That Year When I was 16 or 17

March 28, 2013
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“But mom, I hate tomatoes!” Ji-woo groaned out loud. It was suppertime and Ji-woo ’s mom was trying to force her to eat vegetables, but Ji-woo wouldn’t listen and kept complaining about how he hated vegetables. Finally, mom exploded. “Ji-woo Guak! How many times do I have to tell you to eat those vegetables? You are not a baby, for god’s sake!” Ji-woo pouted and slumped down the seat. “What are you pouting about, missy? You have no reason to be huffy about! When I was your age.—” Ji-woo cut off mom’s words. “—you had to eat every single morsel of the food whether you liked it or not and had to lick the plate clean until your face shone off it, bla, bla, bla, I know, I know, mom. This is the millionth time you told me that story.” Mom’s face turned red and her eyes became narrow slits. ‘Uh-oh,’ Ji-woo thought. ‘This is how mom looks like when she gets really angry.’ Mom opened her mouth and Ji-woo flinched, expecting a one hour length of machine-gun like scolding. But it never came.

“Honey, leave her alone” granny ordered in a quiet, firm voice. She had been listening silently to Ji-woo and her mom’s argument in the dining room, and they had both forgotten that she was there with them. “But reverent mother-in-law! Look at how that girl acts like! I must teach her lesson that she’ll never forge—“mom’s protest was interrupted by granny‘s words. “No honey. I want to talk to Ji-woo about something.” Mom reluctantly closed her mouth, and excused herself, saying that she had to wash the dishes. She still seemed quite mad, but what could she do? Granny, the oldest and the most respected person in this house had spoken.

Ji-woo was both relived and curious. Relieved—because now, she no longer had to listen to her mother’s tedious lament anymore and curious—because she had no idea why her granny would want to talk to her. “Granny?” Ji-woo called out, and granny answered, as if she was waking up from a dream. “Eh? Why? Sweet little puppy?” “Why did you want to talk to me?” Ji-woo asked inquiringly and at this, granny smiled a soft, wrinkled smile that only she can make. “Come here, Ji-woo.” Granny gestured Ji-woo to come and sit beside her, and cocking her head to one side, she did as she was told. After a brief pause, granny closed her eyes as if in prayer and started her story.

“When I was sixteen or seventeen, a severe drought struck our village. Our village people made their living by farming, so when the drought came, it became a disaster, a catastrophe. It was early fall, at that time. A time when the rice fields were all turning from bright green to a golden yellow, and the time when all the fruits in the orchard were maturing, ready to be picked a few weeks later.” “So what happened, Granny?” Ji-woo urged granny to continue. “Well, all the crops died off one by one, and all the streams around the village dried out, so that we didn’t have anything to eat or drink.” Ji-woo’s face became very serious. “Oh, no, Granny, it must have been very bad!” “Yes, very, very bad.” Granny answered in a whisper. “Because there was no rice or vegetables to eat we had to peel off the barks of the trees or gather wild greens from barren hills and forests.” “Ew! How can you eat tree barks?” asked Ji-woo, wrinkling her face. “Well, if you boil it with salt and water for about two hours it becomes very soft and limp, like…well, paper I guess.” Granny answered with a slight smile. “Eck, I still cannot understand how you could have eaten tree barks. Why, I’d rather eat a hundred broccoli than those!” exclaimed Ji-woo and granny smiled a meaningful smile at Ji-woo.

“Oh, but there’s more.” “More? You mean this isn’t all?” asked Ji-woo, shocked. “Yes, until now, I only talked about plants. But animals suffered from it too. Because there was no grass for the cows to eat they became thinner and thinner until their ribs stuck out piteously. The owners didn’t have food to spare to their pets, so packs of hungry dogs roamed around the streets, looking for food in abandoned houses. They were the lucky ones. The unlucky ones were eaten by their owners. Always the pigs were eaten first, because they didn’t do anything but eat. Next, the goats were eaten because they were considered unimportant, than the dogs were eaten and then the cows, the most important of all because at that time there were no tractors and the cows were used to plow the ground.” “Then how did the humans survive? If the plants and animals all died, shouldn’t the people die too?” asked Ji-woo. “Oh, but then I wouldn’t be here now. Of course, the people suffered too. Some, like you said didn’t survive like I did. A widow killed herself after her 2-month-old baby died of starvation. I personally knew that widow, Ji-woo. She was a very kind hearted, sincere woman, who didn’t deserve to die that way. Dying of hunger is the cruelest, worst death you can have. You die slowly, feeling every shadow of death coming inch by inch towards you. The reason that some people survived while some did not was because of their way of thinking. The people who had a family to support didn’t, no couldn’t give up. How can they? Their family’s life depended on them. So they clenched their teeth and didn’t give up hope. The people who didn’t have anyone to support them gave up fast, and died. That’s why that poor mother died so fast after her baby died.”

“You see, Ji-woo. It wasn’t a matter of health. It was a matter of thinking. You may not be able to change your environment but you can change your behaviors. You say you don’t like vegetables, but did you ever try to eat those vegetables? There are so many poor people in this world, suffering from hunger, and I think it isn’t right for you to neglect the food given to you. The famine lasted about three years and about twenty families survived the drought. All had babies or elders to support in their house.” Granny concluded her story with a serious tone and Ji-woo stayed silent, thoughtful. After a pause, Ji-woo stood up, hugged her granny, and called out to her mom, who was still washing the dishes. “Mom! Can I have some tomatoes tomorrow?” and shared a knowing smile with her granny.

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maskedidentity said...
Jul. 4, 2013 at 8:23 pm
anyone there....?
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