A small measure

Thursday, December 26, 2013

With Halmunee & Mimi, circa 1983
Whenever I look at this picture, I am reminded of how much I miss my grandmother. Not only who she was as a person, but everything she represented to me about selflessness, sacrifice, and most of all, being a mother.

She was the unapologetic matriarch of our family, with the kind of character and perseverance that only comes from years of raising nine children, becoming a widow,  surviving the Korean War, and immigrating to the United States knowing no English and raising another generation of four grandchildren.

Looking back, I'm pretty sure she understood more English than she let on. She was a smart woman, though how much formal education she had in Korea I never knew. There's really little I know of her life in Korea. All I have are a few precious stories told by aunts and uncles, filtered through hazy memories of my childhood. And yet they still fit easily with the image of the woman I knew, her quiet resolve, intimidating to some but comforting to those closest to her, along with her sense of humor and mischief, only known to a few.

What I do know is at some point she taught herself to read and write, that she had memorized countless hymns and read her Bible daily, and she had somehow adjusted, seamlessly it seemed, to a new life in America, watching her favorite Bob Barker on the Price is Right, occasionally enjoying the gravy and mashed potatoes at Kentucky Fried Chicken, and eventually in her eighties, learning just enough to sign her name in English and state that Bill Clinton was the president to become a United States citizen on her first attempt.

She was and still is in my memory, the woman I admired so much because I was nothing like her. She loved the peace and security of building a life at home, and she had a green thumb (that unfortunately I never inherited) as evidenced by the overflowing rose bushes and giant zucchini plants in the backyard of our Chicago bungalow. She never learned to drive, but somehow didn't appear lonely or isolated, even when we moved to the suburbs where public transportation was not readily available, and the neighbors were all at work and we were at school every day. 

I don't remember her having much of an active social life, though there are a number of pictures of her in younger years going on trips to the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls with other Korean grandmothers. In that typically self-centered view that children tend to have, my grandmother existed only in my world as the person always there for me and my sister. She was simply always present, always at home, while my parents were working hard to support us. After school, in the evenings, on weekends, at church, on our family vacations, there she was, never hovering or overly involved, and yet her physical presence was just enough reassurance to know that we would never have to be alone.

It's these kind of memories that made me want to stay at home full-time when HJ first came into our lives. I so wanted to create that sense of safety and assurance for my children, to be the person that was always there for them, to be the first person welcoming them as they got off the school bus, even if there were no fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies waiting. Despite how much I admired my grandmother's simplicity and contentment with who she was and her place in the world, the first few months of being at home with HJ only confirmed that I had not magically transformed into the strong woman that my grandmother had always been. Even with all the freedom and convenience of modern life, I found I had no idea how to recreate the life that I had so loved growing up with her.

After four years of trying to figure out what being a stay-at-home, work-from-home mom means these days, I still have to remind myself how easy I have it in comparison, how much my grandmother and parents sacrificed for us, all without complaint or desire for acknowledgment. Though so much has changed, I'm sure that raising kids was no easier back then. I can only hope that a small measure of who my grandmother was somehow passed to me through all the years of observing her and simply being in her presence. Whenever I feel that the seemingly tedious moments of daily life are unimportant or don't amount too much, I'm going to take a long look at this picture of my grandmother and her garden, and remember how unimaginably difficult parts of her life had been, and yet how beautiful she managed to make it in the end.

My Spirited Girl All rights reserved © Blog Milk Powered by Blogger