The In­cred­i­ble Love of My Par­ents

父母奇缘

Special Focus - - CONTENTS - Liu Ze­hua 刘泽华

44

My home­town, a small vil­lage named Shangx­ian, is lo­cated on the out­skirts of Shi­ji­azhuang City, He­bei Province. My par­ents were a May-De­cem­ber cou­ple. My dad was 31 years older, and he mar­ried my mom after his first wife passed away.

An Ar­ranged Mar­riage

My grand­mother was fee­ble and sick. When­ever winter ap­proached, she felt rest­less and found it hard to draw her breath out of her lungs. On the cold days, she had to wrap her­self in a quilt and curl up on a heated brick bed, “kàng” in our lan­guage. Her life was ex­tremely painful.

My mother was the el­dest daugh­ter, and she had one sis­ter and two brothers. My

1 grand­fa­ther was an hon­est man, who couldn’t make ends meet de­spite hav­ing two mu of land. With­out a wa­ter well, live­stock, and large farm tools, he earned lit­tle and barely scraped by. My mother was the one who man­aged ev­ery­thing in the fam­ily.

In or­der to look after grandma and her fam­ily, my mom missed her chance of get­ting mar­ried at a proper age. At that time, the proper age, ac­cord­ing to the cus­tom in our vil­lage, was usu­ally 17 or 18, and if a girl still wasn’t mar­ried at 20, it would be a big headache for her par­ents. Just when my mom was about to hit 20, she con­tracted a mys­te­ri­ous dis­ease and her

fam­ily couldn’t af­ford a doc­tor. Thus, she had noth­ing to do but wait as the ill­ness turned her to a bag of bones, leav­ing her nearly no chance to sur­vive.

In those days, a maiden could never die in her par­ents’ home; if so, she couldn’t be buried into the an­ces­tral tomb of her clan, and then her soul would have nowhere to rest. To a girl, be­ing a wan­der­ing ghost was much cru­eler than be­ing un­mar­ried all her life. In my vil­lage, ghost mar­riage was a com­mon prac­tice– that is, mar­ry­ing two de­ceased per­sons of the op­po­site sex who were unat­tached when alive. It was said that my grand­fa­ther had be­gun to plan a ghost mar­riage for my mom. Back then, my dad, 55 years of age, had been bereft of his first wife. He had two sons and two daugh­ters, both of whom had got mar­ried. After be­ing set up by a match­maker, the mar­riage was quickly set­tled.

To my mom, this was far bet­ter than wait­ing for a ghost mar­riage.

It was said that my dad’s fam­ily strongly op­posed him for mar­ry­ing my mother, but he claimed, “I will marry her even if she was a ‘walk­ing dead.’” On the wed­ding day, due to his in­con­ve­nience, my dad sent his grand­sons to pick up my mom on his be­half.

After mar­riage, my dad took good care of my mom. At that time, he had sev­eral mu of farm­land and en­joyed a de­cent life; there­fore he de­cided to send my mom for med­i­cal care. Some­thing hap­pened! My mom got bet­ter every day, and, within less than three years of the mar­riage, she gave birth to my third and fourth brothers in suc­ces­sion (there were

无奈成婚

我的外祖母,体弱多病,每逢冬天,喘得透不过气,坐卧不宁,整日围着被子,蜷缩在炕上,痛苦至极。我母亲是长女,下边有一个妹妹和两个弟弟。外祖父是个老实人,支撑不了家。田有两亩,没有井,也没有牲口和大型农具,因而收成甚微,日子很难过。家里的事情,全由我母亲操持。为了外祖母和这个家,母亲耽误了婚期。当时的习俗是,十七八岁出嫁,过了二十就难了。大约在这前后,母亲患了莫名的病,根本请不起医生,拖着、耗着,瘦得不成人形,几乎没有生的希望。那个年代,闺女是不能死在娘家的,死了,不能入祖坟,没有安魂之处,只能做野鬼,对一个姑娘来说,这比生时没有出嫁更残酷。我们那里实行冥婚,找一个异性单身冥鬼,结为夫妻。据说,外祖父已为我母亲筹划冥婚的事。正当此时,我父亲丧偶,已经55岁。他有二男二女,都已成家。有媒人撮合,很快就把婚事说定。对我母亲来说,这总比等待冥婚要强得多。据说我父亲续弦遭到家人的强烈反对,但他声言:就是一个“棺材瓤子”,我也要娶回来。迎亲那天,他不便去,便派自己的孙子前往。婚后,父亲对母亲疼爱有加,关怀备至。那时,他已有良田几十亩,生活得不错,他便当家做主,到处给母亲请医生。奇迹出现了,母亲的身体日渐好转,婚后不到三年,接连生了我三哥和四哥(前边有两个同父异母哥哥),母亲的身子骨奇迹般地恢复正常。经过死亡考验的人,多半长寿。我母亲活到95 岁 时辞世。

沸腾的家

我娘一进刘家的大门,立即坐上祖母的位置。我爹与前妻生的二男,均已儿孙满堂。爹的长孙同我母亲的年龄相差无几,已经结婚生子。这个大家庭有二十多口人。爹得了一个年轻媳妇,娘也把他当做自己依赖的靠山,心满意足。这个大家庭的其他人,没有一个人能接受这个事实,哪里来的“娘”和“奶奶”?我娘是一个好强又极其注重名分的人。在她看来,自己是明媒正娶过来的,身份和地位无可争议,就要当这个“娘”和“奶奶”。但在自己没有生儿育女时,她只有我爹疼爱,自己空居名分,有气无力。

当我的同母长兄来到这个大家庭后,情况发生了变化,几个亲哥哥在这个家庭中,具有万钧之重,爹又钟爱小儿子们,娘也以子为贵。她要真正做一家之长,于是像开了锅的水,这个家沸腾起来了。

在我多少懂一点事时,多次听到我娘讲一件事:一群孙子媳妇们说,我娘未进刘家门之前,即大姑娘之时,有“不正经”的事。这类事传起来最快,村里人议论纷纷,最后传到我娘耳朵里,一下子引起大爆炸。

贞节问题,是当时的头等大事,我娘公开挑战,宣称传言者能找出证人,我立即去死。然后在家庭范围内,一个一个正面对质,几乎把家里所有的女人都卷进来了,谁都无言以对,不得不向我娘求饶。所有传言者都跪在我娘面前,请求原谅。我娘在气头上,横竖不答应,转身离开,所有跪求者,没有一个人敢站起来,这一跪,就是半天。我爹出来说情,我娘的气也消了一点,说可以,但每人要自己掌脸,于是,一片掌脸声响起。此事很快传遍村子,传言自然平息。

事后,我爹反复称赞我娘有骨气,刚强,敢作敢当。对家内女眷之间的事,我爹从不直接介入,他常说一句话: “看你们谁能争过谁。”

清官难断家务事,婆婆妈妈的事,时常发生,拖到1937年,不得不分家,我的两位异母长兄另立门户。

此时,我爹已经64岁,与我娘带着我们5个小崽子单过。老骥伏枥,该多难啊。

two half- blooded el­der brothers ahead of them), and like a mir­a­cle, she re­cov­ered fully.

Peo­ple said that most of those who have a nar­row es­cape from death will en­joy a long life. My mom passed away at the se­nior age of 95. From the day my mom mar­ried into the Liu’s fam­ily, she be­came a grand­mother, as my two half brothers al­ready had their own off­spring. In fact, my mother was about the same age with the el­dest grand­son of my fa­ther who also got mar­ried and had chil­dren. There were over twenty peo­ple in this big fam­ily.

Al­though Dad was sat­is­fied with his young wife, and Mom also re­garded him as the one to count on for life, none of the rest of the big fam­ily could ac­cept the truth–what kind of “mom” and “grandma” was she? My mother, with a high self­es­teem, thought highly of per­sonal im­age and sta­tus. In her eyes, she was mar­ried into the fam­ily in a proper and for­mal man­ner, and her fam­ily sta­tus was in­dis­putable; there­fore she in­sisted on be­ing the “mom” and “grand­mother”. How­ever, be­fore she gave birth to my sib­lings and me, my dad was the only one in the fam­ily car­ing about her, and all she had was just a ti­tle, which didn’t give her any­thing.

When she gave birth to my brothers, the whole sit­u­a­tion changed. My brothers were highly re­garded in the fam­ily, and my fa­ther also fa­vored his younger sons, so my mom fi­nally gained her due re­spect and honor. She wanted to be the real woman-in-charge; hence, like a pot of boil­ing wa­ter, the fam­ily was heated.

Since I be­gan to take in what was go­ing on around me, I had al­ways heard my mom telling me about one thing– some grand­daugh­ters- in­law gos­siped that be­fore my mom was mar­ried into Liu’s fam­ily, she had some “in­de­cent af­fairs”. Such gos­sip could eas­ily spread far and

wide. Peo­ple in our vil­lage started to dis­cuss it an­i­mat­edly, and when the news reached my mom’s ears, she im­me­di­ately blew up.

At that time, chastity was some­thing of ut­most im­por­tance to an un­mar­ried woman; there­fore my mom posed an open chal­lenge, claim­ing that as long as any gos­siper found a wit­ness, she would end her life at once. Then, she con­fronted each fam­ily mem­ber about the mat­ter, and nearly all the women in the fam­ily were dragged in, but they had noth­ing to say and asked to be par­doned. All the gos­sipers fell on their knees and begged for mercy. How­ever, my mom was still in a fit of anger, and re­fused to let it go. She turned away, but all the women on their knees dared not to get up. After a long while, my dad came out to in­ter­cede for them, and my mom had also cooled down a bit, so she agreed to let loose, with a con­di­tion that each of them slapped them­selves on the face; hence, there was a burst of face-slap­ping from the crowd. Be­fore long, this in­ci­dent spread across the vil­lage, and the ru­mor had even­tu­ally sub­sided.

After the event, my fa­ther ex­tolled my mom for her in­tegrity, tenac­ity, and courage over and over again. In fact, for ev­ery­thing go­ing on be­tween the fe­male mem­bers of the fam­ily,

my fa­ther never got in­volved di­rectly. He al­ways said, “Let’s just wait and see who can take an up­per hand.”

As the say­ing goes, even an up­right of­fi­cial finds it hard to set­tle a fam­ily quar­rel. Triv­ial mat­ters never ceased to hap­pen. In 1937, the big fam­ily had to be di­vided, and my two half brothers moved out to a new house.

By then, my fa­ther was al­ready 64 years old. He looked after the five lit­tle ones with only my mother. How tough would life be for some­one in his de­clin­ing years.

(From My Mem­o­ries of Eighty Years, Joint Pub­lish­ing Com­pany. Trans­la­tion: Zhu Yaguang)

我的老家,在河北省石家庄近郊一个名叫“上贤庄”的小村庄。我父母是一对老夫少妻,父亲比母亲大31岁。母亲是续弦。

Note:1 Mu: A Chi­nese unit of land area. 1 mu is equal to 0.16 acre.

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