Washing hands before making a soup
Not knowing my in-laws' taste
I ask the little sister to try it first"1
Suey got up before dawn and washed her face in a hurry. She had everything she needed for the morning ready last night, and now she just had to change.
Hoi said softly: “You’re up so early?”
It didn’t sound like a real question though. Farming families rose and rested in harmony with the sun. It was more of his way of saying good morning.
She replied: “Go back to sleep. I think I heard mom in the kitchen…” and out she went.
There was a faint light from the brick stove, and she saw the back of her mother-in-law. She turned and saw Suey standing by the door timidly. With a smile she said:
“Yes, mom. You’re early.” Suey felt embarrassed that she might give the impression of laziness, but “mom” didn’t seem to be upset. She was also relieved that she had the foresight to put on her darker, plainer clothes made of cotton.
The first thing mom showed her was how to start a fire in the stove. Within minutes her brand new clothes were stained with soot, and her sleeves were used to dab sweat off her forehead. The only comfort was she might have hot water to use the next morning.
She watched and kept the soy milk and rice porridge from being burnt, but the flat bread and pickled side dishes were out of her ability completely. The steamed buns were so complicated to her she just wanted to cry. Her mind was busy making sense of all the steps in preparing those foods, but it was overwhelmingly frustrating that she was on the brink of panic.
Mom seemed to see through her thoughts, and told her: “Don’t worry. You’ll get a handle on it soon enough.”
She didn’t think that day would come, but she didn’t tell mom.
Together they served the breakfast to the men. Some were family – Hoi among them. Some were hired hands. They ate almost all of it before they left for the fields. Harvest was done, but there were wheat to be turned on the flat land waiting to dry, the rice fields needed to be turned upside down before it turned too cold, so the roots would serve as the fertilizer for next year’s planting.
Women in the house would be making mid-day snacks for the men while they worked, then sending it to the fields. There was not a moment to waste. They ate their breakfast after the men left and, after they returned to the kitchen, mom whispered to her:
“Don’t forget to give me your ‘proof’ later.” 2
Her face burned like the fire under the stove. Her husband did the "deed" last night, and she had carefully saved the “proof;” but to think she had to show it to his mother and father was both horrifying and awkward. No matter how gentle Hoi was, he couldn’t save her now. She would have to do this on her own.
“Come. Let me show you how to make noodles as a starter. It’s the simplest task.” Her mom beckoned. She followed her to the corner of the kitchen where the big board was. Hoi’s sister joined them for breakfast, but disappeared to her room afterward. She had the luxury to enjoy life as an unmarried girl, just like Suey before her own wedding.
It felt like a lifetime ago.
(1. An ancient poem describing the mood of a new bride making her first meal. 2. Proof of virginity was required from the bride, or she would be expelled from her husband’s home and deeply shamed.)