Grandma’s Hanging Basket

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“Mellow Dragon Well Tea” is my memoir which draws on  the selected anecdotes from my life – looking at my Family and the World through my eyes. I have pushed with passion beyond the limit of my family, trying to grasp the social and economic background as a whole. Thanks for your reading! Daniel Li.

Grandma’s Hanging Basket

“Grandma, Grandma, let me have a look at the hanging basket! Let me have a look at the basket”, I almost cried out to my grandma when I raised my head, looking at the basket high well above my head attached to a rope hanging from a roof beam.

Me and my Grandma

“Little Grandson ( I’m the youngest of her three grandsons), nothing in the basket!” said my grandma.

I was born in 1962, following the aftermath of the widespread famine between the years 1959 and 1961 in China (known as “three years of great famine”). As a little kid, I often felt hungry looking for something to eat. 

My parents couldn’t feed our three children during these difficult years, all of us the boys resembling three tigers with our stomachs like bottomless pits, always wiping out their monthly food ration coupons well in advance. My parents often asked for or borrowed various monthly coupons from friends, relatives or colleagues.

“Lao Er” literally means “old two” which refers to my elder brother and “Lao San”, literally “old three”, and it’s me. And “Lao Da” means “old big”, referring to my eldest brother.

One day I overheard my grandma said to my father, “Laojia is better. I take Lao Er and Lao San to Laojia where people have more opportunities to get food than here in the urban areas”. Laojia in Chinese literally means “old home”, here in particular the countryside village where my father was born and our ancestors had settled.

After a few hours’ slow train and then the transfer for the local bus, Lao Er and me, escorted by my grandma, finally got to Zhou Village in Shuyang, Jiangsu Province. The village is located north of Yangtze River. Historically the Subei Area ( namely the area north of Yangtze River in Jiangsu Province) is regarded as poor and backward.

Though the village living conditions at that time were much worse than Jiaxing where we lived with our parents, a city only one hour’s train ride down south from Shanghai, we did find something to feed us in the shabby village. The most popular food was sweet potatoes.

Potatoes were one of the local staple food both for villagers and pigs. The villagers had plenty of ways to eat them. My favorite was dried potatoes. Peeled, sliced and dried, the dried potato slices were sweet, soft and stoking a kind of nice feeling for chewing.

But dehydrated potato slices were not just snacks, they were the source for main food in the daily two meals. Dried potato slices were often cooked with beans. So daily two meals? Yes, in Subei Area, still now, we only have two meals a day, a heritage handed down from the hungry and difficult years.

The traditional way of making dried potato slices is known as “Feng Gan”, literally dehydrated by wind. Put sliced potatoes in a basket and hang it up, letting natural wind to dry them. It is said that potatoes dried this way are sweet and flavorful.

But in the hard years, potatoes in our Lao Jia (the village home) were not plentiful, often in short supply. The villagers had to carefully plan their daily two meals.

Raising my head and looking at the baskets hanging high up was my daily joyful expectation. My grandma, pointing at the baskets, and often said to me, “Nothing inside now, wait until tomorrow.”

Grew up, I understood that my grandma made the white lie to balance daily food and live by expectation.

My grandma died of stomach cancer at the age 76. Her doctor said my grandma had damaged her stomach by eating dirt to beat hungry when she was a kid.

September 18, 2020

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