During one of my recent phone calls to my parents in China to ask about their Chinese New Year happenings, my mother mentioned that she visited a middle school teacher of hers.
My mother is 77 years old. Her teacher is already in her 90s. How many people will still visit their teachers at that age?
Here is the story my mother told me as why she visits her teacher every year during the Chinese New Year to bring her some gifts and to show her respect and appreciation.
My mother came from a poor family in the country with three brothers and two sisters. My grandfather had a fabric store. It was burned down and they were left penniless. My mother’s little sister was sold at a young age to another family because they couldn’t afford to feed everyone.
One by one they left the country to go to the city for a better life. My mother first lived with a relative as a maid attending their garden and helping with the chores. She never had enough to eat. Later my grandmother and my mother sold food on the street for a while.
In those old days, girls were considered the second class citizen. She wanted to go to school, but didn’t have a chance.
My grandfather thought only sons needed to go to school. Girls would be married out of the family anyway. Besides their family didn’t have money to send kids to school. So my mother never went to school as a kid.
After the Communist Party came to power in 1949, free public education became available. My mother took the opportunity to go to school part-time, for a couple of hours in the afternoon, against my grandfather’s will.
Mother had to work extra hard to catch up, because she never went to school as a kid. She secretly sold blood to make money and to help her parents support the family.
When the middle school teacher heard about my mother selling blood, she paid a house visit. She thought my mother was a good student and wanted to encourage her to attend more school. There she found out about the financial situation in my mother’s family. She helped my mother get more financial assistance from school, raising her stipendium from 4 RMB to 8 RMB (ca. half a dollar to a dollar) per month.
That was an important moment in my mother’s life. She never forgot the kindness of that teacher.
After my mother finished middle school, she went on to go to a two-year pedagogical college to become a teacher. She chose that kind of college because no expenses for the students were needed. In addition, students got monthly allowance from the school. My mother used the money to support the family.
My mother became a math teacher and taught at a high school in our neighborhood for many years.
To this day, my mother still visits her middle school teacher at least once a year. She said she will remember the kindness from the teacher for the rest of her life.
One simple act of kindness has been returned thousandfold. And it is still reaping reward after so many years and several decades.