THE DICTIONARY FOR MY SON
Getting up without feeling of tireness, having no idea what time it was, I got out of the net, switching on. Nothing could be seen. There was a back out again. I had to find in the dark the only oil lamp used in almost 5 evenings a week. Having lighted the lamp, I realized it just was 3 o'clock.
On the multifuntional table, there was a series of pots of gold fish, a small bottle of medicine I used to take, a vase of flowers, used in such some special days in the year, my children's books, my assignment of my in-service-training course when I was at school for a period of 3 month - time a year. I wondered asking myself,
" What should I do?"
While many things rushed into my mind, I heard my eldest son laughing. He must have got a nice dream since he got the best pupil award on English subject in town. There came an immediate discussion coming from a lot of parents whose children were my son's classmates. Some congratulated me on the award. Other turned to criticize their beloved sons having nearly lowest scores. Wondering how to find a good tutor of English for them, my supervisor asked me for reason praising my such intelligent son especially after having been told that he was good at any subjects. However, some spoke critically of him,
"It doesn't matter tobe good at English. Mine is excellent at Russian."
In my neighborhood, there were a lot of fishermen who got medium-sized fishing boats. Such working class family like mine was rare here. Almost boys of my neighbors were working for their family fishing businesses while girls at home mended fishing nets or became workers in frying-fish industry. Some lucky children tobe educated just were able to reach the level of secondary high school then had to work sooner or later. It was difficult to find in the whole area any boy having an average grade.
Actually, my brother- in -law, Thanh Xi, sympathetically and enthusiastically tutored Long and one of his classmates but that lasted to soon due to his late coming home form work. Besides, He often reminded my kids of going to college to gain the mass universal knowledge.
Being orphans early in life, my two sons used to live with the difficulties with their working mother who was working for the Provincial Trade Uninon and having some part-time jobs to support a family of 6 including Thanh Xi. There used to be a period of time in which people produced wine from rice illegally. I became a ferment producer supplying ferment to exchange cooked-fermented rice to raise pigs. I also worked as an organizer of a mutual fund which helped me earn up to twice as much as the salary I had. I also had to mend fishing net during summer vacation when my sons could give me their hands. This year, due to my studying at in-service training college and doing my office work late, I had no time to work at all. So the financial burden became heavier. Some wondered why I had studied in such a hash time when they couldn't bend their mind to their mental or intellectual lives and what kept me going on. What I was doing came from the love for my sons, for their future including mine.
Sometimes, What I did seemed to be either unbievable or explainable. I just wanted to be a good example for my 2 sons. I wanted to show people my abilities to raise and educate my children. Prices went up so did my two sons. Their clothes no longer fit them neither their shoes. There came a solution into my mind. Clothes which belonged to Long- the eldest- now would be for Khanh's, his brother. So how about Long's? I had my sister repair my clothes. Long gladly received it as someone's new clothes.
" Long is submissive, obedient and compliant to be the nicest boy in my class." declared one of his teachers.
"He's slow, a bit calm, taciturn but confident, thoughtful and endurable." the teacher added believing his consideration firmly.
"There is some truth to the notion that learning becomes easier as you have more difficulties in life on which to stimulate you".
I asserted my firm belief so not only my son but I did something unbelievable. Generally speaking, Long was like his deceased father as many considered. I hoped he could be an electrician like his father so I tried to keep some electrical books and an electrical measuring device. I uesd to learn French so I could not help him anything with his learning English. After being consulted in some evenings , he became so studious that he would come to his teacher's to take lessons and ask for help without being shy or embarrassed.
Long was selected to be in an English specialized class. And he was expected to get a great grade to dedicate to the memory of his father, his teacher of English and me.
This evening as I came home from work, Long greeted me with great exciment and happiness,
"Mom, I've just got the first... grade."
He was so moved that he sounded like a stammerer with tears coming out from his innocent eyes. Upon hearing that, I was really in a stir and a jumble, half saving for my husband having a good time in the past years the other for asking myself what to do to help him study better.
"Well done, my son! I'll give you an award." rubbing his head, I promised him.
Long kept the handle bars of my bike as soon as I left it as if he wanted to take it easy himself that he had ever done before. Following him in, I found myself tearful seeing the back of his shirt mended with a different piece of cloth and the shirt was too small for him and so were his shorts
Propping the bike against the wooden wall, I picked up the working bag and took our dinner boxes out. We started having dinner this way 2 months ago to save. Our office cantin serverd the workers' dinner with the help of a small restaurant cooperating. Of course, it must have been cheaper than my Mom's cooking and it made her free from the work.
While having dinner, seeing my red eyes, Long tended to say something to me but he was too embarrassed to do so.
"Ah, Mom's home." Khanh's calling helped cut the embarrassment.
He proudly announced that his brother good result would be broadcast on the radio. He reasoned,
"Next year, I will enroll an English class and I will be the same- “The best English learning boy in town." added he funnily.
They both made me happy. My Mom could no longer keep quiet,
"The best fishing boy in town, in fact." The whole family was happy smiling as it had never been before. Long told me how he did his test and how happy his teacher felt. Sometimes, Khanh interupted adding,
"How wonderful! Second to none, Great..."
I had never seen my Mom so happy that day. I felt myself full up as if the exciment had made me full. In my mind, there came a gift for him, a pleasant educational one.
" Mom, My teacher requires me to get a good dictionary to look the new words up. Could you get me one, a small one?"asked Long softly.
"May I use it too, Mom." added Khanh noisily.
I nodded my head promising not very firmly. I praised them,
"You both study well. I think you deserve something better like a cassette player to listen to English."
Khanh felt too excited to cry out,
"Yeah, for grand ma to listen to her traditional music too."
While Khanh was clapping his hands happily, Long didn't seem to be satisfied. Looking at him, I happened to remember once I had promised him a dictionary. I startlingly realized that a good VietNamese- English dictionary would take half of my salary which I had not got yet. How would I afford to get one as an award for Long and his brother’s usage later?
Whenever having new difficult words, phrases or idioms, Long had to go to his teacher’s to have them translated. Once, to prepare for his test, Long borrowed one from his close classmate. He gave its hard cover a gentle touch while turning pages. That night, he studied so late that my Mom scorned him,
“What on the Earth is the thick book you are reading? Go to bed now or you will fall asleep in class tomorrow? What’s your reading all night for?”
I had to comfort him softly and he did. The next morning, I saw a small blue paper glued on the wall above my bookshelf,
“Study hard at my best.”
I though to myself,
“The boys need to learn more and they are deeply in need of a dictionary.”
It was obvious that they both needed one. How could I get it?”
Every month, I had to count every cent I spent. Sometimes, Long and his brother came home late from school being so starving to death. They needed breakfast but they just got a few cents to pay for their bicycle-keeping fee. I thought back to outline what to do, a piggy bank, a loan, selling something at home, asking for part of my monthly salary in advance, withdrawing some from my saving account or borrowing a sum from someone. Thinking about it for a long time, I felt so tired that I leaned against the back of the chair. Looking up naturally, I caught the light of my husband’s eyes from the photo of his on the alter. He had and accident and passed away when Long was 2 years old and Khanh was just a few months old.
“After 12 years of bringing up our children, was there anything I did that made you sad, dear? Long is like you. He is good at English. He will be talented, don’t you think so, dear? The next generation is for our happiness. I promise to take a very good care of them.” silently I spoke to him.
Tomorrow I would send Long, Khanh’s grand ma a letter telling her the good news. She was over 70 having some grand sons of those Long would be the best. Watching Long sleeping safe and sound, I found him smiling happily. Perhaps, he was happy with his classmates’ congratulations on his success or their friendly insulting jokes. When I was his age, nothing made me happy except a gift given by my Mom right after I got an award.
Suddenly I remembered my wedding ring. It was just a stuff, a sign. Would it help us? Would my wearing it help Long’s studying? I could be sure its value would help me with what I needed now and I could also be sure to go back home the following day with a good nice dictionary.
On the first page, I would write neatly:
“To my beloved sons.”
Rach Gia, Jan 14-13