Memories of Mrs. Chao Xu Yue Qin
Serving as head of the household was no easy feat for mother. With the Second Sino-Japanese War and Chinese Civil War roiling through the country, our family’s financial situation steadily worsened. To save on expenses, mother would hire fewer farmhands than before and would personally set out to till the fields. While living at home attending elementary school and later in a dormitory for middle school, I often would think about mother’s hardships, always longing to return to help. Each time I headed back for a long weekend or holiday, I would help mother in the fields. Although I was unable to alleviate many of her burdens, I hoped for the strength to provide mother with some measure of emotional support.
Beginning in the 1930s, the Japanese occupation and invasion of China ushered in a period of social upheaval and family hardships. Mother lost many of her teeth and often suffered from toothaches. After a long day of backbreaking work, she would return home unable to eat, a sight that pained me to no end. While working in the fields alongside mother, I would console her and say, “Mother, after I am all grown up, I will figure out a way to make or buy some soft food for you that is easy to chew and to eat, something like tofu.” Mother would straighten herself up, look at me and shake her head in disapproval, causing me to think more deeply about what I had said. After realizing the error in my reasoning, I immediately added, “Mother, this is the first step. But what matters is that I will earn enough money to buy you a complete set of teeth.”
Grateful at hearing my suggestion, mother finally smiled, revealing a mouthful of her missing teeth. It was a sight that was by turns distressing and heartwarming, one that would be emblazoned deep in my memory, and one that to this day is still hard to forget. Although mother was a taciturn woman, her eyes were still radiant and full of vitality, her mind nimble and quick. No matter where we were, she would always remind me that thinking things through clearly and thoroughly would pay dividends the rest of my life.
Born in the countryside, I began living in the county middle school dormitory after completing my sixth year of elementary school. Before the start of every semester, mother and father would always rush to cobble together enough money to pay my tuition. After working in the fields for a full day, mother would often call me over for heart-to-heart talks. For mother, having her son nearby following a day of hard work was her happiest joy in life. But at that age, I was still too immature to understand the way mother cared for me. When we met, she would have little to say, and soon after I would run off. But mother never blamed me for this; rather, she always forgave me and would look forward to our next chance to see each other.
Mother’s illness was the result of a number of factors — many years of malnourishment, a lack of proper medicine and medical care, and backbreaking work. To be a good son, I vowed to apply for permission to let mother leave China. I knew it was my duty to overcome all obstacles and allow mother passage to the United States, so she would never again have to suffer injustice, so she could live out the later years of her life in peace.
God’s beneficence oftentimes exceeds our own expectations. In less than half a year, the authorities had held a meeting in our village and, to our surprise, granted permission for mother to leave, a sure sign of the respect accorded to her by the officials. I was also grateful to the townspeople who helped her quickly embark on her journey, especially considering that China was in the midst of the Cultural Revolution. Their assistance was indeed commendable. Reenergized by this propitious turn of events, mother’s health began to improve rapidly. The following September, three close relatives brought mother to Shenzhen, where she was met by good friends who then took her to Hong Kong. It was there that I finally reunited with mother, thus closing a 23-year chapter in our lives defined by separation and a yearning to be together again.