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Date 17.06.22 Hit 200
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UnYong KIM's Memoir 64(Graphys)


              


64 My Mother, Who Taught Me Table Manners

 


 


 
During holidays like August moon and the lunar New Year every year, people from around the country all move to visit their hometown. Korea is probably one of few countries the only country in the world where tens of millions of people move at the same time.

Why do we stay stuck in cars every year for 10 or 20 hours, at the same time of the year, every year, to meet our family back home? Why don’t we ever complain? What is the reason?

That is because it is the hometown that we grew up, the place where our parents are, and because there are neighbors who have stayed with us through the good and the bad. There are tombs of our ancestors, the mountains that we used to go scream when we were sad or lonely, the river that we used to play in and the playground of our elementary school.

Lee Kyung-yi, my mother, was of the Jeonju Lee family, a royal family tree in the past. Some aunts became Japanese imperial nobles. After going to Ewha Women’s High School in Seoul, she married my father and lived in Daegu. After my father passed away, she took her children and returned to Seoul. My mother was a so called “modern women,” who had received a modern education. My mother taught me when I was very young that there is a world out there that I haven’t experienced yet.

There is one thing that my mother taught me that I still can’t forget. That was western table manners. At the time, there weren’t many western restaurant, but my mother still taught me western table manners intentionally.

The classroom that I received this lesson was in Kyungbuk-Jang near Daegu Kinema or in the express train 'Akaski' headed from Seoul to Busan. Compared to the restaurant compartments of today, the facilities were poor, but I still remember that it was much like the classy and graceful westernized restaurants that could be seen in the movies.

I was caught a little off guard with western table manners in a dining car of train, and as I was young, I couldn’t understand the intentions of my mother. When I decided to become a diplomat, I finally realized why she had taught me these manners, and I thanked her for teaching me from such an early age. She also took me frequently to western food restaurant. She also made me learn to play tennis, swimming and roller skating and piano.

After my father passed away, my mother devoted herself to raising her children. She used to make me sit on her lap and tell me stories of Maengja and hanged the picture 'Manjong(The Angelus)' of Millet. My mother believed that I can only truly become a person after I received a proper education. Unlike other mothers, who follow the educational system, my mother believed that the best education was to let her children investigate by themselves and just observe from a distance.

중학시절 엄마와 함께.jpg
▲ With my mother in elementary school days

However, she did not only observe, she also taught us strict lessons. My mother never said that it was all about getting good grades. She always taught us to think deeply before acting. She believed that her living fully to the role of being a mother was education for us. I learned through my mother that a better education is not something special, but it is showing a good example to your children.

There is an episode that I still can’t forget. It was when I was attending elementary school in Daegu. There was a mute that sat alongside a road 'Joongang-tong 12' on my way to school everyday. One day, when I was out with my mother, people gathered around the mute and started scolding the person. For some reason that I didn’t know, people seemed to be furious at him. I was scared. Normally, because of the smell and the dirty hands, I sometimes took a detour when I was going home by my self. But on this day, people were bullying the mute.

I wanted to quickly pass by, but my mother quickly went into the crowd. She grabbed the person who was holding the mute by the collar, and let the mute go from the person’s grasp. Then she said, “What did this man do wrong? Even if he did, it isn’t right to use violence on a person that may not understand what we are saying.  We should feel pity, and try to help him. If we hurt him, how will this man live? Don’t hurt a weak person. I’m sure all of you are busy, so go back and do what you have to do.”

As young as I was, I was still worried that the people might become violent against my mother. However, they did not harass her, and quietly left. After this incident, after I passed the mute, I always smiled brightly and said hello. My mother was brave. She was a graceful lady that stood by the side of the weak. Because she was such a strong person, she also had much pain that she kept to herself.

My mother passed away in June, 1968, at the age of 68. She lived by herself in an upheaval, raising her children, and quietly finished her painful life. Before she passed away, I thought that now I was old enough to take care of my mother who had lost a husband when I was six, but then she had left for a journey to join my father was.

I wanted to take good care of my parents, but they were no longer with me in this world. By the time a child becomes mature enough to realize the love of their parents, and has the time and energy to take care of them, the parents will have already passed away.

I knew that my mother was very sick, but I was very busy traveling back and forth between the U.S, and Korea. Fortunately, I was at her side in her final moments. Luckily, my mother closed her eyes with me by her side. But why was my mother who died with all her children by her side, much sadder than the death of my father, who had died when I was too young to remember?



 



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