“The fall was just rightly ripening in this town, at this moment…
and that day I remembered her.”
My thought often goes back to my paternal grandmother when I watch the mirror in the bathroom, alone in the house, with only my white dog around.
My grandmother was a villain in the family story told by mother when I was a kid. When my older brother made fun of me with any resemblance to my grandmother, I burst into tears with anger for the unfair accusation. As I grew older, however, I could agree with some resemblance in me with her more than any other extended family members.
She had lived on her own for a long time in the rural area where our ancestor’s mountain located, five hours train ride away from the city where most of her family lived. A big land surrounded her house full of persimmon trees. The fruits would show deep orange color from green when the fall harvest was near. The symbol of the fall in Korea like the pumpkins here.
Persimmon was my favorite fruit in my childhood. Once, when I visited there in the late summer, I took bites from all the orange parts of the ripening fruits leaving the green area left still hanging on the trees. I fell asleep in the guest room after my crime and I heard the loud voice of my grandmother blaming my older cousin for the mischievous behavior that I committed. I don’t remember how it ended but I wasn’t the one who got into trouble… I was always an exception from her grumpy bitter lashing words. She wasn’t particularly nice to me, but I knew that her neutral attitude meant the fondness of me over all the grandchildren that she had.
My mother’s hatred of her mother-in-law was deep. We heard all kinds of stories of her evil through my mother but my grandmother was the one who was courageous enough to live alone on her own without any support until her death, sending the boxes of dried persimmons harvested to us every year, and crossed the sea to bring her cheating husband back from Japan who studied abroad and lived with a Japanese woman at the colonial time of Korea. She must have been less than twenty years old at that time when she put herself onto the ship to Japan. She must have not known any Japanese and all she might have to find her husband must have been the address on the envelope that he sent to her. Without her action, I wouldn’t be here. It was before my father was born, so I owe my existence to her bravery.
She was bright but uneducated. It was forbidden for women to go to school and learn at that time, compared to my grandfather who was a highly educated nobleman but having no occupation. Having a job to support the family was a lower-class action for people in the past. The modernization breaking the status system in the past brought lots of confusion in the society, but my grandfather kept the old values, dressed as the traditional nobleman with the many layers of clothes that needed extra care with the long beard and long hair twisted up inside the dyed in black horsetail hat. I remember his funeral done traditionally… I would come back to that memory someday later. I think I am the last generation holding the sensory memory of the things that disappeared over time. Having a husband like my grandfather must have put the family in a very difficult situation. I can only imagine the life that my grandmother had. Maybe this contributed to her stubborn and opinionated attitude, but she was strong and active. Interestingly enough to many people around her, she was a dog lover. She allowed her dog inside the house, which was very rare in Korea at that time and also freaked my mother who had an obsessive fear of germs. She even fed the dog human food from the table and talked in a sweet manner. I could see the obvious mismatch of my grandmother and my mother, but… now, when I look in the mirror, the round big nose like hers greets me in the house where the city is far away, the family is farther away, no relatives around… I think… I must be the one who resembles her the most. And I somewhat like it.
The season changed and I saw the persimmons in an Asian market, the soft orange color of autumn. My index finger touched the surface of my past, my memory… I didn’t buy any… but I smiled when I stepped out the door. The daylight was bright to my eyes… the smile lingered at the corner of my lips. I walked to my car where the car window was down and I saw the wet black nose of my dog peeking out and his fluffy face with his black round eyes when I got close. The fall was just rightly ripening in this town, at this moment… and that day I remembered her.
<November 6th, 2019>