The man who loves her is an artist. He managed to shoot this picture of Laning, my mother, with a broken, old Leica more than fifty years ago.
My mother was born to a Hakka father and a Fujianese mother. Her ancestors had crossed the Strait from Fujian and Canton to eke out a living on the subtropical Island of Taiwan, where pirates fleeing from Qing Dynasty authorities found respite from the law.
Hakka, meaing “Guest People,” are dubbed the Jews of China by some. They fled northern China, crossing the great rivers in the Fourth Century A.D. as Xiongnu tribes rode out of the Steppes. (The Xiongnu were the same Huns who migrated west and pressed Germanic tribes into Rome.) The Hakka women did not bind their feet and worked harder than their men, who were reputed to be lazy and avid gamblers. Many Hakka villages consisted of ring-like, citadels with a multitude of small windows; they wanted clear view of attacking natives who wanted to be rid of the newcomers. Some Hakka were pushed so far off the land, they ended up living on boats—giving birth, living and dying on the water.
The man who loves my mother is northern Chinese. His ancestor, some nine generations back, killed a tax official and fled the Village of the Yang Clan near X’ian. This ancestor followed the course of the Yellow River as it flows east, married a woman who lived on the shores of the Yellow Sea, and, together with their two sons, left for Manchuria, with all their possessions in a wheel barrow, during a time of famine.
After I returned from my three year sojourn in China, I could see that my mother has, largely, a Southerner’s features, transmitted to her by her Fujianese mother: higher cheek bones and flatter nose. The man who loves her has typical Northerner’s characteristics with the fuller face and the straight nose.
Yesterday evening, that man was exhausted from trimming the cypresses, so Mother and I took our walk in the meadow by the sea. The yellow bush lupines have come into full blossom. The orange-flowered shrubs, which resemble wild chrysanthemums, covered the rocky slopes, punctuated by Indian paintbrushes, and low-growing purple lupines. But there were no birds. Not a squawk of a gull, no flapping of pelicans in the lagoon, no cormorants skimming the wrinkless sea, no squeaking blackbirds in the tule. And we saw no one. We were the last people on fogbound Earth.
My seventy-five year-old mother is slower, but she kept pace with me for the hour-long walk. Her face flushed as we ascended the hill, the cross at the apex, as if signaling Spanish explorer, Portola, to return. I could hear her breathing harder. I looked at my bodhisattva, with all the gratitude in my heart for the great good fortune of being able to walk with her, side-by-side, and to take her jacket when she grew warm.
Today is Mother’s Day, but it is just another day, a typical one in which I look at her with intensity like sunbeam through a magnifier, because each of the remaining days we have together is to be the most thoroughly cherished.
Causes Belle Yang Supports
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