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    Cloth Shoes 

    Writer: HE Xiaozhen (PhD Student) 

    Translated by MA Yun 

    Time is like flowing water in which memory is shining. On a quiet morning or at a cozy dusk, I float in the swirl of life. A sort of ancient serenity attracts me. In the most remote vagueness, I piece up my fragmented life and see my cloth shoes.    

    When I was a kid, a pair of cloth shoes is some sort of an ancient legend, a child ballad or a faded photo.    

    Mother is great, especially poor kids’ mother. I was born in a poor family but have a great mother. Though we were poor at that time, mother was diligent and kind. She composed fairy tales and poems for her son and read them aloud for him.    

    My father worked in city all the year. Mother and I lived by a few meager fields. Mother began her farmer life when she was a little girl. Every evening, she sewed the cloth shoes in dim light. Sands in the air had buried in the wrinkles of her face. So now, white hair has sneaked upon mother’s head. She is 40 but appears to be 50. Years of turmoil gradually erode her rustic beauty, yet her selfless love nurses me warmly. My small rough feet grows bigger and bigger in the cloth shoes that were sewed by mom. Mom was good at sewing shoes. In the early period of 1980s, my hometown was still poor. I was not cultivated in the industrial civilization, but mom’s great love really nourished me. I didn’t know that my stupid naughtiness could hurt mom so deeply. Every day, I wore a pair of cloth shoes that were sewed by mom to catch tadpoles or loaches in the brook. When I went back home, my shoes were all wet and muddy. Mom was neither angry nor interested in the tadpoles and loaches I caught. She pointed at my dirty shoes and asked me to put them off. She washed them and put them beside the fire. When the shoes were dry, she put them on for me. Then, she went on to do her housework.    

    The next day, I would again do the same old trick, caught tadpoles and loaches in the brook.    

    Suddenly, wind blows all the things away. My carefree life soon became a treasure in the bottom of my heart. Mother’s figure became dim and vague. I was then an elementary school student.    

    My school is far from home. If it was rainy, messy grass stayed in the one-foot wide street. It was difficult to scramble down the street. I usually rolled up my pant-legs to my knees, so my pants were dry when I got school. However, my sneakers were dirty and wet. At this time, I always took out the cloth shoes that mom sewed and put them on. They were very comfortable. I began to know how to cherish the shoes and would not play with other boys in the playground. When classes were over, I put on the sneakers and went back home.    

    In the evening, I did homework when mom washed dishes and fed pigs. After she finished her housework, she sat by me, and began to stitch worn cloths. These worn cloths later became several pairs of beautiful shoes. While she sewed the shoes, she also turned her head around and looked at my notebook. She often said to me, “your handwriting should be as neat as the stitch mark on the shoes!” I remembered once I didn’t know how to write the Chinese character “lead”. She stopped sewing shoes and wrote many characters that resemble “lead”. In the end, both of us were confused and we both laughed out loud.   

    Though we lived a hard life that time, our family always wore cloth shoes. Every Chinese New Year, we would bring pairs of cloth shoes as gifts to my grandparents. If there were guests, they could also get one or two pairs of shoes as gifts. They often marveled at mom’s craftsmanship.    

    When I was in my third year of middle school, I was very busy. In the winter, it was very cold outside. One day, mom came to my school. We both had many words to say, but both felt that no expression could best describe our feelings at that time. She sent me a new pair of cotton cloth shoes. Mom put a layer of rubber on the soles of shoes, so I can wore them on the snowy or rainy days. Mom felt excited, but me, sad. I noticed mom’s rubber shoes, full of big and small colorful patches of rubber. My eyes suddenly welled up with tears. I remembered clearly that besides this pair of rubber shoes, we only had at home were couples of cloth shoes.    

    I became tall and strong whereas mom became hunched and old. When I entered high school, our family became poorer. Every time I went back home, I still did homework beside the same old desk, but mom had no more time to stay with me. She was busier than before: shears pig fodders, boils pig feed, picks honeysuckles, carries taros to upstairs, and strips the leafy husk of corns…The pressure of life had never disappeared, but mom never stopped sewing cloth shoes. I really felt sad at the sight of mom’s worn yet clean shoes. I always wonder when we could live a better life. If that day comes, I will buy mom a pair of shining leather shoes and put them on for her myself. The cloth shoes sewed by mom accompanied me a couple of years.    

    When China began to adopt the policy of “building new socialist countryside”, my hometown has undergone great changes.    

    I had no idea of what was going on when I was a kid. Now I’m an adult, gradually realizing that living in such a miracle time is really bliss. Looking back, our hometown does undergo a series of changes: new school facilities, newly-built school buildings, various books, computers…Compared with our parents who grew up in the 1950s, our life is more colorful. Their stories are like remote fairy tales, winding and obscure. Today, at the sight of the elementary school I once studied in, I still got mixed emotions. During that period, we could hardly have such beautiful campus and well-equipped facilities.    

    Today, swallows are pets of the old. Mom has bought a new sewing machine. Watch becomes a decoration. Every family has a telephone. Dad bought a cell phone while mom has had her dreamed leather shoes. We gradually notice these changes.   

    Costume has changed. Instead of sewing clothes ourselves, now we can buy many beautiful and elegant clothes. Dishes have changed. Instead of being hungry everyday, now we can enjoy a feast of delicate food. Teas have changed. Instead of compressed tea, now we have separate tea bags.    

    Now more and more people own cars. Funded by the government, more roads and highways have been built in my hometown. School kids no longer have to scramble through the bush to go to school. Every morning, you can see kids walk to school, hand in hand. They sing a new composed song to praise all the changes taken place these years.    

    It is no more than 30 years that my hometown has turned on new look.    

    My family is no longer poor. I became a university student. Upon graduation, I entered Institute of Hydrobiology, Chinese Academy of Sciences (IHB) to pursue my master degree. However, mom is getting older and older. Her vision deteriorates, so she spends less and less time on sewing shoes.    

    One evening before I went to institute, I packed up my bag in my room. Mom took out her needles and threads. She wanted to sew a new pair of cloth shoes for me and hoped this new pair can accompany me for the next couple of years. Yet mom’s fingers were not as flexible as before. When she threaded a needle, she had to turn her head towards the light. I saw her white hair, upset. From then on, no matter it was hot summer or chilly winter, I always put on the cloth shoes sewed by mom. Though now we live a better life, mom also owns several leather shoes, but she seldom forgot her cloth shoes. She wore a pair of cloth shoes as usual and sewed more shoes for me.    

    All the cloth shoes are embodiment of mother’s great love for me. Thanks to the reform and opening-up policy adopted by Chinese government, our hometown has undergone tremendous changes over the past 30 years. China’s economy develops quickly and boasts a comprehensive rise in living standards. However, we should never forget that we are children of farmers. We must go on to keep up the practice of plain living.    

    Mom shed tears at the mention of the changes taken place in our family. I know she was actually happy. She silently touched the cloth shoes I just took off and whisked away dust on it with great care. I was deeply moved by the scene.    

    30 years of reform and opening-up is very short when compared with the long history China boasts. However, it is in these 30 years that my hometown experienced great changes. Thanks to the “construction of new socialist countryside” policy, China’s countryside has turned on new look. Looking back, mixed emotions well up in my mind. 30 years reform and opening up were full of challenges, but it also serves as a witness to the remarkable changes taken place in China. We are all touched at the scene that all walks of life strived for the prosperity of China. Miracles appear one after another in this land of wonder that has a total area of 9.6 million square kilometers. Reform policy has instilled new energy into this land.  

    When I grow older, cloth shoes become poems in my heart. The poems are full of shifts and changes of life. Cloth shoes are not only embodiment of mother’s love for me, but also symbol of the glorious years during which the reform and opening up policy has been adopted.    

    In the sunny spring day, wearing a pair of cloth shoes is quite relaxing. I’m proud to be my mother’s son. What she has given me is as warm as a fairy tale or a poem. Only son knows how to appreciate Mom’s masterpiece. Mother’s love for me as well as all the sweet memory of the past 30 years runs through my mind all the time. Spring is a warm and beautiful season. In my hometown, flowers are spreading fragrance to the world and wheat seedlings are growing in prosperity.  

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