The Incredible Love of My Parents
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
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。
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)
Note:1 Mu: A Chinese unit of land area. 1 mu is equal to 0.16 acre.