Archive for May, 2010

My Father’s Father – Part Two – “Loving Paradise”

My Father’s Stories: Number Six – His Father, Part Two.

It is to be expected that as my father begins to write about his immediate family, his stories will get longer.  This story of his father includes a bit of history to put the story into context, as well as a fairly comprehensive recollection of his father’s various career moves as a pastor.

I’m surprised, no, stunned actually, to learn that my grandfather lived as long as he did – he died at the age of 65.  I always remembered my grandfather as having died at a young age (reasons cited were his temper and high blood pressure).  In fact, I thought that my father had to support his entire family after he graduated from medical school,  after the end of the Korean War in the mid-1950s, because his father had already passed away.  But my grandfather lived until 1966!

Clearly, the important people in my father’s life were his mother and grandmother.  There is no mention of love or attachment between the eldest son (my father) and his father, the eldest son of a son who broke three generations of son-lessness.

There was a leprosy sanatorium called “Ae-Rak-Won” which literally means “loving paradise.” I am not sure whether it was run by the Provincial Presbyterian Church Commission, the provincial government or the central government. I’m also not sure whether the pastor of West-Gate church recommended that my father to go to this place or whether my father volunteered. Nevertheless, my father went there as a Sanatorium Pastor together with the whole family – my mother, grand mo, my elder sister Kun-Ok, myself, my younger sister Song-Ja. At that time I was probably in the middle of my first year at Sou-Boo primary school. In Korea, we go to school at the Korean age of 6. The school was located in the north western direction from the center of the city, and the Sanatorium was located in the south western direction and distance between those two was around 4 – 5 miles apart. My elder sister’s school was also in a similar direction and slightly closer than my school. We, my sister and I, walked to school. May be a mile or so before each school, my sister and I had to take different paths.

Our lives changed dramatically. We moved from a small, rice-straw-roofed house into a dark-grayish-slate-roofed, white-walled Sanatorium Residence for workers. The structure of the house was incomparable to the previous house. It had a hill side location, rooms and a kitchen, etc. There were seven Sanatorium Residences on the hill completely separated from the Sanatorium by a fence. Our house was a middle one. All the residences had a large back yard area which was cultivated. Our father and mother planted that yard with tomatoes, cucumbers, spinach, scallions, etc. and it was real fun to pick and eat the vegetables. Although our schools were a little far for small kid like us, our schools, especially my school, was well regarded, newly built, and a good school. So, our parents did not want me to move schools and we, too were happy with those schools. The only problem with living there was that whenever my father came home from the Sanatorium, he removed and changed his clothes and washed his hand and feet meticulously with disinfectant solution and told us to be careful with those things.

Then one day, when I came home from school, a couple of Japanese detectives were in our house. They had ransacked every corner of our house, especially my father’s book cases. They combed through every page of my father’s books looking for anything inserted in between the pages. The Japanese detectives were questioning my father, and my father was answering using broken Japanese about some things I could not understand. Then, they took my father away in their jeep. My father told my mom that she should not be worried because he would be back home soon. After they left, my mother, grand mo, and even I, tried to put every thing in order, putting books back onto book shelf and cleaning up the house. Mom cooked dinner as usual and call us to eat.

The atmosphere at the dinner table was chilly and calm. No one started to talk and no one initiated picking up chop sticks or spoons. Mom said “OK children, what are you doing, lets eat now, father will be home soon.” We children picked up chop sticks and started to pick up food. However mom did not picks up chop sticks or spoon. I told mom to eat together with us. Then she said with a partly smiley face “I ate some thing late, I am not hungry right now, I will eat a little later, please go ahead, you guys eat.“ I knew she wasn’t telling the truth, but I also knew I could not do anything to help her. She was sitting at the side of the dining table. While I was eating, I looked at her face once in a while. She was watching us eating and looking at the middle of the dining table, without focus, with worried face. I guess my hate against Japan started grow at that time while I was watching my mother’s worried face. Although my father did not  stay in police custody too long ( a few days in the cell, I heard) these kinds of incidents were repeated not infrequently. Whenever these incidents were repeated and whenever I had to watch my mother’s worried face during my father’s absent, my hate against Japan grew bigger and heavier.

After Koreans lost their country, many patriotic Koreans vigorously resisted  the Japanese occupation and many were put in jail, tortured or fled to China, the US or other countries to fight against the Japanese from outside Korea. They formed a Korean provisional government in Shanghai, China. All the patriots who fled to various countries were connected to each other and they gathered together in Shanghai once in a while. They elected Rhee, Sung-Man as the first president of the provisional government of Korea. (About Rhee, Sung-Man, who escaped to the US. He enrolled in George Washington University (I think in the beginning) and became a family friend of the University President. Rhee was invited to their house whenever they had family occasions and he was introduced to a daughter (Francesca) of the Austrian royal family to marry. Rhee was also tall and big, and good looking. Later he studied more in Harvard, and then got a PhD from Princeton. After the end of World War II, he returned home together with Francesca and he became the first president of South Korea (formal name: Republic of Korea).)

Now, back to the story of many patriotic Koreans who were resisting vigorously the Japanese annexation of Korea…

At that time, many religious leaders were either directly or indirectly involved in that independence movement. That was the reason Japanese detectives were looking for some evidence to punish my father. My father stayed in Ae-Rak-Won for about three years.

Then, a church called “Kyung-San Church” invited my father to come over to be a parish Pastor in Kyung-San, which was located about 30 miles to the south of Daegu. Kyung-San was a famous apple producing town, a charming town surrounded by numerous apple orchards and reservoirs. I did not see Japanese detectives in Kyung-San. My father was young, healthy, energetic and worked hard. The Kyung-San church was pretty big but very old. The building was made of wood, and when we walked in the church hall, you would hear squeaky wooden sounds at every step. My father told the church that in order to worship god well, we need to build a real nice church with the granite which was close by. The church members, including the elders, agreed to my father‘s idea. All the church members volunteered to carry the granite stone, cut in certain sizes, carried on cow-pulled wagons or by other means to the church and placed in the church compound. Day by day, the accumulated stone mountain grew bigger and bigger. I remember that in those days, whenever I played with small, tennis-sized balls with other kids, those balls went in between the stones in the mound and no matter how hard we tried, we could not pull them out. I really don’t know how many balls we lost in that stone mound.

Then, suddenly, when I was in sixth grade, my mom told me that we were going to move to Kim-Chon. Kim-Chon is located about 30~40 miles north of Daegu. It is a mid-sized city and my father would go to Bong-Gae church, which is located in the northern suburban region of Kim-Chon city. Why would my father want to move, leaving his ambitious, mega new church building project? My mother whispered to me the reason why we were moving. My father did not have a secondary education. Consequently, his sermons were limited in depth. As months and years went by, my father’s sermon would all be similar, with no broader knowledge. Although the majority of church members liked my father as a pastor, some of the highly educated members of the church, including some elders, started to talk about my father’s sermons.  My father, apparently, suddenly took the position: “in that case I am leaving.” Later I learned that was one of the characters my father had – if you don’t like me, that’s fine; there was no second thought, no begging, no compromise  – I am leaving. I observed that my elder sister had such a character and my younger sisters and brothers told me that I also have that character.

So, my parents, my sisters and my brothers all left, leaving behind mountains of granite stones and my lost balls in the church compound.

And also left behind were my grand mom and me. Because I was in the middle of the sixth year in primary school, I had to apply to a middle school. In order to apply to a decent middle school, it was better not to transfer to another school before graduation. My parents asked the church if we could use one side room of the pastor’s residence until a new pastor come or until I finished my primary school. That was granted. At that time, I was 12 (11 in US age). So, my grandma stayed with me to take care of everything for me until we joined our family in the northern suburban church in Kim-Chon. I went to Kim-Chon middle school for the entrance examination before graduation and entered Kim-Chon middle school. During our stay in Kim-Chon, World War II ended. We heard the news that the Japanese surrendered unconditionally to US. That was August 15, 1945 (US time 8/14/1945). On that day I heard from some of the church members that my father danced in the street waving a Korean flag. I couldn’t believe that my father danced in the street because he is not the type that would dance in a street.

A few years later, my father again moved to a church which was located in the southern region of Kim-Chon, which is where my grand mo died.

And then, we moved two more times in the Daegu area for the  same reason. Apparently, my father had no problem in moving around to different churches. Whenever he moved, they would welcome my father initially. By the way, as one of the Korean church traditions, there were annual or bi-annual church events for special spiritual revival worship for about 5 days to a week. The church would decide on a lecturing pastor first, then invite neighboring church members too. My father was pretty popular in this kind of work in smaller suburban churches. They would make reservations a few years in advance for a pastor. Whenever these churches had a vacancy for a pastor, and my father wanted to move, he would knock at these church and they would welcome my father enthusiastically because the whole church knew about my father.

His last church before he died was called Chim-San church in the northern region of Daegu city where I opened my own medical clinic after being discharged from army duty as an army medical officer. I hired a medical assistant and a nurse to run the clinic under my name (under my supervision) and I went to Dong-San (Presbyterian) hospital department of surgery as a resident. Then I went to Uganda on December 4th, 1964 together with six other doctors as a Uganda Government Medical Officer hired by the Ministry of Health, Uganda, recruited by WHO officials. When we were in Uganda, we received news that my father had died.

I know my father liked to eat meat a lot – really a lot. It was under Japanese occupation and Japan was at war with the US. No doubt it was a very difficult time for all of us. However my father apparently couldn’t live without meat for a few days. So, when, beef or pork or chicken was difficult and expensive to get, my mom got cheaper rabbit or small goat as an alternative. Whether because of this or not, he developed severe hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, hypertensive retinopathy, hypertension related heart problems, etc. Eventually his medicine did not do any good, and then he refused to take all medication, saying that he would just pray to god. He was going to leave everything to god’s hand. He went to the mountain retreat where there was a prayer house for pastors and church leaders. We heard that he passed away at that mountain retreat. That was March 31st, 1966. That was where he also scattered his mother’s ash in the same mountain valley stream. We couldn’t go to his funeral. I wired funeral expenses. Our family and relatives buried his body in a private grave yard which I purchased for my father, mother and your mom’s mother (your mother’s side grand mother) before I left for Uganda on a hill in a Daegu suburban area near where my mom’s sister lived.

My Father’s Father – Part One

My Father’s Story: Number Six – His Father, Part One.

My father prefaces the story of his father (my grandfather) with:  “probably you don’t remember him very well.”  That is an understatement.  I do not remember him at all.

The other thing that strikes me about this narrative is that my father does not give his father’s name.

Date of birth: May 3, 1901

Date deceased: March 31, 1966 (age of 65)

Physical appearance: Tall & medium heavy build and somehow on the obese side (simply, tall & big).

External (facial) appearance: very handsome and good looking (probably got it from his father).

Memory power: almost photo static? (from his mother?). In his later life, I overheard that when he was a seminary school student, he got up early in the morning and read 3~4 chapters (may be more than 10 pages) of the bible. Then, without his intention, he was able to memorize all the chapters, with every word in the chapters. I know the bible is very hard to memorize – even a few sentences for a dummy like me. Also, in the final stage of his life, he developed hypertensive retinopathy and he was almost blind. However, he still had memorized the whole bible.

Talking skill: tremendous talent in the skill of talk (from his mother?).

Voice: Loud, powerful, baritone voice. (By the way, recently, I read in the internet news that they were talking about who has the best voice for god’s act etc. and for a moment,  I was thinking of my father’s voice.)

Character: Conservative, authoritative, persistently strict. I will talk more about this some other time.

Education: Primary school graduation, then jumped (without secondary education) to seminary school, which was at college level.

My father was born in 1901, almost at the end of the Josen Dynasty / Lee Dynasty (500 years of which ended in 1910, when Korea was annexed by Japan) under the rule of the last king, “Kojong Emperor.”

My father’s childhood or boyhood life is very little known because he never told us – he is not a type of person who would talk about his younger days. My mother, I don’t know how much she knew about him, but she didn’t talk about him either. My grand mo, I don’t remember her talking about him either. I only heard about his younger days when occasionally mom or grand mom talked about him incidentally.

One day, well after graduation from primary school, my father cut his long hair (long hair was a remnant of the feudal age. The idea – the Confucian idea of long hair – was that every thing we got was a gift of one’s parents or ancestors. We should not alter even hair for one’s own convenience. This kind of act was considered to be unfaithful to one’s parents and ancestors) and went to his father (my grand father) and asked him “please father, I want to go to Japan and study more about every thing they learned from western countries.” When his father saw that his son had cut his hair, he got upset and started to shout at him “you fool, why do you need study, is study going to feed you? Making money is the best thing in the world. Do you understand?” I think at that time my grand pa was already declining and was a semi-ruined person. Otherwise what kind of parent would refuse his son’s legitimate and constructive request? However, in those days, the teachings were (1) Royalty to the King, (2) Filial piety to the parents, (3) Trust of friends. He was no doubt a very faithful son like most of the Koreans in those days. So, he had to say “yes father” whether he agreed or not.

He was depressed. Moreover, he had to watch his father’s unthinkable way of living, such as womanizing, gambling and drug abuse. He was more depressed. Then, one day, a friend of his asked him to go to a church. He went to the church, a big church,a huge, two story building. I know this church because I later had to attend this church with the whole family. The name of this church was West Gate Church. My father liked it a lot. My father got a firm massage of hope. He attended the church very diligently day and night. The Pastor of that church liked him a lot. My father was promoted to Deacon and started to teach in church’s Sunday school for children. Pastor fell in love with him. I can imagine the reason the pastor liked him a lot was that he was a tall, big, handsome man with good speaking skills, a good voice and tremendous memory power. Sometimes, he was asked by the pastor to pray for the whole church. He did it very well by overwhelming the church, his voice echoing through out the church, and the church’s window glass vibrating. The pastor began to persuade him to become a pastor. My father said “but pastor, I don’t have a secondary school graduation record.” The pastor apparently told him that that was not a problem – the Dean of Pyongyang Seminary School was his friend. (At that time, this was an only Seminary School in Korea. By the way, Pyongyang is the North Korean capital now.) My father was very much interested and excited about it. But he could not talk to his father about this because he knew his father’s answer “you fool — .”

Then, one day, his father died miserably and left the family penniless. He no longer had to get permission to go to seminary school. But reality was that he was now a responsible head of household and he could not leave the members of his household to starve to death. He has to support his family first. My grand mo ran up and down, from Won-San to Pusan, screaming SOS and got some amount of money that she borrowed. With that capital, my father bought several commercial sewing machines, rented a space, hired several people and started to make ready made clothes. In other words, he opened a small, ready made clothing manufacturing factory. However, the business did not go as well as he thought in would. At this point, I am just guessing that when he opened that factory, he might have thought that after he made a certain amount of money, he could leave that money to my mother to support the whole family and then he could leave for Pyongyang Seminary School without worry. But now, he was in a deep dilemma. He discussed this with my mom. Of course, I know my mom very well – no doubt she would have said to my father: please Kun-Ok’s (my elder sister’s name) father, go ahead for what you really want to do, don’t worry about us here in Daegu, she will take care of rest of the family by herself as best as she could. Then, probably, my father thanked her, sold the business, paid back the loans and left for Pyongyang holding a strong recommendation letter from the pastor of West-Gate Church.

Then, my poor mother’s teary struggle for life began. Amazingly, she never gave up and she was a survivor. I will write this part when I write my mother’s story and my own story.

So, finally my father went to Pyongyang. However, he was penniless. One of the professors in the Seminary School introduced him to a suburban church to serve as an evangelist (the position before pastor as a seminary school student), where he got some pay and managed his seminary student life. By the way, some of smaller churches that could not afford to support a pastor, hired evangelists as an alternative and on big occasions like baptisms or the ordainment of elders, they invite a real pastor for that purpose. Apparently, he was pretty popular in that small church and when he returned to Daegu after graduation from Seminary School, he brought a lot of gifts not only from that church itself but also from many members of that church. As usual, my father did not talk about his life in Pyongyang.

My father returned to Daegu. The pastor of West-Gate church was very proud of him and he ordained my father as a real pastor in front of all the church members. No doubt I was there, but how come I don’t remember that event? I only remember was that when I went to church on that day with my father, the pastor of West-Gate Church came out of his office and asked my father if I was his son. My father said yes. Then that pastor grabbed me with both his hands under my arm pits and lifted me up sky high and said “what a nice boy, he’s just like you!”

A Bit of History

My Father’s Stories: An intermission for a brief history lesson.

My father interrupts the story of his father to give us a short history of Korea around the time of his father’s birth – 1901 – up to the end of the Japanese occupation of Korea in 1945.

Archeological findings show that the Korean peninsula was occupied by the Lower Paleolithic period. Korean history begins with the founding of Gojosen in 2333 BC by the legendary Dan-Gun. We had three kingdoms before Silla unified Korea. Those were Goguryeo (north), Baekjae (middle) and Silla (south). Goguryeo Kingdom in the north extended to all of Manchuria, the south east part of Russia and part of the north-eastern region of China until Genghis Khan from Mongolia defeated Goguryeo back to the Korean peninsula. Because Goguryeo was significantly weakened, Silla from the south unified the three kingdoms in 668 AD. Following the unification of the three kingdoms, Korea went through the Goryeo Dynasty and Josen Dynasty (Lee Dynasty) as one nation until the end of the Korean empire in 1910, when Korea was annexed by Japan.

After Korea was annexed by Japan, Japan invaded China using Korea as a stepping stone, like a military transportation convenience. Japan was already semi-industrialized by the Emperor Meiji. They had more dominant fire power and a more organized army than China had. So, Japan was an enemy for both Korea and China. The soldiers of the Korean independence movement collaborated very well with the Chinese army. At that time, the Chinese premier was the famous Chiang, Kai-Shek and his wife Madam Song, Mi-Ryun. [This must be the Korean pronunciation of Soong, Mei-Ling.]

Now, I also have to talk a little bit about Japanese history before my father was born. A Japanese emperor called “Emperor Meiji” or “Meiji the great” revolutionized Japan. Until the mid 19th century, Japan was an isolated, pre-industrial, feudal country. There were numerous war lords fighting each other and finally Toyotomi Hideyosi unified the country into one. Then, the Tokugawa Shogunate started in which numerous (about 180) lords ruled the country for about 250 years. In those days, the Japanese Emperor was just a symbol; he never left his palace, never participated or was consulted in politics or national affairs. Then, one day, (1852?) during the Tokugawa Shogunate, a foreign ship, a so called “black ship” appeared in Tokyo Bay (at that time Tokyo was not a capital, the capital was Kyoto) and demanded that the country be opened for trade or suffer military consequences. Strangely, the powerful Tokugawa, upon hearing the news, consulted the Emperor about this black ship problem. The emperor, who was Meiji’s father at that time, answered back in writing that all foreigners are our friends too, please go ahead, open our door and trade with them. The point was that powerful Tokugawa listened to the powerless (at that time) emperor’s suggestion. Later, historians said that it was a lucky turning point for Japan.

Mean while, in Korea, there was also a strong movement for reform from feudal society. There were many groups among cabinet members such as a pro-Japanese group, pro-Soviet group, pro-Chinese group, etc. Among them, the most dominant group was the ultra-conservative group (close door group) and they accused others as traitors; falsely trapped people into treason plots against the King; and had them executed or given a death drink or removed from all official posts and sent into exile to remote places. Whenever foreign ships appeared in our waters (at that time, the port near Seoul was called “Jaemulpo,” now it is “Inchon”) Korean ordered them to leave or be destroyed in the name of the  emperor. However, the voices for reform became louder and louder. At last Korea opened its doors in 1876 to Japan, rapidly followed by US, China, Russia etc. Each country opened their consulate general and international politics began. Dr. Allen, the first north American missionary doctor, came to Korea in 1884, He opened a surgical clinic called “Jaejung-won” which was the origin of Severance Hospital.

In Japan, they opened their doors earlier and in a few decades’ time had undergone political, social and industrial revolution under Meiji emperor’s rule and suddenly emerged as a great power on the world stage. Luckily, Meiji emperor had a few brilliant advisors. They made the powerful Tokugawa into a powerless man and they made a central government which was able to control the whole country. They called that the ‘new’ Japan. They formed strong military forces with advanced fire power and looked outside to expand their country. In Korea, the pro-Japanese and pro-US groups were two strong groups. The Empress was pro-US because the Empress’s nephew studied in the US. The Empress advised the Emperor not to listen to the Japanese Counselor because they might eventually invade our country. The Japanese counselor decided to assassinate the Korean Empress with the help of their troops which were stationed in Korea to protect their embassy. Their code name for this operation at that time was “fox hunt.” Eventually, Myung Sung Empress was assassinated. (By the way, after World War II, after the Japanese surrender, a Korean musician made a musical opera “Myung Sung Empress” out of that sad story.) In the Korean Emperor’s cabinet, the  pro-Japanese power was growing day by day but what they didn’t know was that Japan was luring them. Japan invited the pro-Japanese leaders to Japan. They saw eye popping change in Japan. They saw buildings, street cars, even WC systems in bath rooms. The Japanese treated them nicely and promised them royal titles like Duke, etc. and that they would be treated as royal family. They said that Japanese and Koreans were the same people –  why not make one country together instead of two. So, those pro-Japanese members of the Korean cabinet were tricked and put their signatures on Japanese paper. Their representing leader’s name was “Lee, Wan-Yong.” Even now, we call him a traitor or a betrayer of Korea, who sold our country to Japan. That was the end of the Josen Dynasty (Lee Dynasty) of 500 years. The Japanese occupied  Korean land from 1910 to 1945, until the end of WWII. It was for 35 years but Koreans used to say 36 years using the Korean way of calculation.

We had heavy anti-Japanese sentiment in Korea, much of which stemmed from the period of Japanese occupation. During WWII, more than 100,000 Koreans, including college students, were forced to serve in the Imperial Japanese arm; Korean women were lured to the war front to serve the Imperial Japanese army as sex slaves called comfort women; Japanese politicians, including the Prime Minister, visited the Yasukuni shrine to honor Japanese war crimes against Korean civilians; Japanese textbooks were rewritten to  falsify Japanese acts during WII2; etc., and etc.

On March 1st, 1919 (9 years after the Japanese occupation), there was an independence declaration. It was a huge nation-wide uprising in every corner of the country. The text of the Independence declaration was read in Pagoda Park in Seoul and signed by 33 famous patriots. The Japanese used live ammunition. There were so many casualties and many were imprisoned. Many of them fled to other countries, mainly China, US, and France. (We commemorate March First every year and never forget about that day.) Patriots gathered in Shanghai, China. A provisional government was formed in Shanghai on April 1, 1919 a month after the March 1st declaration. The first President of the provisional government was Rhee, Sung-Man who fled to the US.

The liberation of Korea took place on 8/15/1945 (the end of WWII; the Japanese surrendered unconditionally).

A Korean government was proclaimed on 8/15/1948 (after three years of US military government). The first president was also Rhee, Sung-Man.

Small Aunt

My Father’s Stories: Number Five – Small Aunt (Jakun Go-Mo).

My grandfather’s younger sister was known to my father as Jakun Go-Mo, or Pusan Go-Mo, after the town in which she lived with her husband and children.   My father did not know her name, just as he did not know the name of his older aunt, known as Won-San Go-Mo.  But he knew the name of his uncle, a man who disappeared from their lives when my father was very young. It is interesting to me that the aunts (his father’s sisters) were both known by the city in which they lived.  Now what I want to know is:  Are the children of his father’s sisters also considered “real” cousins, or are they lumped in the same category as cousins from his mother’s side?

Year born: around 1905.

Year deceased: around 1951 (age around 46).

Cause of death: I don’t know.

Physical appearance: medium height and medium build.

External (facial) appearance: Beautiful (my father’s elder sister & younger brother were similar and my father & younger sister were good looking).

Character: very kind, always smiling, understanding, not talkative, good woman (my mother said she was a “real woman”).

I don’t know much about my Pusan Go-Mo. I saw them only a couple of time when I was a little kid and she died at an early age. So, this information is mainly from my grand mo and my mother.

She was married to a jeweler. I saw her husband (Go-Mo-Bu) once in his jewelry store with grand mo when grand mo visited Pusan with me when I was small. Pusan city is a port city, the second largest city in Korea, a little larger than Daegu, located at the southern end of the Korean peninsula, closest to Japan, separated by the Korea Straight.  In my vague memory, Go-Mo-Bu was tall, of medium build and wore silver-framed eye glasses. He was polite to my grand mo who was his mother-in-law. I got an impression at that time that he was a nice gentleman.

They had three children (my cousins).

(1)   Female: name – don’t know or I forgot. Much older than me (maybe by about 8 years), medium height and somehow chubby, pretty, married to a police officer who later became one of the highest ranked police officers in the country I heard.

(2)   Male: Choi, Yoon Kun, about 6 years older than me, medium height and slightly chubby, average looking, married to a selfish, egoistic woman, medium rich, owned automobile parts store.

(3)   Male: Choi, Yoon Pil, about 3 years older than me, medium height, heavy built, muscular, liked all kinds of sports, especially base ball and fencing (Japanese style).

To refresh some of your memories, when I was in second year Pre-Med in Seoul, the Korean War erupted on 6/25/1950. Seoul fell in three days; the North Korean army pushed down all the way to near Daegu… I cremated Won-San Go-Mo-Bu [Won-San Go-Mo’s husband]. Then I was in one of the waves of refugees accompanied by two other friends. We walked and walked down towards the south – towards Daegu. Almost near the Daegu, as a refugee, in civilian clothes, holding a Yonsei University student certificate, we met US troops.  Can you imagine they put us in P.O.W. (prisoner of war) camp for 22 long months? I was freed on 7/21/1952 and revisited and enrolled in Yonsei University’s temporary war time school in Pusan in the second semester of second year in Pre-Med…

[This is not my memory at all.  As I remember the story, my father was a soldier when he and his three (not two) buddies, found themselves near the front.  They were scared and hungry.  When they saw the U.S. soldiers, they argued about what to do.  Three of them, including my father, wanted to show themselves to the Americans so that they could be taken back to their base.  The fourth did not – he didn’t trust the U.S. soldiers.  They argued for some time, because my father wanted them all to make a unanimous decision – he wanted them all to be together.  They did not come to an agreement, and the fourth friend split off and ran in the opposite direction.  My father and his two other friends showed themselves to the U.S. soldiers, expecting relief.  Instead, they were taken (to be North Korean soldiers) as prisoners of war.]

Then, I went to my Pusan elder cousin brother Yoon-Kun’s house, near where our Yonsei temporary war time school was, to ask if I could stay in their house for about 6 months of schooling, because it was predicted that by the time I completed Pre-Med, the Government might allow citizens to return to Seoul.

My cousin elder brother heard my story and said “OK” although somewhat reluctantly. However, his wife, my aunt, didn’t look happy about it. Later, I told my mom about that situation. My mom said “old saying: ‘one leg (one chon) distance is like 1000 miles’ If your Go-Mo (my fathers younger sister who is 3 chon level, cousin = 4 chon) was still alive she would have welcomed you gladly.” Any way, I had no choice because I knew my parents didn’t have enough money, especially in that war time. Never the less, I was only able to stay in Yoon-Kun cousin’s house less than a month.

Stories will follow when I write my own story.

Small Father

My Father’s Stories: Number Four – Small Father (Sam Chon).

This is the story of my father’s uncle – his father’s younger brother (small father – Sam (3)-Chon), his wife (my father’s aunt) and his children (my father’s “real” cousins).

I think I better explain a little bit about “chon” numbers in blood relations.

Between father and son = il (1) chon; between brothers = iee (2) chon; So, between father’s brother and me = sam (3) chon; between father’s brother’ son and me = sa (4) chon (in US we call it cousin); and 5 chon (nephew); 8 chon (distant cousin) etc. This is very scientific and logical. However, with 1 chon and 2 chon, customarily we never call our father “1 chon”, or our brother “2 chon”. You calculate and call “chon number” directly to the person only after 2 chon:  “3 chon”, “4 chon”, “5 chon”, “8 chon” etc. However, usually, more than “8 chon” is considered insignificant.

My father also goes on to expound on the scientific and simple nature (no “controversial” words like ‘knife’) of the Korean alphabet (Han-Gul), but I will skip that aside for this story.

This very little known uncle’s story is based mainly on my grand mother (80%), my mother (10%), and me (10%).

Name: Lee, Sang Ho

Date of birth: around 1903

At present: no one knows where he may be or whether he is dead or alive.

Physical appearance: On the tall side, but not as tall as my father and of medium build.

External (facial) appearance: average (resembled  Won-San Go-Mo).

Character: easy going, not serious, not steady.

Occupation: perhaps just pretending to help his father (my grand pa).

Wife: Beautiful woman.

Two children: (1) Girl: Lee, Song Ok, similar to my age, (2) Boy: Lee, Man Woo, couple of years younger than me.

My grand mo said that he (uncle) was a lazy and useless bum who didn’t want to do any thing and just fooled around.

He and his wife had frequent arguments and fights. Then, his beautiful wife, together with their children (my cousins), would come over to our house and complain to my mother, crying. She called my mom “Sung-nim” which is a hybrid word of brother and sister. Usually, between girls or women, they call their older counterparts “Unni”. However to more respectable women, they would say “Hyung-nim” (brother) or hybrid word “Sung-nim”( means close to brother). My mom used to call her “Song-Ok’s Mother”. This is usual Korean custom. When a girl was growing up, people called her by her first name. Then, once they got married and had children, they are no longer called by first name but instead they address her as first child’s mother. Like Yoo-mi’s mother for your mom, etc.

Whenever she came to our house after an argument with her husband, my father called (summoned) his brother to come over to our house (I don’t know where they lived but probably not far away from our place); the three of them went into a separate room and he tried to mediate between his younger brother and sister-in-law. In the usual Korean custom, regardless of who is right or who is wrong, my father has to blame whomever is closer to him – his younger brother, saying “you were wrong brother, how could you argue about these trivial things all the time” and “you should make your home a more peaceful place” etc. “do you understand?” In those days, the younger brother had to listen to his older brother. So, he had to say to my father “yes big brother.”

However, my aunt came to my mother crying and complaining again and again. Then, my mother said “my dear Song-Ok’s mom, I know what you feel. This is not only your problem – all Korean women suffer with these problems. So whatever your husband says, don’t take too seriously, be more patient, think about your beautiful children, and try to be nicer to him. This is the only way to keep your family peacefully together, etc.” This was what my mom told me after I grew up when my mom recalled poor Song-Ok’s mother. She said she spoke to her in that kind of way numerous times.

Whenever she came together with her children (my real cousins – Koreans usually differentiate between father’s side and mother’s side cousins. In those days, they thought that father’s side cousins were almost like real brothers and sisters. It is still somehow like that) we played together with our cousins. There was one place, a wide open area we called children’s play ground in the entrance of this poor people’s village. There were two ways to get to this play ground. One was a regular path and the other was a short cut (not a real path). I explored this short cut for myself accidentally. Whenever my cousins came to our house, I would lead them, holding their hands, and passing through very narrow spaces between the side walls of straw-roofed houses and fences of somebody’s back yard, like a labyrinth. It was real fun. Strange thing is that I don’t know how I (with dumb memory) could remember that because I am guessing my age was 3 or 4. Whenever I think about my cousins I still remember that.

Song-Ok’s mom’s visit to my mom were pretty regular. However, one afternoon, when I got home, Aunt was weeping and crying much longer than usual. The reason unfortunately was that her children Song-Ok and Man-Woo died one after another by infectious disease, probably measles. I felt sad but at that time I didn’t know what exactly death menat. Later in my life when I was growing up, my mom sometimes talked about it once in a while.

This wasn’t bad enough for this beautiful woman. Not long after their children died her husband disappeared. My father inquired in every possible place and finally got information from his elder sister (Won-San Go-Mo) that he had come to Won-San and was apparently living with a different woman. Can you imagine this irresponsible uncle (as my grand mo quoted: “lazy and useless bum”), apparently running away with his mistress to Won-San secretly without saying anything to his wife or his big brother (my father)?

Any way, my uncle lived in Won-San with a different woman. After World War II, when Korea was divided in two, Won-San became a North Korean territory. Soon after that, my cousin brother and his family in Won-San escaped south to Seoul. When my cousin brother was coming down to Seoul, it is unclear whether or not he tried to convince my uncle (his uncle too) to escape together. However, to my common sense, they probably did. (Here, “they” means Won-San Go-Mo’s family. My uncle means mother’s side uncle to my cousin brother and younger brother to my Won-San Go-Mo.)

After my cousin brother’s family escaped to Seoul from Communist North Korea, nobody ever heard anything about my uncle.

My aunt’s visits to my mom were still pretty regular. However, there was gradually less crying. My mom told me one day that after all these unfortunate incidents, apparently she asked my mom if she could adopt one of mom’s sons. (This kind of practice was not uncommon in Korea. Brothers who did not have a child, adopted one of his brother’s sons, usually the second or third or later one; as young as possible.) My mom asked “who do you have in mind.” Song-Ok’s mom said “Sung-Woo” without hesitating. My mom told me that at that time, the status of her mind was: “how come this greedy woman asks for Sung-Woo?” She knows very well that  Sung-Woo is my mom’s first son. And suddenly something like a hateful feeling came up in mom’s mind. All these days, mom tried to comfort Song-Ok’s mom saying very sympathetically “OK, OK, I know how you feel, etc., etc.” “Now, look at her, she is asking for my first son, who will be a pillar to support the Lee family. How can she say that without even hesitation.” However, my mom had a kind, patient, polite and understanding personality. So, mom told aunt “look Song-Ok’s mom, Sung-Woo is our first son, as you know well.” Then aunt said “but Sung-Nim, you have another son and daughters, so many of them, I only ask for one.” Then mom said “if you are really serious about it, you can adopt Jang-Woo (my younger brother) if his father says OK”. Aunt did not say anything like “yes” or “no” because she knew that this was a very sensitive matter.

Her visits were still pretty regular. And as days and months passed, she looked like she was getting richer. Her clothes, jewelry, accessories and her style looked some how luxurious. When she visited mom, although she was only a couple of years younger than mom, she still looked beautiful and I realized that her voice was beautiful too. Like the old Korean saying, she had a rolling-marble voice, which was some how laud. Even from a distance, we could hear her beautiful, unique, laughing voice. My mom said that one day, when she was newly married, she (aunt) came to our house to help mom cook (of cause it was in an outdoor kitchen). She was raising a fire under the big oven, putting in a brunch of wood. The fire was burning; aunt’s face was reddish looking with the reflection of the fire. Then my mom said that even to her eyes (a woman’s eye) she looked very beautiful.

Aunt did not give up her plan to adopt Sung-Woo. One day she came to mom and told mom that she was getting richer, in contrast to us, and one of the other reasons to adapt mom’s son was so that she could leave all her wealth to her adopted son. Apparently she thought that by saying this, she would be able to convince my mom. My mom said that aunt was probably living together with a man but mom never asked about those things in details (about the man who was living with her or how she was getting richer, etc.) because my mom was very considerate. Mom didn’t want to make her uncomfortable by asking those questions. After that, her visits to mom gradually lessened and her adaption idea also gradually faded.

However, the shadow of evil fortune refused to leave this poor woman who lost her beloved daughter and son and whose husband ran away with his mistress.

One day, when I came back home from Uganda for an inter-term vacation, my mom told me that Song-Ok’s mother had died. I was surprised to hear that news and asked “when?” Mom said “last year, when you were in Uganda” which was in 1967. I asked mom again “how did she die?” Mom said “she was murdered” and mom told me the following story.

One day, last year, a police detective came to our house and asked mom if she knew this woman. She saw the name and photo produced by the detective and said “Oh! Yes, she is my sister-in-law, Dong-Sou, my husband’s younger brother’s wife. What about her.” Then, detective said “she was murdered.” The detective said that she was registered as a widow only. Apparently she removed her previous husband’s name from her status. Rather, put it this way – she removed her name out of the Lee’s family registry. Perhaps that was allowed legally after a certain period had passed without hearing of one’s husband. The police said that after the murder report, they searched her house and found a lot of jewelry, valuables and solid gold bars, etc. The police said that the intruder’s motivation could have been for those valuables. Then the detective asked my mom a lot of questions, like when was the last time mom saw this women, any suspicious person mom could suggest who could have killed her, any other information mom could provide, etc. My theory was that an intruder came into the house to steal something valuable and my aunt resisted vigorously (this could be the psychology for a woman who lived alone to protect her valuables) then killed her and ran away without getting much. And another thing was that the detective said to mom that during the murder inquiry, one of the neighbor witnesses told the police that they saw a suspicious man in army uniform  near that house around that time. So, the police asked mom that if anybody in our family was in military service. Mom said that my second son is in active army service. Later, my mom learned that the detective came to Jang-Woo’s place. At that time, he was a supply regiment commander with a rank of major colonel. A few days later, I met my brother Jang-Woo too. He asked me if I heard that news about our aunt’s death. I said “yes I heard that news from mom. Isn’t that a sad story?”  Then, my brother Jang-Woo said “yes indeed” however it was unpleasant to him that the detective came to him and inquired about alibis and if he had anything to do with aunt’s murder. I said to my brother “wasn’t that detective a real crazy one?” “Forget about that detective.”

My mom mumbled as if she was talking to herself that old saying “미인 박복” “美人 薄福” “misfortune follows beautiful women”. Mom said again to her self “she was one of them.”

Big Aunt

My Father’s Stories: Number Three – Big Aunt (Kun Go-Mo).

This is the story of my grandfather’s elder sister and her husband.  My father does not know his Kun Go-Mo‘s name – he was not told, and he did not ask.

I saw her only a few times when I was a small child. I have only a vague memory of her.

This story is based on the information given mainly by my grand mo who was her mother (70%), my mother (10%) and my own, eye witness (20%).

Year born: around 1898

Year deceased: around 1947

Cause of death: unknown

Physical appearance: Medium height and medium build

External (facial) appearance: average

Character: Super strong personality and out spoken (probably got it from her mom, my grand mo)

She married a real gentle man who owned a furniture manufacturing store or company (how big? I don’t know) in Won-San City, (now in North Korea). Because of the name of the city she lived in, we used call her Won-San Go-Mo. Won-San is located about 150 miles north east of Seoul; a port city, facing the East Sea; their beach was famous. (At that time, Korea was one. The Lee dynasty united the kingdoms into one Korea. South and North Korea was only divided right after World War II, like Germany, by the world superpowers.)

My Won-San Go-Mo-Bu (Won-San Go-Mo’s husband) made frequent business trips to Japan to purchase special, tiny, half spherical-headed nails, special glues and various accessories necessary to make furniture. On his way to Japan, he had to pass through Dae-Gu by train from Won-San to Pu-San and then ferry to Japan. Perhaps his strong wife told him, rather ordered him: “you should pay a visit to your mother-in-law in Dae-Gu, you got that?” Whatever the reason, he visited our house to see my grand mo and my father (his brother-in-law) once in a while. He was a polite and nice guy too as far as I remember. I recall one time when he was in our house, I was opening a door and about to enter a room, I saw he was opening his brown leather suit case from a distance. It was a side view but I remember that suit case was full of paper money. So, I did not go in that room and just closed the door right away and pretended that I did not see anything else. Later on, I just told my mom about it but nobody else. I was about five years old I think.

That was a long time ago. After World War II, his son, my cousin brother, (much older than me) grown up and together with his aged parents, escaped down to the south (Seoul) from the pro-communist government of Kim, Il Sung. So I had a chance to meet him after I grew up too. Once when I went up to Seoul to take my pre-medical college entrance examination, I learned that my Won-San Go-Mo (my father’s elder sister) had passed away couple of years ago. Of cause my mother might have told me about this when she died but I forgot about it, I think. So my Won-San Go-Mo died. Second and last time I saw him (Won-San Go-Mo-Bu) was when I was in second year of pre-medical college in Yon-Sei University, right after the Korean War erupted, and Seoul had fall to the North Korean army in three days. In that super-chaotic time, I met him in their house. He was pale and bed ridden; nobody was in the house except him and a maid with some reserved food. A few weeks later, he died. I cremated him together with a church member’s help as a family representative. My cousin brother was a pastor in that church too.

My cousin brother was a different type of pastor. He was a theological scholar and leading philosopher. Was this the last time I saw him?  I will write more about him when I write my story.

Grand mo

My Father’s Stories: Number Two, Part B – Grand mo.

My father’s grandmother was named Suh, Yun Iee.  She was born around 1877 and died around 1947, around the age of 70 – a long life for someone at that time.

According to my father, his grandmother was slightly petite; pretty; quite; had a tremendous memory and a strong character; was not afraid to talk to anyone, anywhere; walked fast; and was an unconditionally faithful wife, as we saw in the story of his grandfather.  She had two sons and two daughters, breaking her husband’s only-son-for-three-generations cycle.  For that alone, she must have been valued.  Apparently, she was a pretty optimistic and happy woman, except in her husband’s later years.  Her childhood is unknown – either she did not speak of it to my father, or he doesn’t remember.

Her children:

(1) Female (N/A): my grandfather’s elder sister (big Go-Mo = kun Go-Mo)

(2) Male     (Lee, Sang Oup): my grandfather

(3) Male     (Lee, Sang Ho): my grandfather’s younger brother (small Sam-Chon or small father = zakun Abuji)

(4) Female (N/A): my grandfather’s younger sister (small Go-Mo = zakun Go-Mo)

Interesting that my father does not know or remember his aunt’s names…

My grand mo liked me and loved me a lot because I was her first son’s first son (first grand son of her husband from her first son).

I remember that I asked grand mo to tell me stories of the old days all the time. I used to sit on grand mo’s lap under her chin and ask her to tell me a story. “Grand mo! Grand mo! Tell me a story will you?” Then Grand mo would say “eyee! how come this little one like stories so much” while she spanked my forehead lightly. Then, I would ask her repeatedly “tell me a story will you” while I was shaking my shoulders and repeatedly beating her chest lightly. Then she would say “I already told you all the stories I know, I don’t have any more story left.” Then I would think momentarily and say “then tell me the story of Shim-Chung again.” Then she would start to tell me the story. “Once upon a time there was a —.” She had an amazing memory and she repeated the same story in exactly the same way with amazing details while I had almost forgotten the story. (At that time I thought: Wow!  Grand mo remembers everything very well,” and I felt like I was a dummy.) During her story telling, she would say she was busy – she had to clean vegetables for diner. Then, I would follow her wherever she went and kept asking her “and then what happened grand mo?”

When I was young, she accompanied me wherever I went (moved). (I will tell you more of this later when I write the stories of myself.)

She did not care much for her daughter’s children.

She was very faithful to her first son’s (Lee’s) family. After grand pa died, she was a great ambassador to her daughter’s (my father’s sisters’) places, holding a big S.O.S. sign and saying that our Lee’s flag ship (grand pa’s first son’s) is sinking. Grand mo ran up and down but had limited results.

She had surgery for a breast lump by Dr. Sohn who was a family friend of grand mo’s family and their family when my grand pa was rich. He, Dr. Sohn, was working at the Dong-San (Presbyterian) Hospital’s department of internal medicine where I worked after I became an M.D. At that time, she was so poor that she could not afford to go any doctor, let alone any surgeon. Grand mo almost begged to Dr Sohn to perform that surgery. In those days, doctors were not very specialized and any physician, regardless of their specialties, could perform miner surgeries at their offices. Finally Dr. Sohn reluctantly agreed to do it at his office but not at the hospital because hospital rules were that an internal medicine man could not perform breast surgery. The procedure was done under local anesthesia at Dr. Sohn’s office. Grand mo asked Dr. Sohn to remove not only the very tumor but also to pull out the whole root of that tumor (like a vegetable root, she thought). And then she told me that when the doctor was pulling out the roots of the tumor (apparently he told grand mo that he was pulling out the whole root together with the tumor), she shouted and screamed like crazy as if she moved heaven and earth (that’s what she described to me). After the surgery, before heading home, she told the doctor “thank you Dr. Sohn, you know I don’t have anything to pay you, bye!” Of course Dr. Sohn did not expect any thing from her. A few weeks later, she bought a man’s necktie (I don’t think it was an expensive one) and went to Dr. Sohn’s house and said “this is a special necktie, I spent the whole afternoon to buy this” as if she was doing a favor to Dr. Sohn “ and said “here it is” proudly. Was it a benign tumor or malignant? I still don’t know. It was probably benign because I did not hear anything about her hospital visit related to her breast tumor.

[I wish I knew.  Whenever I’ve been asked whether there is any history of breast cancer in my family, I’ve always said: No.]

Later in my life, of course after grand mo passed away, when I started work  in Dong-San (Presbyterian) Hospital, I was thinking back about her beast surgery. Ironically, my poor grand mo, she still doesn’t know that I, her beloved grand son worked in the same hospital, in the department of surgery (not the department of internal medicine, as Dr. Sohn did).

However, as grand mo got older, she started getting health problems:

  • Chronic eye infection (Trachoma): she had eye discharges all the time.
  • Chronic respiratory illness: probably it was a chronic bronchitis and/or chronic bronchiectasis. Because of this, she would cough and produce sputum all the time.

My mother worried about me a lot because grand mo was somehow unhygienic in my mother’s view. Grand mo wiped her eyes with her handkerchief frequently and also wiped her mouth after her cough and sputum with the same handkerchief and with that handkerchief handled hand, she sometime grabbed fruit or rice cake and gave it to me to eat, sometimes put it into my mouth. When my mother’s feelings reached intolerable levels, she worriedly and cautiously said to grand mo “Mother! Please don’t grab those things with your hand, instead please use a fork or chop stick and give it to grand son”. Then grand mo answered back to mom “you are pretty strange, what’s wrong with my hand, my hand is clean.” In those days, it was very unethical for a daughter-in-law to argue or fight with her mother-in-law. She would not get any sympathy from anybody and she was viewed as a bad woman. So my mother could only worry and worry and worry about that but she could not do much about it.

In my grand mo’s later life, a few years before her death, she fell into Alzheimer’s disease. She was loosing her amazingly sharp memories; starting to get confused. All her ailments – eye infection, coughing and sputum – were getting worse and lastly she could not control her bowl movements for about a year. Can you imagine how much hardship my mother had to endue with all those problems?

One day, my first year in high school, I came home for summer vacation. The name of my high school was Kim-Chon Junior & Senior High School in Kim-Chon city. The school was located in the northern hill of Kim-Chon city and my parents’ home (my father’s church) was located in the southern outskirts of the city. The distance was about 5 to 6 miles across the city south to north. So grand mo asked one lady who lived close to my high school to put me up in their house for my schooling. That lady was my grand mo’s maid when grand mo was living well. Grand mo arranged for her to marry a nice guy; she paid for wedding expenses, etc. The lady called my grand mo “mother.” Apparently the lady could not refuse to accept me in their house. They were not rich and did not have enough room for me to sleep separately. I shared a room with their son. I ate meals together with them. They had a daughter that was about the same age as me, in the women’s Kim-Chon high school, pretty close to her house and she tried very hard to comfort me. She carried food for me, reheated my cooling soup, etc. However, to tell you the truth, I was not comfortable. I stayed there may be less than a year and then I walked the 5-6 miles to school.

[Here it is: walked 5 miles to school, uphill!]

So, to get back to the story, I came home for summer vacation from that lady’s house. My mother was expecting me to arrive; she was outside of the house, waiting for me. As soon as she saw me, she approached me and said in low voice and cautiously “grand mo died.” I felt like I was hit in the head with hammer and said “when.” Mother said in the same low voice “three weeks ago.” My immediate reaction was “ why didn’t you inform me” with my voice up and looking at mother’s face. Then mother started to explain the reason why she didn’t inform me, with a voice as gentle as possible, that she did not want me to get shocked and disturb my study — maybe she said those words. While mom was talking, I could not hear anything; I was in shock. However, I suddenly thought that I should not hurt my mom’s feelings – whatever has happened she did for my benefit. Then, I interrupted mom’s talk and said as gently as possible “I am sorry mom, of course I know why you did not inform me, it’s alright, I am alright mom.” I really didn’t want to hurt my mom. I know very well how much hardship she endured for grand mo. Then, I went into the house. I saw grand mo’s room was empty. I felt like the whole house looked empty and the surrounding neighborhood and the trees seemed like leafless winter trees; I saw only gray branches under a gray sky. I went out of the house and went for a walk. I passed the houses, hills, farm land, and rice fields and reached the river. Not very big but not small river. I sat on the bank of the river, looking at the flow of the water without focus and was thinking about my grand mo. I realized that tears were dropping from my cheeks. Good thing that nobody saw this. I stood up and grabbed a river bed stone, and started to throw it in to the water, one after another. I started looking for a flatter and rounded stone to throw on the surface of the water to make repeated jumps on the surface of the water in order to stop my tears. The sun was setting; birds were flying in groups toward or to find their resting place. Dusk was start to covering the river water, rice fields, farm land and nearby villages. Smoke was visible through the chimneys of nearby villages and started to mix with dusk and gradually you could not differentiate which was smoke and which was dusk. I started to walk toward home. I saw in the sky so many stars appearing and starting to twinkle toward me. I saw some were grand mo’s and some were mine. Grand mo’s stars were smiling toward me saying don’t worry about her, she is in good hands, good nature’s hands, there is no more suffering and it is peaceful over there. Stars representing me were twinkling for my tomorrows and my future life, giving me a great hope. It looked amazingly bright and I never realized that stars were so beautiful. I realized that I had come a long distance away from home. I hurried my steps toward home because mom might worry about me. When I reached home, mom was waiting outside. She had a worrisome expression and asked me “are you alright.” I said as softly as I could and even showing some smiley expression “of course I am all right mom.” She did not ask me anything further because she knew her son wanted to be left alone. After that day, I started to overcome gradually the sorrow of grand mo’s death. Also after that day, we (mom and me) did not talk about grand mom’s death for about a week until my emotions calmed down. Then one day, I asked mom about grand mom’s funeral and the site of her grave. Then she told me the following story.

Grand mom had been suffering from all kinds of illnesses plus Alzheimer’s disease in her later life. In those days, Korean life expectancy wasn’t that long and people rarely lived like my grand mo did. Alzheimer’s disease (No-Mang means ruin of old age) is considered to be a shame in one’s life. Many Korean people thought and openly said that they did not want to live so long that they got No-Mang. So, my father and mother decided that the  funeral had to be absolutely private without having an open funeral ceremony. Another, bigger reason for that was that my father did not want to involve church members’ labor or the church’s expenses for my grand mo’s funeral. In those days all suburban churches faced difficult times monetarily after supporting a pastor, especially in war time (World War II) under Japanese occupation. So, my father decided to cremate grand mo, put the remains into a wooden box, and went into a mountain. My father knew one place that was a prayer house which was combined with a retreat for pastors and church leaders in a deep mountain. He went there and climbed up  the higher streams of the valley where my father used to pray once in while. He prayed to God and then he scattered the ash into the cool water stream of a mountain valley. Perhaps, he pray to God while he was scattering his mother’s ashes “Oh! My merciful God in heaven, please accept my mother in your almighty hands, and please take care of this poor woman’s soul.”


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