While watching the American TV show “How I Met Your Mother,” I asked my mom how she met my father.
“Why do you want to know that? It is not romantic at all,” she asked.
“Oh, come on, I just want to hear your story,” I replied.
“I grew up in a family without much love, especially our father’s love,” she began. “I was the 4th daughter in my family, the child they never wanted. You can tell that from my name. My oldest sister was named Jia Lian, which means “family union;” my second sister was named “Jia Pin,” which means “family peace;” Third Sister was named Yuan Feng, which means “no more daughters.” Then I came into the world. I know they were disappointed – they just want a son. But it wasn’t my fault. They named me Ju, which means “chrysanthemum” just because I was born in the fall. Then finally, my brother came, so they gave all their attention and love to him. I was all but forgotten even though I was only 2 years older than he was.
“I never liked my father – he was his son’s father, not a father to his daughters. But I don’t blame my mother; she was always a kind woman. She did what she had to do. And I thank my sisters for being the ones who raised me.
“Anyway, that was the family I grew up in. I didn’t get much love from Father, and back at that time in the countryside, boys and girls didn’t really talk much. Your family would always arrange blind dates for you when you were old enough. I am talking about 16 or 17 here. And when both families agreed with each other, your marriage would be done. I didn’t want that. I was so scared that I would get a rubbish guy and then my life would be ruined.
“We 4 girls didn’t go to school much because your grandfather was saving every penny for his son, forcing us to leave school at young ages. But I worked really hard to make money ever since I was a child. I knew I would have to depend on myself for everything.”
I had to interrupt her at this point. “Yes, Mom, I have heard your tough childhood story thousands of times. But how did you meet Dad?”
“Alright, alright,” she said. “We were both paid to help a man to build his house. Our families lived pretty close actually, but we had never met each other before. Then he saw me and got interested in me.”
“Wow, romantic, huh? Fall in love at first sight! You must have been very pretty when you were young.”
“Haha, I was 19 years old when I met him, the best age of my life. But people in the village already started thinking of me as a leftover girl and my mom had started to worry about my marriage already.”
When she said that, I could see her cheeks blush. “Wow, Mom, you are blushing. Are you shy now? Haha!”
“Ah no, I just never talked about it to anyone before. So for several days, he helped me a lot. I was a little shy but would touch his arm and pay attention to him. He was a very straight and honest man; those are his best qualities.”
“So what happened later? You didn’t marry him after that, did you?”
“So for many days, we talked a lot whenever we had the time. His family situation was rough, too. His mom died at a young age because of cancer. He also had 3 younger brothers. His father, now your grandfather, couldn’t afford 4 sons at the same time, so as the oldest son in the family, your father accepted his responsibility. He dropped out of school and started working for very little money.
“This was the life for 70 out of 100 Chinese countryside families back at that time. Poor! We worked very hard but got very little in return. You think it unfair? Talk to Chairman about it! You do whatever the Party wanted you to do. When they wanted to make steel, every family had to donate whatever was made from metal in their houses… well, taken is a better word because if you didn’t do it, they just came to your house and smashed everything.”
“Oh yeah, I know about that time. Then you had to go to the community canteen to eat, and would only get a certain amount of food, barely enough to fill a stomach. And then after that period, you didn’t work for yourselves, you worked for the community and earned point tickets. Then you can buy food with those tickets. Of course, this was after they took all the cookers to try and make steel and failed. And the Red Army, just savages, tried to take down all educated men. Oh god, this was the darkest time and stupidest time, wasn’t it?”
“Haha, you tell me! I am so glad you didn’t have to go through all these things.”
“Oh, back to business. We can talk about that another time. What happened later between you and dad?”
“Oh well, it was a small village, so he used to walk me home when we finished work. One day, he told me he was going to Guangzhou because there were more job opportunities and salaries were much better. After hearing this, I was a bit upset, but I didn’t say anything. ‘I will call you when I can,’ he said. ‘And I want you to visit me there, would you?’ he begged. ‘Ah, well, I don’t have enough money to buy a ticket,’ I said. ‘Don’t worry. I will send you some money when I get paid,’ he said. ‘You don’t have to do that. You need to send the money to your family!’ ‘I like you, Ju!’ he said. For a few seconds, I couldn’t hear my heartbeat, and then I could feel my face burning and my heart was beating like a running deer. ‘Ah, umm… I have to go home now, bye,’ was all I could say. And I just ran off! After a few seconds, he shouted loudly, ‘I am leaving in 4 days. I hope to see you at the bus stop.’ I didn’t answer him; I just kept running and running.”
“Hahaha. Mom, you were so cute!”
“The next day, I saw him outside my house. He waved at me when he saw me, so I walked towards him very slowly, ‘I came to tell you I leave in 3 days. I hope you will come see me off at the bus stop,’ he said. ‘Ah, I am not sure if I am free that day. I will see, ok?’ I lied. ‘I really want you to come,’ he pleaded. ‘Ok, I will see,’ I said.”
“Oh, Mom, you are a terrible liar!”
“Time went fast. I didn’t see him for the next two days. On the last day, I was still hesitant about if I should go or not, so I talked to one of my sisters about it. She said, ‘well, I think you should go. It’s only a goodbye. It won’t do you any harm. I think you like him a little bit, actually. Just go to say goodbye.’
“So I went to see him off at the bus stop. I could tell he was really happy I was there. He waved to me even after he got on the bus and until I couldn’t see him anymore. For some reason, something in my heart was changing. That day was beautiful – pure blue sky and beautiful sunshine. The last thing he told me was ‘I will call you.’
“He called me after 3 weeks. He told me about his life there, that he missed me, that he wanted me to visit him, that he would send me the money to visit him after he got his first paycheck. We talked so much that day. It was nice. The next time he called me, it was a month later.”
“Why did it take so long?”
“You silly girl. Technology wasn’t so good back at that time. We didn’t have mobile phones, and your grandfather didn’t have a telephone. The only way he could call me was to call the central telephone house in the village, and then somebody would have to come over and tell me I had a phone call. Then after a few minutes, he would have to call again to check if I were there. That time he called me to tell me the factory he was working for was holding a month’s salary for some insurance. So later, after he got paid, he sent me the money to buy a ticket as he promised. I stayed there for 3 days. He took 3 days off work, showed me around, and we saw some interesting things that I never knew existed. And when it came time for me to go back home, your father gave me all his salary, only leaving very little for himself. He said I was going to need it.
“So that was how I knew your father was a reliable man and I decided to accept him. Then the next year, I went to Guangzhou with him and got a job there. After we had saved enough money, we got married.
“So that is the story how I met your father. It’s not as romantic as you may think, but it is pure and real. In a society where everybody cares about money and power and romance, he is the one and only in my life. He gives me love and I love him too.”
I can’t help but think to myself, ‘no, this is the most romantic thing and greatest love I have ever known.’
Zoe Gong was born in rural Hunan in 1995 and is fluent in English. She has worked in English training centers and at expat restaurants since she was 16. She is now a published author of several adventure books for girls. You can learn more about her on her website zoeygong.com.