I learned today that I had lost a relative
who was so very dear to me. Grieving for a loss is a part of living. One needs to allow herself some time to go
through the grieving
process before she can store that away and continue with her life.
At first I called her "aunt" because I, as a child of five, was told to. But that soon changed because of the bond I felt between us.
Decades ago, we welcomed back "Na Moh Ya," my uncle-doctor-(whose name is Chaiya, which we shortened to) Ya, a fresh young
doctor from the United States. The son of my mother's eldest uncle, he is her first cousin and they grew up together. He could have
chosen to make his living as a surgeon in the US, but instead returned to his native land to fulfill his goal of taking care of the poor who
lived outside Bangkok. In my 5-year-old mind, I viewed him as a hero.
A year or two went by with a regular weekly visit from my uncle, until one Friday evening he entered our house with a woman whom he
introduced as his girlfriend. I was told to call her "Na Gloyjai," or aunt Gloyjai. I learned at some point that she was a nurse at the
county hospital where my uncle worked. It was like a fairytale- the prince and the princess, the doctor and the nurse, and the man and
One day, I was playing in the front lawn when my uncle's car pulled in, parked, and he left the car without waiting for Na Gloyjai, who
remained seated in the the passenger seat.
I hopped to the car on one leg, "Sawaddee ka," I greeted her with the customary "wai"- both hands meeting in the middle of the chest
in the shape of a young lotus, the forehead lowered to meet the hands. "How come you are sitting in the car?"
She received my wai, and answered my question with, "I'd rather wait here." I ran off, back to playing.
Time went by, and I approached the left side of the car again. (In Thailand, we drive on the left side of the road, and the steering wheel
is on the right.) "I'm thirsty, would you like some iced water?"
She shook her head, and it was intriguing to see her beautiful high hair shake, as well. I ran inside the house and got involved with
whatever was inside the house. I didn't come out again until the bright orange sun had disappeared and the sky had turned a velvety
blue. Someone from the kitchen yelled after me, "Don't go back out, your dinner is ready!"
I pretended that the front lawn was my swimming pool, dove into it and crashed into the beautiful red "needle" flowers, swam across and
hopped "out of the pool" right by the car. I skipped to the passenger side. By now, Na Gloyjai was waving her hand non-stop to get rid
of the mosquitoes that were circling around her.
"Are you hungry?" I asked. "No," she responded. The high hair shook again. I admired it for a second, thinking I couldn't wait to be a
grown up so I could get my hair to be so high, and then I'd put on big earrings and wear high heels.
I went inside the house and my world was spinning and spinning and that incident soon flew out of my head. Who knows what really
happened that day.
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The next thing I remember from my aging brain is my uncle bursting into our house with the biggest smile on his handsome face.
"Gloyjai just gave birth to our son!!!!" My parents dropped whatever they were doing and all three made some sort of noises, and one of
my parents said, "What are you doing here, then?" (This sounds like a womanly thing to ask. Let's assume that it was my mom.) "Why,
I have to tell you two!!!!" That was the reply from Na Moh Ya.
Years passed. I became a young woman at the age of 20. By then, fashion had changed, and I no longer wished to wear my hair so
high (the thought didn't even surface). It was the winter break. As usual, I flew back to Bangkok, and right away left the city for a 14-16
hour trip by car to Krabi- a gorgeous town on the ocean in the south of Thailand. The purpose? To re-live my mother's memories of her
magical childhood days when my grandfather was stationed there and discovered the one-of-a-kind heaven on earth waterfalls that he
named "Thanbohkkorranee." Our winter break trips were always so much fun, and 9 out of 10 times we were accompanied by Na Moh
Ya, Na Gloyjai, and their four children.
Na Gloyjai had recently found that she had a heart problem, and she had only just recovered from the first of a few more-to-come heart
bypass surgeries. We were very protective of her, but she was on the beach already, equipped with a bucket and a tiny shovel, ready to
look for tiny "poolohm," or small crabs, which come out when the water goes out under a full moon. We all had our crab-catching tools
in our hand, but no one was as vigorous and determined as Na Gloyjai. She was laughing and calling my sister and me to help grab the
fast-running, tiny crabs. "You're not afraid of little crabs, are you, Gafaae?" I was running without any purpose, my agenda that I didn't
want to share with Na Gloyjai. Catching poolohm wasn't my thing.
The following year we were down at Songkla, another trip to re-live my mom's memories. And who in Songkla could resist going to
Hatyai, where a huge "duty-free" market full of "imported" goodies was sitting there waiting for us to fight though the crowd and bargain
for the best price (or so we allowed ourselves to believe)? We checked into Samila, the one-time most popular hotel on the beach. I don't
even know if it has been torn down, but that place held many memories for me.
The next morning, the team led by Na Gloyjai headed to Hatyai. I enjoyed shopping and watching Na Gloyjai shop, too. She possessed
all the elements that make one a true shopper- she was a natural, with an endless amount of energy to find what she wanted at the price
she wanted, coupled with a tremendous amount of joy. For her, shopping was pure happiness. I felt very "secure" standing side-by-side
But when we came back late, due to, ahem.. traffic, Na Moh Ya didn't seem to appreciate our pure shopping happiness moment. His
concern was that his whole party of more than ten people had been held up because of the shoppers, and they were hungry.
I ran up to change, but when I came down there was no Na Gloyjai among the group.
I called up her room. The phone rang, rang, and rang. "Na Ya," I said, "Is Na Gloyjai sick?" He shook his head, "No, she went to
change her clothes, and I thought she was coming down."
"Na Ya," I said, now concerned, "it was so hot at the market, and Na Gloyjai bargained all day. Is there a chance that she might..."
Oh-oh. I don't remember my uncle's response, but I ran up three flights of stairs and down the long and scary corridor to their room
(without fear of the woman ghost who jumped off years ago and who was still "haunting" the place at night). I knocked, "Na Gloyjai ka,
" "Na Gloyjai!" Again, "Na Gloyjai."
This was the time when cell phones existed, but only in cars, and my parents had paid ten thousand dollars to have one installed. (Import
tax on electronics is very high in Thailand.) I ran past the famous corridor, this time actually feeling as though I was being watched, with
raised hairs on my back and the whole package. "Please, dear woman ghost, not now. I'm more worried about Na Gloyjai."
I made it downstairs without scaring myself to death from the ghost story legend and asked my uncle what to do. "She didn't answer the
door, what if something went terribly wrong?" Na Moh Ya said calmly, "Maybe there's nothing wrong. But go ahead, check again just in
case." I was worried, but I didn't want to run by the corridor again. I looked at my sister- she was the only one there who was younger
than I, so I could ask her to come with me. She looked away and pretended not to see me- I'm sure for the same reason that made me
feel so reluctant to walk by the haunted corridor. Eeeek... I had to put my fears aside: what if Na Gloyjai had a heart attack? So, I ran
up to her room again, determined to get inside, even if I had to break down the door.
This time the door opened and Na Gloyjai was there. She waited for me to finish speaking with my out-of-breath voice and said two
sentences, "No. I'm staying." Before she shut the door, I saw the same expression on her face that I saw years earlier. The only
difference was that her hair wasn't so high this time. The long lost memories came back to me.
Teeheehee. I couldn't help but grin. At least she wasn't sick. "Now, all I have to do is to survive the dead corridor and go eat the best
food in Songkla!"
Years go by again. I was back in Thailand with my growing family. We made many more trips together: Chiangmai, Huahin, Krabi
(again), Phuket, and other shorter trips. Not to mention that we often visited each other. By then, Na Ya's and Na Gloyjai's four children
had grown, some starting their own families. I have four children who were at the time still small and got sick quite a bit. Instead of
talking to Na Moh Ya, who is a doctor, I found myself consulting Na Gloyjai when someone felt ill, or when there was some
new&mysterious health issue that my kids encountered. Na MohYa would say either, "They will get better on their own" or, "Go to the
doctor," but Na Gloyjai would "prescribe" the neccessary medication by telling me what to get and my problems were solved. At the
same time, I was aware she believed in the easy way out: "Take this for this symptom, and take this to prevent its side effects."
My grandmother, who was Na Moh Ya's aunt, had a stroke, and she spent her last ten years of her life at my house. Na Moh Ya and Na
Gloyjai were with us from the beginning of that episode to its end.
When I was pregnant with my fourth child, and found out that she was definitely a girl, my husband and I agreed that he would be the
one who "closed the factory." We called up Na Gloyjai and asked Na Moh Ya to perform this act of bravery on my husband's part. On
the day of the appointment- I was two weeks away from my due date- my husband and I marched to the surgery floor at their hospital.
The air was filled with a strange feeling of I-can-feel-that-they-are-watching-us, but I chose to ignore it. Na Gloyjai handed my husband
over to the surgery nurse and brought me down to her office where she set out all sorts of delicious goodies that she knew I liked for
snacks, while waiting for her husband to do the procedure on my husband. When she walked her pace was quick, and she was talking
non-stop. At almost nine months pregnant every move hurt, and I found it difficult to keep up with this sixty-plus years old woman.
The procedure was a success. My husband later told me that he felt there were too many people in the surgery. Living in Thailand so
many years enabled him to pick up some Thai words here-and-there. He soon realized that they were there because they wanted to take
a quick peek at what he ....uh...looked like. I confronted my uncle with this and he chuckled, while telling me to place the blame on his
wife, who had made an announcement earlier that week to the nurses at the hospital that this day would bring the one-and-only lifetime
opportunity for all the nurses to view a farang's (a term for a westerner's) ..uh..anatomy -in real life, right here in their hospital. "Not just
any farang's (anatomy)," Na Gloyjai had to add, "But the one belonging to my nephew-in-law."
Before my family moved back to the US, the "three siblings" had thrown a reunion as a sending-us-off party. This took place in
Pathumtanee, and was hosted by Na Gloyjai and Na Moh Ya. We mingled, we ate, we drank, and we sang karaoke and had a blast. Our
eldest son Brendan, aka Tong-ake, sang. Khunyai (grandmother) Gloyjai gestured to him to approach her at the end of the song and
handed him a one-hundred Baht bill which he accepted by kneeling on the floor, accompanied with a "wai." Our youngest, our daughter
Kaitlyn "Tongta", was at the time four years old, and she sang one song at the end of the party. In the middle of the song, Khunyai
Gloyjai rushed over and handed her a one-thousand Baht bill. Brendan was miffed, but he knew he couldn't compete against the
cuteness of a four-year-old, so he let it go.
Everytime I visited them in the town where they lived, Na Gloyjai would lead us through the farmer's market, all the while buying food for
us before we arrived at their small clinic in one corner of the market so that we could wait for closing time when Na Ya would come join
us. The clinic has been open ever since they got married, but they have hardly been paid for taking care of the townspeople, unless one
counts a variety of fresh food and fruits as payment. My aunt and uncle never charged anyone who didn't have the money, and that was
a part of my uncle's fulfilling his goal of taking care of people. Na Gloyjai was a major and important player from the beginning. But
without Na Gloyjai, things will not be the same. She is missed terribly by all of us.
Rest in peace my dear Na Gloyjai.