My Mom

She was born in Sinuiju, a city at the northern tip of Korea.  Life was idyllic as the youngest of six children and the only daughter of the wealthy Hong clan.  Her brothers spoiled her rotten, showering her with love and gifts from Shanghai such as silk shoes and wine chocolates.  Even though she was born during the Japanese occupation of her country, enduring a dual identity – one at school as a Japanese girl named Yoshiko who bowed to a portrait of Emperor Hirohito, and one at home as the obedient Korean daughter christened Heisook – she loved life.  But that all changed when World War II broke out.  Her fifth brother was forced into the Imperial Army, and she into the war effort, sewing buttons and pockets onto Imperial military jackets.  Day after day from dawn to dusk, she stitched and sewed until her hands were chafed and bleeding.  After the war, world power struggles divided Korea, and in 1947, my grandmother sent my mom on a dangerous journey across the 38th Parallel to South Korea believing – like all Koreans – that their separation was temporary.  My mom never saw her mom again.  It was a slow, heart-wrenching realization that their separation was a permanent one.  Fast forward sixty-four years: My mom, 81, lives with my family in the suburbs of Washington, DC, but she truly lives in her memories.  This Mother’s Day, I’ll cook up a nice Korean meal while she shares some of those memories… always of her mom.

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