My childhood memory starts when I was maybe three or four years old. After my maternal grandmother and her daughters moved to the U.S. and stopped living with our family, my paternal grandparents moved in. According to my mother, my grandfather was a kind and gentle man, although he had a bit of a weakness for alcohol. But he was apparently still relatively a gentleman when he was drunk. He apparently loved my mother and through his influence softened his wife’s sharpness toward my mom. 

It’s strange how so many Korean mother-in-laws are nasty to their daughter-in-laws. You’d think they’d swear to be nice to their own daughter-in-laws after experiencing mistreatment from their mother-in-law. But instead of not repeating the mistake, they equally mistreat their own daughter-in-laws. And the cycle continues. Perhaps they are taking revenge for the time they were miserable as a daughter-in-law. Perhaps they don’t know how else to behave, since that’s all they learned.

Thankfully, my paternal grandmother couldn’t treat my mother too badly. My mother was a highly educated woman from a good family and she was also as much of a bread earner as my father was, especially since most of his salary went to supporting his family of origin and my mother’s salary went to pay for supporting our family. Still, my grandmother wasn’t a very kind woman and, at least for the first few years they lived with us, my paternal grandfather was a soft influence on her.

In contrast to what most people would think, my mother was not happy when I got married. I think she was worried about me experiencing so many difficulties she’d faced as a married woman. I can’t count in my two hands how many times my mother packed her bags and grabbed us from school, with the intention of never coming back. Of course, that would never have worked in Korea since women had absolutely no rights then, even a working woman. I sometimes wonder if my mother would have broken the cycle of mother-in-law abuse if one of her children had been born as a man and had gotten married.

추석, Chuseok

추석 (Chuseok) is celebrated on lunar calendar day of August 15th, a full moon day. It is one of the largest holidays in Korea. This is the time when so many travel to see their family and have a large meal together. I compare it to Thanksgiving in the U.S. There is usually a huge amount of food, made by the wives of the family who start cooking the day before the celebration. And no, there were no men who helped out, at least in those days. Since this is after the harvest time, there is an abundance of food. Rich dishes that are not normally eaten during the year are made. The family also pay tribute to the ancestors who had gone before.

The representative food that is made together (again women) is the rice cake (not the puffed rice you get in the supermarket in the U.S.), but made with the rice powder of new rice harvested. The rice cakes were filled with honey and sesame or bean filling and steamed with pine needles to infuse them with the fragrance. Usually half moon shapes are made and filled with fillings, but as usual, my young self used to make the rice cake into all shapes. Go figure…in a collectivist culture where I was supposed to do what I was told, I never quite fit in.

When I was a child, Chuseok was a holiday that I had a love and hate relationship with. I loved it because the school was closed and there was so much good food. I loved making rice cakes and interfering (or helping) in the kitchen. I hated the holiday because that usually meant my father’s brothers invaded our house with their families. Some might think large family gatherings are wonderful, but it was never that during my childhood. I am not sure I want to go into details on this post, perhaps in another snippet. 

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