For my parents, an epic milestone
Both of my parents were born in 1945, when Korea was liberated from Japanese occupation. They were born in Hwanghae Province and came to the South during the 1950-53 Korean War. My father’s family had an orchard, and they fled to Gunsan, North Jeolla, because of rumors that landowners would be persecuted. My mother’s family escaped to nearby Baeknyeong Island, thinking they could temporarily flee the war. However, neither ever returned.
Both of my parents only have an elementary school education. My mother was the oldest of eight children and had to care for her younger siblings. My father could have gone to middle school. His mother was a hard-working farmer and harvested rice on leased land. But one autumn day, a rice mill owner took off with all the grain the neighborhood farmers had left there. In the following year, my father had to work in the field instead of going to school. He passed the school equivalency test and applied to be a noncommissioned officer, and was then sent to Baeknyeong Island.
That’s where my parents met. Being the same age and from the same hometown, they were immediately attracted to each other - a needed escape from reality. One photo from 50 years ago shows a young woman in a simple skirt holding a parasol and a young soldier with his hands in his uniform pockets. They were in love, at the time 20 years younger than I am now.
My parents had three children. But my mother had extremely difficult deliveries, and the two children they bore on the island became ill. She needed a cesarean section but missed the timing to come to the hospital on the mainland. I’m the youngest and the only one to marry and have a child.
Recently, my parents celebrated their 70th birthdays, on which their one-year-old grandson posed for pictures with them. My father has become very skinny lately, but nevertheless, he held my son and smiled. We had planned to celebrate last year, but my mother insisted on having the party this year (She had probably always wished for it to include a daughter-in-law and a grandchild). My mother was separated from her father during the war, so a “happy family” must have been a lifelong goal.
Sixty-five years ago in the summer of 1950, my parents were young children fleeing for safety, and the foundations of their families were completely destroyed. But they managed to overcome poverty, and thanks to their hard work, I grew up without much difficulty. Still, they believe the war, which broke out when they were 6 years old, had a tremendous impact on their lives. I must admit, it made me especially emotional on their 70th birthday celebration this month.
The author is a national news reporter
for the JoongAng Ilbo.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 26, Page 31
by KANG IN-SIK