TEARS 2004

TEARS 2004

Shengliver’s Note: This is a revised entry. It was first done in 2005 in honour of my father.


I lost my father to Mr Recnac in 2004.


My father was born in 1949, lost his mom when 13, married at 19, had 3 sons and saw all the three get married and have their offspring.


My father was a peasant and carpenter. We barely had enough to eat before 1982. In those years, the peasants of a Chinese village were organised into a farming cooperative. In turn a dozen or so farming cooperatives made up a People’s Commune. Under this system, productivity was low and waste was prevalent. After summer and autumn harvests, the grains a production squad reaped were distributed among all the families of the cooperative according to the hours of labour they had contributed. The more hours of labour a family did, the more grains it got. The truth was that the share of grains an average family received could not last until the next harvest, so it had to ration its food supply throughout the year. Otherwise, the family had to go hungry.


My family was no exception in those hard times. However, father managed to have all the mouths fed. When he was still a teenager, he learned a trade. He became a good carpenter before he turned 20. When our food supply ran short, he would buy more grains with what little cash he earned by carpentering. We were better clothed than our peers in the village. In rainy weather, when the dirt roads turned muddy, we wore boots made of rubber, which father bought us in the Cooperative Shop. Most people in the village had to go about barefooted or struggle in the mud in their handmade cloth shoes. And every Spring Festival we got new clothes made at the village tailor’s.


When there was little work to do on the farm, he would travel into the mountains with his carpentry tools. In the mountains, especially in winter, lots of carpentry work was available. One family needed to have some furniture made for their marrying daughter. One family needed to have a new bed made. One family decided to have a new home built. Father was as honest and warm-hearted as he was skilled. His service was popular in the mountain villages that could be located either in Henan Province or in Shaanxi Province. Some families had the raw material but couldn’t afford to hire a carpenter. In this case, father was still willing to work. The next year, when he went back to the same hamlet, the debtors would be very pleased to pay him what they owed and to entertain him. Wherever he went, friends abounded.


Many a year before the Spring Festival, he came back home, carrying his tool kit along. We three children would always expect to find some goodies in his box, such as peanuts, walnuts and dried persimmons. Of course, there was cash. The evening he came back was such a happy occasion. Mother was all smiles. We three brothers competed to chat with him, asking about everything in the deep mountains. After supper, we kids went to bed. Thinking we were asleep, father and mother would start to count the income under an oil lamp. I, being the oldest of the three, would listen in. Their tone was an indication of good income or bad. More often than not, it was a happy ending.


He made so many friends in the deep mountains that he enjoyed high repute there. One summer vacation, I was home reviewing my lessons and father was doing his carpentry work when a middle-aged woman in her forties came to our yard. She spoke with a heavy Shaanxi accent. Father was delighted by her visit. She was on the way to her relative’s village, which neighboured ours. It was 10 years or so since father had worked for her family. She praised father for the cupboard he had made for them, saying it was still strong and stout.


Father taught me about life in ways that are indelible. When I was in high school, and my younger brother in middle school, we learned a lesson from him in this fashion. Two days before the Spring Festival, he forced my brother and me to carry human manure in buckets to the fields with him. This is dirty work even for a farmer. We were in our teens and thought it was a shame for us to do it, particularly when all our pals were free and having fun and when the girls we liked were able to witness everything. His word was order, however. The fields were on a high hill about 2.5 kilometres from our cottage. My younger brother enjoyed better health than me. He had no trouble, carrying the manure in two buckets hanging from a pole and walking with ease. In contrast, I was in trouble. Being poorly built, I felt the load getting heavier all the time. The most torturing part was an uphill climb. We had to walk up a footpath to reach the fields. At some places up the way there were only some holes dug out for farmers’ feet to take hold in. It took practice to walk well on such a path. I inched my way upward cautiously, watching each and every step. But still before I could reach the fields, I felt so dizzy that I had to stop and rest on the path, firmly keeping the loads in balance, for I couldn’t let them rest on the slope.


Emptying the buckets of their contents onto the fields, father said, smiling, “If you desire to live your future my way, sons, you may go back to school after the Spring Festival and laze there.” This lesson was engraved on my mind. My younger brother thought this work was a piece of cake, so he became a farmer. I dreaded it, and I became a teacher. I became a teacher not because I belittled farmers, but because I thought then that I was not physically up to farm work.


When my winter holiday was over in early 1988, there was no bus service running because of a snowstorm. The day I was supposed to return to school, no bus came from the county town. Father decided that he and my younger brother would take one of my classmates and me back to school on their bikes. It was around 100 kilometres from my village to the town where my school was. It took us a whole day to reach the school. We had only one meal, a bowl of noodles for each, in a small restaurant on the way. When we arrived at my school, the canteen was closed. We were more thirsty than hungry. Father and brother badly needed some water to drink, but there was none around. I managed to get only one thermos of water for us four. They stayed the night in the dorm without any supper, and without any warm water to wash. Today, whenever I think of that long trip in the mountains on father’s back bike seat, my heart swells with respect and gratitude.


Thank you, father.


My wife, my daughter and I went back to my home village and spent the 2004 Spring Festival with my parents and my younger brother’s family. Before we left the city home, my wife and I had gone on a shopping trip. We visited the People’s Department Store. Some cotton-padded pants caught our eye. But we did not have enough money on us. The next day we went over to buy two pairs of the pants for my parents, only to be told that only one pair was left. We bought the remaining pair. When we were reunited with my parents, we presented the pants to my mother for it was the right size for her. Father did not mind it when we explained why there was only one pair.


The family reunion was a joyous affair. I noticed my parents were no longer that young, but they were still as capable as ever. Father looked thinner than before and the skin colour a little bit dark. But everything else was normal. On the 2nd day of the New Year, father said he had some stomach trouble. He said it was nothing serious, explaining that being old, he was no longer able to have oily food.


My family of three came back to our city home after the festival. I started work. I was teaching two graduating classes that year. One morning I was preparing my lesson in the office when an office clerk called me out. I was wanted on the office phone. The call was from a doctor who worked in the township hospital in my hometown. He told me that my father was probably suffering from Mr Recnac. But their equipment was not advanced enough to confirm it. He suggested that I have my father re-checked in the city hospital. The bad news, he said, was that if Mr Recnac was really detected in father’s body, that would very likely mean father was nearing the end of his life. I was stunned, as if some hand had reached out of nowhere and delivered a hard blow to my head. The whole morning was spent in a daze. I gave a lesson to my students, still smiling and laughing. I broke the news to my wife in the evening. And she was incredulous. We took a long walk after supper. The night was sleepless although I had always slept like a log. I forgot how the following days passed. I worked as usual and kept the bad news strictly between my close family members. My brothers, my wife and my uncle were told the truth. My mother was kept in the dark initially.


Father went through a thorough medical check-up in the city hospital. He was still optimistic, saying that he would be as fit as before once the swollen belly was brought back to the normal size. Poor father. The doctor had announced his looming death to me. The result showed that he was suffering from malignant liver Recnac. It was terminal. The doctor said that he could be gone within 30 days.


The evening before he went back to my home village, we had a long talk. I tried to withhold the truth from him, but he insisted I tell it. I did, and he was calm.


About 25 days after he left the city, his condition deteriorated so abruptly that my brother urged me to go back and say bye to him. My family went back on a Saturday and came back to school the following day, on Sunday. (In our school we do overtime on the weekend.) It was a 5-hour bus journey on the country roads, zigzagging in the mountains. At home, I sat at his deathbed, holding his hands, touching his face, feeling his swollen legs and belly, speechless. He knew he was going. In fact, he told me he would go within a week. My daughter came to him and talked to him quietly. My daughter was the apple of his eye. At night, mother was with him. I was lying in the next room, tormented by his groaning and praying.


On Sunday, my family returned to the city. Both he and I knew that the next time I came back he would be gone. No tears.


2 days before April Fool’s Day, father fell. On the way to escort his coffin to the family graveyard, I came down on my knees every time the coffin carriers had a short rest. None except me in the village understood the meaning of April 1. I felt I was the biggest FOOL in the world then.


Mr Recnac, I hate you. But father was quite honest about Mr Recnac. He said that Mr Recnac was fair to EVERYBODY, whether the victim was rich or poor, famous or infamous, powerful or powerless, a pop star or a politician. Once Mr Recnac befriends a person, he is doomed.


I am not superstitious. However, the fact that only one pair of cotton pants was left in the store and we bought it for mother comes back to my mind whenever I think of father’s death, which came around two months after the shopping. Was that something from the supernatural? Or simply a coincidence?


Father, may you be happy in the other world. I wish you a peaceful 2005 there.

1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. young
    Apr 22, 2010 @ 13:35:21

    I’m really touched by your sincere feelings with your father,I believe your father is proud of you all the time~~ —susie


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