Sunday, February 10, 2013

Living With My Oldest Uncle

When I was six, my grandmother had a difficult time taking care of my grandfather and me at the same time. We moved to my uncle’s (her eldest son’s) home in Zigong (自貢). Later, I learned that it is a tradition for parents to stay with their eldest son after they become old. A wise man said that they would rather stay with the broken, ragged oldest son rather than stay with their richest daughter, because daughters are known to care for someone else. My oldest uncle was not like any other uncle. My grandmother could not get along with her daughter-in-law, though my aunt was doing a great job at home taking care of her three kids plus now my grandparents and me, and she had a full-time job outside.
     My Aunt Zhou (邹) had an older sister who was the second wife of Hou (贺). He had a son with his first wife, now a daughter with her. My aunt kept giving away my grandma’s stuff to her family without asking my grandma, so my grandma went a crazy few times. She said, “No, she told me she sold it to her sister for one yuan, my full-size black lacquer bed with a canopy worth only one yuan? She has no right!” Now I am thinking, my uncle really did not have room for my grandparents’ stuff when we moved in. The old things were not in fashion then. My aunt tried to get rid of them and her sister was in need.
     My uncle had three kids, one older and two younger than me. For the first time in my life I felt competition between my cousins and me. It was my grandma and I on one side, and they were on the other side. My grandmother always protected me and gave me special treats. She gave me half of her daily milk to drink, even though I hated drinking milk (still do); I had to put sugar in it. But my cousins seemed to like everything. I couldn’t let my cousins know I got to drink it. If my grandmother coughed that was a signal that they were coming and I was to hide behind the bed; the bed was huge with a canopy and there was a long wooden step in front of the bed. 

My grandma's bed was black and gold, all other features too, not red and gold colours.
     My aunt was such a good cook; we fought over her food every day. Some hot dishes were so hot that they made me cry and run to the sink for cold water to cool my mouth. My cousins were doing the same thing, so we were fighting over the sink for water. Then we went back for more.
     Soon, I went to kindergarten. I walked to school every morning and back home around noon. I loved to pick up the fanlike leaves under the big ginkgo tree, fresh new buds from a fig tree, and flowers along the way. I just loved to bring back something every day to show my grandmother. My grandmother seemed to be waiting at home everyday for me to bring her something. We were in such a union in my uncle’s house as if no one else mattered. Sometimes I watched police train their dogs in a lake by the police station. I wished that I could have a dog myself. It was a turning point when I felt that I was grown up.

Me, on the left, holding my little sister with my cousins in Zigong (自貢), 1968