In my life is her life: I have Mom’s bad lipids, her crappy feet, and her uneven temper. And now, I have her “secret money.”
A long time ago, Mom told me all Chinese women keep a hidden nest egg, usually made up of personal jewelry and secreted money. It had nothing to do with a good marriage or a bad marriage, or no marriage at all — it was an invisible assertion of an independent identity and a way to pass that independence on in the female line. Mom started giving me the jewelry decades ago, and handed me the final pieces a few years ago. In my wilder moments I think I should sell off that stunningly ugly relic of 1980s excess, the krugerrand-inspired gold coin pendant with its diamond-sprinkled surround, and then I am discouraged and think I will leave it to The Teenager to dispose of later. In Mom’s defense, the pendant was a gift from the mother of a young man my parents hosted for a year while he attended an American community college. This distant cousin of mine may or may not have gone to classes, but ultimately it was not my parents’ business to monitor his movements. They housed him and fed him, and did their best to be the benign aunt and uncle, while secretly shaking their heads over his lack of academic ambition. Just waiting to inherit his millions, they said.
Mom’s mother also had a stash, and she willed it to her two oldest daughters. It was a very modest legacy, but it came in handy at a time when every dollar counted for paying off the remaining mortgage on the house. I know Mom wished she had a secret account to pass on to me, but she thought she had many more years left to make it happen. I found her small stash yesterday, and I just know she put it where she put it because it was the one place where only she would go, and the one place only her daughter would go after her death.
I am sure Mom used the money mainly for miscellaneous household expenses, but I also know it was more than that. She never told Dad what she was doing, and I think Dad does not remember the 200 dollars that Mom once stuck in the pocket of a little-worn coat, and then forgot about it for the next couple of years. Yesterday, Dad claimed ignorance about the stash: “It’s between the mother and her daughter,” he said. “She was your Mommy.” Dad, like Mom, was not much into giving comfort, but it is enough.