her homework or shower. And oh, don’t get me wrong- Tara was in on it, too. She got to spend whole days with Oma when we were at school, I wonder sometimes what memories she has of Oma from way back when.
I love her so much. Her unwavering support and her wonderful stories, and the pure cheek of her! What a wonderful lady.