October 8, 2018
This week, we feature storytellers who have aired on 88.3, WNIN. Their stories were honed at this summer’s StoryCorps E workshop.
Our first story comes from, Dr. Stephanie L. Young, a professor at the University of Southern Indiana. Her piece is about a trip with her mother to her family’s homeland…and about complexity and love that need no translation.
“Two of us are going there. Only one of us will probably be coming back,” my mom joked. Traveling with your mother for a month in a country where you don’t speak the language can be…an interesting experience. And while we had a lot of things planned, I was not expecting a day trip to Daejeon. Because, you see, my mom forgot to inform me that her eldest sister was still alive. I thought she was dead. (Surprise!)
So we take this trip. And we finally meet her. My Imo (that’s the Korean word for aunt). And she is beautiful. She, in her multicolored, handcrafted cap. And her neon green jacket. And her large, red-rimmed glasses. And she’s wearing a wide, warm, grandmotherly smile. And it is a beautiful day. It’s one of those perfect sunshiney days with the billowy clouds. “Yeppeoyo. Yeppeoyo.” And we walk down the hill to a restaurant. And she keeps looking at me, and then looking at my mom and saying, “Ah, yeppeoyo.” She’s referring to me. Telling my mom how pretty I am. And it is this amazing day with her.
Then the day comes to an end. And we are sitting there at the bus terminal together, the three of us, with about an hour before the bus arrives. When I kneel down to unzip my backpack to put my wallet away, my aunt attempts to shove two envelopes into the bag. I quickly realize that these envelopes are envelopes of money. And my mom will nothave it. Now, there are a few problems. One, Korean culture is such that my mother must honor her sister due to strict familial hierarchies. She can’t deny her eldest sister’s gift. And two, my mom is a very stubborn woman. This will not end well.
So, please imagine the scene with me now. Two little old Korean ladies loudly arguing, no, let’s be honest, shouting at each other in front of the entire bus station. Again, mind you, I don’t speak Korean fluently. I would say I have the vocabulary of a second grader. But it is very clear I do not need to know whatis being said, so much as howit is being said. It’s all in the tone of their voices. And I am just standing there awkwardly watching the drama between my aunt and mom unfold. As was everyone else in the bus station. The envelopes are being shoved back and forth. Back and forth. Neither of them letting go. And their getting louder and louder. And people’s eyes are getting wider and wider. And all I keep thinking is perhaps a bus could run us over to end this misery.
And then, there is that subtle moment, when the yelling transforms into utter sobbing. Full blown sobbing. And now I am standing there trying not to cry. Because I realize then, that these two women, in all of their fury and fuss, are sisters. It doesn’t matter if they haven’t been close, haven’t stayed in contact, haven’t even seen each other in 25 years. They’re sisters. And I am witnessing the pain and sadness and love that doesn’t need any translation at all.
Eventually, my mom and my aunt agreed that we would accept one envelope. And when we finally got on the bus, my aunt just stood there. Waiting. Intermittently waving goodbye. “Why is she just standing there?” my mom asked me. “Mom, she hasn’t seen you in 25 years.” My mom nodded. “She just knows that this is the last time we’ll see each other.”
“We’ll see her again,” I whispered.
And I hope we will.