Excerpt of Snow Falling in Spring by Moying Li
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Our farm animals were almost as free, housed in a shed under
a giant elm tree in a corner of the courtyard. To me, the shed
was like a small zoo. Two white rabbits with big red eyes lived
there, as well as a rooster with glistening golden feathers, and
four chickens - two white and two brown. Lao Lao had handpicked
each animal from street vendors. The rabbits were my favorites,
so warm and soft to the touch. Sometimes I even lured
them into my bedroom with a carrot so that I could cuddle
Early that summer when I was four, Baba took Di Di and
me to visit his youngest sister, who lived by the sea. When we returned
in the fall, I could hardly believe my eyes - our courtyard
was strewn with bricks, holes, and scrap metal! An ugly brick
furnace, almost as tall as Baba, stood right in the center. I was in
This is to make iron and steel for the Great Leap Forward,
Baba said. Our country needs strong construction materials.
That Great Leap again, I thought, remembering Babas
globe with its colorful dots and splashes. I stepped gingerly
around my shattered yard, dodging the busy grownups who,
shovels in hand, were too preoccupied to pay me the usual attention.
Even Lao Lao joined their efforts. Isnt it wonderful? She
beamed, holding me up in her arms. We are helping our country.
Yes, I know. We are going to catch up with that small dot
before I grow up, I grumbled. Looking at what this Great Leap
had done to my playground, I found it hard to share their excitement.
Soon my freedom, together with that of our rabbits and
rooster, was restricted. Under Lao Laos order, we were to stay in
the garden behind the bamboo fence. Outside the fence, the
world was pouring into our yard, day and night. Excited neighbors,
scores of them, brought in firewood by the cartload and
piled it up next to the furnace, ample fuel for the fire that crackled
and roared. Some of the wood had been freshly split from
old benches and chairs, with peeling paint and pointy nails still
sticking out. The furnace,my enemy number one, was built with
layers and layers of red bricks. On top of them sat a shiny metal
hat with spurts of smoke, sometimes even red sparks, bursting
out from under it. Fascinated but scared, I stared at the burning
furnace, hugging my favorite rabbit for comfort.
None of this seemed to bother the grownups. They filed
into our courtyard with their metal pots and pans - anything
they could find and everything they could spare - to be melted
into steel. People did not have much in those days, but the odds
and ends soon looked like a small mountain next to the woodpile.
As I watched, the tailors wife stepped out of her house
with a frying pan. She hesitated, flipping the pan in her hands
and wiping it again and again with her handkerchief. She
seemed to be saying goodbye to an old friend.
Slowly, she walked up to the metal pile and gently laid her
frying pan, now gleaming in the sun, on top of the little mountain.
She stared at it for a few moments, then suddenly turned
and walked away, never looking back.
Da Jiu (oldest maternal uncle), a math professor home on
sick leave, was in charge of quality control. Stooping down from
his slender height, he inspected the pile, separating the usable
pieces from the junk. Picking up a wok cover, he examined it,
tapped on it lightly, and then tossed it onto a smaller pile of rejects.
He nodded at the mountain of metal that was growing
larger by the hour.
My favorite neighbor, Uncle Liu, the electrician, tall and
broad-shouldered, stood by the furnace like a warrior, shoveling
logs and broken chairs into its mouth. Gripping a long steel pole
with both hands, he used its tip to hook open the hinges of the
furnace door. He prodded the burning wood and then slapped
the door shut when the wood started to crackle. It looked to me
as if he was feeding a roaring dragon. The clerk, short and dark
but equally solemn, used a large iron ladle to channel the red
burning liquid into a mold, while our third neighbor, his face
glowing from the heat of the flames, inspected the fruit of their
labors with a tailors precision.
Excerpt from SNOW FALLING IN SPRING by Moying Li. Copyright © 2008 by Moying Li. Reproduced with permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC, in 2008. All rights reserved.