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TGCF Ch 21 Part 3 – Lively Days In the Hometown (III)

Eldest Uncle Xia looked at the corner where Xiao Feng was and asked, “Whose child is this?”

Xiao Feng had quietly moved to the corner when Xia Mian started her scuffle and had stayed silent ever since. Everyone’s attention was on the second branch of the Xia family, so even if they noticed him, there hadn’t been a chance to ask.

Xia Mian reached out and picked him up, “This is Xiao Feng. Xiao Feng, this is Auntie’s eldest uncle, your great uncle.”

Xiao Feng, his arms around Xia Mian’s neck, timidly called out, “Great uncle.”

Eldest Uncle Xia’s wrinkled face squeezed out into a smile, but his tone was a little sad, “Chunchun’s child? He’s grown so much!” Xia Chun was the only college graduate of her generation in the Xia family. Unfortunately, she died young. When the news of Xia Chun’s death had arrived, Eldest Uncle Xia had fallen ill.

“You’re going to stay over, aren’t you?” Eldest Uncle Xia asked, “Come over for dinner later, let Qiangqiang play with Xiao Feng.”

“Sure. I’ll tidy up a bit and come over.” Xia Mian was straightforward. In Mingxi County, most cooking was done on clay stoves. She had just returned, and her home was cold and unprepared. The small bits of wood and coal that had been left were scrounged up clean by the unscrupulous family next door, leaving nothing for her to cook with.

After everyone dispersed, Xia Mian and Xiao Feng changed their clothes and freshened up a bit, then took out the gifts that Huang Xiaoxia had given to Teacher Mi’s family. Among them were many items suitable for the elderly—just in time to put them to good use.

Eldest Uncle Xia’s house, also a large courtyard with six buildings, was bustling like a marketplace. A woman around fifty emerged from the adjacent kitchen, smiling warmly at Xia Mian, “Mianmian and Xiao Feng are back! Wait a sec, dinner will be ready soon!”

It was the eldest uncle’s wife, the Xia family’s eldest aunt-in-law. Her voice was always gentle and comforting, making others feel at ease around her, and her greeting just now made Xia Mian feel at home.

Over there, Xia Chuan had already set up a long table and benches, laughing and beckoning, “Dumplings when away, noodles when home. Today my mom’s cooking personally, we’re having a feast: noodles with minced pork!”

Hearing this, Xia Mian’s mouth watered. She remembered her aunt’s hand-rolled noodles were indeed exceptional, but also very labor-intensive. In later years, she developed wrist pain, so the family rarely let her cook anymore, but today, to welcome Xia Mian home, Eldest Aunt-in-law Xia was back in action.

The family’s eldest son, Xia Hai, picked up his own son who was playing marbles on the ground, slapping the dirt off him as if the boy was a sack of potatoes, “So dirty! So dirty! Can’t you stay clean for a moment?!”

After dusting him off, he placed the child in front of Xiao Feng, “This is your little brother Xiao Feng. Take him to play later, got it?”

“Mianmian, take the kids to wash their hands, dinner is almost ready.”

There were no formalities in the greeting, but Xia Mian felt a warm sense of belonging, causing her to miss her own family a bit.”

A dirty little chubby hand grabbed the items she was holding, nearly pulling them from her grasp. “What are you doing?” Xia Mian looked down at the mischievous little monkey,

Qiangqiang dragged out his words in a whiny tone, “Aunt Mian, these are the tasty things you brought back from Ming City, right? What’s in there? Show me!”

The seven-year-old child was at that age which could be quite vexing. Xia Mian patted his grubby hand and said with disdain, “Aunt brought some. There is milk candy, biscuits, milk powder, and many other things, but they’re only for clean kids.”

“Oh yeah, oh yeah!” Qiangqiang immediately ran to the washbasin, pushing past his second uncle Xia He who was washing his hands. He made such a big splash that it seemed like he was swimming, not washing.

Unable to hold back, Xia He kicked his butt, “Wash properly! Stop messing around or I’ll spank you!” He turned to Xia Mian, “Why did you bring so much stuff?”

Xia Mian smiled, “They’re from neighbors in the city, some nutrients good for the elderly. I can’t eat them, so they’re for uncle and aunt.”

“You’re too polite,” Xia He chuckled, his eyes then fell on the clean and well-behaved Xiao Feng and instantly brightened, “Is this Xiao Feng? As expected of Sister Chun’s child.”

“Xiao Feng, I’m your Uncle Xia He, do you want to wash your hands yourself or should I help you?”

Xiao Feng clung tightly to Xia Mian’s leg. Encouraged by her reassuring look, he said softly, “I can wash by myself.”

“Alright, uncle will find you a new basin, not with that mud monkey; he’s too dirty.”

“You’re the mud monkey, you’re the mud monkey!” Qiangqiang, now soaking wet from head to toe, suddenly jumped on Xia He, making him furious enough to slap the brat twice.

Xia Mian lowered her head and noticed Xiao Feng’s face turn pale slightly.

She regretted her oversight. In this small town, children were raised on rough and tumble; no one would bat an eye seeing children spanked, but Xiao Feng was different. He had experienced abuse from adults and was sensitive to such behaviors.

Xia Mian quickly picked him up, “Don’t be scared, Uncle Xia He isn’t really hitting Brother Qiangqiang. They are just playing.”

Xia He was stunned for a moment. He didn’t expect that this could scare Xiao Feng — were all city boys this squeamish?

Xia Mian quickly gave him a wink. Xia He got the signal and said with a smile, “Uncle only hits Qiangqiang when he doesn’t behave. But Xiao Feng is so well-behaved, how could Uncle bear to hit you?”

Xiao Feng pursed his lips, fighting back the tears in his eyes, his voice timid, “Xiao Feng is good.”

Xia He was used to his bratty nephew, so his heart now melted when he saw such a well-behaved child, “Uncle knows. Uncle won’t hit Xiao Feng. I’ll go get you water, let’s wash our hands and have dinner.”

After that, Xia He presumably had said some words to the rest of the family, so there was no hitting at the dinner table that night, much to Qiangqiang’s delight. Xia Hai, watching his son’s unruly behavior, raised his hand a few times as if to slap him but restrained himself, visibly conflicted.

Xia Mian found it both amusing and heartwarming. Still, she continued to hold Xiao Feng closely, the two remaining inseparable. Xiao Feng ate from Qiangqiang’s smaller bowl, while Qiangqiang, boasting he was a grown-up, used a larger one for himself. He also showed extra attention to his new little brother, who was still using a child’s bowl.

Aunt’s handmade noodles were so incredibly fragrant that Xia Mian almost couldn’t resist salivating. Xiao Feng, who had hardly eaten all day, gradually relaxed as he savored the delicious dinner, cherishing every bite until the very last, when he finally set down his bowl with great reluctance.

Seeing him, Eldest Aunt-in-law smiled, “Did you enjoy it? Xiao Feng, would you like another bowl?”

Xiao Feng looked up at Xia Mian, who patted his stomach, “Our Xiao Feng can still eat half a bowl.”

Xiao Feng pursed his lips and nodded at Eldest Aunt-in-law, his eyes gleaming with joy, his little legs swinging.

With a wild child like Qiangqiang at home, the adults could tell something was off. A child who was so well-behaved that it seemed he was suppressing his nature must have suffered greatly.

Eldest Aunt-in-law served Xiao Feng another bowl, and after placing it down, she accidentally lifted the child’s shirt, causing several adults at the table to gasp in shock.

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