Eldest Maternal Aunt came out of the kitchen with a bowl of dough dumplings in her hands. She looked at her sisters-in-law and then spoke to Liu Zhiqiang, “Zhiqiang, there’s still a lot of dough dumplings left in the pot. Go call your older brothers and sisters over so that everyone can have a bowl!”
Madam Hu looked at the pure white dough dumplings floating in the bowl of soup held by her older sister-in-law. Inside the soup were also some stir-fried onions and the food smelled delicious. She knew the wheat flour used in the dumplings had been brought over by Yu Xiaocao and stated in embarrassment, “Our family just ate breakfast, just give Xiaocao a bowl. No need to waste that wheat flour!”
Eldest Maternal Aunt revealed a faint smile, “Mother already said that we don’t lack the food to give the rest of the children some! We can’t just have Xiaocao eat and have her older cousins just watch her. How much food can Xiaocao eat anyway? Xiaocao, you must be hungry, let’s go into the room so you can eat!”
In total, there were seven other children in the house, so there was enough to give each child a bowl of dough dumpling soup. Liu Feiying and Liu Zhiwei considered themselves to be adults already, so they wanted to give their portions to their grandfather and grandmother. After bickering for half a day, the soup was about to get cold without an end to this argument. Yu Xiaocao took out another two bowls from the kitchen and split the seven bowls brimming full of dough dumplings into nine bowls that were more than half full. The Liu Family’s bowls were large and crude, so more than half a bowl’s worth of soup was more than enough to stuff a little belly full.
The two elders and the seven grandchildren all sat around the kang bed’s table as they harmoniously ate the dough dumplings. Madam Han’s dough dumplings didn’t contain any eggs yet the dumplings were tasty and fine and the soup thick and filling. It suited Yu Xiaocao’s appetite a lot. After Xiaocao finished her bowl of dough dumplings, Madam Yao wanted to give the remaining half of her bowl to her. Xiaocao was truly full at this point and she didn’t have the habit of sharing half-eaten food with someone else. Thus, she resolutely declined her grandmother’s offer.
By the time she finished her simple and comforting lunch, the snow had stopped falling outside. Yu Xiaocao took advantage of this break in the weather to don her snow gear to head back home. The Liu Family didn’t have any good presents to send back, so Liu Cunjin took out the remaining ten catties of green wheat and gave it to his granddaughter. He remembered that both his daughter and granddaughter loved to drink porridge made from green wheat, so he had especially left this green wheat over for those two.
After they finished exchanging New Years gifts, the actual New Years Day quickly arrived. On that day, small flakes of snow floated down and it made the outside world look like it was crafted of white powder and glowing jade. Inside the residence it was piping hot and full of celebratory joy.
The Yu Family and Liu Family celebrated New Years Eve this year. The dinner this year was very rich and sumptuous. The meat dishes included sweet and sour fish, which embodied the hope of ‘abundance year after year’, braised meatballs in brown sauce, meat sandwiched tofu, red braised pork, pork stewed with vermicelli, and a basin of boiled spicy meat slices. There were also a lot of vegetable dishes, such as: green vegetables sauteed with shiitake mushrooms, spinach stir fried with sprouts, lettuce with oyster sauce, mapo tofu, dry-fried potato slices, and cabbage seasoned with vinegar. There was also spareribs soup and savory seafood and meat soup. Vegetarian and meat dishes abounded and everyone could choose their favorites. As for the main starches, there were white and plump steamed rolls that emitted the sweet scent of fine wheat. Even if someone didn’t partake in the other dishes, they would still be able to finish two rolls on their own.
In the midst of a disaster year, most families didn’t have an abundance of either meat-containing or vegetarian dishes. Very few rich families in the prefectural city were able to have a table full of dishes like the Yu Family did for their New Year’s Eve family dinner. Zhenxiu Restaurant in Tanggu Town had advertised a New Year’s Eve family dinner that cost several hundred taels. In preparation, the head steward had bought several chests full of green vegetables from the Yu Family at a high price and a few hundred catties of potatoes.
The fact that the restaurant had fresh vegetables for sale and, in addition, had the newly recommended food ingredient——potatoes, was more than enough to make the wealthy people in town, who liked to compete, flock to the restaurant to get a table. Over twenty tables for the New Year’s Eve family dinner menu had been booked within moments. There were many people who were unable to make a reservation, so they even asked if there would be a later menu similar to this one. They did all they could, including using their own connections, to get the restaurant to leave a table for them in the future…
However, for the vast majority of commoners, this New Years celebration was miserable and wretched. Those who were able to eat some wheat flour were already considered fortunate. Most people had to fill themselves with flatbreads made of coarse grain. As for vegetables, that was a pipe dream. Before the locust plague hit, not all of the villages were like Dongshan Village and had harvested their crops early, which could be made into dried or salted vegetables. Later on, with the locusts still around, no other vegetables could be planted. Even money couldn’t buy vegetables. As for meat, normal families couldn’t afford to buy it ah! Thus, the vast majority of people spent the time with their families around a table, sadly eating their pathetic coarse grain flatbreads with some thin salty soup on the side to finish bringing in the New Year.
As for the villagers in Dongshan Village, most of them had dried vegetables at home. They could put the dried vegetables in a pot, add some extra oil, and stew them for a passable meal. Thus, they were able to eat something decent for their New Years Eve dinner. As for eating dumplings to push out the old and bring in the new, most of them didn’t have any. Without any meat or vegetables, how could they make dumplings? They needed to save whatever could be saved.
Compared to the comfortable and exciting atmosphere in the Yu Family’s old residence, the Yu Family’s new residence seemed a lot more cold and cheerless. The cleverest housewife was unable to cook without any rice. Although Madam Zhang was competent, she couldn’t magic up food from nothing. At the time, Madam Zhang didn’t believe Yu Hai’s words and thought that he was trying to trick people. Thus, she didn’t try to harvest any of the crops that were growing on her land. Subsequently, all of it had been eaten by the locusts. Luckily, Madam Zhang usually dug up some clams when she went out digging for sandworms, so she had made some dried clams in the past. In addition, she had also picked up some kelp and seaweed along the way and dried them under the sun. All of that was being stewed together in a pot. Furthermore, Yu Dashan had went out to sea a few days ago and had come home with a fish that wasn’t large or small. Thus, they were able to cook up two dishes to eat.
Fishermen who lived by the sea had long gotten sick of eating seafood and fish. Furthermore, Madam Zhang was very reluctant to add a lot of oil when cooking, so most of her food was cooked in plain water with a pinch of salt. Obviously, the flavor of the resulting food was just so-so.
Madam Li frowned as she swallowed the clam meat that didn’t have much flavor. Her eyes roved around as she said, “Mother, looks like Yu Hai truly has broken off all relations with us!”
Madam Zhang raised her eyes to look at her for a second and didn’t reply. Madam Li continued, “I heard that Yu Hai gave Eldest Uncle a piece of pork that weighed at least a dozen catties and was about as thick as three fingers. He also gave them a bag of wheat flour that must have weighed at least twenty catties. They also received a bunch of cabbage and radishes. I’m sure Eldest Uncle’s family’s New Year’s Eve family dinner is quite delicious and sumptuous right now!”
“Mother! I told you that we should have gone to Second Uncle’s house to buy a few catties of meat, yet you refused to agree. Now you’re envious of other people being able to eat meat…” Heizi frowned as he gnawed on his coarse grain flatbread as he complained.
He had already become a regular worker at the docks, so he was earning around ten taels a year. Although his grandmother was reluctant to use money to buy meat, he could use his own money to buy some instead. What was the point of calculating things so clearly when they were all one family? However, his mother refused his suggestion and said that she was afraid that if he bought meat, they wouldn’t be able to eat any. Instead, it was likely all of the meat would go to his younger uncle’s family. Argh! If they could split from the family like his second uncle did, then everything would be better. His father could go out to sea and fish while he went to the docks to work. His mother could stay at home and manage the household. A life like that would definitely be better than their current circumstances, where they were stuck eating coarse grain flatbreads every day and had to go hungry!
Little Doudou gnawed on his flatbread sullenly and moved his head away when his mother tried to feed him fish, “I don’t want any, smells too fishy!”
Since they had been living together for a few months, Madam Zhang couldn’t always give her youngest son’s family preferential treatment. Ever since the locust plague happened, the family didn’t have a good income anymore and they had to spend money to get grain to eat. Coins flowed out of their household continuously. Her eldest son had been urged by Madam Li to save a secret purse, so he only gave her half of what he earned from selling his fish. He didn’t earn a lot of money to begin with, so now she received even less money.
All of the fishing villages relied on the ocean to provide for them in this disaster year. Most villagers went to the beach to dig up sandworms and oysters. The Zhou Family’s factories were also buying these seafoods at a good price, so people from not only the fishing villages but also those who lived slightly further away would all rush to the beaches as soon as they could to gather seafood. Most of the sandworms had been dug up in the vicinity, so now Madam Zhang needed to go to even farther away beaches to find some. Furthermore, it wasn’t a guarantee she would be able to dig up any. With three additional mouths to feed at home, Madam Zhang fretted every day about money as her stash dried up. The stress caused canker sores to form in her mouth.
But what was she to do? Her youngest son spent every day by his books and almost didn’t leave his room. Her youngest daughter-in-law was watching over a child as she embroidered handkerchiefs, insoles, and other small items to sell in town. The money her daughter-in-law made from selling her items was all given to her. However, embroidery took too much time and these small items couldn’t be sold for much. With so many mouths to feed at home, that little bit of money was like trying to use a cup of water to put out a cart of burning firewood. As the months passed, Madam Zhang’s head of hair had turned completely white and her back became more crooked. She looked as if she had aged a decade in the past few months.
Madam Zhao lightly sighed and gently persuaded her son, “Doudou, you can grow taller if you eat more fish.”
“Then...I’ll just eat one mouthful! When I’m older, I can be like Older Brother Shitou and help do some chores around the house!” Little Doudou reluctantly took a mouthful of fish and didn’t even chew much before he swallowed it. He even drank a mouthful of coarse grain porridge to get rid of the fishy taste in his mouth.
Madam Li started to sourly remark again, “You say ‘Older Brother Shitou’ with a pretty familiar tone ah! You see him as an older brother but he may not see you as his younger brother. He’s probably eating food with generous amounts of meat and fish, how come he didn’t invite you over to eat some?”
Madam Zhao leveled a displeased look at the other woman and pointedly said, “Second Brother-in-law had split from the family a long time ago. No matter how good our relationship is with him, we are still considered two separate families. I don’t have such thick skin to try to take advantage of him.”
Madam Li slammed her chopsticks down and pointed at Madam Zhao’s nose, “Who are you calling thick-skinned? If your skin isn’t thick, then who’s the one always going to cadge a meal off of them? You claim that you’re teaching them how to embroider, but who are you trying to trick ah? Everyone else at home is eating coarse grains and salted vegetables, yet you bring your son to their house to eat delicious foods all the time. You’ve become fat and plump from eating there, yet you don’t even care about your own husband’s health. Are there truly wives like you in the world?”
In terms of quarreling, Madam Zhao was definitely not Madam Li’s opponent. Her eyes became red from fury as she hatefully replied, “Second Brother-in-law’s entire family invites me and Doudou over for dinner as a way of relaying their gratitude to me for teaching Xiaocao and Xiaolian how to embroider. Older Sister-in-law, there’s no point in being jealous! People’s relationships are built through mutual assent. You can only get rewards if you pay for them. Only someone like you can sit around doing nothing, hoping for a free meat pie to drop from the skies!”
Madam Li was about to reply when she was interrupted by Madam Zhang banging on the table ferociously.
“Why are you all arguing now? We’re celebrating the New Years! Eldest Daughter-in-law, when has Third Daughter-in-law ever eaten or drank anything that belongs to you? The fact that she can make other people gladly feed her is her own ability. If you have the skills, you can go over and try too, right? I’d be surprised if they didn't chase you out with a large stick!!” The more time passed, the less patience Madam Zhang had for Madam Li, who only knew how to seek out problems in others and didn’t know how to do any work.
Madam Li sneered, “Mother, you’re always biased towards your youngest son and youngest daughter-in-law. Have you ever thought of your oldest son’s and oldest daughter-in-law’s feelings? There’s a reason why Second Brother-in-law’s whole family doesn’t like us. Isn’t it because you acted too harshly and hurt their feelings to the bone? If we didn’t split the family, wouldn’t our family have everything that Second Brother-in-law has? Such as that large house and all of the land?”
Madam Zhang glared viciously at Madam Li, “So who was the one that said that Yu Hai’s leg was unsavable and that his whole family was sick and weak, so that they’d end up bringing us down? Who was the one who wanted me to think of a method to split them out of our family? Without you behind my back instigating everything, how could I take the risk of being a social pariah and split them out?”Previous Chapter Next Chapter
Sanguine’s Thoughts: I feel bad for Heizi in all of this. He’s done a 180 and become a nice fellow. Too bad his grandmother and mother are just weights on his legs. I think it’s funny that Madam Li accuses Madam Zhao of not caring about her husband and getting fat when we all know Madam Li is the epitome of doing that. Anyway, karma has come around for Madam Zhang and Madam Li.