Sunday, March 4, 2012

Fan Jinghua: My Uncles and Cousins

My Uncles and Cousins

The two winter date trees in my Third Uncle’s yard used to a tremendous
temptation when I was 7 or 8, especially around the mid-autumn season.
By then, summer-end half-rotten apples were less than seldom,
like ripe wild honeydew defiantly neglected in the green fields.
The days were too much the same, day in and day out, measured by
three meals, at least two of which were corn porridge with sweet potatoes.
              One unexpected expectation was a visit
to my maternal grandparents, an occasion to be treated as a guest.
Sometimes I could even stay at Grandma’s for a week,
and we had five uncles to choose for a decent meal with dishes,
and too many cousins to know by names but no problems to play together.
              I used to love the youngest uncle best,
for it seemed every time we went, the aunt had just given birth to another baby,
and I could get fried dough twists or dried noodle soup
when my mother was with us, even with an egg if Father went too.
Then we kids would go to another uncle’s home, separated by a clay wall.
Two date trees stood on one side.
               The trees were always part of the reason
why the two uncles were not in a good term, and the dates knocked down
by bamboo poles, if fallen on the other side of the wall, would be a waste,
for the youngest uncle would not allow his kids to pick up and eat
although the trees sucked the nutrition from his premise as he claimed.
               It was us who could climb the wall
to collect the fallen dates, and our laughter became a lever
between the two uncles, who talked to us as if from the two ends of a seesaw.
When the sun was going down, and we were on the road back,
the anger between them glowed darkly like the evening sky.
But during the harvest time, their elder daughters would come to my home
to help with our sweet potatoes and corns. We loved them
and the dates from their pockets used to be warm.
              My father would tell amusing tales
by the dim kerosene lamp, while my mother was in poor health, lying on the bed.
A few years later, the two cousins were married off.
One was only a little more than half-day away from my home, but parents
forbade us from visiting her, and later we knew her husband was quite a boor.
Another was a whole day away, and when newly-widowed, she told her brothers
to tell us that she had three winter dates trees and two pear trees.
              That was a time when we could only walk
to visit relatives, and five kilometers or three hours was perhaps the limit.
And now a seven-hour flight is called a short journey, but a week is a long vocation;
I comforted my parents that I could be back in only a day and night, but
usually I cannot manage once a year to sit with them, to listen to them
talking about all those uncles and cousins, dead or alive, and their descendents.
                   Nov. 8, 2011

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