R.I.P. SPECT: JESS
My good friend Gordon just lost his lovely mother a few days ago. I had the great pleasure to meet her (and eat her delicious food) a few times. She was a real piece of work… in the BEST way possible. Gordon always entertains with stories about her youth and her eccentric parental ways. Big love to Gordon & Maurice.
Malay lady lay… in peace. XOXO
Please take a few minutes and read Gordon’s lovely obit…
JESS BOWNESS (née HANAM) March 17, 1926 – March 3, 2016 “What’s better than a single rose on a piano? Tulips on an organ.” In her 80s, our mother latched onto that joke and used it for a couple of years to accost wait staff, store clerks and strangers in elevators. She loved to make people laugh. Better yet, she loved to shock people, make them nervous and make them laugh. Frequently misunderstood, sometimes mistreated, ever mischievous, Jess Bowness died March 3 from complications arising from her decision to refuse insulin. She was 89. Diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, quadruple bypass surgery, neuropathy, memory loss and the very recent discovery of undiagnosed stage four breast cancer… she’d had enough. There wasn’t enough laughter anymore. The family supported her gutsy decision to die on her own terms, at least on terms as best as she could negotiate given the legal and medical vacuum that still exists around the right to die. Her death took longer than it needed to; there was more discomfort and distress than needed to be. Changes to the law will come too late for Jess. Jess was born March 17, 1926 in Singapore, then a British colony, to Robert and Perimbee Hanam, two Indian converts to Christianity whose families had lived in what was then called Malaya for some time. Details are sketchy and contradictory. It is assumed that Robert had been born into a Hindu family in Penang and was orphaned at some point. Perimbee came from a well-off Muslim family in Taiping, in the Malay state of Perak. Robert became a schoolteacher, principal and lay preacher (Methodist / Plymouth Brethren). The couple married in Singapore in 1913, eventually spawning a large family of strong characters and over-achievers. Jess’s education was interrupted by the Second World War; she never completed high school.
The Japanese invasion of Singapore occurred on February 15, 1942, one month before Jess’s 16th birthday. She worked as a nurse in a Japanese-run civilian hospital during the three-and-a-half-year occupation. Her eldest sister died in 1945, just two days after the official Japanese surrender of Singapore. A ravishingly beautiful young woman, Jess made the most of the post-war years and, later, loved telling stories of her many suitors and glamorous exploits. She met Michael Bowness, a young university lecturer from England, in 1952; they were married December 19, 1953. Their first child, Gerald, died soon after birth. Then came Alun, David, Susan and Gordon. The family immigrated to Canada in 1965. Michael was a professor of biochemistry at the University of Manitoba. The family settled in the Winnipeg neighbourhood of Fort Rouge. Singapore to Winnipeg. Plus 30 degrees to minus 40. Cosmopolitan island state to land- locked provincial city (prior to this country’s embrace of multiculturalism). No extended family, no servants. Just the relentless labour of raising four kids in a strange country with a husband with whom she didn’t always see eye to eye. Jess was a generous, loving mother and grandmother… fun, hardworking, stubborn. She was a fantastic cook with surprising range: Malay, Indian, Chinese, Nonya and British. She even made two TV appearances on a cooking show (in actuality, a women’s history program), The Loving Spoonfuls. Jess was an avid gardener with a passion for wildflowers. She would often be found in highway ditches, woodlots or remote bogs, bucket and spade in hand, searching for her cherished Lady Slippers. She loved games and murder mysteries; she had an eye for hidden patterns and numbers. Who knows what she would have become raised in a different era? Her powers of argument were unparalleled. Jess was stylish to the point of eccentricity. One outfit suffices, early 1980s, worn to a social to raise money for a son’s terminally ill friend: silver knee-high platform leather boots, sparkly silver pants that tied at the knee, black-and-white striped blouse (the pants and blouse she had stitched herself) and lots of silver snake jewellery, bracelets and necklaces, some wrapped into her hair. She danced with every male in the place, except for her sons who cowered in awe. Her humour was unflagging, irreverent and, at times, off-kilter.
Any time her younger child had to complete a school form that asked for his mother’s occupation, she’d insist he write in “lady of leisure”. When she was bored, she’d often answer the phone with, “City morgue”. Family life in suburban Winnipeg never seemed quite the right fit for her, even though she loved her children to a fault. To a fault. Jess’s progeny run the gamut from scientists and educators to writers, from a wine expert to food supply and social justice activists. Their engaged and compassionate joie de vivre is part of Jess’s legacy. “Pshh, Canadians”, she might sometimes exclaim dismissively, but her contribution to her adopted country is undeniable, vibrant and ongoing. A gregarious soul, Jess drew relationships from all walks of life. She was a loyal but complicated friend to a special group of women who understood her strengths and deficits. Jess is survived by her sister Grace, brother Chaz and his wife Linda, sister-in-law Lillian, children Alun, David, Susan and Gordon and their spouses Sheila, Rita, Denis and Maurice, grandchildren Evan and Grace — and their mother Donnie — Avery, Damian, Camille, Chantelle, Miguel and Melanie, and nieces, nephews, grandnieces and grandnephews around the world. Husband Michael Bowness died in 1999. The family would like to thank the staff of the acute care ward in the Grace Hospital for their attentive care during Jess’s last days. There will be no service. The family will hold a private memorial at a later date. In lieu of flowers or donations, the family encourages friends and acquaintances to write their federal and provincial representatives and ministers to show support for broadly defined right-to-die legislation, and to urge legislators to act soon. Delay is causing unnecessary anxiety and pain. Help make right-to-die legislation another part of Jess Bowness’s Canadian legacy. And more laughs.
Two of Jess’ awesome recipes after the jump (via LOVING SPOONFULS)…
David, Gordon Bowness and his Sinagaporean mother Jessica Bowness prepare spicy Shrimp on Loving Spoonfuls first Mothers Day Special
4 candlenuts, drained 4
1-inch piece wild or regular gingerroot 2.5 cm
1 stalk lemongrass, chopped 1
or grated rind of 1 lemon
1/4 tsp ground turmeric 1 mL
or small piece fresh turmeric
1 tbsp vegetable oil 15 mL
2 large onions, sliced 2
1-1/2-inch piece gingerroot, minced 3.5 cm
1 tsp shrimp paste 5 mL
4 to 6 Karapuleh (dried curry leaves) 4 to 6
1 to 4 green hot peppers, chopped 1 to 4
1 can (14 oz/398 mL) coconut milk 1
salt and pepper to taste
2 lbs large shrimp (prawns), peeled and deveined 1 kg
In blender or food processor, chop candlenuts, 1-inch (2.5 cm) gingerroot, lemongrass and turmeric until a paste forms. Set aside.
In large nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium heat; cook onions and minced gingeroot, stirring, for about 5 minutes or until golden brown. Stir in shrimp paste, curry leaves and hot peppers; cook, stirring, until peppers are softened and mixture is fragrant. Add candlenut mixture and coconut milk, salt and pepper to taste. Bring to boil. Stir in shrimp and boil gently, just until shrimp are pink and opaque. Add a little water to thin if necessary. Makes 6 servings.
1/4 cup oil
1 pkg firm tofu, cubed
3 green onions, sliced
2 stalks celery, chopped
1 sweet red pepper, cut into chunks
1 piece gingerroot, minced
Bean sprouts, trimmed
In wok, heat oil over medium-high heat; cook tofu (do not stir often as it breaks) just until browned. Set aside on plate. Add onions, celery, red pepper and ginger to wok. Cook until slightly softened. Return tofu to wok. Sprinkle with bean sprouts and cook until heated through.