My grandma’s stories: Grandpa and life’s greatest hatred

(This is part 10 of an ongoing series recounting my grandma’s stories about her life and the old days in Singapore. For past entries, links could be found at the end of the post.)

“Even if I die, I do not want my ashes to be placed right beside him,” grandma said calmly of grandpa, a man whom she was destined to marry since being sold to his family at a tender age.

My grandparents got married in the postwar year of 1947 (Click here for my previous blog post about their marriage) and about two decades later, family life took a turn when grandpa became mentally unstable.

“He became crazy and would hit me with a shoulder pole (a yoke used to carry water buckets front and back),” grandma said. “He hurt my back very badly and up till now, I still cannot bend my hands to scratch my back.”

His acts became increasingly incomprehensible where he would at times buy baskets of vegetables like eggplants and spinach only to leave them in a room at home to rot.

I grew up having never met grandpa before nor saw a single picture of him. In my mind, the image of grandpa is simply a blank slate. So it came as a rude shock to hear from grandma about his insanity, the beatings and her unforgiving anger.

To escape what we would today call domestic violence, grandma did an act I thought was ahead of her times – she walked out of the house and never turned back.

“I was less afraid of living on my own than cowering in fear everyday when I lived with him under the same roof,” Ah Ma said. “He would sometimes spend the whole night out roaming the streets and not sleep at all. I was so afraid he would attack me in the middle of the night and beat me till I become paralyzed.”

Grandma never fathomed the sudden change in grandpa’s behavior from being a quiet and reserved man, whom she still believes does not drink, gamble or take drugs, to become a violent and angry person. During grandpa’s outburst of emotions, he was said to have flipped tables, smashed glass cups and filled the room with water.
Grandma’s suggested he might have bumped into and was possessed by a powerful spirit during the annual Hungry Ghost Festival when he was selling homemade ice-cream at a village. Having consulted both western doctors and a Chinese medium but to no avail, Ah Ma ran away to save herself and was joined by her three children a week later.

“I swore never to return back to the house again when I left,” grandma said. “He caused me such great suffering and grief that I would never forgive him.

Those days of being a woman and the sole breadwinner of the family were so tough. I had to go around and borrow money from people all the time in order to buy daily essentials and send my children to school.”

And never did she ever meet grandpa again. Yet she did hear from Aunt Mei, her sister-in-law, and children that later he set fire to his house for reasons that confounded everyone, and was subsequently arrested by the police. For the next few years, Grandpa became a regular patient at the mental institution.

He died in his 60s, alone, in a rented, one-room apartment. His body was found only when his sister, who was paying him regular weekly visits, discovered it. When I probed Ah Ma to ask if she attended his funeral, her answer was curt and to the point.

“I get angry whenever I think of the tough life I led because of him,” grandma said. “Why should I even pay him any last respects?”

Having learned of their antagonistic relationship, I finally understood why my childhood questions of how grandpa looks like or where is grandpa were always brushed aside with disdain. Grandpa still remains as this blank image on the canvas, but now colored with a grayish-blue sad tinge clouding my family history.

Ah Ma (R) sits on a chair with her long-time friend cum former neighbor Aunt Tin at Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay.

You can catch up on previous posts below:
The ninth part is about the houses that Grandma’s used to live in.
The eighth part II is about Ah Ma’s Hungry Ghost Festival entertainment experiences.
The eighth part I is about Ah Ma recounting cultural rituals of Hungry Ghost Festival.
The seventh part is about Ah Ma’s children.
The sixth part is about Ah Ma being a child bride.
The half-way post is an update about the difficulties I faced when writing this series
The fifth part is about Ah Ma’s job after war
The fourth part is about daily life during the Japanese occupation.
The third part is about the early years of the Japanese occupation.
The second part is about Ah Ma’s family.
The first part is about Ah Ma’s early childhood.
The introduction gives some background information about “My grandma’s stories”

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4 thoughts on “My grandma’s stories: Grandpa and life’s greatest hatred

  1. He must have had some issues from experiences before (maybe during the war?) or something inherited, things like that do happen. I don’t think your grandpa should be vilified though. I come from a violent family myself and I think alot of Asian families believe in corporal punishment. This unfortunately can turn into abuse. My dad was a child in Hong Kong during the war, I know this has scarred him. Not just the terrible time he had but how his family treated him. There are lots of things that we just won’t ever know about. Thank you for sharing these stories, we seldom hear about things like this.

  2. What a brave woman grandma must have been. This is the first in the grandma series that I have read. Marriages I believe is a pot of luck and conservative thoughts and beliefs spoil it for everybody. Good you share real life stories.

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