The 96-year-old Caretaker
It is a chilly early autumn day in the mountainous village. 72- year- old Ren Caimei sits in a wheelchair, looking far into the panoramic hills in the distance. “Caimei, a bit cold?” Another whitehaired old woman briskly fetches a coat and covers her. Then the old woman helps comb Caimei’s hair into a central parting style, the same as her own, using a water- dipped wooden comb while humming songs.
This white- haired old woman has been taking care of the paralyzed Ren Caimei for the past 28 years. Her name is Sun Yincong, the 96-year-old mother-in-law of Mei.
The Bond Between the In-laws
Sun Yincong lives in Tai’an Village, Guwei Town of Ruicheng County in Yuncheng City, Shanxi Province. She lives a simple but happy life. She’d never imagined the disasters that piled up in the latter part of her life. In the winter of 1989, Sun Yincong’s husband passed away because of an illness. Ten days right after the funeral, her 47- year- old son Gao Jianjun died of a gas leakage in his home. In an age when she was supposed to enjoy the peace of life, the 68- year- old Sun Yincong suffered from the loss of both her husband and son within two weeks of one another. The double tragedy hit her and confined her to her bed temporarily. At the same time, Ren Caimei, her daughter-in-law, also fell ill after the shock.
In such miserable days, Sun Yincong and Ren Caimei had only each other to count on. But Ren Caimei did not have the same mental fortitude as Sun Yincong. Her son and daughter in their early twenties were working far away and rarely returned home. The sudden loss of her husband struck her deeply. She repeatedly murmured, “Mom, life can’t go on. I no longer want to live.” They would then hug each other and cry.
Sun Yincong always comforted her daughter- in- law saying, “Don’t be so sad. As long as I am here, our life will not collapse.”
As time went on, Sun Yincong slowly recovered from her pain. She got back to her old routine, tidying the house and making meals. She was as deft as before. In contrast, Ren Caimei’s physical and mental conditions were getting worse day by day. One morning, Ren Caimei ran to the river with faltering steps, shouting in a trance that she was calling her husband for breakfast. She almost drowned in the river. Sun Yincong only realized then that her daughterin-law was mentally unstable.
Sun Yincong helped Ren Caimei home and began watching her closely. However, one day six months later, Ren Caimei suddenly vomited and soon became unconscious just as the two were about to sit down for lunch.
Ren Caimei was immediately sent to the hospital where the doctors diagnosed the event as a stroke. Though her life was saved, the stroke caused hemiplegia and only her wrist
孙银聪家住山西省运城市芮城县古魏镇太安村，一直过着平淡却幸福的日子。没承想，厄运在她的后半生接踵而至。1989年冬天，孙银聪的老伴因病离世。就在老伴儿出殡 10 天后，47岁的儿子高建军在家中因煤气中毒，不治身亡。短短半个月，68岁的孙银聪在本该颐养天年的时候遭到了暴风骤雨般的打击，送完白发人又送黑发人的伤痛让她一度卧病在床。此时，她的儿媳任彩梅也因为精神刺激过大而病倒。
and lips could move. She could no longer speak a complete and clear sentence.
Ren Caimei’s son decided to quit his job and take care of his mother. “Grandma, you are too old to take care of others. We are her children and we should take care of Mom,” he said.
Sun Yincong thought a while then shook her head, “You are at marrying age, and you are just starting out your career. Leave your mother with this old woman. From now on, I will eat and live with her. She will be under my full charge. As long as I have something to eat, she will not be left hungry.” Thus it was decided and Sun Yincong asked her relatives to settle Ren Caimei in her own room, and the in-laws started living together.
The Chorus of Plates and Pots
Ren Caimei became a little timid and introverted after becoming ill, totally different from her previous self. She’d ask her mother-in-law to turn the light on as soon as the sun set just behind the mountain. When Sun Yincong picked up vegetables in the backyard, Ren Caimei, afraid of the dead silence in the house, started to sob, tears falling down her face.
In order to comfort her, Sun Yincong racked her brains to make a loud sound in the house. She began to speak loudly deliberately, walked in a stomping manner, and made pots and plates clink when she washed the dishes. She even tied stones to the chicken’s feet, so that when they walked around the yard they made extra noise.
Though there was plenty of housework to do, Sun Yincong was very tidy and kept everything in order. For 28 years, she repeated the same routine work for Ren Caimei: combing her hair, washing her face, bathing her body, and changing clothes.
Many years in a wheelchair had made Ren Caimei’s legs and feet swollen. One day, she saw elephants on television. She pointed to the elephant first, then at her own legs with a grateful look at her mother- in- law. Sun Yincong was bewildered for a few seconds and then chuckled. “Do you mean I seem to help an elephant wear shoes every day?” Ren Caimei nodded and laughed so hard that tears down her cheeks.
Every morning when she finished her housework, Sun Yincong would chat with Ren Caimei in the yard even though her only response was simply a few “whoo wholl” sounds. At lunchtime, Ren Caimei would pat her mother- in- law and start “ordering food.” Ren Caimei gestured a big circle with her hands to mean eating pancake, a long line for noodles, and two hands squeezing each other for dough ball soup.
When they ate, Sun Yincong fed Ren Caimei a spoonful first and then fed herself. Sometimes she even hummed some local folk songs to coax Mei to eat, treating her like a baby.
Old Twin Sisters
Burdened with unending labor day and night and with the
任彩梅已经 70 多岁了，但在孙银聪眼里，她就是个“老小孩”，而且年纪越大越喜欢撒娇，离了婆婆一会儿就哼哼唧唧，孙银聪也由着她耍赖。总有村里人打趣说：“一个弓着腰的太婆推着一个白头发的太婆，像一对老姐妹哩。”
2017 年 8 月 19 日，是孙银聪96周岁的生日，一大早，自发来祝寿的乡亲几乎踏破了孙家小屋的门槛。像往年一样，孙银聪的生日没有鲜花，也没有蛋糕，只有来客们在自家做好端来的饭菜。她这个老寿星给儿媳梳好头发，端茶递水招待大伙儿，忙得不亦乐乎。
（摘自《婚姻与家庭》2017年第 11 期）
passing of years, Sun Yincong was no longer as physically strong as she had been before. Inevitably, she suffered from toothaches, headaches, arm pains, colds, and other minor illnesses. Every time Sun Yuncong went out for injections, she would cook lunch for Ren Caimei in advance. But often when she returned at two or three in the afternoon, she’d find Ren Caimei still sitting in the yard. “Why don’t you eat on time?” Sun Yincong would demand.
Ren Caimei would anxiously gesture, “I wanted to wait for you so we could eat together.”
Ren Caimei is now more than 70 years old, but she is an “old child” in the eyes of Sun Yincong. She is more like a spoiled child as she gets older. She becomes unhappy when she is away from her mother- in- law for even a brief moment and Sun Yincong endures her being unreasonable. Villagers joke about them, saying, “They’re like a pair of old twin sisters, one bent, old woman pushing another white- haired one.”
Though being well taken care of, Ren Caimei’s physical condition hasn’t improved much. She’s suffered another three strokes, one of which was particularly dangerous two years ago. It had been a late winter night in 2015 when Sun Yincong heard sounds coming from Ren Caimei’s bed. She got up and saw her daughter-in-law half hanging off the bed, unconscious, and her face gone pale. Sun immediately put on her dress and asked for help to take Ren Caimei to the hospital.
In the hospital, the doctor said, “We are not optimistic about her health for she is very old. So all of you should be prepared for the worst.” Upon hearing this, the grandchildren’s eyes were filled with tears.
Only Sun Yincong shook her head and said firmly, “Believe me. I am much older than her and I am healthy enough here. I do not give up on her, so she will not leave me behind.” Finally, with treatment, Ren Caimei gradually recovered.
On the night she returned from the hospital, Ren Caimei took her mother- in- law’s hands emotionally and murmured, “Mom, you saved me again.”
August 19, 2017 marked Sun Yincong’s 96th birthday. Early in the morning, villagers crowded into her house to wish her a happy birthday. As usual, Sun Yincong’s birthday was celebrated without flowers or cakes, but instead with the home- cooked meals the villagers brought over. And the birthday girl was still busy combing the hair of her daughterin-law, serving tea for the guests, and entertaining her neighbors with a smile on her old face. ( From MarriageandFamily , November 2017. Translation: Zhang Lei)
孙银聪和任彩梅 Sun Yincong and Ren Caimei