27 September 2015

Korea: A Thanksgiving of Another Kind

The market was bustling as my daughter and I sussed out our lunch for Friday. I was especially excited to see the variety of things for sale. It was like nothing I had seen before in the market. My favorite melons in small sizes, peeled chestnuts, Korean pears as big as a size 3 soccer ball and gift packs of Spam.

The expectation of Chuseok was infectious. Women rushing, squeezing and choosing the ingredients to feed the souls of their children. It felt very much like the build-up to Thanksgiving in the days of my youth. (Today, the build-up to Thanksgiving is less than I remember as it seems to be eclipsed by Halloween and December holidays.)

Thanksgiving in those days was my favorite holiday. It meant not only time off, but time to hang with my family and eat really good food. My mother loved it because it was her time to show her stuff. Our little family would gather with my grandmother, and the entire weekend included treks to cousins’ and aunts’ houses for more good food. We would sit around the kitchen table, mostly the women, as the men watched the Tennessee Vols play ball. My husband enjoyed the women’s table. If you left the table to pee, you knew everyone would talk about you. I often would hold it.

Korean Chuseok is very similar as it celebrates the coming together of families. For me, this is bittersweet. My grandmother, my mother and my great aunts are long gone. Thanksgiving for me today, is just my husband, my kids and me. So, it seemed this Chuseok would be more of the same.

On the Eve of Chuseok, I had my Mom’s day off. I wrote for the Lost Daughters, then went to Ehwa Women’s University area. Most shops were beginning to close in my neighborhood of Sinjeong, and the subway seemed skeletal. The tired faces of the elders on the train had my mind racing. Could they be without family too for Chuseok? Were they mourning the loss of a child to adoption? Am I that child?

Yet, when I walked out of the subway station into Ehwa, life presented herself as young women shopped with friends and some shopped with their mothers.

I remembered my days of shopping with my mother during the Thanksgiving holiday and then it hit me … how profoundly alone I felt and how I missed these moments with my family.

I bought dinner from the 7-Eleven, returned to our apartment, peeled a few chestnuts and tried to sleep. Lately, sleep does not come easily, and when I slide down into dream land, my dreams become anxious tales of being back in Wisconsin … empty-handed.

Chuseok began like any other, but I was looking forward to time at KoRoot. KoRoot supports adoptees when they return to Korea with translations, a guest house and a place to reconnect with other adoptees. I needed this time; this was my homecoming.

As usual, finding it and navigating the day with the family had its little moments of “family drama,” and once we arrived, my kids were ready to leave. I enjoyed reconnecting with Pastor Kim of KoRoot and bringing a copy of Dear Wonderful You to its new home.

Eating really good Korean food healed my soul. Seeing and meeting so many other Korean adoptees again gave me more strength to continue. Many of them had been in Korea for four, five and even fifteen years! Noticing my connection, my husband offered to take the children home to give me time to reconnect.

Once again, the community of adoptees pulls me up. I found my home for now, and homecoming was sweet.

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