In the wee hours of November 13 that same year, we got a frantic phone call from one of Yuni’s sisters. Eldest Sister and her husband had been in an accident in the mountains. Eldest Brother-in-law and his own elder brother and their two cousins were dead. Eldest Sister had been buried alive, but she was screaming so loud, bystanders heard her and dug her out. She had had surgery and was hanging on by a thread in a hospital in Hsinchu. She was going to be in the hospital for an extended stay, and we were needed to help out.
Yuni took the phone call, and afterwards he was numb. He was in between jobs, and he had been preparing to go down to California to do some stonework for the church publishing company there. He was just sitting in a stupor, but I managed to get him to call to make arrangements to postpone the job so that he could come with us to Taiwan and stay through the funeral. At least this trip we did not need to borrow money for the plane tickets.
We got our plane reservations and hauled out the suitcases. We were going to leave in less than thirty-six hours. I did laundry and got many things packed, when I noticed that Yuni had not moved for several hours. The children were quite worried. Finally, I persuaded him to take us to a park and to go for a walk. As we were driving to the park, Yuni began talking about Eldest Brother-in-law. Eldest Brother-in-law had been Pa’s first apprentice. He had come to live with the Lius when he was 15, after he had finished junior high. He was three years older than Yuni, and the two of them had shared a room. Yuni called him Elder Brother for the first five or six years of their relationship until Eldest Brother-in-law married Eldest Sister. Eldest Brother-in-law had given Yuni his Vespa scooter and his 35mm camera. He had been so good to him.
Yuni began telling me about Eldest Brother-in-law’s family. Eldest Brother-in-law was the second son. His family had decided that he would work from the time he was of high school age so that his brother could take lessons for the university entrance exam. He supported his elder brother through medical school. The brother who died with him was a doctor, who had lived in Taipei. Even though Eldest Brother-in-law had been sacrificed for his three brothers’ education, none of his brothers or his parents appreciated him. He was despised for being a laborer, even though he had had no choice in the matter. Yuni was very bitter about this because it meant that Elder Sister suffered in their household. Her mother-in-law was always finding fault with her. For many years after their marriage, Eldest Brother-in-law and Eldest Sister lived in the Liu household; their first two children were born while they were living with Pa and Ma. They lived with Ma and Pa so that Eldest Brother-in-law could save money to give to his family to meet his parents’ demands, but his parents refused to give him any support.
After telling his stories as we walked in a park with paths along a marsh and ducks and fall weather, Yuni seemed to be doing better. The girls could get through to him, and he began to play with them. We went out for dinner that night, and then we went home. I packed the freshly laundered clothes while Yuni and the girls watched TV. I also called my ESL students to take time off from teaching them. Everyone was quite understanding.
We left early in the morning of the second day after receiving the phone call. We arrived in Taiwan on November 17. Pa got us at the airport. Ma was at home waiting for us. She had been sitting in vigil by Eldest Sister’s bed 24 hours a day since the accident. Eldest Sister had awakened, and she was conscious, but very weak. Ma had wanted me to be called back so that I could cook for Pa while Ma was in the hospital. One of the sisters was at the house cooking, and she pulled Yuni aside. She told Yuni that Ma’s ulcers were bleeding again with her worry; she asked if I could stay in the hospital and let Ma stay home with our girls and Pa. They could come down every couple of days to visit. The four other sisters had been rotating time in the hospital with Ma and Eldest Sister, but they needed to work and take care of their families. At that moment, I was quite glad we were doing homeschool. We took an immediate holiday for as long as we needed, even though I had brought some of the books and had been planning to do school in Taiwan.
We had a shower and a meal, and I packed one of our carry-on bags with what I would need in the hospital. Eldest Sister was in a large ward room when we arrived. She had two or three other roommates. She slept a lot almost every day, as she was in extreme pain and on medication. The three youngest sisters were together in the hospital with her. Yuni, Pa, and Ma left me with my sisters-in-law while they took my girls out shopping to get me food and other supplies for the hospital. I needed my own pillow and blanket. Yuni also called some friends from church to let them know that I was there and to arrange for people to visit me from the church group in Hsinchu. It turned out that a friend of his from Taipei had been the overseer on the hospital renovation project. When he heard of the problem, he paid us a personal visit that very night. Eldest Sister was immediately moved to a private room with a cot for me (at no extra charge) because he brought the head of the hospital with him on his visit. Personal attention from the director of the hospital made an immediate difference in the care given to Eldest Sister. She had some residual problems despite the surgery. She had been complaining for over a day, but people were ignoring her. When she told the head of the hospital, the orthopedic surgeon was called, and arrangements were made for further treatments. It made a huge difference.
Finally, Pa, Ma, Yuni, my children, and my other sisters-in-law headed back to Chungli. Eldest Sister-in-law and I settled in for her recuperation. I was there for seven weeks, and some very interesting things happened over that time period. (More about that later.) Suffice to say that Eldest Sister had been buried under rubble from a landslide in the mountains. Her stomach and other internal organs had ruptured, but since she was conscious in the emergency room until she went into the operating room, the surgeon decided to try sewing her up. He had done a painstaking job, and it seemed to be working. In addition to the injuries to internal organs, Eldest Sister’s pelvis had been broken in two or three places. The orthopedic surgeon had done his best to fix that, but he said we would not know until after six weeks when the bones had had time to grow back together. In the meantime, he used some traction and other physical therapy to keep Eldest Sister’s back in line and to strengthen her muscles. After everyone was gone and Eldest Sister had had her evening meds, I pulled out my cot, made it up with the sheets and blankets from home, and fell into an exhausted slumber. I had no problem with jet lag that trip.