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母親說：“妳面目變得消瘦黧黑的父親對我的第一句話是 ‘妳終於到了！’ 然後他摸著妳姐姐的頭，蹲下身來將她一手抱起，他再看我懷裡的妳說：‘這一定是我們的小女兒克難了！’他伸出另一隻手來抱妳，從來未見過妳父親的妳，居然馬上就讓他抱過去，我們擁在一起，又哭又笑，我們一家克服了千山萬水的困難，終於又團圓了！”
Remembering My Mother on International Women’s Day 3-8-2021 Claire Wang-Lee
It was early summer more than eighty years ago. In the old town of Changzhou near Shanghai there was a quiet lane. On one side of the lane ran an ancient canal. Green willow lined its banks. There were eight large old houses all built in the same style. The houses were connected by a long gray wall. Only a pair of solemn stone lions guarding each of the eight closed doors indicated that the residences were related. Behind each door was courtyard after courtyard surrounded by rooms.
In the eighth house at the end of the lane, in the second courtyard, peonies were bursting out in white, red, and pink. A young couple in their late twenties was looking in the courtyard, not at the glorious blooms, but for a suitable place to bury their books and their valuables. They knew that soon there would be a war, and it would not be safe for the enemy to see those things and find out what kind of household it was.
That big house belonged to my grandparents. The young husband and wife were my father and my mother.
My father had just returned from Nanjing where the last group of government employees would be evacuating in the next few days to Chongqing more than a thousand miles to the southwest. He had to go with them and had come home to say goodbye. My mother, who had been staying with her parents was in no position to travel. She was very pregnant, and the unborn child was me.
Four years earlier, right after my sister was born, my parents had gone abroad to Japan to study. My father studied law and my mother education. They had made many friends there but the Japanese government was set to invade China. My father and my mother left their studies behind, said goodbye to their Japanese friends and returned home. They could not believe soon they and their friends would be enemies.
My father said to my mother that she must be brave and take care of herself. They decided the unborn child, be it a boy or a girl, would be called Ke-Nan, which meant “overcome difficulties.” The name, they felt, would bring them hope to the future. “Promise me that after Ke-Nan is born, you’ll bring the children and join me in Chongqing,” my father said to my mother. He promised her that he would be waiting for her there. And he was going to send money for my mother to his friends in different cities on the way, so she would not have financial troubles when she made the trip.
My father left for Nanjing that evening. A month later I was born amid Japanese bombings. It was a difficult childbirth—I was dragged out by double forceps and named Ke-Nan.
Right after I was born, my mother took my sister, a distant relative, and me on the long and dangerous journey to join my father.
We had to go to Shanghai because the land route to Chongqing had already been cut off by the Japanese. The road to Shanghai was also under Japanese control. My mother took us first to the wetlands north of the Yangtze River. There were also bandits trying to get money from the refugees. Finally, we were able to escape to Shanghai.
We had to wait for a ship to Hong Kong. Then we had to go as far as Vietnam to re-enter China, and then go on to Chongqing. In Shanghai we waited for the ocean liner to Hong Kong, my mother had no place to stay but with her cousins.
The cousins had taken their share of money from home and were living idly in Shanghai. They knew the war was coming, but deluded themselves by playing mahjongg, visiting dance halls and smoking opium. The cousins couldn’t imagine that my mother would leave her comfortable life behind and take two young children to Chongqing. They knew that Shanghai would not be safe after the Japanese invaded, but to flee to southwest China was far more dangerous.
“I promised my husband that I would join him,” my mother just said.
We boarded the ocean liner and sailed for Hong Kong. The ship was luxurious, catering to foreigners and rich Chinese.
On the ocean liner my mother met an old family friend. Their families had been friends for generations and had both thought it would be ideal for him and my mother to get married. But my mother had insisted marrying my father, an outsider. Her friend who now was going to Hong Kong to see if he could settle his family there. He considered it safer than his hometown or Shanghai. He was happy to see my mother but astonished that my father had asked my mother to join him in Chongqing.
“Stay in Hong Kong and let me help you,” he said to my mother.
My mother thanked him. “I have promised my husband,” was the only thing she would say.
From Hong Kong we took another ship to Vietnam. After we arrived in Hanoi, a friend of my father’s arranged for a truck to take us on the long journey to Chongqing. As soon as the truck crossed the border, the bombing started. Often the trucks had to travel on narrow, winding poorly built mountain paths, and many were lost.
Our first truck ride was a disaster. The driver was good-hearted but foolishly daring. One night it was hot and he decided to sleep outside the truck. In the middle of the night, my mother heard wolves howling around our truck. She could do nothing but shut the windows and try to keep the rest of us quiet. The howling did not stop and my mother heard the driver curse and then scream. The other truck drivers did not dare to come down and rescue him. No one had guns in those days. Only soldiers and bandits had. The next day they found the driver’s gnawed body in a nearby ravine. Fortunately, another family offered us a ride to Kunming on the back of the truck they were riding.
In Kunming my mother met with more of my father’s friends and they arranged for another truck to take us to Chongqing. By that time my mother’s financial reserves had dwindled. She had only a few pieces of jewelry which my grandmother had sewn into our clothing. My mother sold most of the jewelry and paid double the fare to engage an experienced driver. It turned out to be a lifesaving decision because our truck had to pass through a dangerous winding section of road where bandits were known to rob and kill refugees. One day, my mother saw a group of people on the roadside waving to stop our truck. The driver told my mother to duck, and slowed down as if to comply. As he drove near the people, he suddenly sped up. The bandits fired from behind. We were able to escape. Later the driver showed my mother the remains of several trucks deep down in the canyon below the cliff. No one could have survived such a fall.
In the next city my mother could not get in touch with my father’s friend. There were air raids every day and the friend had left. The journey continued. At many truck stops my mother had to buy meager food because she didn’t know whether she could reach my father’s friends anymore.
When our truck driver saw us eat so frugally, he offered us food. The truck transport had made the drivers rich overnight. My mother who had never suffered hunger in her life, was too proud to accept and said she was not hungry. But the driver would feed my sister and Ah Lan, our helper, behind our mother’s back.
We arrived at River Wu in the province of Guizhou. The bridge across the river had already been destroyed by Japanese bombing. Hundreds of vehicles carrying refugees had crowded the river bank. They could only be ferried across one by one on moonless nights when Japanese planes could not detect them.
The crossing was delayed more than a month. Food became scarce and expensive. My mother would eat last and most of the time she had hardly anything to eat at all. Days dragged on. She had sold all the jewelry she had except for the wedding ring. My father and my mother had both broken away from their intended arranged marriages and chose each other. The wedding ring had never left my mother since the day they married.
My mother went to the post office every day to see if any mail had come from across the river. One of my father’s friends was there. My mother sent S.O.S. letters asking him to send money. Then my sister got sick and needed a doctor. That day my mother stood in line for hours but there was still no answer. She started to ask around for a pawn shop. A young female student who wanted to go to Chongqing to study was behind my mother in line. She offered to lend my mother, a complete stranger, part of her tuition money. My mother accepted the loan with tears in her eyes. She gave the student her wedding ring as collateral.
We finally crossed the river. Money my father sent was waiting there. My sister got well and my mother was able to get the wedding ring back. She took us to a small eating place to celebrate. Suddenly my mother found that she could not wipe away the tears fast enough to prevent them from falling into the soup. After weeks of hunger, soup was the only thing her stomach could hold.
A month later, our truck arrived in Chongqing. A massive bombing had preceded us. The city had almost burned to the ground. But my father was there waiting. He had come to the truck stop every day to look for a young woman and two little children. My mother often told us of the reunion. She said among the chaos she saw a thin and weary-looking young man. He couldn’t recognize her either. Then he said, “You’ve finally arrived.”
My mother said he then bent down and reached for my sister. He held my sister in one arm and said, “This must be Ke-Nan.” He reached out his other hand for me. And I, a one-year-old who had never seen my father before, let him hold me.
|( 創作｜散文 )|