Storytelling: Stephanie L. Young

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.

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September 22, 2018

As promised, readers (who are also writers) have created this issue of Ventana Journal. Starting today, on the autumnal equinox, each featured writer/reader offers original work in each of the first five windows on this site. The last two windows feature contests for young adult and children’s writing.

Our first writer, Judy Hood, is an author and instructor at the University of Miami. Her piece is about a participant from this summer’s StoryCorps E workshop, Susan Bohrnstedt.

(FYI, all StoryCorps participants will be featured this fall on NPR, 88.3 WNIN, beginning with an interview about the program on October 5. Listen to the Morning Edition spot from October 8 throughout the pledge drive and beyond for the StoryCorps E stories.)

Below is Judy’s story about Susan:

My name is Susan and I paint rocks.

Susan was sobbing as she spoke, sobbing line after torturous line, but she read her story out loud into a room of listeners, who, two evenings ago had been strangers. She had passed on every opportunity to share lines from the pages in the notebook lying open on her lap. She did not intend to find the “sit in the driveway moment.” She did not intend to cut parts in order to tell her story in four minutes. She did not intend to record it for airing on the radio. She could scarcely think of getting it down on the page. But here, on the last night of Summer Soulstice StoryCorps E, the last in the circle of story-tellers, she was sharing her story.

In the Master Story-teller’s Facebook selfie, afterwards, she is smiling, and in the group photo taken on the staircase, she is smiling, and she is smiling as she opens her box and lifts the fabric cover to reveal two tiny hand-painted rocks. She had brought rocks for each of the storytellers and nearly all had found a pocket by the time I asked for one. Insisting that I wanted the tiny painted bouquet of flowers, not a larger one that she would later mail to me, she explained that these were the ones she left along with tips in restaurants.

Then she shared the story of the day she told her waitress that she was the rock painter. The woman beamed a knowing smile as she unzipped the money pouch around her waist to reveal her own pocket full of rocks that Susan had been leaving for her-anonymously. She carried them with her every day.

Susan’s story is carried in the memory, like the rocks she paints and leaves as surprise gifts for strangers under trees and on benches, along sidewalks and on tables, at bus stops and in the market. The lucky people carry the rocks with them as they travel to work, to shop, to sports games, on vacation, to Canada, to Mexico, to Europe, to South America. Her son Ben’s name is on each rock and on the lips of those who carry them-carry him.

Ben.

Zach.  My beloved nephew.

I say his name when my fingers brush the tiny rock that nestles at the bottom of the bag I carry with me always.

My name is Judy and I paint with words.

7/5/18

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