The Singing Grandmother

rosalind leong

Changi

A pre-war house on 376 Changi Road. There was a living area, balcony, rooms and steps leading to the basement and kitchen area. As the only girl of the family, Rosalind, 67, spent afternoons helping her mother with the cooking and household chores while singing along to the radio.

Childhood melodies

The fondest memory I have of home is of my mother cooking in the kitchen, definitely! I am her sixth and youngest child, and the only girl in the house. Of course, she doted on me. She cooked different kinds of Peranakan food, and that's where I picked up my skills. Her best dish was Ayam Buah Keluak, a popular Peranakan dish of spicy chicken with black nut. I want to pass down the legacy, rather than keep all the recipes to myself. Because all these old secrets from mothers will be lost if you don't pass them on to the younger generation.

During quiet afternoons after lunch, my mother would sing to me. She would sing songs like 'One Day When We Were Young', 'Forever And Ever' and 'When Irish Eyes Are Smiling'. Her favourite being 'When It's Springtime In The Rockies'. I would help her mop the floor, made of wooden planks, along the grain of the wood. At that time we had to get down on our knees to do the mopping.

We only had one radio in our family in the living room. We didn't even have a television set. Every time I heard my favourite songs come on the radio, I'd drop everything I was doing and quickly grab my pen and paper to copy the lyrics. Sometimes would get scolded by my mother! My favourite songs were by Elvis Presley. Now, I sing most of his songs like 'Love Me Tender', 'Can't Help Falling In Love' and 'Blue Hawaii'. Once I got the words, I was very happy, and then I would practise, practise and practise.

"I'd drop everything to copy the lyrics to my favourite songs."

Rosalind (left) and her mother in 1965.
Rosalind on her engagement day in 1972 with her aunts and parents.

Finally, I'm a singing grandmother!

I had always wanted to be a singer since young, but my dad disapproved and was afraid I would be led astray. At that time, singers were not well looked upon. So finally, when I turned 62, the opportunity came for my childhood dream to be fulfilled! Now my children are all grown up, this is the time!

"I want to pass down the legacy, rather than keep it to myself."

Before I came along, my mother gave birth to five sons. Out of five sons, the fourth and fifth sons died young due to the traumas of war. Then, my eldest brother also died because of medication allergies while my second brother died from a tragic motorcycle accident at the age of 21. My mother was heartbroken and wanted to end her life then. I was then six years old and I asked her: "Me, what about me? Stay on to look after me." I promised her I would look after her for life and got the chance to do so, till she passed away at the age of 88.

For a long time, I suffered from grief. I missed my siblings who were long gone. Only recently, I was healed after speaking to a nun who showed me that happiness is a choice.

We can learn from our sadness, rather than keep harping on it, as it hampers our present happiness. Why let the past affect you now, since every day can be a new day to look forward to? Thank God I have this attitude. Now, I'm happy and I will sing to make others happy too.