I come to understand this adjective in my early adult life. I learn the meaning more and more when I move in with a family during my undergraduate year in the United States. Yes, I’ve learned it from my dearest Martha Clark. First of all, Martha is not mean, not even close, especially to me. No, she was not born with a single mean bone. When I was with her family, she would call to tell me that there was fried rice on the kitchen table for me. She would freeze Italian stuffed peppers in October when she knew I was coming home for Thanksgiving in November. She cut, styles, and perms my hair. She would also keep magazines with nice pictures for me. So no, Martha is not mean.
Knowing her for 10 years, Martha has become a mother to me that complemented my biological mother in Malaysia. Martha is a complement to my mother because she and my mother are in total opposite. My mother works alongside my father in the farm. She is a tough woman in her own light. When I was a kid, she could pick up a 50kg bag of rubber from the floor and placed it nicely on the back of a motorcycle! She would/could climb up to a rubber tree that is full of red ants. From a working class family, my mother was not educated but she once told me “moving slowly is better than stopping”.
On the other hand, Martha is a professional housewife. In her early adult life, she was actually trained as a beautician and she once walked all over Chicago in the 1970s in heels and platform shoes. She told me back in those days, she would rather walk the whole way to work in the cold and saved up the quarter for a donut in the corner shop than taking a bus. Martha’s life evolves around food and the kitchen. That’s how she is not only a housewife but a professional housewife! She lives and breathes cooking recipes and her favorite TV channel is the Food Channel. She cooks and bakes like a restaurant chef. Her newly remodeled kitchen is equipped with a professional stove and two convectional ovens. Her personal record was making 32 pies at once. Of course, you can argue that some pie shops make more pies than her, but let me remind you her kitchen is no pie shop. And her pies are not for sale.
On the contrary, my dearest biological mother cooks but she does not like baking. She once told me that if she had to (stay home and) bake or bake to make a living, all her kids would starve. Still, I believe her. However, after a few years away from home, I realize my mother’s cooking actually has improved. Occasionally, she would cook some amazing and restaurant quality dishes but still she does not like to bake. Martha on the other hand would make me pancake for breakfast just because I’ve mentioned it the night before. She would make me pumpkin pies and would bake me triple chocolate cake to take to my university party. In sum, my working mother cooks like a housewife, but my housewife mother cooks like a professional chef. Both of them offer me cooking tips on the fingers tip. I just have to dial the number. If you’re in my shoes, what could you have asked for more?
Nevertheless, I have come to know Martha with her hilarious and sometime ridiculous comments or utterances that could sometimes be mean or even sarcastic. But I like it! When I started my first teaching job at the local university, one of the comments from my student on the end of semester’s evaluation was I was “sarcastic”. I called Martha and credited her for such inheritance.
When the idea of compiling my writing arrived, I could not leave out Martha and her comments. The section entitles “Martha’s Philosophy of Life” will feature a collection of her words, which I wish to share with you and to remind myself of hers. When necessary, context would be provided to accompany those phrases that are forever the connection between Martha and I, asides from food and morning sunlight in her kitchen, which I dream to wake up to every morning.