Then massive grasshopper clouds landed on the remaining crops, shielding the sun in the sky as they made their descent, and consumed whatever was left on the ground. In a matter of minutes all crops were gone. The farmers stared at their now bare rice paddies, too hungry to cry.
As if that wasn’t enough, a three-month rainfall followed the drought. The ground was saturated with water it felt like sponge when you poked at it. Whatever managed to come out when the rain first started, now died in flooded paddies.
We were a half-merchant, half-farmer family. We had a little food left, but we had to be very careful. The front gate was secured with heavy wooden bolts before each meal. The hungry farmers would rob, or even kill, if they knew we had food left.
“Food” was a loose term to use. We had to mix tree barks with a little rice to make gruel. We ate it slowly. The taste was strange on our tongues, and we waited for the unpleasant consequences. Some would have stomach aches, and others, diarrhea.
My father traveled all over the place as a merchant. He finally told us we should move to another province, where there was no drought or flooded fields. We packed our belongings in as much luggage as our hands could carry, and boarded the train.
The train station was a chaotic mess. People swarmed the place with their families and luggage, shoveling and pushing each other. Japanese soldiers were beating them with their rifles, trying to instill some order. We managed to get on the train and, with all the chaos around us, lost the sight of my father promptly.
Older boys had been sent to another province to study before all this happened. My mother, my younger brother and I stayed at a local resident’s home after searching for my father to no avail. I was playing with a hand-made ball in the courtyard when I heard the conversation. The ball rolled to the base of the wall and rested under an open window. I froze when I realized what was going on.
“It’s so hard to carry on for you--a lone woman with two kids. What are you going to do with a long journey ahead of you?” The landlady said.
“Well, one step at a time I guess.” My mother replied.
“I don’t have girls of my own and can really use some help. Why don’t you leave your daughter here? I promise she will be better off staying here with us.”
“…” My mother didn’t say yes or no, but I could see that she was giving it a mull over - much to my horror.
I ran back to our room and packed everything I had in a cloth wrappage. I slipped out of the house with my little baggage and ran to where the train track was. I remembered which side we got off the train, so in my young mind I determined that if I continued in the direction where the train was heading, I would get to the destination. What that destination would be I hadn't a clue.
Somehow my mother found out that I had run away. She carried my brother and our stuff and started chasing after me, calling my name over and over. I ran faster as soon as I heard her so she wouldn’t catch up - she might trick me into going back and staying with that landlady.
I looked into each and every alley by the train station when I got there, wishing I would see my father in one of those alleys. I was so young that I didn't realize how low the odds were. Wouldn’t you know it? I glanced upon a person when passing one alley, and backed up to see a familiar silhouette. I met the eyes of the person who was also backing up to see me. It was my father!
I ran over to his side and saw that his eyes were all blood shot and swollen. He had been looking for us for days, and thought he had lost us forever. The stress of the trauma probably raised his blood pressure to sky high. By this time my mother had caught up with us. The first thing I told my father was: “Mom was going to sell me off!”
They had a huge fight in the hotel later. My father, unlike his wife, was always partial to us girls, and the idea of selling me to a total stranger, even though it was a harsh time and I didn't really hear the word "sell" or "buy", was beyond his comprehension. He was a very gentle man and I had never seen him losing his temper. My mother usually had her say and he never argued with her much. That was the first time I remembered him raising his voice to anyone.
And that was how we migrated to another province. I never went back to the old house until forty years later.
(My mother’s experience with the drought, famine and runaway when she was a little girl. The tree they consumed, after a little research I did, was elm tree.)