沒有生育的大祖母許氏過世以後，祖父家中饋乏人, 而余氏家族雖已日趨式微,可族人卻仍然認為美麗健康、聰明伶俐的小丫頭只能做祖父的房中使喚, 他的繼任夫人應該是一位門當戶對的小姐。這件事情一直拖到我的父親出世，祖父才以有了兒子繼承人為由，毅然決然地把祖母正式收為填房, 那時黄家巷口的小混混己被警察局抓去, 小舅公因為能識之無,就被送到警察學校去學習, 訓練成一個為民除害的警察學員。
因為祖上缺錢,他们家的房子曾典押給周姓人家, 後來祖父母凑足了銀兩, 终於將房屋贖回自住, 那知祖父一過世，周家突然舉家老少,全部搬到孤兒寡婦家中,吃飯時先上桌坐,上菜時先伸筷挾,而且揚言要賴著永遠不肯走了, 余家狀子告上衙門, 竟如石沈大海,遲遲不見處理, 年青的黄氏無奈,眉頭一皺,計上心來,乘夜晚月黑風高之際,溜到後院,由屋簷下抽出一塊破磚朝自已的額頭上敲去。
她的喊聲一時驚動了鄉親地保街坊鄰人,縣衙門立刻升堂, 只見帶了幼子跪在堂下寡婦楚楚動人的臉上蓋滿了鲜血, 主審敲響驚堂木,黃氏立刻由懷中取出住房銀貨兩訖的合約, 看得主審的縣長怒由心起,也不及問起這位少婦為何受傷,當場下令要周家全部立刻搬出,永遠不許再騷擾余家尚未成年的孤兒以及年青美麗的寡婦。
「按說,我不是她親自選擇的媳婦，老人家認為與其使兒子傷心,不如增加一個自己疼愛的媳婦,不但沒有虐待排斥我，反而待我有如親生，由生火煮飯、洗衣掃地等教起，乃至如何管理佣僕, 婆婆的原意是教導媳婦應該懂得如何親自操作家務，才不會被手下佣人們拿捏，那知中日抗戰發生，我和你父親逃難到了重慶，所有家務都得親自動手，如果沒有你們祖母的教導，以我一個在程家四體不動,五榖不分, 到上海去讀書的千金小姐，哪裡能夠挨過抗戰時代那些貧困的日子！」母親也常常在父親及我們面前稱讚祖母的大度和聰明能幹。
A Tomb-Sweeping Festival Story
Written and translated Gwen Li
Edited by Descartes Li
When I was young, every Tomb-Sweeping Festival, my parents always burnt three sticks of incense, prepared a small table of chicken, pork, fish or other rarely served good dishes, filled up three bowls of white rice, and placed a pair of chopsticks at the side of each rice bowl.
One day, I asked: “Why three bowls?” My father bowed three times first then explained to us: "One bowl is for my father, your late grandfather, of the Yu family. Another bowl is for your late grandmother, who was my official mother, Lady Xu. The third bowl is for my real mother Huang." Let me tell you the story of my real mother.
My biological grandfather, the father of my biological and real mother died early. This left my mother to bear the responsibility of supporting her mother and her younger brother. She became a domestic helper to our Yu family at the early age of 13 and became known in the Yu household as Little Huang.
One day, Lady Xu, your grandfather's first wife, took pity on the hard life of Little Huang. Years earlier, Lady Xu herself had come to the Yu family, with only a dowry chambermaid to accompany her. She sent a small bag of coppers to the kitchen to give to Little Huang. Little Huang took the small bag of money, hurried back to Lady Xu's rooms and said to the mistress: "Madam, you have already paid me! I could not accept this extra money!"
"Since you don't want the monetary reward, is there something else you want?" Lady Xu, who just recovered from an illness, asked with a kind smile. The Clever little Huang replied: "Well, my brother hangs around with the local rascals all day. It really is not good for him. Is there any way that he can go to the the home of the Yu family tutor? He can help with chores, and maybe learn to read and write some simple characters?" Our docile, kind-hearted, Xu grandmother laughed."You are not so stupid, to exchange such a small reward for a job for your younger brother!"
After the death of childless Lady Xu, the Yu family was in decline. The elders all felt that the successor wife should be a lady came from the family with an equivalent (or higher) social status. Little Huang was just the servant in my father’s bedroom. This argument dragged until I was born. Since I was the male heir, your grandfather made Little Huang girl his official wife. Little Huang was no longer a little girl, she was now Lady Huang.
At the same time I was born, my uncle, the little rascal Lady Huang’s younger brother hung around with was arrested by the police. But Lady Huang’s younger brother knew how to read and write, and once word was sent that he was related to the good Yu family, he was sent to the police academy. But my father was sick, and as part of the deal, the Yu family decided to break up.
My uncles, taking advantage of your grandfather’s poor health, and his new wife’s young age, divided up family properties, and your grandparents only got a a house and some land which were already pawned out to the local Zhou family.
My mother Huang was young, but smart and vigorous. On our lands, she worked with the tenant workers during the day, and even slept in the field grass hut with the women workers at night. My father died one year later, but my mother succeeded in paying off the house to the local Zhou family.
Right after the death of my father, the Zhou’s claimed the house where we were living, and moved in. Every mealtime, the Zhou’s, young and old, rushed to the dining table, and their chopsticks always reached the food first. My mother took the matter to the higher officials, but the court refused even to hear the young widow with a fatherless toddler in her arms. That toddler was me.
What did the helpless young widow Huang do? She figured out a way. One chilly dark night, she slipped into the backyard, from under the eaves pulled a broken brick, and used it to knock her own forehead.
"Help, Help!" The young widowed mother cried at the top of her lungs, and her shouts were heard by all the neighbors. At the county court trial, the judge/mayor saw in front of him a little boy kneeling along with his widowed young mother, her beautiful face was covered with blood. The judge exclaimed: “What happened?” The Widow Huang immediately took the written contract out for the authority to see. And the judge ordered on the spot that the Zhou family should move out Yu’s house immediately, never again harassing the toddler orphan and the young and beautiful widow.
Afterwards however, your grandmother still feared the persecution of the Zhou’s, and so she took me and we left our hometown village Xinghua, moved to Yangzhou, a bigger city. We moved near the residence of one of my father’s aunts, whom we called Second Grandmother Yu.
"You will spoil your son by sending him to school!" Said some relatives. At that time, the typical custom was to use opium smoking to keep first sons at home, but your grandmother had a different idea. She sent her only son, the original bowing, orphan toddler, to far away Shanghai to go to university.
I think I lived up to my mother's expectations. After four years of university, I graduated summa cum laude and won a 400 silver dollar prize. However, after I came home, I brought an even more surprising news to my mother. I met a young woman, Miss Chen, who came from Yancheng, which means Salt City. She had come to Shanghai to receive University education in Shanghai. Your grandmother had meant to use a matchmaker to find a good daughter-in-law for herself, but now, her son, had found himself a new modern woman with higher education. I married Miss Chen, your mother, in Shanghai. At first, my mother did not agree, but soon changed her mind.
Your grandmother realized that instead of making her son sad, it is better to add a beloved daughter-in-law. So she treated my love like her own daughter, taught her to light the fire for cooking, do the laundry as well as the sweeping, and so on. She also instructed my wife, formerly Miss Chen, on how to treat servants, so that she would gain their respect and not be manipulated. At the time, I believed my considerate and smart young wife was learning these very un-modern skills out of respect for my mother.
During this time, your grandmother used to say in front of people that she could not find her glasses, do let Miss Chen read the newspaper for me. Just to show that she had a daughter-in-law who could read. This not only showed off that our mother was a filial and educated woman, but also masked the fact that grandmother herself was illiterate.
I thought my life was settled. I was going to be the local high school mathematics teacher and live with my lovely intelligent wife. But I had not expected that the Sino-Japanese War would break out! We fled to Chongqing, with all the housework having to be done by the two of us. If not for your grandmother's teaching, we could not have survived those days of World War II! Your mother always praised her mother-in-law for her magnanimity and cleverness.
I was only a little girl when my father told me this story. He is now long gone. One day I too will be gone and maybe on some Tomb-Sweeping Day in the future, you can tell you granddaughter about your grandfather and his real mother.