When I was growing up I liked to hear my Dad tell stories about his childhood in Rangoon, Burma. He was not a natural storyteller, nor an imaginative man, so his stories were always the same, with the same details. No amount of questioning could get him to flesh the tales out, and he would usually stalk off saying, “I can’t remember, it was a long time ago!”
One day he was telling one of my favourites: When I Was 13 I Made the Chauffeur Let Me Drive the Car and I Knocked Down the Indian Sweet Seller. It was after dinner and Mum was washing the dishes at the sink after a long day at work. It was the early 1960’s and few mothers had full time jobs, as she had throughout their marriage. She turned around and asked him with all seriousness, “If your family were so rich, why have I never seen any of that money?” My father earnestly replied, “But you don’t understand – one time we were so poor we only had three servants: the cook, the sweeper and the chauffeur.” Mum stared at him for a few moments, then a smile crept across her face. Next thing, she snorted. I began to giggle, then we both started laughing. My poor Dad looked totally confused which only added to our merriment. We laughed so hard our sides ached and tears came to our eyes. Dad interrupted, trying to explain, “But no, really, we were poor….” and that kicked us off again. For the rest of my life my Dad only had to look at me and say, “One time we were so poor…,” and I would laugh.
What I did not learn until much later was how true this was of my father’s family and their up and down fortunes. In fact, going to Rangoon and seeing how my father used to live was the biggest revelation of my life.
To be continued…