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Cowpea Picking at Midnight

 
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wenzili



Joined: 17 Mar 2006
Posts: 83
Location: China

PostPosted: Fri Jan 15, 2010 1:46 am    Post subject: Cowpea Picking at Midnight Reply with quote

“Get up,get up, my dears!”
It was already midnight when my parents awakened and came to our bamboo beds*. They stood there and hesitated for a while. Then, they shouted while gently shaking our shoulders. At that time, our living conditions were very poor, without air conditioning, not even an electric fan. People couldn’t bear the heat indoors in the midsummer season and always slept out in the open. By moving the bamboo beds outside, several family members or even some neighbors would lie side by side, rocking wheat-straw fans** by hand, while talking under the star-filled sky.
By midnight, the environment had completely cooled down; the voices got weaker, sleep came in snatches, then snores rose up all around.
Therefore, midnight was the best time for us to get a sound sleep. That’s why my parents stood hesitantly beside our beds without calling us for so long a time.
The midnight calling was not from child abuse, but was forced by life's hardships.
It was our hardest time, in early 1960's, when famine was looming and hunting all over the country. Finding stuff for every day’s meal was our biggest headache。
Fortunately,there was a cemetery inherited from our ancestors. About half Mou*** of spare land was left for successors' graves. This area was cultivated by my parents as our vegetable garden. In those famine years, any rice substitution became more and more critical.
Therefore, farming in this area and planting some cowpeas helped to free us from the threat of hunger.
However, the ripe and dry bean-pod was so fragile that a slight touch would make it burst. Anyone could imagine how depressing it would be to watch your meal slip through your fingers, as the cowpeas sprang away.
Only after midnight’s dewfall, the pods would become moist and pliable; the harvest would be much easier and anxiety-free.
That was why the cowpeas need to be picked at midnight.
*Bamboo bed is a sort of typical Chinese furniture, which is composed by thick bent bamboo trunks and tiled bamboo surface. With cool nature, it is extremely helpful to lie on in summer. The single bed is about 1 meter wide.
**Wheat-straw fan is a manual device to drive wind, which is knitted by wheat- straw plus a bamboo handle.
*** Mou is a Chinese unit for area measure. One Mou equals to 666.67 sq. meters.

(2)
At that time, my sisters and I were very young, but sensible and obedient.
Once perceiving our parents’ request, we immediately bounded up without complaint. Constantly rubbing our eyes, we staggered, following our parents and heading to our bean garden. We were so tired that even when we had gone a long way, our dreams were still going on.
The garden was located in the north-west suburban of our town and about 2 miles away. Without any torchlight, 6 of us were fumbling toward it.
The field was completely dark. Only a curve of crescent moon and some dim stars around, with their poor chilling light, shone above the horizon. Lots of fireflies, with their faint lanterns, were rubbing us to and fro.
Occasionally, an unknown small animal scurried through our legs and disappeared to the jungle nearby.
Even worse, a group of brown wildfires (corpse candles) were looming among the graves. We had to speed up our pace and walked close to our parents.
To our surprise, the fires quickly flew to us too. We ran wild and plunged screaming into our parents’ arms.
“Don’t be scared, my dears,” my parents held us firmly and comforted us,” all the people buried here are our ancestors; they would never harm you but always protect you.”
This pointless explanation seemed to imply the fires really were ghosts. We immediately became even more terrified and stopped walking.
Thank goodness for our elder sister, who was a junior in a local high school! She quickly came to us and explained:”Nothing to be scared of, those are phosphorescent foxfires
Once people die, it's the same as a light’s turning off, nothing is left. How could a ghost exist?”
Her courage and confidence largely consoled us, and our tightened throats relaxed.


(3)
When we had thoroughly calmed down, my parents went to the pea field first. With constant loud shouting, they raised up their shoulder poles and shaked them above the pea vines.
We knew it was for driving any hiding snakes away.
There seemed to be no reason for us to worry now, so we followed them down to the field. The ripe peapods were straw-yellow, instead of green. Therefore, they were easy to identify even at night.
With sharp eyesight and shorter figures, we promptly picked the peas up. Comparing to our parents’, our speed was much faster. However, since we didn’t want to separate from them for above-mentioned reason, our operational schedule was considerably delayed.
Realizing the situation, my elder sister came close to us again, and proposed loudly:” Should we have a picking competition?”
”Yah! But how?” we responded, immediately curious.
“The championship honors will go to whomever picks up the most peas and clearest.”
“Ok, let start.” Our amour-propre and motivation were immediately inspired.
With loud cheers and laughter, everyone, no matter whether children or elders, spared no effort to join this competition.
Our hails had wakened up the silent field on this peaceful summer night, and brought our numerous family warmth and intimacy.
As if on behalf of our ancestors, even the unknown insects hiding in the graves and grasses cheerfully accompanied us and composed a harmonic harvest symphony…….

Note: This piece was kindly corrected by my web-friend--Winifred. My sincere thanks would like to give to her here!
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Last edited by wenzili on Sat Oct 01, 2011 3:32 am; edited 1 time in total
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pugachevV



Joined: 16 Jan 2003
Posts: 2295

PostPosted: Sun Jan 24, 2010 10:33 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I enjoyed reading your story.
Is it a true story from your own life?
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wenzili



Joined: 17 Mar 2006
Posts: 83
Location: China

PostPosted: Mon Jan 25, 2010 4:10 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

Thak you, pugachevV for your feedback! It's a real story happened in half a century ago.
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pugachevV



Joined: 16 Jan 2003
Posts: 2295

PostPosted: Mon Jan 25, 2010 10:20 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

I hope you will write some more when you have time, you have lived through an interesting period in China's history. I find iit fascinating.
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Lorikeet



Joined: 08 Oct 2005
Posts: 1563
Location: San Francisco

PostPosted: Sun Jan 31, 2010 10:52 am    Post subject: Reply with quote

A very nice story yet again. Thank you.
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