First combing: From beginning until end
Second combing: Harmony to old age
Third combing: Sons and grandsons all over the place
Forth combing: Good wealth and long-lasting marriage
After that, her maid would style her hair to a fashion that would accommodate the headdress later.
She was marrying down to a family with a lower status. She never met her future husband. Parents of both families arranged everything with the help of a matchmaker. She had spent the past six months preparing her dowry once the proposal was accepted by her father. She made all the bedroom linens with embroidered dragon and phoenix on them. She made all the clothes she and her future husband could possibly wear for the next ten years. It was a lot of work, but it wasn’t hard. She knew needlework since a very young age. She also had to learn how to cook. Not that she needed to – her two maids were going with her. But she learned it as a basic skill any brides should know.
And everyday, her mother would give her advice and lessons on how to be a good wife, and an obdient daughter-in-law. She could sense the sadness in her mother grew stronger as the wedding day drew closer.
It was time to leave. She had the red gown and the red headdress on a while ago. Now the maid put a red veil over her headdress to cover her face. It would be removed by her husband when they were alone in their “new room” later. The procession of the dowry started a while ago. It was required by the custom, and it was copious because of her lineage. Her father was the descendant of Confucius, the most respected scholar in history. Her husband’s family was related to the Mencius clan, the second most respected scholar in history, by marriage. In a way it was a perfect match, and she should feel grateful that she was being married off. After all, she was considered a girl with a serious flaw.
Her mother whispered some last minute advice before she boarded the red sedan. She cried silently under the veil, for the future was foggy and scary. She wouldn’t be able to see her parents often. She would be alone in a stranger’s house. Her mother was crying as well. How was the husband going to treat her? Were her in-laws going to like her? She was out of her protective arms now.
It seemed that the whole village came out to see the procession. This was not a common marriage between two ordinary families. Both families, especially the bride’s side, held high esteem and were well regarded in the village. They were educated people who used to hold government official positions. The wealth might have been declining in the past hundred years or so, but the status was still there.
The dowry carriers formed a line as long as a mile following the musicians. Men on horses guarded the procession on both sides. The linens she made occupied about ten trunks, each carried by two hired hands. Silk cloths occupied another ten, some were brocade and some were plain. There were clothing materials for the whole future family for the next ten years or more. Jade and marble vases, bowls, and ornaments for the house stored in several trunks. There was a trunk full of coins in gold, silver and copper for her to use, so she didn’t have to ask her husband or her in-laws for money. Everything she needed for her future married life was provided by her family; including the satin pieces used to clean herself after daily bath chamber routine.
All these were unheard of and unseen by the villagers before. They watched in awe and appreciation. It was a rare glimpse into a prominent family. The bride sat silently in the sedan. Occasionally a word or two would escape the music and the crowd, and reach her ears. She wondered if the villagers knew about her, and if they had guessed the real meaning behind the bountiful dowry that came with her.
What would they think if they knew? What would her husband think when he saw her? She wished many times that she could forfeit beauty in exchange of flawlessness – she was otherwise a pretty girl. She knew she was different, and she knew she was damaged in the worst sense for a girl.
Her parents knew it as well, so they did not bind her feet. They anticipated that she would have to marry into a lesser family – if she could be married off - and would probably have to do physical work. Girls from rich families all had their feet bound since tender age. They never had to work, and would always be married to other wealthy families. In fact, they couldn’t even walk without being helped.
The abundance of the dowry had a secondary, not so obvious meaning. They were apologizing for her parents. They were saying to her in-laws: “Thank you for taking our daughter. She is flawed and unworthy, and is lucky that you accepted her to your family.” Her future husband’s family had some land, but also was some kind of merchant. It was considered a lower profession than a scholastic pursuit. It probably took the matchmaker some time to find a family that would accept her.
It really wasn’t anybody’s fault, and there was nothing could be done. She was born with a mild form of cleft lip.
She crossed the threshold, helped by her maids, and walked into a smaller, simpler courtyard than the one of her parents, and began her unknown future as a wife.
(My grandmother’s wedding)