As we begin the Thanksgiving week today, I would like to share a few people and things in my life that I am very thankful for.
The first person I am thankful for is my mother.
Mother turned 79 on Nov. 15. According to her ID card, she was born on Nov. 15, 1934 (Gregorian calendar). Mother said she was not sure if her birth date was correctly transferred. In the old days, they used the traditional Chinese Calendar. Then in 1949, Gregorian calendar was officially adopted by the People’s Republic of China for public and business affairs. The traditional Chinese Calendar is still in use for civil affairs and traditional holidays.
I am thankful that Mother is still relatively healthy. She has diabetes and high blood pressure. Two years ago, she was in emergency room for heart failure. Since then she has a pacemaker which has improved her heart condition. The biggest problem she faces now is mobility. She can walk only slowly and short distance, such as in the neighborhood and to the bus or subway stations. She is still living independently, with my Dad.
What I appreciate the most about my mother is her humble attitude, her contentment with life, her hard work, discipline and self-control.
Mother grew up and lived the first half of century in poverty. She was one of five kids in the family. My grandfather’s family used to own a textile business, but it was gone overnight in a fire. He worked as a bookkeeper for others while my grandmother helped support the family as a seamstress. She made and washed clothes for people.
As a girl, Mother had 1-2 years of school. In the traditional Chinese culture, usually only boys and girls from rich families went to private school and got educated if families could afford it. Girls in general were considered unimportant and had no need for education, since they would get married and leave their own families anyway.
Due to the difficult financial condition, Mother left home at age 11 to go to Shanghai and to work in a shoe factory. After living in the factory for a few months, she got sick and was let go. From there she went to Suzhou to live with an aunt whose husband was an official in the Chiang Kai-shek’s government. Mother was treated as a servant and housemaid. She did chores and tended to the garden.
Mother never had enough to eat. She was always hungry.
A few years later, my grandparents also arrived in Suzhou. My grandfather first worked on road construction and then delivered tap water to households. My mother helped my grandmother sell food on the streets. She also helped my grandfather watch over the water usage.
After the Communist Party took over the power in 1949, free education became available. Mother used her free time to go to night school to catch up on her education. The night school became day time school. Due to her difficult financial situation, she received scholarship which covered her living expenses. Mother had to work extra hard in school, her classmates were younger than her.
In 1955, Mother was accepted by a three-year normal college. She chose to become a teacher because not only was the college free, all her living expenses were also covered by the college.
After graduation, Mother received continuing education for teacher training for four years. In 1962, she started her teaching career as a math teacher at the No. 9 Junior High School in Suzhou. It was later renamed to No. 23 High School.
Mother retired in 1990 after 28 years of teaching.
For 17 years, from 1962 to 1979, Mother’s month salary as a teacher was ¥35.6 Yuan (=$6 in USD). In today’s China, ¥35.6 Yuan can only buy a very modest and simple lunch.
I was born and grew up during that time period. I remember the poverty and the hardship we had to endure. My parents, both making low wages like most people in China at the time did, had not only to support a family of four (my oldest brother died at a young age before I was born), but also to support both grandparents financially. The only way to live and survive was to work hard, live frugally and resourcefully.
Mother got up very early every morning to do grocery shopping and cooking for breakfast and lunch. So when we came home during the day from work and school, lunch was ready and waiting for us. My Dad did everything else in the house.
Mother took great pride as a teacher. She was a strict teacher and taught diligently. She worked day and night.
When the Chinese Cultural Revolution ended and China opened the door to the West in the late 1970s and early 1980s, life got better. Universities reopened their doors to the young people who were hungry for knowledge and education. More freedom and more opportunities came to China.
I was able to go to university in Beijing in 1981. The train ride from Suzhou to Beijing lasted almost a day and night.
At that time, college education was free. I didn’t have to pay for tuition or dormitory. I only needed to cover my living expenses, mostly food.
My parents gave me a monthly allowance of ¥30 Yuan. I used it to pay for food and anything else needed. I saved my allowance to pay for my own train tickets to visit my parents twice a year during the summer and winter breaks.
When I lived and studied in Germany from 1986 to 1991 on a government scholarship, I also worked at some odd jobs. I saved money and bought my parents a few luxuries items they had never had before, their first color TV, refrigerator, and washer. It’s my way to repay them for their years of hardship and sacrifice.
My parents never asked me for anything. They are happy and content with what they have. They always say: “We have enough. We don’t need more.” My parents were still using the washer I bought them over 20 years ago until this year when my brother insisted on buying them a new and bigger one, because the old one was small for washing big items. They always take good care of things. As the result, they last for a long time.
I am thankful for my mother and father for teaching me to be humble, content and resourceful. A lot of things I do and consider virtues, I learned from my mother and father.
I am thankful for my mother and father for raising me and also for helping raise my two children. They came to the US three times (Oct. 1999 – April 2001, April 2003 – Nov. 2005, May 2006 – Nov. 2006, ) to take care of their grandkids.
I am thankful for my mother and father for loving me, even though they have never said that to me. But I know they love me in their hearts, and thoughts and through their action.