Hi, Steemit friends. I hope you continue to enjoy reading my stories of growing up in China.
When my oldest sister Xiaofeng was six years old, my mother felt a lump on her upper right arm close to the armpit one day when she helped Xiaofeng take off her sweater. My parents took Xiaofeng to the hospital and she was diagnosed with lymphoma. The doctor initially suggested amputation of her right arm and my parents refused to accept such drastic treatment recommendation. My mother felt responsible and guilty for Xiaofeng’s diagnosis of cancer. Before she became pregnant with Xiaofeng, she suffered from several miscarriages. When she was pregnant with Xiaofeng, she took Chinese herb medicine to prevent another miscarriage. My mother believed that the medicine she took during her pregnancy was the culprit for Xiaofeng’s cancer. Xiaofeng was admitted to the hospital and received surgery to remove the lump on her arm and radiation treatment. The surgery was successful but the doctor told my parents that Xiaofeng might only have five more years to live. This news was like thunder in a bright sunny day and my parents lived in fear for years that one day they were going to lose their beloved first daughter. My sister’s cancer diagnosis brought my parents closer together and one year later I was born.
A Photo of my father and Xiaofeng at People’s Park in Chengdu taken when Xiaofeng was about two.
Xiaofeng was a well-loved and treasured child who was like a bright pearl in my parents’ palms. When she was in the hospital receiving surgery and radiation treatment, she was brave and cheerful and she made friends with doctors and patients around her. The doctor who treated her completely fell in love with Xiaofeng. When she was discharged from the hospital, the doctor gave Xiaofeng a beautiful conch shell as a gift which became the most treasured possession that Xiaofeng had during her childhood.
For five years after the operation, other than a long scar on her right arm and a very skinny right arm, Xiaofeng showed no signs of being sick with cancer. She continued to grow healthy and strong. Being the oldest child who received much love and attention from my parents as a young child, Xiaofeng was a kind-hearted, confident and capable child with a strong sense of filial piety to my parents and strong sense of responsibilities to her younger sisters, Xiaoling and I. Our nanny Yee Po Po left our family to take care of a new born baby in our courtyard compound when Xiaofeng was twelve. Since my mother only came home one day a week on Sundays and my father, being an old fashioned male growing up in a Confucian household, had no practical skills taking care of a family, Xiaofeng was put in charge of the household affairs at the age of twelve.
A photo of my mother and Xiaofeng taken when Xiaofeng was about four.
Xiaofeng was like a second mother to me and she made me feel loved and protected. My earliest memory of her went back to the time when I was only four, during the Cultural Revolution when armed fractional fighting broke out in Chengdu. One day, Xiaofeng and I were walking on the street near the headquarter of the Southwest Bureau where my father worked. Suddenly we saw people running toward us yelling loudly. Xiaofeng held my hand tightly and started to run in the same direction as the other people as fast as she could and I remembered running so fast that my feet did not seem to touch the ground. We heard gunshots behind us. Xiaofeng and I ran all the way home without stopping or turning our heads to look behind.
A photo of Xiaofeng at the age of seven.
At the age of twelve, Xiaofeng was responsible for cooking, cleaning, grocery-shopping, and washing clothes. I still remember how she washed our clothes using the washboard placed slanted inside a wooden wash tub. After scrubbing the clothes on the washboard with soup, she would rinse them with cold water, even in the cold winter, when her hands were red and freezing.
Xiaofeng would use the same washboard and wooden wash tub to kill and prepare eels for us. During the time when meat was scarce, sometime we would have the treat of buying a basinful of live eels. Xiaofeng was an expert at preparing the eels. She would drive a nail through the washboard with the nail point exposed and place the washboard inside the wooden wash tub. She would sit on a stool in front of the tub, reach out to grab an eel from the basin, smash the head of the eel on the edge of the wooden tub to kill it, push its head through the nail point and use a small knife to cut the eel open along the washboard. She would scrape the insides and bones of the eel, cut it into small piece and place the meat into a bowl. We would have a delicious eel meat stir fried with Pi Xian bean paste and garlic prepared by Xiaofeng。
Xiaofeng was also skilled at killing chickens. Since meat and eggs along with all food items were rationed during my childhood, families in our residential compounds would each raise half dozen of chickens for meat and eggs to supplement the limited protein supply. Xiaofeng was always the one in my family who killed, prepared and cooked the chickens.
One weekend, my mother decided that we should treat ourselves with chicken meat since we had not had meat for a long time. We were all so excited and looked forward to such special treat. Xiaofeng rolled up her sleeves and began preparing for the killing. She sharpened the kitchen knife on a stone, picked up one of our chickens and grabbed it by the wings firmly with her left hand. She pulled its head backward to join where the wings attached and tightened the skin around the throat with her left thumb and index finger. She plucked the feather around the neck area and slit the chicken’s throat with the sharp knife in her firm right hand. She turned the chicken upside down and drained the blood into a bowl. My sister Xiaoling and I helped pluck the feathers off the freshly killed chicken soaked in a pot of hot water. We saved several long feathers to make shuttlecocks for play. Xiaofeng cut open the chicken with the knife and reached inside with her hand to pull out all the organs. She cleaned and sliced the chicken liver, heart and gizzard. My mother took over and made a stir-fried chicken giblets dish, a stir-fried coagulating chicken blood dish and stewed chicken soup.
Right at the time when a pot of juicy, appetizing chicken soup was placed on the dinner table, my uncle came to visit unexpectedly. The smell and the look of the delicious chicken made his mouth water. My mother, being hospitable and polite, offered him a pair of chopsticks and told him to go ahead and have a taste of the chicken before the dinner officially started. My uncle skillfully scooped up half of the chicken breast with the chopsticks and devoured it. He then scooped up the other half of the chicken breast and chewed it slower than the first bite but with much enjoyment on his face. Once he started eating he was not able to stop. He must have been starving for meat for a very long time and chicken in front of him made him forget where he was and what he was doing and it certainly made him forget his manners as a guest. By the time when my mother, my sisters and I sat down for dinner, all we could see was the skeleton of a chicken swimming in the soup. Xiaofeng could not believe her eyes. She rushed outside and squatted down at the corner of the wall crying silently and bitterly, covering her face with her shaky hands. This was the very first time that I ever saw my big sister Xiaofeng cry.