I Do The Very Best I Know How, The Very Best I Can, And I Mean To Keep On Doing So Until The End.

My title is a quote by Abraham Lincoln and it was practised by someone I knew. Let me begin by telling you that many, many years ago I was enthralled by the books written by C.P.Snow. I then started to read the works of his wife, Pamela Hansford Johnson. She wrote 27 novels. Her books focussed on the moral responsibility of the individual in their personal and social relations. Her writing ranged from romantic comedy and high comedy to tragedy and the psychological study of cruelty. I was fascinated also by the relationship and life of this literary couple. Pamela H. Johnson’s book of essays which was titled, Important To Me and, which was published in 1974, gave me an insight into their lives and issues of concern to her. One such issue was that of having to recruit someone to assist her with the domestic chores of her home in London.

As she and C.P. Snow were writers and busy with other work, they recruited domestic workers to help with the cleaning and the cooking. This enabled them to do the work that they enjoyed. Pamela H. Johnson describes how hard-working and over-conscientious one of her housekeepers was and she felt that she was the “Man on Her Back”. She struggled with guilty feelings. She stated, “If I am to be liberated, how can I be so, as a married woman, a professional woman with three children, without enslaving another woman.”

Our Housekeeper

I have not forgotten these words that Pamela H.Johnson wrote. They touched a chord in me. This is because I too have been able to engage in many activities and keep a full-time job because I had another woman to undertake the domestic chores at home. I would like to share with you the wonderful experience which His Highness (the spouse) and I enjoyed having Ah Eng as our housekeeper. It was 1978 and His Highness and I had returned to Singapore. We moved into a house and I was busy setting up our home. At the time, Ah Eng was working for another family who lived two doors away from us. They were returning to England and she was looking for another position. The housekeeper at the house next door approached me and asked me if I needed a housekeeper. She arranged for me to interview Ah Eng.

Ah Eng came to work for us only after her current employers left for England. She moved into our home and took over all the domestic chores. She was of the same age as my mother and she looked after us as if we were her children. She became a member of our family. Our friends who visited us were most taken by her caring and friendly nature. She looked after my family members when they came to visit and she remembered all their favourite foods. For example, that my nephew loved a good steak! She was a wonderful human being and the service she provided was exemplary.

>She Was Special

What made her outstanding was that she loved her work and took pride in all that she did. Ah Eng also regarded our home as her home and she wanted only to do her best for the house. She had not gone to school but, over the years, had developed a fantastic memory. Hence, she could remember recipes. She could also recognize letters of the alphabet and would even look at the daily newspaper. Whenever we tried a new recipe, she would ask me to write it in English for her in a note book that she kept. She would then get her friends to write the corresponding word in Chinese for her. Ah Eng was well informed on current affairs because she made it a point to watch the news on Television.

Ah Eng was Housekeeper Extraordinaire. She was enthusiastic and dedicated to doing her best to make us happy and comfortable. Always smiling, always happy, she made us feel very good when we returned home from work. She kept a close watch on the state of the groceries and would also let me know what we should purchase. She came with me to the wet market on Sunday mornings and she was well known and much loved by the stall holders. She would also accompany me to the supermarkets and the cashiers knew her very well. Till today they talk about her to me.

Her Culinary Skills

Her forte was her culinary skills. They were exceptional, they were excellent. She prepared splendid meals. She had no difficulty producing roasts (turkey, beef or lamb), stews, curries, fish pie, steak and kidney pudding, sweet and sour fish, pasta dishes, beef noodles, cheese cake, love cake, Christmas cake and summer pudding, all of a very high quality. She was eager to learn, to experiment and to present to others. She just loved it when we entertained so she could prepare her dishes and present them with aplomb!

Ah Eng took great pride in laying a table. She would fold the napkins into flower shapes and she loved putting out the glasses and the cutlery. Our dining table always looked so good when we entertained. She was particular about having a tray cloth on the trays which she would use for serving. Managers of food and beverage organisations would have loved to have had her on their team!

Other Interests

She had an interest in gardening and would water the potted plants and look after them very well. She would watch over the gardener and make sure that he kept the garden clean and looking good. Ah Eng was very good to our pets, the rabbits, the fish and the dogs that we had. She loved dogs and she would spend time playing with the dogs we had, some of which were almost bigger than her. Yes, she was small in size but she had much energy in her!

Her Family

Sadly she had had an unhappy life as a young woman as her husband left her for another woman. She had to bring up two daughters which she did working as a domestic worker. The two daughters later married and she had five grandchildren. Ah Eng was always very proud of her grandchildren. They would visit her from time to time when she was working with us. She saved all her money to buy a house for herself and later she also bought another house jointly with one of her granddaughters. When her favourite granddaughter got married she made the effort to travel to Europe to attend the wedding. She also made trips to Hongkong and China. Ah Eng was especially proud of her great granddaughter who is now a teenager.

As you can tell from the tenses that I have used, Ah Eng is no longer with us. Even when she retired from service, she kept coming to visit us. Unfortunately she became ill and passed away. His Highness and I were fortunate to have had her in our lives for so many years as she taught us what love, dedication, commitment, quality consciousness, loyalty, enthusiasm and pride for one’s work meant. She was a role model and we miss her very much. As Martin Luther King Jr.said, “You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” I would like to add that one does not need to have qualifications to be an exceptional human being. Ah Eng was an exceptional and extraordinary person.

1 thought on “I Do The Very Best I Know How, The Very Best I Can, And I Mean To Keep On Doing So Until The End.”

  1. Zaibun, I remember Ah Eng well. Lovely remembering her in this tribute and it is so real. She just gave love to you snd Paul and your family and friends. Thank you for helping us to remember what is valuable.

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