My father was born during the aftermath of WWII. Korea had been split into two. His father had gone missing, and rumors had it that his father was one of those kidnapped by the North. His mother had to swim across a great river towards a portion of South Korea alongside hundreds of refugees during a nasty winter. With one child under her arm and another on her back, and a pile load of clothes and other basic necessities on top of her head, she plopped dead tired upon reaching the other side of the riverbank. If it were not for a concerned stranger who started a small fire beside her, I would most probably not be alive today.
Homeless and wandering, they journeyed through the land in search of help and shelter. The only place willing to take them in was an orphanage. Since nothing good was ever available without a price during that time, they agreed to the rules of the house. The owners would take all of them in if my grandmother agreed to work for them and that her children be up for adoption if the time came. Of course she agreed. Who would want to have their child grow up in that gloomy place at a time like that? of course she would agree. Food and water would be provided. No need of payment. As long as they had a roof over their head, and food in their tummy, they would not complain.
But who knew that such orphanage owners could be so mean. I only thought that existed in Annie.
The best food was always given to the owners and their favorite adopted daughter. The best clothes they kept. The gifts from the American G.I.'s they sold away. The children had only one pair of rubber shoes during the winter. The children would at times go to sleep hungry. Other kids would desperately sneak into the kitchen to steal food. Punishment was always available. And yet the hardships never really seemed to dampen the spirits of the children. There was always a light shining above them. The ended war was not as hard of an impact to them as to those who were used to a good lifestyle. Everything was a new adventure. It was always an excellent day whenever the Americans treated them.
One day, while the G.I.'s invited the children of the orphanage out for an American picnic, they were given hot dogs, hot and red. The children just looked down on their plates and on each other with unsure looks. They had never seen a hot dog before. Now what in the world did these soldiers do with it? After a few moments of silence, some kids grabbed the hot dogs, stood up, and placed it in between his legs and began to shake it, making it bob up and down. Roars of laughter spread out as both the kids and the soldiers realized what these naughty boys were thinking. It was an ice breaker. Then my father remembered the soldiers giving out bananas. They've never seen a banana. And when a soldier gestured with his hands that one was to eat it, a boy took a big bite and made a nasty face. He told the other boys that he could not understand these Americans. They had a really bad taste in food. That thing was bitter! Just then, a giggling soldier walked up and began to peel the banana and took a bite off. The kids all went "aaaaah."
Little boys will always be the curious wanderers. Walking off their path from school, poking at the ground with sticks and throwing stones at bulls. My father and his three buddies had a usual hangout by a creek. They would hunt frogs and snails, worms and what else. One time they found a bone sticking out of the bank. They yanked and yanked until a chunk full side of that bank collapsed and dozens of skeletons came pouring out. That creek was left with the echoing screams of my father and his friends.
But one event will never leave my father's memory. They had found another place to go to after school. Someone had found an old, intact defected rocket bomb on the ground. Not an unusual site during that time. They would play around it, on top of it, hitting it with rocks or laying on it. But one particular day, my father was sick and did not go out to play. And that was the day that that bomb exploded. It has killed all of his friends.
Then the time came when one must open a new door for a new beginning. About four years after they left their home and came to the orphanage, my father and his sister were being sent away again. They had both been adopted by the same American couple. Being the obedient son and the eldest child, he did not go against it. He understood why it had to be done. So there they were, leaving their mother behind and on a plane bound for Michigan where they soon found themselves in a new world, in an alien place, and with not another Korean person in sight for another handful of years.
Growing up was fairly easy for the both of them. It was sort of weird to know that they were the only Oriental kids in their school, but that did not cripple their spirits. In no time, they were already in College. My aunt marries after a few years, and my dad has joined the Peace Corps. 2 Years in Leyte, Philippines he spent teaching Mathematics to the rural provincial areas, but decided to go back to the US after that. In all those years of living as an American, my father had always wondered why his mother gave them up for adoption. He was hurt inside. And needed to understand why.
So after 25 years since he left his mother and his home country, he went back. He went straight to the same orphanage, walked through the same hallway, on towards the same kitchen where his mother always worked in and saw her.
My grandmother was washing the dishes, her back towards the door. My father just stood there without saying a word. And as if some kind of magic whispered in my grandmothers ear, she turned around slowly and said his name.
Tears rolled down both their eyes. And after 25 years, they hugged for the first time.
Whenever my father would tell me these stories, about what crazy things they did as kids or the painful scars left behind, he was still proud to have experienced them all. He met my Filipina mother during a construction exhibition in New York. Fell in love, and had me in Manila. Around 3 years after that, my father sends for his mother in South Korea, and for the first time I meet her. My Omani.