A Tomb Keeper in the Vil­lage

乡村守墓人

Special Focus - - Contents - Han Haoyue 韩浩月

Iwas re­ally re­luc­tant to visit Dabuzi, a vil­lage in Shan­dong Prov­ince that I had left in my child­hood. But my third un­cle al­ways told me that I should “go back to re­spect­fully visit” my fa­ther’s grave.

It’s 35 kilo­me­ters from the near­est county town to Dabuzi. I feel I have to men­tion the ter­ri­ble con­di­tion of in­fra­struc­ture in the past. Es­pe­cially on rainy or snowy days, the bumpy and muddy road just made it an in­cred­i­bly long jour­ney.

Any­way, I did go back there at least once a year, mostly be­fore the Chi­nese New Year.

Vis­it­ing the grave was like a solemn cer­e­mony for my un­cle. On each day we were go­ing to do this, he would have his wife make dumplings and stir- fried dishes. He made some pa­per-cut­tings (a kind of pa­per that hangs on the tomb) him­self with my help. All these tasks would take three to four hours, and this al­ways made me burn with anx­i­ety, know­ing that I would have to go back to

town in the dark.

My un­cle once said to me be­fore my fa­ther’s grave, “You boys all have left home to some­where far away, and don’t want to come back. Sooner or later your chil­dren will for­get this place. Well, it doesn’t mat­ter, since you can come back some­times. As for the next gen­er­a­tions, they won’t re­mem­ber, and so be it. Any­way, I’m still here, and will be here for sev­eral decades. As long as I can move my legs, I will visit the graves of your fa­ther and your grand­fa­ther.

Tears were on my un­cle’s face, and on mine as well. Since then, I have been will­ing to come back, and tried my best to con­sole him.

My un­cle was al­ready in his fifties. How long could he ac­com­pany the dozen tombs? He said it was al­right, as his son would take his place when he passed away.

My younger cousin ( my un­cle’s son, the third old­est fam­ily boy of my gen­er­a­tion) is a freight- driver who trans­ports goods all around China. But no mat­ter how far he goes away, dur­ing his va­ca­tion he comes all the way back to the vil­lage, and to his fa­ther.

Sev­eral times I sug­gested that my un­cle and my cousin ( who was al­ready mar­ried) ought to move from the vil­lage to the county town, where they could eas­ily make more money, live a bet­ter life, and pro­vide bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion for the chil­dren. But my un­cle just would not leave.

My un­cle has lived many years in his house, in the north of Dabuzi, with a yard. When­ever I drove back to the vil­lage, I knew where to make a turn and park my car in his yard. One step into his house and a feel­ing of warmth and be­long­ing would flood my heart.

The ginkgo tree I had planted in my early days has grown very tall. The wa­ter well is still in the cen­ter of the yard; the pres­sur­iz­ing de­vice on the well is rusted, but it still works. When my daugh­ter was two years old, she vis­ited my un­cle’s yard and had so much fun with the de­vice. Now she is al­ready seven, and still plays the same game when we go back.

Since my for­ties, I have of­ten asked myself in my mind, that if there was a pos­si­bil­ity of re­turn­ing to Dabuzi in one or two decades, when I could rent a house in the vil­lage, or just live in my un­cle’s house. In our spare time we would have a drink and talk about the past.

That was some­thing I had never thought of, or was re­luc­tant to think of, when I was younger. But fi­nally I un­der­stood why my un­cle was will­ing to be a lonely grave keeper in a re­mote vil­lage.

What he has been keep­ing is not only his de­ceased fam­i­lies, but also a pre­cious feel­ing in his heart, and a warm place that he calls home.

( From Caix­inWeekly , Is­sue 46, 2017. Trans­la­tion: Wang Xiaoke)

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