Nelson Mandela’s death and all the news coverage brought back the memory of my dear grandmother, for she, too, had been imprisoned by political forces. She was not in prison for 27 years like him, but still…the hardships, physical and emotional were all there. And whereas, Mandela taught the inmates to read and write, my grandmother was grateful for learning to read and write her own name in prison.
I can see the irony in that today. She couldn’t read or write her name even though my grandfather was a learned man, a teacher, a principal of the school. He was too busy with the school and work in the community to teach her. She was too busy with working in the rice fields and at home to learn until she was in prison.
And as the most educated man in their village, he was called upon to do many duties – accounting, reading and writing letters, settling disputes, etc. People did not have much so they paid with what they had, like a chicken, eggs, vegetables from their garden. Sometimes they cannot pay. Sometimes he gives them their old clothes, blankets for the winter or rice that was meant for next year’s crops. He thought the rice was better to be eaten when someone was hungry. Next year’s crop could wait.
Sometimes one is not honoured by one’s good character nor works. He earned envy and enemies. When the Mao Zedong and the Communist came into power, there was much confusion in China. My grandfather’s enemies took advantage and accused him of corruption and wrongdoings. Luckily for him, his friends got wind of the plots for his life and warned him. He escaped by a hair’s breath, hiding behind some bushes and made his way to Hong Kong.
My grandmother was the unlucky one. They took her in his place. I do not know how long she was in prison but they moved her at least once. My mother was working in the fields as they led my grandmother past. She dared not look up even to acknowledge her own mother, but kept her eyes cast down, tears flowing. One wrong move or anything that can be construe as anti-Mao could be dangerous.
My own eyes are clouded by tears as I write this. My grandmother has been gone since 1969 and yet she still resides close to our hearts. I can write no more at this time.