Missing you, daddy

It’s late November. Whipped by a cool breeze under a cloudy sky on Fraser’s Hill, my sisters and I are exploring a flower garden.

Stalks of Red and White Lilies seen
in Fraser's Hill
My sisters, Ruby, Pearly and I, are on a road trip. Pearly, visiting from the UK, wanted to see our highlands again so we planned a sisters’ highland holiday – reminiscent of how our dad used to take us on year-end trips to Cameron Highlands when we were kids.

In a morning drive to explore the sights on this hill resort, I keep the car windows open to let the natural air-conditioning cool us in the car.

Every now and then when we spot an interesting flower or an exciting view, I stop the car for a brief walkabout to enjoy the natural beauty of Fraser’s Hill.

We spotted the brightly coloured flowers from afar and decide to have a closer look.

I had driven through the open gates into the compound of an English-style stone walled cottage and if the owner or caretaker spots us, I was prepared to tell him/her that we are just looking…

In this garden designed around the stone cottage, my sisters’ attention was riveted to a (wild-looking) species of Anthuriums with its spadix or spike clustered with tiny flowers.

Dad seated on a wooden stool, weeding
his precious plot of Lily plants, 2014
I don’t like its creepy look so I wander off to look at other flowers.

Then I see rows of Lilies flashing its prominent petals in two-tone Red and White colours, growing in profusion in this mild and conducive weather.

It had rained during the night (I remember the sound of the howling winds!) so the Lilies looks a bit battered this morning.

The sight of these Red Lilies gives me an instant flashback to thoughts of dad.

At home, we have a flower bed planted with Lily bulbs – the same Red & White type – which dad used to carefully weed and tend to regularly.

This flower bed was dad’s own precious plot but even though he added new earth and fertilizers, these temperamental Lily plants rarely bloomed.

As dad advanced in age and could hardly do any gardening, mum took over minding this flower bed.

Dad seated and weeding his Lily plot, 2015
But on rare days when dad felt exceptionally good, he would sit on a stool to weed his Lily flower bed.

I clearly remember an incident which took place while I was not at home and I was simply horrified when mum shared the dramatic account of what happened with me.

That evening, dad was feeling well enough to do some gardening so he grabbed a nearby plastic stool (which had been in the garage for some time), to sit on to do his weeding.

Plastic stools are mostly made of recycled plastic and this particular stool, which was left outdoors for some reason, was not only old but brittle.

Mum described how she suddenly heard a loud crack and turned to look at the source of that sound.

To her shock and utter horror, mum saw that the old plastic stool had collapsed under dad’s weight and he was lying on his back – with his limbs waving in the air – on a bed of what look like crushed keropok (prawn crackers!)

Our neighbour, also in her garden and had witnessed this scene, started shouting in alarm and asked mum to open the gate for her to come over to help dad.

Meanwhile, mum made a quick assessment of the situation and was relieved that dad was not hurt but just winded by the sudden hard landing on his bottom!

Mum confessed that while she was deeply concerned about dad’s fall, she was also amused to see him kicking around helplessly like an overturned tortoise… (her description!)

Once mum was assured that dad was unhurt, she told him to catch his breath while she looked for a way to help him up.

She thought of a portable wooden bench in the porch and brought it next to dad to help him prop himself up. Then she helped him to regain his footing before he managed to heave himself up to sit on the bench. Whew!

Ever since this unfortunate incident, dad was banned from sitting on plastic stools ever again.

So each time dad wanted to do some weeding on his precious plot of Lilies, he would then sit on a wooden stool.

A rare Red & White Lily bloom in dad's flower bed
Due to physical weakness in his advanced age, these times became so infrequent that I had to capture the moments with a photo each time he was able to weed his plot of Lilies.

Since dad left us in January 2016, mum had been tending to the garden and often talked about dad’s Lilies – that plot of plants that rarely bloomed.

Every now and then, mum talked about turning over the earth – getting rid of the old Lily plants – and replanting with new plants because those Lilies hardly ever bloomed.

But it looked like mum’s idea was a half-hearted one because to this day, dad’s Lily plants are still thriving in the same flower bed.

The sight of these Lily blooms in Fraser’s Hill brings back a flood of memories and foremost is how several stalks of dad’s Lilies bloomed a deep dark Red colour on July 15.

I cannot forget that date for my book launch, a morning event which was not only joyful but deeply emotional for me.

Dad's Lilies bloomed deep and dark Red
in colour on July 15, 2017
After the event, mum and I had decided to drop our things at home and head out again to visit Puan Ramlah Mohamad, who initially agreed to come but due to a personal matter, could not attend the event after all.

I wanted to see Pn Ramlah or Auntie Rom, as she’s fondly called, to present her with a copy of my book, My Johor Stories: True Tales, Real People, Rich Heritage, as she was one of the personalities featured in the Portraits section.

It was a bright and sunny afternoon and as soon as I parked my car, I rushed into the house but mum lingered in the garden.

When she came inside, she told me that dad’s Lilies were in full bloom and urged me to go take a photo of them. (And I did!)

Even though I was in a rush to go to Pn Ramlah’s, mum’s revelation made me pause to consider how uncanny and significant it was for dad’s rare-blooming Lilies to bloom on that very day!

The sight of the Red Lily blooms in dad’s precious plot, simply capped the day where his presence was deeply missed.

So I stand here, whipped by a cool breeze under a cloudy sky on Fraser’s Hill, admiring the lovely Lilies bending in the breeze. And I’m missing you, daddy. 

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