Sunday, February 10, 2013

My Grandma's Summer Breakdown

During one summer vacation from middle school, I, as the oldest, took my brother, sister and two of my cousins to my grandma’s place by train. My mom Ju Fen (举芬) and my aunt Ju Min (举铭) sent us on the train at one end; my youngest aunt Ju Hua (举华) picked up us at the other end. It was a ten-hour journey. I really enjoyed the train ride because it made me feel that I was the head of the family. The rest had a great time on the train too. We counted the tunnels and bought a little local special at each stop through the window.
     My youngest aunt brought us to my oldest uncle’s (
晶)apartment where my grandma stayed. Fortunately, it was summer so we could camp on the floor. There were five of us intruding on my aunt and uncle’s two bedroom apartment, plus three of her own children and my grandma. Now as a mother myself, I understood how much extra work that we brought upon my aunt. She was working full-time like most moms in China. Just to put food on the table to feed eight children and three adults was already a full-time job since we had only raw materials, e.g., live chickens, ducks, and so on. My aunt was famous as an excellent, fast, efficient, and economical food chef in our family. Her dishes were the most delicious.
     My grandma never liked her daughter in-law even though she was great and very helpful. I don’t remember seeing any arguments between them. Only one day, my grandma was not herself. Suddenly, she could not recognize me, asking me who I was and she wanted me go home. Her mind was off for one day because she had not slept for a few days; now, I knew the obvious reasons, it was my underwear. My uncle gave her some sleeping pills and told us to be quiet so my grandma could sleep. She did sleep a very long time. When she awoke, she was like herself again. I was surprised that she did not remember anything she said before. I was just curious to try to understand the whole thing. My aunt told me, “don’t ask those questions.”
     It was embarrassing for me that I didn’t have any good underwear. They were worn and had holes in them. Every night after bathing, I washed them and hung them to dry. I tried to hang them in less obvious places so no one would see them. My aunt, of course, saw them and she made two new ones on her sewing machine. That, of course, caused my grandma to be embarrassed too because my mother was her daughter. By making me new underwear, my grandmother felt that my aunt was trying to show she was better than her daughter. She could just buy new underwear for me if she knew I needed new ones.
     She decided to teach me how to mend clothes by hand, how to mend the holes especially in socks. She could not see my stitches, but she could feel them by hand. She said that was how she learned when she was young. To feel it was a good embroidery on silk, you could feel with your hands. She even opened the big chest by her bed to show me extraordinary embroidery on silk she did when she was young before she married. She could not embroider anymore because of her failing sight. She also showed me all of her gold, silver, and jade jewelry and some fine China. She wanted to carry the chest full in her coffin when she died. I did not care that much for her jewelry because they all looked old and boring. I did admire so much the embroideries on silk. They looked so beautiful and delicate. I asked who could teach me to do that. She said none of her daughters learned because they all went to school. When she was a girl, only boys went to school; she stayed home and learned the art of embroidery. But she did not learn how to make clothes or shoes since there were always helpers in the house. She had to learn how to mend by herself after her husband could not work anymore.
     I was the caregiver for my brother, sister, and two of my cousins, especially outside during the daytime when my aunt and uncle were at work. We had to finish our homework first before playing. I had to make sure my cousins finished their homework too. Then we went out to play. When it was time, I had to take them home. One day when it was time to go home, my sister refused and I had to carry her in my arms during the steaming hot day. She was trying to get down. I was trying to hold her and walk home without tripping. She was yelling and fighting. Suddenly, I bit her on her arm and she screamed. She stopped fighting and let me carry her home. She didn’t eat her lunch, and she fell asleep instead. She looked so peaceful and I saw the blue teeth marks of mine. I felt so bad and shocked that I could do such thing to my baby sister. I sat beside her for a long time, and watched and wished the teeth marks on her arm would disappear when she woke up. I felt even worse that when she woke up she did not even complain, like nothing had happened. The blue teeth marks were deeply imprinted in my mind. Every time I lost my tempter, I learned to back off instead of reaching the boiling point.