Thai Silk Magic and My Grandmother’s Legacy
As a 5 year old I was sent to live with my grandma who lived at the other end of our village, probably because I was boxing too much with my twin sister!
My grandma was known in our village as “The Silk Queen” because of her wonderful naturally dyed silk fabrics were popular with everyone including all the villages around us.
Whenever she sold her fabrics I remember we always had baked fish for dinner as this was a special treat that we normally could not afford to buy.
However, sometimes she gave away her naturally dyed silk creations to people she considered to be deserving of such help.
Our Important Visitor
One very hot mid monsoon day we saw a big black shiny car come into our village and after getting some instructions headed straight for my grandma’s little house on edge of our village.
The mere presence of a car, let alone one so big and shiny, got the attention of everyone.
Just imagine the excitement. A remote very poor Thai village all of a sudden has a visit from someone important, wealthy and powerful.
But the questions in everyone’s mind was who and why?
In those days nobody in our remote village owned a car.
Picture some ancient rattling old motor bikes as the only means of transport apart from bicycles or hitching a ride on a buffalo.
I remember as if it was yesterday calling excitedly to my grandma to come quickly as I think we were getting an important visitor.
The tall uniformed man driving the car quickly moved to open one of the rear doors and out stepped a very well dressed middle aged lady busy brushing the dust in the air from her clothes.
She took off her shoes in the Thai tradition and accepted an invitation to sit with grandma on an ancient straw mat laid over our dirt floor.
Looking around in amazement at the bolts of silk my grandma had created during the year she politely asked….
“May I look at your silk khun Yai?”
(Yai is a respected Thai term for a grandmother or any elderly lady)
Grandma nodded an acknowledgement and our distinguished visitor started to check out every single piece of fabric.
People from all parts of our village had excitedly started to gather around our little house and all were intrigued by this obviously very wealthy stranger and her uniformed driver.
After all we rarely had any visitors apart from nearby villages let alone someone who came in a car and with a driver!
Later we learned that the lady’s name was khun Wattana, the matriarch of a very wealthy and politically powerful Bangkok business family. But as we had no knowledge of anyone who lived more than 10 km away this information would have meant very little to us.
In almost revered silence we all watched as Khun Wattana spent about an hour checking all of grandma’s silk fabric creations and then proudly announced to all within hearing….
“I’ll take it all”
The BIG Offer
I was so excited to hear these words until I looked at grandma. She had a very confused look on her face and simply said “I thought you just wanted to look”
Khun Wattana seemed a bit agitated and said…..
“I heard about you from friends who saw some young girls performing a classical Thai dance performance in the nearby city of Si Sa Ket. They were all wearing your silk. And I did not drive 9 hours just to LOOK at your silk.”
Still perplexed my grandma politely asked her to see what silk others in the village had created as her silk was already spoken for.
Khun Wattana was insistent that it was grandma’s silk she wanted and she was prepared to pay double or triple what others had offered.
I never forget the little smile that started to appear on grandma’s face as she very quietly said….
“I did not have very much schooling but I think 2 or 3 times nothing is still nothing”
Khun Wattana did not understand so grandma slowly stood up and approached some of the village folks who by this time had excitedly and expectantly joined us on the mat.
To the first lady she approached grandma said “I’ve finished your daughter’s wedding dress silk” and to another she stated that “the silk for your son’s graduation next month will be ready on time” and to another she quietly mentioned that “the silk to commemorate the passing of khun Tor (one of our revered village elders) would be ready soon”
As she moved slowly around the circle that had surrounded us she had similar conversations with 4 others.
Khun Wattana rose to her feet and asked grandma….
“Are you sure this is what you want? What can I offer you that will change your mind?”
Grandma did not answer straight away.
“Please drink this and cool down your heart. You have a long return trip to make and this will help you relax”
Then she added…..
“I made those silks for these people from my heart. They asked for my help and they have no money to pay me.
I know I could easily sell them but a promise made is my unbreakable bond”
Then she added…..
“I cannot easily put a price on my emotional weaving skills but a promise is a promise at any price”.
However, if you would like me to make silk for you then all you have to do is ask”
Khun Wattana looked directly and deeply into grandma’s tired old eyes for what seemed to be an eternity.
She then very gently took my grandma’s hands in hers and slowly nodded indicating that she finally understood.
She motioned to her driver that she was ready to leave.
A Secret Shared
As she was about to get into the car khun Wattana abruptly turned and came back to grandma who at that stage was surrounded by village people.
Linking arms together they slowly walked away from everyone else and for 4 or 5 minutes chatted quietly and intimately.
The ladies then turned around and both had smiles on their faces.
As the big black now dust covered car (which later we were told was a Mercedes Benz) majestically rolled out of the village everyone quickly crowded around grandma again wanting to know what had happened and why she had not accepted the “rich lady’s offer”
What Happened Next?
After all we were (and still are) a poor Thai village and the very thought of the amount of money grandma had rejected was something no one could believe, understand or accept.
Grandma never wanting to make a fuss about anything simply told them…….
“More give, more get. Everyone here knows what I say I will do. That’s all I want to say about his”
Like everyone else I was shocked at grandma’s reaction but I also started to feel that something very special was happening to me.
About a month later our village leader came rushing down to our house with a strange little item gripped in his hands.
He excitedly passed a beautiful envelope addressed to grandma as “The Silk Queen of Ban Dong Yang”
The letter was letter postmarked from Bangkok but to grandma it came as no real surprise. All she said was….
“I have been waiting for this”
As grandma had never learned to read very well she asked me to tell her what the contents of the letter were as she already knew who it was from!
And yes you guessed right.
It was from khun Wattana on beautifully embossed stationary very kindly requesting grandma to consider making some silk from her heart just as she had done for others in the village.
She told grandma that all she wanted was for grandma to share some of her wonderful emotion-driven weaving skills and that price was not a consideration.
She went on to say thank you for such a great lessons in life that grandma had given her. She was in awe of grandma’s lesson in morality and was going to apply what she learned to everything she did in her personal and business world.
Grandma agreed to the request and every year until the day of khun Wattana’s passing about 12 years ago, grandma lovingly created silk for her.
Over the years they became trusted and respected friends from 2 completely different worlds.
This letter is one of my favourite family heirlooms although now it’s a bit faded and torn around the edges from constant re-reading. Sadly I don’t have a photo of her as nobody owned a camera in those days.
Such a Valuable Legacy
Grandma never really told me what she and khun Wattana had chatted privately about on that particular day although she did tell me she had told khun Wattana things like….
“Even though I know nothing about business I believe that people will always look at the PERSON and not what they make” and…
“If you do not truly BELIEVE IN what you do then neither will anyone else”
These words of wisdom from a poorly educated beautiful old lady have been loosely translated from my grandma’s Thai/Laos language.
Grandma’s impact on my life has been significant and you can see her legacy in everything we do at Thai Silk Magic.
Our Thai Silk Magic Mission to improve our village is based directly on grandma’s “What We Say We Do” principle and this helped us overcome some early village skepticism.
Her determination to help others is not just the basis of our mission but we love to help others in business in any way we can.
As grandma said many times “more give, more get.”
This was one of the most powerful principles she instilled in me along with never pre-judging anyone.
So we treat all our website enquiries as if they were valued guests.
They may never become customers or even business partners but if they believe in us and become our advocates they are priceless to us.
The use of natural dyes and the unique patterns I create for our eco-friendly silk all come from grandma.
Far From Perfect
However, sometimes she may look down from above with a frown on her face when I try to do everything myself and finish a day’s work totally exhausted.
Grandma was determined to pass on everything she knew about silk to me so that her wonderful skills would not be lost forever.
But I have not yet followed her lead and passed on all my knowledge about our natural dyes.
I know I should do this and soon but for some strange reason I have never felt comfortable is sharing these wonderful secrets.
As you can so easily imagine grandma is everywhere in Thai Silk Magic.
We dye all our silk yarns before we weave them as grandma showed me how this can create more beautiful and more permanent colour tones.
Grandma’s secret of totally natural colour fixatives (mordants) are a key part of our success and many are amazed when we tell them the ingredients include things like crushed ants!
Even our logo clearly shows the impact of grandma in our work ethics and the passion for what we do every single day.
“Woven By Hand, With Love for YOU”
Thanks grandma. We hope you are proud of what we are doing and why we are doing it.
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What legacies did your grandparents leave to you? Share your thoughts and experiences.
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