In 1977, my mom walked five minutes down a dirt road from her cabin, crunching leaves and twigs. She kneeled down by the creek and scooped water into a pail. Brr. The water is cold! My mom grew up in Fuzhou, China during the Cultural Revolution. During that time, the government reduced classroom instruction. Instead, students went to the countryside to gain skills that they wouldn't otherwise acquire in a classroom setting. My mom was twelve years old when she went to the countryside. This was her first time away from her family. As my mom walks back to her cabin, she hears her classmates cutting wood. A dozen older boys inhale, swing, exhale, and repeat. After walking for over a minute, she still hears echoes of axes hitting wood. The farm was in the mountains fifty miles from home. This was her first time living in a remote area without electricity and running water. One day, while my mom was working in the fields, she felt especially fatigued and out of breath. This was unusual since she was one of the top athletes at her school. She could barely stand on her toes to pick peaches without feeling her legs strain. The balmy sun refused to take a break and stubbornly beat down on the workers. She then remembered the day she left for the countryside. My mom was sick that week. Nevertheless, my mom told my uncertain grandma “I'll take good care of myself” and left. In the countryside, there weren't any phones for my mom to call her mother. Soon after my mom left, my grandma went to school to ask when there'd be another truck to bring supplies to the farm. Many times, people told her “not yet.” Yet she always made another trip to ask again. One day, when my grandma arrives at school, she spots a truck ready to drive up to the farm. She sprints, yelling “wait!” My grandma explains that she needs to deliver medicine and check on her daughter. The truck drivers offer a ride but do not have any seats available. That day, my mom was cleaning windows when she saw the truck arrive. Her eyes popped out when she saw her mom sitting on a pile of vegetables. My grandmother was extremely tired and pale as she got motion sickness from riding up rocky, winding roads in the truck's food compartment. My mom remembered that when she walked down that road to deliver supplies to another cabin, she glued her eyes to the ground, as she was scared that she would step into a pothole and twist her ankle. My mom only walked 100 yards on that pathway, so she was in awe that my grandmother rode for hours on those bumpy roads to make sure she had what she needed! “Would you like to stay for dinner?”, my mom gestures towards the dining room. My grandmother looks over at the students who worked assiduously all day and is glad that they will take a break soon. Students are cooking vegetables that were just picked off the vine. After a student lights a fire and tosses in wood, my mom remembers her classmates cutting wood earlier and the fragrance of the trees. My grandmother then sees the drivers unloading the last few crates. The drivers breathe heavily as they make their last few trips. When they take breaks, they stretch and lean against their truck. They have a long journey back to the city. My grandmother wishes she could spend more time with her daughter, but the drivers who brought her here have worked so hard and must go home. “I wish I could stay, but it's time to go.” As my mom watches her mother climb back to the empty truck and face another difficult journey home, she experiences both guilt and gratitude. Nobody else's parents came to deliver supplies. The students are supposedly on their own. But at that moment, my mother understands how much her mother cares. As she eats dinner, she finishes every grain of rice because she knows that the people around her have worked so hard to provide her with what she needs. She remembers carrying heavy buckets to water the crops. She has spent evenings walking row by row in the fields, brushing past leaves and thorns. Her classmates have carried crates of handpicked fruit between the fields and the kitchen again and again. Every grain of rice took months to produce and an evening of preparation. She used to think fetching water from the creek every morning and sharing a large room with twenty girls was inconvenient, but now she appreciates the hard work that goes into creating what they need from scratch. She used to look into the horizon, wishing she could spot a few familiar landmarks from her vibrant hometown. Now, she appreciates each evening sunset as fiery light sparks from the horizon in a sky overwhelmed with colors. My mom was at first uncertain about leaving school and working in the countryside. She eventually ingrained “no matter where I am, I can learn.” When the sun sets, she sees the last sparks of the day light up trees that stand tall and strong, just like her and the people who support her both near and far.
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