My Fourth Uncle

My Father is from a big family: He has five brothers and three sisters. Therefore, I have five uncles and three aunts from my fathers side.

Last Sunday, my husband and I had a short random discussion about Chinese propaganda posters, which reminded me of my fourth uncle. In my childhood during the Summer holidays, I used to go to the countryside and sometimes I stayed with him. He lived in the same house that my parents had built. On the wall of the living room, he posted a lot of posters: Some of them were chairman Maos, some were movie stars. I doubt if my fourth uncle really liked chairman Maos posters; to me the movie stars seemed closer to his taste. His hair was forever combed clean and generously greased, and he always had a cigarette hanging from his lips. Every time he saw me, he immediately shifted his eyes away. He didnt talk to me at all, but he talked a lot with his friends. His room was always crowded with people that I never knew. They were either playing cards accompanied by continuous shouting or watching TV noisily. At that time, TV was a luxury to most families, especially in rural areas. My fourth uncle bought a TV very early, therefore his room became the most popular one in the village. But there was no space for me; I had to stay outside in the yard and read my books. 

He knew that I loved to read. One day he had a rare chat with me: He told me the shape of the China map was like a rooster, our village was located at the tip of its wing; he said there was no way for poor people like us to travel to the big cities, except if I could get high grades in my schooling and enter Tsinghua University (Tsinghua University was the only one that my fourth uncle knew, which to him represented a guarantee of success). Then I was naive and brave: I thought Tsinghua shouldn’t be that difficult for me to get into, and one day I would leave this wing-tip village and let my family be proud of me.

But a few years later, a lot of the villagers started to work in big cities and managed to settle down there without a Tsinghua degree; I also learned from my geography textbook that my village wasnt at the roosters wingtip. I felt upset. My uncle drew a picture for me which wasn’t true and collapsed so easily.

My fourth uncle became more and more sullen. Most of his friends left the village. All of the families now had TV. His room was finally empty. By that time, I had grown up and seldom came back to see him. Until now, I haven't seen him for almost twenty years.

Recently I chatted with my mother and she mentioned a little bit about him: He was still living in that old house alone; he planted a lot of flower trees in that big yard; their flowers were very beautiful, allowing him to sell them at a very high price. 

Those were my mothers comments about my fourth uncle; his story was ended. But there are some things that I cant understand: He was a very cool and fashionable guy, and I heard he had a few pretty girl friends once before. Why didnt he ever get married? He was smart and social, why did he stay in the village all his life instead of working and making friends in big cities? How does he spend his lonely days in that empty house planted with flower trees?

These are my fourth uncle mysteries; I hope one day I can find the answers from him. The answers bring up questions about keeping your roots and accepting your life there or moving with the tide and finding your prosperity where it takes you, as my parents did. Which is better? You have your own answer.



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