Monday, January 28, 2008

My mom's memories

I like making my mom talk about stuff from when she was young. I feel like I need to buy a voice recorder and just have her talk so I can remember all the stuff she tells me. Maybe I'll get to do that since family issues has me going back home in a bit.

My mom has three phantom siblings. Her oldest brother, the genius, who could read all the Chinese characters on the drawers of their elder uncle's Chinese medicine shop. He died at the age of 7 from a bee sting. There was the older brother born between my surviving uncle and herself who died of pneumonia while the family was on the run during the Korean War. This left a nine-year gap between her and my uncle. Then there was her younger sister Haesun, who died at the age of five when my mother was seven.

Being the first daughter in a long while, my mother was spoiled. Even her notoriously gruff and hot-tempered elder aunt loved her the most because she had only one child and the child was a boy. Her elder aunt is a story all her own. While my mother's family was a historical family (My mom's branch of that particular last name has it's own Wikipedia entry! I found this out recently by accident.) and her elder uncle a renowned Chinese-style physician, having even studied abroad in China, his slightly withered left hand made him undesirable as a husband. My elder aunt was brought as a bride in waiting. Young girls brought in at a young age and raised by her future husband's family until she comes of marriageable age. She came to the house at 13 and had a son at the age of 18. She was strong as an ox with a loud voice who scared even the shaman she'd invite for 'gut' ceremonies with her own raucous voice and dancing. My grandmother, a born-again Christian, bumped heads with my mother's elder aunt a lot. When my grandmother would show up at the house during a ceremony, my elder aunt would tell her to go away because "You Jesus lovers bring bad luck." In turn my mom forbade my mother from participating in any shaman or Buddhist practices. When my mother's elder aunt took her to visit the temple where the woman who refused to marry any man other than my grandfather went to become a monk, my mother would run away when asked to bow and pray. She'd tauntingly stay out of reach declaring to her frustrated elder aunt, "My mom told me not to!"

My mom admits she was a bratty and ill-manner kid. She'd start fights and rip at the hair of her more than 20-years-older-than-her "Big Brother" (her elder uncle's only child). When all the children bowed for the Lunar New Year to get money from the adults, she refused to do it and would throw a temper tantrum and would get her allowance later on anyway.

"Why didn't you just do it?" I asked.

"It was embarrassing," she said. "Here I was this unruly tomboy, and the way girls had to bow all wilting and delicate...I had a reputation as a hellion to uphold."

My mother told me how when Haesun died, in her own twisted kid logic she thought to herself, "I'm the only girl again! Everyone will pay attention to me!"

However, as the years went by she missed her little sister more and more. And in middle school, she started wondering where Haesun was buried. She learned that her little sister was buried in a small cemetery behind her school she was haunted for a while by the thought and hope that Haesun wasn't really dead. That she'd just gone away for a while and was coming back.

"I kept thinking that one day, I'd come home and open the door, and she'd be waiting for me. Or one day I'd turn a corner and there she'd be."

My grandmother almost went mad after the death of Haesun and that's when she converted.. My mom remembers how she could her my late at night grandmother sobbing as she'd sing hymns to herself and my mom said it repulsed her.

"I thought my mother really had gone mad."

But my grandmother was famous for being a patient and kind woman. A small, slip of a woman with pale skin, she was intelligent and strong but kind and quiet. To this day my mother's friends remember my grandmother fondly as a saint.

My mom has three phantom siblings but one older brother. Growing up he was the smart one, the nice one. He had his poetry published and went on to own a publishing company. My mom wasn't the bad one, but she was the loud one. The ill-tempered one. The troublemaker. After my grandparents passed away, my mother resented him for marrying my aunt and my uncle disowned her for marrying my dad. They spent awkward years of silence punctuated by rare strained phone calls. My uncle told people who asked about my mom that she was dead. It took my uncle's financial ruin and brain aneurysm to bring them back together. The first time I saw my uncle was when I was 15 through the car window as I sat in the backseat waiting for him and my mom to talk about the situation (before the stress of being swindled and facing legal repercussions though he had committed no crime lead to his brain aneurysm).

They're talking again now, but I feel sad for the years they spent not talking to each other at all.

There's plenty of other stories, and talking to my mom sometimes it's like a ball of yarn that keeps unraveling. Indeed, must invest in a voice recorder.


Blogger Katya5 said...

This is a really, really interesting post. Fascinating family history.
Thank you

11:40 PM  

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