Saturday, July 25, 2009

Honoring the Women

Orchids.  This is one of my favorite flowers.  My wedding bouquet consisted of orchids.  Our wedding cake was designed line a staircase with the layers detached and orchids were draped over each layer cascading down.  Orchids are not only beautiful but very resilient.  I had one sitting over the winter time totally neglected.  I thought it was a goner, but kept it because it was a gift.  Then in the spring I got that wanting-to-plant feeling and decided to nurse it back. Well, it didn't take much.  Just some watering and plant food and sunlight.  Now it is absolutely glorious sitting in my little laundry room window which gets a lot of sunlight.

Why am I going on about orchids ?  They remind me of the women in my family.  My mother, my sisters, my aunts (tantes), my grandmother and greatgrandmother, and all the women in the extended family.  They were beautiful on the outside and made of steel on the inside.  Instead of "steel magnolias" they were "steel orchids" (the Asian version).   When the men were taken away during the war, the women had to fend for themselves.  My mother said they knitted socks for the Japanese soldiers to make extra money.  She said they had one light bulb and used an oatmeal box (Quaker's ?) to cover the light bulb as a shade because all lights had to be out at night.   So they knitted socks under that one light bulb.  She told me her older sister had a knack for making peanut brittle which they sold to bring in money to the household. Oma was a short little squat mother hen who would do anything to protect her brood.   Her husband (my Opa) was a very tall man who held her in the highest esteem unfortunately died early, but fortunately for him before the war when all hell broke loose.  

Another "steel orchid" is Oma on my father's side.  She also was a little spitfire, 4 ft 11 ft who raised 16 children (long story).   Japanese soldiers stormed into their house, but Oma had prepared her children well, particularly her daughters.   The daughters took their places on the couches and beds throwing up red vomit into pails and buckets.  Oma knew the Japanese had a deep fear of diseases.  She knew plants very well and was known for her herbalist skills.  Her daughters were instructed to chew on a plant which when mixed with saliva turned red.   This mimicked spitting up blood which gave the appearance of a very serious disease.  The Japanese soldiers fled and Oma saved her daughters.

These are but a few of the many untold stories of the women's role during this tumultuous time of history.  I will disperse more of such in the coming posts.  As orchids, these women are beautiful and resilient.

Solute to our precious "Steel Orchids".....


Robin said...

I wonder if the herb your Oma used was the betel nut, which stains the mouth red. It's also an intoxicant (I once encountered a woman in a Jakarta pasar who was stoned on betel nuts, with crimson lips and teeth).

And yes, by all accounts the Japanese were mortally afraid of diseases.

gettingpurlywithit said...

Yes, indeed steel orchids...

Beautiful and resilient, I cannot wait to read more, Bianca..!

memphisweaver said...

Bianca-It really is special that you have these stories so you can preserve them for future generations.
Where did your Oma live? My mother lived in Soerabaja during Japanese occupation and while my father was a POW held by the Japanese in Burma. I'm looking forward to reading more stories!