Iowa Writes

JOOWEON PARK
Mother I


In the basement of the hospital is the funeral hall. People come to the altar with long-stemmed white chrysanthemums. On the altar, Mom smiles in the photo in the black frame behind the hazy smoke of the burning incense sticks. The mourners put their flower on the altar, light up another incense stick to add to the burner, and bow to my mother with their hands and knees on the floor. A tiny lady as old as my mother slowly walks into the room with the help of a white-haired but younger man on her left. When she finishes bowing, she gives my brother her condolences. After squeezing his hands a few times, she looks at me standing next to him.
        "Ah, Hee-sue," she says, "I finally see you again. I am so sorry about your mother. I should have come before your mother died."
        Do I know her?  She has a small red birthmark on the right of her neck. The mark is wrinkly on her dry skin, but I recognize its diamond shape from my memory. The old lady is Mrs. Lee who was my mother's friend. I remember she visited our house quite frequently when I was in high school. She has become so skinny that she looks buried in her gray Hanbok.
        I take her and her son to the room where my family serves food to the mourners, and when I bring some rice cake and jeon to their table, the old lady pulls me by my hand and makes me sit by her.

In the basement of the hospital is the funeral hall. People come to the altar with long-stemmed white chrysanthemums. On the altar, Mom smiles in the photo in the black frame behind the hazy smoke of the burning incense sticks. The mourners put their flower on the altar, light up another incense stick to add to the burner, and bow to my mother with their hands and knees on the floor. A tiny lady as old as my mother slowly walks into the room with the help of a white-haired but younger man on her left. When she finishes bowing, she gives my brother her condolences. After squeezing his hands a few times, she looks at me standing next to him.
        "Ah, Hee-sue," she says, "I finally see you again. I am so sorry about your mother. I should have come before your mother died."
        Do I know her?  She has a small red birthmark on the right of her neck. The mark is wrinkly on her dry skin, but I recognize its diamond shape from my memory. The old lady is Mrs. Lee who was my mother's friend. I remember she visited our house quite frequently when I was in high school. She has become so skinny that she looks buried in her gray Hanbok.
        I take her and her son to the room where my family serves food to the mourners, and when I bring some rice cake and jeon to their table, the old lady pulls me by my hand and makes me sit by her. 

Mother married Father at sixteen. She met him on her wedding day. She lost him when she was twenty. Father abandoned Mother for an ugly-nosed mistress twelve years before I was born. My relatives called me a thunder baby, because I was conceived on a spring day when Father suddenly visited his hometown and spent the night with Mother for the first time after a dozen years. It was the last time that they shared their marriage bed, skin to skin.
        My father, a wealthy man, never gave her a penny for us. Mother raised my sister, brother, and me by herself, farming and peddling. Growing up, I heard my mother talking to herself about Father, insulting him. "Bastard, a dirty bastard. Blinded by the lecherous whore, he deserted his own children and wife. Bastard! Not once does he come to see how his children are."
        My sister, fourteen years older than I and the eldest, told me that before I was born, Mother used to lock herself up in her bedroom and not come out for hours.
        Although Father would live with his mistress until his death at the age of eighty, my mother never considered divorcing him—divorce was an unbearable disgrace for any woman in Korea in the old days.
        My mother was a beautiful woman with a delicate nose and soft, white skin. She turned men's heads on the street. After I'd gotten married and had my own children, I wondered about her. My mother was young, and lonely. Was it odd if she felt attracted to another man? When I asked Mother about this, indirectly , she made a stern face. "Never. I was not that kind of woman. Nobody could ever say that I was unfaithful." Her eyes and voice had some haughtiness in them.
        Mother looked down on widows who fell for other men no matter what their circumstances were and spent her life hating my father and guarding herself from other men. She was proud of herself that she never even dreamed of any romance with another man. All of that was perfectly right in those days, but didn't it hurt to be abandoned and feel loveless in your heart? Or was she an innately cold woman who didn't care for any romantic inclinations? Is that why it was so easy for her to comply with social norms?

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

Find out more about submitting by contacting iowa-writes@uiowa.edu


JOOWEON PARK

Jooweon Park was born in Seoul, Korea.  She graduated from the University of Iowa in 2012 with a Bachelor's degree in English, with a concentration in creative writing.  She lives in Iowa with her husband.

Visit the Daily Palette tomorrow for Mother II.

This page was first displayed
on September 18, 2014

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