Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Angels Among Us
I have always believed in angels. Most people do, right? If you were raised in a religious family, or even just to believe that there is a God, then odds are you believe in angels. However, do you believe angels can ascend from Heaven to help us profound times of need? Sure, you see it on T.V. shows, and hear stories from other people. I had always thought it was possible, but it never happened to me, at least not until that summer.
We were on our way to the western part of Texas. It was nighttime, and I was in the backseat of an old white F-150 that belonged to my cousin DJ, who was seated comfortably in the driver’s seat with his girlfriend, Stacie, next to him. I can still hear vividly the walkie-talkie, and taste the beef jerky we were snacking on as we passed through the small town of Luling, Texas, on our 5-hour trip to Garner State Park.
We were following my MeMe & Pawpaw, my mother’s parents, as they pulled their brand new travel trailer with their Ford Expedition. As 18-wheelers approached, I never ceased to hear the ‘chhh’ “18-wheeler coming up on the left” followed by another ‘chhh’ sound. DJ was warning my Pawpaw so he could drift to the right and avoid getting sucked in by the big trucks as they drove by. Stacie and I were engaged in some deep conversation when it was abruptly broken by my cousin’s screaming voice. I look up. No, I am dreaming, this cannot be real. Four 18-wheelers drive by faster than my eyes can comprehend, the trailer gets sucked into the wind, it jackknives, and they start swerving uncontrollably. Though I don’t believe anything I am seeing, everything is so vivid. Sparks start flying all over the road, and the one thing I was praying would not happen was playing before my eyes. The flipping. “Oh my God!” I must have screamed a hundred times. The Expedition, with the trailer still attached, was flipping-one, two, three, four, five—at least five times in front of me. DJ drives the truck off the road and we hit a small tree. He jumps out yelling to Stacie, “Call 911!” and he loses his shoes in the waist high grass. I quickly follow him in disbelief of what I just saw. I stop at the edge of the road and let DJ continue to run, for fear of what I may find ahead of me.
I thought they were dead, they had to be. How could someone survive what I just saw? A million thoughts are racing through my mind. My grandparents that I love more than life itself were just thrown into the grassy median right before my eyes. I pray to myself and look up to see DJ running back yelling, “They’re awake, they’re okay!” I wake up and come to realization. I run to the car and tears burst from my eyes as I talk to my grandparents, covered in blood, asking for help. I run back across the highway to retrieve some clothes or rags, anything my Pawpaw could use to cover his head and stop the blood flow. Stacie is on the phone with 911, frantically trying to figure out what mile marker we are at. A trucker pulled over soon after the crash, and was by our side in an instant telling Stacie where we were and how he couldn’t believe what he saw. He was somewhat short, hadn’t shaved in maybe 5 days, and was wearing a funny looking hat. I was in a state of shock, and muttered to myself how ironic it was that we sat down in the living room and said a prayer before we left. He looked at me with a smile on his face and recited a Bible verse. I was taken aback, and he could tell by the look on my face. He said it again, and I felt so moved by him, but I was in a hurry and had no time to comprehend the words he was saying to me. He stayed the whole time, until my grandparents were taken away in the ambulances, just watching from the side of the road, as if he was just observing everything taking place. Once my grandparents were safely on their way to the hospital, we spoke again. He told me his name, one I have forgotten because it was such a strange one I had never heard before, and gave me God’s blessing. I told him how grateful I was for his generosity and continued picking up all the luggage thrown from the trailer. Before I knew it, the man was nowhere to be found. That night was the worst of my life, and ironically the best. My grandparents lived through such a horrible experience, and came out much better than we expected. My Pawpaw suffered some cuts, a broken finger, and some compressed vertebrae. My MeMe, on the other hand, shattered her shoulder bone and is still going to physical therapy, but doing so much better.
Though I cannot remember his name, or the Bible verse he so calmly recited to me in a time of panic and distress, I will never forget the man who stopped to help us that night for the rest of my life. He was there before anyone showed up, and stayed until my grandparents were taken away. His calm presence was so comforting, and I thank God he was there. Even though I will probably never see this man again as long as I live, he most certainly had an impact on me. Was he an angel? I’ll never know for sure, but I know what I believe. Do I believe in angels? Of course, I always have. Do I believe God sends them with a guiding light to your rescue in times of misfortune? Beyond a shadow of a doubt.
One day I threw a kitchen towel or something at my husband but it was a bad throw and ended up hitting him in the face. With it having been an accident I wanted to acknowledge my error and bad throw so I said, "Sorry, my bag." He looked at me real funny and as soon as he said, "What did you just say?", and I saw that smirk on his face, I knew immediately that I'd just totally screwed up. He asked me again what I'd just said. I very reluctantly answered, "My bag", as if in more of a question form and almost apologetic. He started laughing hysterically and informed that it was actually "My bad" and made fun of me for days to come.
As I've said before, you have to be able to laugh at yourself and a good laugh is almost always worthy of sharing with at least someone. The one and only person I chose to tell this story to was my sister and she was sworn to secrecy. We had a good laugh at my expense and I thought that would be the end of it.
Months passed and I'd all but forgotten about my little slip of the tongue until one day when my sister's middle son decided to mock me. They were at my house when he slipped up by saying, "Oh, my bag" to me. I turned around with my mouth wide open. My sister had that “deer caught in the headlights stare” knowing she'd just been busted for telling anyone my embarrassing story. She tried defending herself and claimed she couldn't pass it up, that it was just too funny. Making it worse, she'd told all three of her boys and her husband and my kids were now asking for the details.
It became the norm for all of the kids to harass me about it at any and every possible opportunity. Every time I turned around I was hearing one of them say, "My bag". It died down some over the years, but every time I think they've finally forgotten it, one of them still goes there. (Even as recently as Christmas Eve!)
Up until last summer it had remained a joke only between my kids and three nephews, but that all changed during our annual camping trip. We go with a large group of people every year and there are easily thirty kids within our group. Apparently, one of my precious, beloved nephews decided to share the "My bag" story with all of the other teenagers during the trip and my little secret was out. I couldn't walk past a kid without hearing "My bag" during the entire trip. I tried the ignoring method but it just wasn't effective.
I'm sure the eulogy at my funeral will go something like this: "Well, she might've been our crazy aunt, but we'll always remember her fondly for that old saying "My bag". Now I stick with phrases that are more my style.
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Updated: Photo of the Panari Tribe
On my side of the family there are ten grandchildren ranging in ages from twenty-years old down to one-year-old. The twenty-year old still thinks he's a kid and still acts like one. He's my sister's oldest. She also has a sixteen year-old and a thirteen-year-old, all boys. Before they moved from our street it was common for our kids to play outside, including the twenty-year-old. They went through a stage where they all had light sabers and would play with them all over the neighborhood. They also played hide and seek late at night during the summer. When Cassidy had a recent slumber party, my nephews played a joke on the girls. I alerted them when we were on our way to wrap their house but had no idea what the plan was, only that they were going to scare them. After the girls had made their way into the yard my nephews jumped out from behind a tree all dressed in black, shooting off their paint ball guns loaded only with air. It sounded like a Military attack scaring even my husband and I who were expecting something to happen. You could hear screaming girls for miles.
It's no surprise that my oldest nephew would be behind the start of an amusing little tradition among the kids. While on our annual camping trip a few years ago, he started giving his cousins nicknames similar to Indian names. These nicknames were special and unique, and aren't exactly ones the kids wear proudly. As a matter of fact, they're meant to poke fun at a trait or quality of each kid that isn't very flattering, and they're not supposed to like their tribe names. When they first shared their names with the adults, we totally cracked up. They refer to themselves as the Panari Tribe.
Last Saturday night they christened two new members, my daughter's boyfriend and my nephew's girlfriend. The younger grandchildren have not yet been named, but their day will come.
DJ - Has Big Nose (The very handsome oldest nephew who does in fact have a big nose)
Lauren - Still in Diapers (My oldest, still acts like a baby, especially when she doesn't get her way)
Tyler - Not So Good Breath (My nephew who just needs to chew more gum)
Megan - Looks Like a Man (My niece who has a muscular and athletic build)
Trevin - Sweats A Lot (My nephew who plays many sports and apparently sweats a lot)
Cassidy - Pouts A Lot (My youngest daughter who is often known to have a scowl on her face whenever she's mad and who can hold the world's longest grudge)
Caden - Prancing Pony (My son who they claim fights like a girl! NOT)
Taylor - Oh So Nasty (My niece who has the biggest heart ever, but who likes to roam the camp ground barefoot and dirty all day & night)
Two newest members:
Jessica - Acts Like Female Dog (DJ's girlfriend, not always friendly or in the best of moods)
Travis - Still Breastfeeds (Lauren's boyfriend, has his mom wrapped around his little finger and she goes to great lengths to make his life less stressful!)
I'm sure the adults have also been given names that are not so flattering and they've sworn to keep them top secret. I shudder to think of what mine would be.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
We went back to our normal routine after he returned home. It was now April and I'd been there for five months. I was looking forward to going back home in July to spend a month with family before we would move to our new duty station. We'd just found out we’d be returning to Ft. Ord, California. We'd spent a year there while he was in school and were happy to be returning to a familiar place. I was doing much better now that I'd survived the month of hell but had grown tired of everyday life being such a struggle. I was sick of walking everywhere, sick of the boredom, sick of the limited choices of food, sick of the small apartment without a yard, fearing for my life everytime I rode in a car/bus, just sick of it all. I knew I could handle life without him for three months. We'd spent three-months apart before I'd arrived. One day in late April I decided that I wanted to go home. I didn't want to wait until July and leave with him. I was ready to see my family, have a car, gorge myself on Mexican food, drive to Whataburger at midnight for a milkshake or cheeseburger if I wanted one, watch regular TV anytime I wanted, talk to people on the telephone (for free)and take long baths or showers with plenty of hot water. I was ready to go and would throw the idea out there as soon as my husband got home from work. I was afraid he would want us to stay but the idea was actually relief to him, too. Life had been harder for him with us there, as well. Living in the barracks was so much easier. We'd both made sacrifices to be together. I was so happy when he thought my idea to go home was a good one. I knew I'd miss him but it was time to go. I'd lasted as long as I could.
I left in mid-May. We splurged on a ticket for Lauren this time. She'd just turned two and we would've been required to purchase one for her. I would've done so anyway after suffering through the miserable flight over there. The flight home was a breeze compared to that one. We were bumped to business class for reasons I can't recall on the flight from Seoul to San Francisco. The seats were spacious and much more comfortable. The only mishap was when Lauren got motion sickness and threw up all over the tray she'd been coloring on. I felt so bad for the nice man sitting next to us knowing that he'd paid for his seat and was now in the midst of a puke-fest. He was so kind. I got her changed and cleaned up but we all know that's a smell that will linger. Oh, I'd just survived hell so a little puke wasn't going to break me. Like a good mother I broke up a tablet of Dramamine and sprinkled some over her ice cream when we landed in San Francisco. I didn't want her puking again on the next flight. We both slept like babies until we landed in Houston.
Home sweet home. I wanted to kiss the ground. I was on an adrenaline high and didn't sleep for 24-hours after we arrived. I devoured huge amounts of Mexican food immediately after leaving the airport. It's amazing how much can change in just six months time. There were vehicles on the freeway that were totally foreign to me. The Chevy trucks had changed their body styles from the squared look of the 80's to the rounded style of the 90's. The cars were different, too. I'd never heard 90% of the songs playing on the radio. It was weird.
I had a car. I had regular TV. No more Barnaby Jones and Baretta reruns! I had fast food anytime I wanted it. I had a phone and you better believe I used it. I had family and friends surrounding me. I had as much water as I needed. It felt so good to be home!
I'm thankful for the opportunity I had to experience such a different culture and way of living. I made no bones about how difficult it was for me, but the bumps in the road make us who we are. The experience of being over there was a good one that helped me grow and appreciate the little things we take for granted here. The worst part of my stay there was the month I spent alone. I know I could've handled it much better had I been older and wiser and more self-sufficient. If I were to live it over again armed with the knowledge and wisdom I now have under my belt, it would've been a cakewalk. Well, maybe not quite that easy, but definitely not the hardship it was for me back then. Recalling those long nights filed with anxiety, the fears that I couldn't seem to get control of and that terrible feeling of being all alone with no one to turn to for support has been somewhat emotional for me to look back on, but I survived. It would make me stronger in the years to come when he would be gone for weeks or months at a time. Of course, I had all of the things that make life easier available to me that I didn't have while in Korea
We often still eat Korean food and drive all the way across town for it. I love the Korean people and respect their culture. When my husband received orders to return to Korea for another year in 1992, I made the decision to stay with my parents. I knew I would miss him like crazy, but wasn't willing to endure the challenges and struggles that it required of me to again live there.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
As a result of the change, our normal daily routine was shot. We'd sleep until the afternoon between 12:00pm and 2:00pm. By the time we were up and moving around, we had limited daylight hours left to run errands or visit with friends at the cottage. There was often days that we never left the apartment if we didn't need to. In spite of how long and boring the days and nights were staying home, it was sometimes preferable to venturing out into the cold weather. On the days we did get out, we'd often arrive on base with only an hour left before the cottage would be closing. Regardless, we'd usually stop in for a short visit. Upon leaving the cottage, we'd typically ride the bus over to Camp Hovey to pick up our mail or sometimes go to the USO Club to call home. We also spent countless evenings just browsing around the PX and eating dinner, or what was actually lunch, at one of the fast food places before heading home to our dark, empty apartment. If we needed groceries, we’d hit the commissary last and take a cab home like we always did after grocery shopping. Sometimes the landlord would hear me come in and offer to help carry the bags upstairs, which was always nice. Otherwise, it required several trips after getting Lauren up to the apartment.
I wasn’t as fearful about arriving home after dark with all of the activity on the streets as I was about the long dreaded night I had ahead of me once inside for the night. Those nights were so long. We spent all of our time in our small living room until we went to bed. I'd read or write letters while she played or watched a video. She only had a few to choose from. VHS movies hadn't been out that long so we didn't have much of a selection at that time. If I were lucky enough to have one of Judy's six-hour tapes from the states, I'd watch it all in one night, including every commercial.
I had a Korean friend named Sohe (So-He), who dated a soldier in my husband's unit. When it came time to do laundry it was Sohe who carried the duffle bag of clothes to and from the laundry mat for me. I was so grateful that she'd volunteered to help. I'm not sure how I would've managed to do it alone. Honestly, I just didn't have the muscles needed to hoist and carry something that heavy and she did. I suppose I could've managed carrying smaller loads with numerous cab rides back and forth, but having her help was truly a blessing. We used the laundry mat on Camp Casey while the guys were away. I didn't need to go as often with one less person to wash for either.
One night I was watching the local news and saw a report about the discovery of some underground tunnels leading from North Korea to South Korea. At the time, I had no way of knowing that they’d been discovering similar tunnels for years and this was not something out of the ordinary. I was terrified. We were about twenty-five miles south of the North Korea border. In my mind it was a sure sign of plans for an invasion by the North Koreans. I was now facing the fear of a possible invasion along with everything else I’d been dealing with. It was overwhelming.
If we’d had a phone, email or some other means of communication I wouldn’t have felt so isolated and alone. I certainly would’ve run up the phone bill but it would’ve been worth it to keep my sanity. Thank God for Lauren. She was the only thing that kept me from officially going bonkers. I had friends, but no one I was extremely close to. One week we didn't make it by the cottage the entire week and I hoped no one was worried about us. I then realized it wouldn’t seem unusual considering our new and recent sporadic schedule. At that point, I found myself thinking that if anything bad were to happen to us, it would probably be two weeks before anyone would think to come and check on us. That thought made me feel sick. I was just ready for my husband to come back home and for my month of hell on earth to finally end.
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
For me, it was often Sunday mornings in church as a teen and pre-teen. My friends and I would purposely sit behind a man who would make the hour long service much more entertaining for us than the pastor. It was rumored that he actually suffered from narcolepsy, though I didn't know that until many years later. He would doze off repeatedly during the service with his head bobbing all over the place. The funny part was that he'd wake up many times from his own snoring but he’d nod right back off just moments later. My sister recalls one time when his head slammed down onto the back of the pew in front of him with a loud thud. I missed that particular incident, but watching him nod off provided great entertainment for my friends and I, in between writing notes and games of hangman or tic-tac toe during the sermon. We could usually maintain our silent laughter, where only our shoulders would shake, without uttering a sound. Sometimes, one of us would lose control and let out a slight snort, which would have a contagious effect on the others, resulting in the kind of laughter that was almost impossible to control. Once you lose control of that silent laughter and you make a noise, you're usually in for a real battle to maintain control.
I once suffered from uncontrollable laughter at the veterinarian's office when our first dog, Chelsi, had undergone surgery to remove a cyst from the tip of her tail. We were aware that she would be required to wear a lampshade looking contraption around her neck, for about two weeks to keep her from biting at her tail while it healed. We'd been forewarned that she might look a bit awkward. She was a large white German shepherd and as soon as I saw her walking down the hall towards me, I burst into laughter. I was standing at the counter with my checkbook when they brought her out. She was banging into the walls on both sides of her, and as sad as that may sound, I started laughing so hard I couldn't stop myself, even in front of these people. My husband was laughing, too, and by this time had been given the leash to hold onto her. She was banging into chairs in the waiting room and watching her with this big lampshade thing on her head was one of the funniest things I'd ever seen. Of course, knowing her personality and seeing her reaction made it even funnier than if it had just been some random dog. I totally lost control and the more I tried to stop laughing the worse it got. I was literally bent over laughing right there in the clinic. I'm sure the vet staff thought I was evil for laughing at my poor dog. I was trying so hard to stop but I couldn't. She was a big dog and the thing she was wearing was the size of the biggest lampshade you can imagine. She was running into everything and completely disoriented. Every time I looked at her I would burst out laughing and absolutely could not stop. My husband, whom was also still laughing, ended up taking her outside just to get her away from me so I could try to gain my composure. I apologized to the staff and eventually managed to write the check, but continued snickering while I stood there, as hard as I tried not to. It was all I could do not to laugh hysterically until I left. When I got outside it only got worse. I was gasping for air as we walked to the car. The shade had banged into a curb causing her to stumble and she was bumping into cars and I couldn't stop laughing, in spite of how much I loved her, and the fact that she'd just had surgery.
We stopped at a store on our way home and I waited in the car with her. People walking past would catch a glimpse of her and stare at us and then I'd laugh even harder. The laughing continued long after we arrived home. The sight of her trying to maneuver her way around the house and trying to eat and drink with that thing on was killing me. I had bouts of laughter for several days until she finally managed to get around without banging into everything.
I experienced that same kind of laughter about ten years ago at the funeral of our ninety something year old great-great uncle. As far removed as that relation may sound, we'd actually grown up being very close to him. (I'm not so sure my mother will appreciate hearing this story and my sister might not be too thrilled with me either) My sister and I had opted to make the four-hour trip to the funeral with my brother and his wife and would be leaving at 6am. The night prior to the funeral, she and and I went to the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo Cook-Off and stayed out entirely too late. By the time we crawled into bed it seemed like my brother was ringing the doorbell. I know neither of us slept on the trip and were both delirious and exhausted when we arrived. The service was beautiful and I never intended to start what would turn into another one of those bouts of hysterical laughter at such an inappropriate time. Did I already mention that we were delirious? She and I were sitting very close together (possibly trying to keep each other awake) and she whispered something to me. I couldn't help but notice that her breath didn’t smell very good and never should've said it, but I did. I whispered to her, "Where's the dog?” She asked, "What dog?" I replied, "The dog that just took a dump in your mouth. You need some gum, like yesterday". The hysteria was ON. It was all either of us could do to keep from snorting and rolling right off of the pew. It was awful. We were both about to lose control at a loved ones funeral and trying desperately not to. I do believe there was a snort from one of us but we were able to pass it off as crying. However, it barely passed. I'm not proud of myself for this, although it was a pretty good one, if I do say so myself. It was out of my mouth before I could stop it and I didn't realize how hard it would cause us both to laugh. We were beyond shoulders shaking and were trying to muzzle ourselves. After the funeral, we made our way into the hallway and could hardly even look at each other or anyone else, and were in no shape to speak to anyone. Here we were at a funeral suffering from sidesplitting, gut wrenching laughter. Somehow, we managed to pull it together when we saw our mom and grandmother approaching us.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
The husband's family is so large, actually huge, that it's hard to keep up with them all. His mom and step dad have been married for over 30 years, so the step side of the family is like regular blood family and it's the same way with his dad's side. Actually, they don't consider anyone a step-relative in his family. Family is family, whether you share a bloodline or not. In his family you might get a divorce from your spouse but you don't divorce the family. It's sort of like the mafia. Once you're in, you're in for life.
When I first became a part of the family it was so different from mine that I was at times overwhelmed by the large family gatherings, where the norm would be Uncle Bob's first wife and her new husband and kids, showing up for dinner and being greeted with open arms. It was just so different from my family dynamics. After twenty years with these folks, they've grown on me. It's really hard to explain just how unique this family is. They can range from an uncle who lives in the trailer park, to an aunt in the big fancy house, to a cousin doing time in prison, to several law enforcement officers. No one really judges anyone else and for the most part we all love each other.
I've always been anti when it comes to sharing food with anyone, even my own kids. When the kids were little, I didn't like them sharing with other people either, including the kinfolk. I got more flexible and relaxed with each child (poor Caden), but in the beginning I went to great lengths to avoid any sharing when at all possible. My mother-in-law, on the other hand, doesn't think twice about sharing and used to offer my babies whatever she thought they'd like to eat, regardless of who might've been nibbling on it first. I was well aware of this fact from previous experiences over the years, but was never bold enough to just tell her how I felt.
When Cassidy was about eight months old, we came home for a visit and were having a big family gathering at my mother-in-law's. As soon as I saw that we were having corn on the cob I knew what was in store for her. I thought that I would quietly intervene to ensure that she wouldn't get anyone's leftover ear of corn to gnaw on while strolling around in her walker. Yes, my mother-in-law loves to give the babies the leftover corn on the cob to suck on after someone (anyone) has eaten off all of the corn. Knowing that, I walked quietly over to my husband after I made my plate and whispered in his ear, "Hey, if you finish your corn before I do, give it to Cassidy, okay?" My plan was that one of us would beat my mother-in-law to the punch. If Cassidy were going to gnaw on a used corncob, it would at least be one of ours and not third cousin Joe's ex-wife's new husband’s. I thought it was a rather clever plan, until I'd walked across the room and heard my husband make a very loud family announcement, "Would the first person to finish their corn on the cob, please give it to Monkey?" I thought I was going to die. He was so clueless! I must've looked like a beaver in a wood-eating contest. I devoured my corn in record speed and almost plowed a few people over trying to get my corncob to her walker first. I got there in the nick of time. I've never let him forget what a dufus he was that day.
Here are lyrics to what we think could be the family anthem.
Here's a link to a video of the song.
Monday, November 27, 2006
Nancy is our Vietnamese nail lady whom we absolutely love. She’s a riot. Our daughter started using her a while back, but it was just this past July that we first went to her. It was the day before we were scheduled to depart for our annual family camping trip. The kids had already been gone for a week with my family and the husband and I were scheduled to start packing and do our grocery shopping, but I had another plan in mind. We were going to get pedicures if I had to carry him in there kicking and screaming.
I’d forced him husband into having a pedicure one other time and it was about two years prior to our July trip to see Nancy. He was apprehensive but I begged him to go and he reluctantly admitted that it wasn’t so bad after all. However, I’d gotten carried away on the services and we’d walked out of there spending much more than the usual. I’d picked up a pumice stone and some other stuff hoping they’d be a miracle cure for my dry heels. The check amount had left a bad taste in his mouth, so he’d sworn off any future visits until I wore him down this past July.
It took some major begging and persuasion on my part to get him in there, but I finally talked (threatened) him into going to with me to see Lauren’s new nail lady. When we arrived, there were five women lined up in the pedicure-spa chairs with two spots available for us. We sat down and Nancy immediately asked how we’d heard about her shop. We told her Lauren was our daughter. She then asked if Lauren’s dad was a cop and I just laughed. She obviously knew Lauren. Then she informed us that that wasn’t Lauren, but “Cademy”, which was her nickname for Lauren since she worked at “Academy”. There was a graduation picture of Lauren hanging on her wall behind the cash register. She knew her well and was very pleased to learn that we were her parents.
We ended up laughing so hard that day that the lady sitting next to me called her husband to come up and have his feet done. Men can be so dang hard headed! He showed up and the two men managed to hold their masculinity while having their feet done, in addition to a few extras that Nancy insisted on. She actually told my husband that he was supposed to have two eyebrows, not one! Bahahahahahaha! I almost drowned in the spa water after she said that to him. We had such a good time that day that the lady next to me gave me her business card and asked me to call her the next time we came in.
I used to get my feet done about 2-3 times per year, but since I got the husband hooked I now get to go way more often. It’s usually him that suggests we go see Nancy. Nancy’s brother, John, works with her and they work hard seven days per week. She’s dubbed my husband her “boyfriend”, which is fine by me. I keep asking her when she’s taking him home but she never answers me! We’ve since learned that there are several other male clients she also claims as boyfriends, but they all try to keep that on the down low. None of them seem too eager for anyone to know they get their feet done.
Nancy is a hoot and her clients love her for being so crazy. Here are some pictures of the weekend party at her house. Sadly, the party is an annual event in honor of her son who passed away. He would be 10 or 11 years old, but he died about four years ago in a freak accident when he choked on some food. I’m not sure of the custom behind the party on a loved one’s death anniversary, but we wanted to attend because it was so obviously important to her. They could’ve easily fed an army at her house this past Sunday. Honestly, I’ve never seen so much food at a house party. Check it out in the pictures. (And no, Mom, the beer isn’t Lauren’s!)
Those crazy girls that my daughter calls her friend’s also made Nancy a My Space. Oh, and the reason we’re holding our hands down over hers in the picture was to keep her from doing the V sign behind us, which only caused her to use her tongue instead. I’m telling you she’s a nut but to know her is to love her.
P.S. I might get in trouble for this post and letting the “secret” out of the bag. It might even spark a long overdue entry from a certain someone but I won’t mention any names.
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
I always knew the first day of March would come and he would have to leave and wasn’t looking forward to it to say the least. There'd been a few times he'd gone away to the field for a couple of days at a time and that had been hard, but it was nothing compared to him being gone for an entire month. Those already difficult everyday tasks would now be resting completely on my shoulders. It was hard enough to do our grocery shopping, laundry and all together, but doing it alone with Lauren in tow would be the final straw that almost broke me.
What worried me more than everything else was the fact that I was terrified of staying there alone all night. I hadn't liked doing so when we'd lived in California and never slept well whenever I had. However, I'd at least had a telephone, German shepherd to alert and protect me, and a gun to defend myself if necessary. Even then, I still slept with one eye open. I hated the idea of us being there all alone without a phone, dog or weapon for protection, other than a kitchen knife, and was very anxious in the weeks leading up to his departure.
Our next-door neighbor was the only other person, besides us and the landlord, to have a key to the hallway door that led to our apartments, and he was basically a stranger to us. All we knew was that he was a bachelor in his forties stationed there on TDY, he worked late hours at the commissary and would come in stumbling drunk almost every single night of the week after the bars had all closed. We'd wave whenever we passed but rarely ever saw him, though we often heard him coming and going. My husband really thought he was doing me a favor when he went over to inform this neighbor that he would soon be leaving for Team Spirit and that his wife and baby would be there all alone while he was gone. He just wanted someone to know in case anything happened. Maybe he did actually do me a favor but I didn’t see it that way at the time. I was furious that he'd just informed the neighbor that we'd be all alone over the weeks to come. It was just one more thing on top of everything else that added to my fear and anxiety. I almost made myself sick worrying about everything as it got closer to the day he would be leaving.
As much as I'd hoped it wouldn't, that dreaded day eventually came. When he left sometime before 5am that morning, I tried not to fall apart when we said goodbye but it was hard not to cry. I absolutely hated to see him go. We'd made sure to get the necessities (groceries and laundry) taken care of over the weekend before so I'd at least have some time before I was forced to go at it alone. I don't remember much about our first day alone but I do remember the first night and 27 other ones that followed very well.
As expected, I was anxious and had trouble sleeping. Usually at about 10pm all of the shops surrounding us closed and the hustle and bustle on the streets below would die down. There was still a few people walking or driving past throughout the night, but not in droves like during the daytime hours. I would be okay until I was ready to shut everything off and lay down for the night. Once I'd get into bed, every noise out there was a little louder and closer than usual. We only had one TV and it was in the living room so I couldn't use it to block out sounds. Plus I wanted to be able to hear if someone was actually coming through the door or window. Every night between 3am and 4am I’d hear the hall door unlocking and the neighbor fumbling and stumbling to get his apartment opened. My overactive and wild imagination would really get the best of me. I had nothing against him, but the idea that we were up on the third floor all alone with him right next door, the hallway door that only we shared locked and no one within earshot really bothered me. Making it worse was the fact that he was always wasted and people tend to do things they normally wouldn’t when they’re drunk. I would often hear him banging around like he was cooking after he'd arrive home and was always relieved when it would get quiet, assuming he’d finally passed out. It was common to hear noises in the stairway and various doors in our building opening or closing throughout the night. I always assumed and hoped it to be the neighbor's from the second floor coming and going, but could never be certain. The long and grueling nights turned out to be even more terrifying than I'd imagined. They would also end up playing a huge role in how we would spend our days during that month. The whole experience would take its toll. Obviously we survived, but it was one of the worst times in my life. Not to sound overly dramatic, but I reached an almost indescribable low and have never felt more frightened, isolated and alone than I did during those four weeks.
Saturday, November 18, 2006
I've been adding updates on my beloved father-in-laws condition to the previous Prayers for Paul entry below.
Regarding the holey jeans issue, I've been too busy to obsess much about that this past week, but was informed by Cassidy that a girl had on the exact same pair of jeans she got in trouble for wearing. Just like I mentioned before, she's still continued to see a large number of kids wearing holey jeans everyday. School will be out of session all of next week, but I will be asking Mrs. XX about the lack of consistency on enforcing the hole policy when they return.
Lucky me- I have to read and review two thick stacks of insurance plan options and coverage information from both mine and the husband's jobs to decide which is the better option for us and I'd rather walk over hot coals. Any benefit specialists reading here? I'm just not that great at this nor in the mood to concentrate and compare the annual deductibles, co-pays, etc. but it's got to be done. I guess I'll procrastinate a little longer and eventually get around to it.
Did anyone watch last Thursday's "The Office"? It was hysterical! We're almost as bad as Star Trek fans with this show. We just can't get enough of this show. Seasons 1 and 2 are available on DVD if anyone is interested.
We're dropping Cassidy & Caden off to stay with their Grandma today. We'll basically be childless until Thanksgiving, except for Lauren and she doesn't really count. Maybe the house will actually stay semi-clean for a few days.
I've soon got the dreaded birthday sneaking up on me and will be getting that much closer to the big 40. Wuhoo! (NOT) I'm getting a digital camera for dummies and can't wait to try it out. It's on order.
I hope everyone has a safe and Happy Thanksgiving.
Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Judy was the volunteer coordinator who ran the cottage on base and this wasn’t her first rodeo. She’d been to Korea a few times before and was experienced and wise about her surroundings. One day she invited me to go to a Korean bathhouse for a "girl’s day. It was supposed to be like a day at the spa with massages and facials but the cost would be near nothing compared to what it would've been back in the states. It sounded like a great idea to me so I accepted her offer. Upon our arrival, I was shy and embarrassed once I realized that everyone was walking around nude and no one was even batting an eye. At that time in my life I’d never been to a spa or even had a massage so I didn’t quite know what to expect. Actually, I’ve only had one massage since then and still haven’t ever spent a day at the spa, except for a pedicure or manicure, and the spas here aren’t like they are over there. They weren’t as serene and definitely not as clean. Of course when you’re paying $10-$20 for “the works” then who can really complain if the facility isn’t a five star, right? We were instructed to undress and then to sit down in this big hot tub, completely nude, which was slightly traumatic for me at that point in life. We were then led to some tables where we would lie down, again still completely nude, before being rubbed down with a gritty green mask like substance. All was going fairly well, although I felt very awkward, until I saw the Korean lady who'd been working on Judy climb up on the table and then stand on Judy’s back. She started doing what appeared to be an Indian like dance on Judy’s back and Judy was making grunting noises with each movement like the wind was being knocked right out of her body. I was starting to panic as I watched but the lady working on me continued pounding on my back without missing a beat. The massage felt good at times but it was more painful and rough. There wasn't any gentleness to it. When the lady working on me started to get up on the table I stopped her and in my best sign language motioned to her that I didn’t want the dance work up like Judy had just gotten. Before my move over there I’d suffered some back pain issues didn’t want anything (like a 160 pound Korean woman) dancing on my back to make it worse. I was gracious but made it clear that wasn’t something I was interested in having done.
During our massages we were flipped from front to back for a full work up and Judy was a few steps ahead of me along the way, so I was able to prepare myself for what I could expect next. After the massage we were scrubbed down and exfoliated or whatever you might call it. This was when the green gritty stuff was scrubbed off of us with what appeared to be a flat, green, square shaped scouring pad that felt similar to a brillo pad or what you might find on the backside of some sponges. I’ve used something very similar to scrub my pots and pans. They were using this to scrub down our bodies from head to toe. I know there were no dead skin cells left on my body after this lady was through with me. I had no issues with the process until one of the ladies on another table got up to leave and another woman took her spot and they started scrubbing her down with the same rag that had just been used on the previous lady. They stuck it in a bowl of water and wrung it out and used it on the lady that followed. I cringed and tried not to think about it but in reality was thoroughly grossed out that I was about to be scrubbed down by a rag that had been used on countless others before me. When it was my turn for the full body scrub down I was somewhat ticklish and tried not to wiggle and laugh. As the lady started scrubbing me she moved her way up and got closer and closer to my rear end and to areas where I just knew she would soon stop going. Wrong! She kept right on scrubbing, higher and higher into places that I never even knew existed. This only made matters worse regarding thoughts of the reusable scouring pad, which had obviously been used on the previous person’s same hidden cracks and crevices (ICK!). I was literally frozen in place, unable to move, feeling slightly violated. We were then lead to the showers where I again scrubbed myself down before we dressed and left from our special day at the spa. In reality, that’s just the way they do things over there and that doesn’t mean it’s wrong. It’s just different. That would be my last visit to the spa during my stint in Korea.
Monday, November 13, 2006
Paul is in his early sixties and the husband/son is only 39. I thought they were going to have pick me up off of the floor. I told her yes, he was the older brother. Ha! Nah, actually, I remained quiet and kept that big grin on my face masked very well until I was better able to laugh and harrass the husband, and now I just can't let him live it down.
I can't wait for Paul to read about this!
Sunday, November 12, 2006
The landlords and owners of the rice store consisted of a family of four. It was a mom, dad and their teenage son and daughter. They really loved us, especially Lauren. My husband had spent a year at The Defense Language Institute at The Presidio of Monterey, California learning to read, write and speak Korean. He became the building translator for the landlord and the other American tenants and that made us the favorite tenants. Our male landlord would often bring us a bag of fresh fruit or some Korean candy for Lauren as a token of his appreciation. He and I couldn’t really communicate but I always smiled and thanked him in Korean. I’d learned enough of the language to say hello, goodbye, thank you, have a good day, and a few other necessary words I would need, especially whenever I was in a taxi, such as left, right and stop.
We didn’t have a telephone. It was too expensive. If I wanted to talk to my parents I would have to walk to the base and go to the USO Club where they had little rooms with telephones for privacy and call them collect. The calls were expensive (an average ½ hour call would be about $60). My mom wasn’t about to say no to those collect calls. My parents would be the only people I talked to from home during my six month stay. No one else would’ve been willing to foot the bill for those expensive collect calls and I certainly couldn’t blame them. I was already a natural talker but with the added homesickness, my mom would usually be stuck with me on the phone for about an hour. I think I called home on average of about every two weeks and with the time difference it was usually in the middle of the night for them. I know those phone bills were outrageous. I suppose they can just add that to my tab and take it out of my inheritance!
My other means of communication with everyone from home was letters. I wrote more letters than imaginable. It was therapeutic and my only way to keep in contact with my family and friends. Someone also sent me a small tape recorder so I started making audiotapes of Lauren talking and then began making tapes like letters. I would usually drone on about life in Korea and talk for the full sixty minutes the tape would allow. I sometimes think about the poor recipients of those tapes and how they had to endure my hour of non-stop talking. Our incoming mail would be sent to the barracks and the husband would bring it home with him after work each day. Every card and letter received was like a little piece of home that I would cherish and read over and over. Whenever he came home with mail it was truly the highlight of my day.
A few weeks after my arrival we learned about a special house located on Camp Casey that was open Monday thru Friday from 8am until 5pm for the spouses who’d gone over there like I had and were living on the Korean economy. It was called “Pear Blossom Cottage” and was run by a volunteer. It was used as a place for the families to gather and socialize. It had a large kitchen with three large ovens where the wives could go to prepare and cook meals since none of the apartments had ovens. I never really took advantage of that opportunity as that was back when my cooking skills pretty much consisted of tacos, spaghetti and all things simple. (NOTE: Dear Husband, please refrain from any sarcastic remarks in the comments section to follow). There was also a playroom, living room and a classroom. They offered classes for things like sewing and cooking. It was a nice place to go and pass the time. It could sometimes be chaotic and stressful with so many small children fighting over the toys in the playroom, but it certainly helped me from losing my mind being cooped up all day without much else to do. I made a few new friends but we were all scattered all around the city and our apartment was on the opposite side of town from where everyone else seemed to live, which made getting together to socialize difficult.
The coordinator of the house would regularly receive VHS tapes from her family back in the states with about six hours of recorded TV shows on them. She was a big Knots Landing fan as was I, and would pass around the tapes for all of us to take home and watch. Whenever it was my turn I would usually stay up all night watching them and I wouldn’t even fast forward through the commercials. You’d be surprised at what can change in just a few months and what new product you might see in a commercial. Those tapes were like gold and when my husband returned to Korea again a few years later, I made him tapes like that every week that he shared with everyone in the barracks.
We had one English/Military TV station called Armed Forces Korean Network (AFKN) that ran 24-hours a day. They more or less had to cater to everyone’s interests so the network tried to offer a variety of shows. I remember the TV line-up well because I pretty much lived for it. Everything seemed to be broken up into about two hour intervals. For example, they would run CNN News in the early mornings, then two hours of sports shows, then in the afternoon they featured two soaps. I’d never watched Guiding Light before but after a few weeks I had most of the story line figured out. The soaps were three months behind from what had already aired in the U.S. so I had to wait until I’d been there for three months to finally pick up where I left off on General Hospital. They had some game shows and then in the evening featured a few sitcoms. This was 1989-1990 and the sitcoms were about a season or two behind what was current in the states. We didn’t get anything current. Our featured sitcoms were The Cosby Show and Alf. They also had a local news program with Military personnel as the news anchors. They wore their Class A’s (dress uniforms) and did the weather, local news, news from the US, etc. The late night shows that I faithfully watched were Barnaby Jones, Baretta and Cannon. For the younger readers, these were shows I grew up watching with my parents. They were all three detective shows that were made in the 1970’s. We couldn’t afford to be choosy so I watched them faithfully every night.
We'd usually do our grocery shopping on Saturday. Of course we’d need to go for a few things during the week, too, but would get the bulk of our shopping done on the weekends. We usually bought enough that we couldn't walk back home with the groceries so we'd typically take a cab. It would drop us off in front of our apartment building. We'd unload the bags into the lobby doors, pay the driver, then start carrying the bags up the three flights of stairs along with the stroller and a little girl who was terrified of heights and scared to death of even being carried up and down the stairs.
Sunday was reserved for laundry. Our method for laundry day would consist of the husband filling up his large Army duffle bag with all of the dirty clothes. He’d carry it on his back, and believe me it was stuffed full and very heavy. I wouldn’t have made it three feet with that thing on my back. We’d set out on our walk to Camp Casey and then to the bus stop for a ride over to the barracks. His roommates always welcomed us on laundry day. There was a laundry mat on Camp Casey but we ended up taking advantage of the free machines at the barracks. That would also allow us time to relax and hang out in between loads. We’d usually spend hours in his room on Sunday afternoons. NFL football games were usually being televised on Sunday afternoons (if recall correctly, that was actually Monday morning in the states) and we'd get to watch a little piece of home, especially if the Oilers were playing. I became a big football (though not so much anymore) as a result. After doing all of the laundry and watching the game, we’d neatly stuff the stacks of folded clothes back into his duffle bag and start the trip back home. Like I said before, everything we did was such a task.
Tuesday, November 07, 2006
My first week was spent touring my new surroundings, which required a great deal of walking. I had to learn my way around and most of the things we would need or want to do were located on one of the bases. It was about a half mile from our apartment to the front gate at Camp Casey, which was the larger of the two Army bases near us. Camp Hovey was actually a little base attached to the back of Camp Casey where the husband was actually stationed and still had a room in the barracks. We would end up spending many hours in his room in the months that followed.
Both bases were small and not equipped as full functioning for dependents like we were used to. There was an urgent care unit but it was only to be used for life threatening emergencies to stabilize someone until they could be transferred to Seoul. There was a small PX on Camp Casey with a food court attached that had five or six fast food restaurants and an eating area. Unfortunately, we didn’t have choices like Taco Bell or Pizza Hut, but after a few months of being there I grew to love that food. The commissary was a major disappointment. It was the size of a convenience store and only offered a small selection of food items. I’d never given it much thought before that time but did learn that many foods from here either can’t be shipped that far without spoiling, or the cost of doing so was too great so we were left with very few choices made available to us. They also rationed the amount of each purchase by issuing us a ration card. That meant we could only get so much at one time and that would require us to make more frequent trips to the store, which was far from an easy task.
Our routine would become for us to walk to Camp Casey and then down to the bus stop. The bus would stop at various locations on Camp Casey letting people on/off and then over to Camp Hovey to do the same. It was a regular military bus and nothing like riding the civilian Korean buses. We typically rode the bus several times each week to get where we needed to be.
The scenery during the walk from our apartment to the base consisted of shops, bars, apartments and Bordello*s, which were ummm, well, places where a man could go to get certain things. The Mamasons (Madams) used to stand outside as we passed trying to drum up business. I was so horrified I would just ignore them and never did go off on any of them, but looking back on it wish I had. I should've screamed, “Do you see me and this baby walking next to him? Now back off and find another soldier to solicit." They'd stand out there asking the passing soldiers if they wanted a “good time”. Most of them wouldn't say anything when we passed by together but a few had the nerve to proposition him even with us in tow.
The husband had taken about a week off from work to get us settled in and adjusted. When the day came for him to return to his normal work routine he had to get up extra early and walk to Camp Casey then catch the bus to his room and change clothes in time for early morning PT. It was always cold and dark outside when he left every morning before 5am and when he arrived back home after 5 pm each night. Naturally he was always exhausted and ready for an early dinner and bedtime. I, on the other hand, was excited and ready to talk for hours since he was my only adult contact for the most part.
The first several weeks after he returned to work were very difficult. Instead of being eager to explore on my own, I was afraid and unsure of the world outside that was so different from the one I knew. I would eventually venture out alone on those long days, but not just yet. He went back to work and I was forced to deal with long, lonely days cooped up in a small apartment with an 18-month-old and very few things to keep us both occupied and entertained like I was used to having at my disposal back home. What in the world were we going to do with ourselves all day long without a phone,(it was 1989 and there was no internet), cable TV, a yard or even neighborhood park to keep us busy? Not only would I find myself dealing with a lack of things to do, but I’d also have to adjust to how difficult it was to carry out even the simplest tasks such as doing the laundry, grocery shopping, getting to a doctor and even taking a hot bath. Things weren't anything like I'd expected and the next six months would offer challenges I never saw coming.
The dress code states that the jeans must be in good repair. We don’t allow holes in the jeans. We provide clothes for the students to put on and usually are able to get ahold of the parents to ask if they’d like us to provide the clothing if we have something that fits. I am so sorry that Cassidy had a bad experience with this. You have a wonderful daughter and if there should be an issue in the future, which I don’t anticipate, we will be sure and contact you. Have a wonderful week!
In the meantime, to hold you over and for entertainment purposes, I'm posting a letter that I wrote to the school principal regarding an issue that we faced last Friday. I don't feel above the rules, but I do feel that we respect and abide by them when they are written in black and white where we can follow them clearly. My boss is a retired school superintendent and says we're playing way too nicely here. He said if something isn't in writing then it cannot be enforced. We had a similar issue in the past with the dress code saying one thing and the school enforcing another at the elementary school. I basically lost money on several pair of pants I'd purchased to be used as school clothes after we were told they were "out of dress code". I'd even printed out the dress code to reference while shopping and the stance the principal took on why they were out of dress code made absolutely no sense. We backed down and abided by it regardless not wanting to be labeled as "trouble maker" parents. This time my boss is lending me his experience and knowledge from the other side of the fence and I expect to be provided sensible answers to my questions and not given some "gray" rules that have been made up as they go along. If we don't get a call back by lunch, I'm sicking the husband on them.
Dear Mrs. XXXXX,
Our daughter, Cassidy XXXXXXX, was sent to the nurse on Friday, November 3rd for being out of dress code. She was told the violation was that a hole in the blue jeans she was wearing was located too high, on the side of her pants near the top of her thigh. Then, later there was some confusion and we were then told that any holes were considered a violation. We're still unclear as to whether it was the location of the hole or the hole itself and would like some clarification. As parents, we have always read the dress code and shopped for school clothes accordingly. Friday evening my husband read the dress code online and wasn't able to find any specific reference to holes in jeans, which made determining whether the issue was the hole itself or the location of the hole impossible. We would like this to be made clear to us to prevent any future incidents. If necessary we can have her bring the jeans to school and try them on so you can see them on her.
The bigger issue that we're having is the fact that our daughter was sent home in a pair of used and possibly dirty blue jeans. Cassidy told us that the XXXXXX staff assisting her had to sniff and smell stacks of blue jeans until they found a pair that didn't stink. They even pulled out a pair with the legs rolled up indicating they’d been previously worn. We have a serious issue with the fact that she was required to wear blue jeans from a stack of clothing that appeared to be worn or dirty and find that to be absolutely unacceptable. Our daughter was asked if there was anyone at home who could bring her some jeans and she answered no to the question, which was correct. We were both at work but did not even receive a phone call regarding this issue. Had we been notified, one of us would've left work to handle the situation or given verbal instruction that she was not to put on those jeans.
We would appreciate a reply back from you either by email or telephone with clarification as to the "holes" policy, or a specific paragraph in the dress code we may reference that addresses it. We would also like you to advise us on the policy of the school concerning what is considered to be the acceptable condition of donated clothing before a child is expected to wear them, if there is such a policy. For example, is there a process in which it is received and cleaned before it is stored and distributed? Informing us of any policy which may exist would only be for information purposes. We would also like to take this opportunity to inform you that in the future, under no circumstances, is one of our children to ever wear any donated clothing items. We expect to be contacted and arrangements will be made to address any dress code violations. If contact or arrangements are not obtained, then by all means place her in an isolated atmosphere so as to not distract the other students until we can rectify the situation.
We are both also available to meet with you in person to discuss this matter and can be reached at the following numbers:
Monday, November 06, 2006
Paul had a bit of a set back this week and just as we thought he was going home they discovered a blood clot (thrombosis) in his leg and started him on blood thinner. The clot started breaking up and some pieces reached his lungs, which has caused him shortness of breath and at one point they were worried that he'd possibly suffered a stroke, which thankfully he did not. The medications he was taking to thin his blood were not agreeing with him so today they've started him on something new. Last night they inserted a screen at the main artery leading from his legs to his heart and lungs (please excuse my lack of the correct medical terminology) that will serve as a filter to try and prevent any more pieces of the clot to make it through. He's already showing some improvement today. If he continues to improve we're hoping he'll be released in four more days. I'm so looking forward to our visit with him tomorrow and appreciate continued prayers for a full and speedy recovery.
Last report had Paul doing very well. The husband and kids saw him this weekend (I had to miss out on the visit cause I was sick and didn't want to pass along my germs). He was upbeat and eating well. He also promised the kids that he'd make them french toast as soon as he was up and around. He spoils us with his cooking whenever he visits. I asked about getting him a laptop but am not sure where his two computer knowledgable sons stand on that idea.
We miss you, Paul!
Paul was scheduled to have a stint inserted at 10am, but after starting the procedure they stopped and he'll be having double bypass surgery in the next few hours. I know that doctors perform this procedure everyday but it's still scary when it's someone you love.
Please keep him in your prayers. I'll post an update on his condition when I return home this evening.
Just a quick request to keep my number one fan (Paul/Dad/Grandpa Paul) in your prayers. He's stable and okay tonight but went to the ER today after having a sudden onset (three days now) of difficulty breathing, even walking across the room. The initial test results are back with good enzyme levels but his blood pressure is elevated and they think it's heart related. He had 50% blockage and plaque five years ago and they suspect it is related and are keeping him for more tests. He's not gotten into a room yet but should be in one shortly and we'll know more tomorrow. I actually think his blood pressure is just elevated because he's facing the possibility of not being able to vote tomorrow and that fact alone will cause him extreme distress!
I love this man and want him healthy and back home soon. I'll update with any news tomorrow.
Thursday, November 02, 2006
It all started when my husband got orders for an "unaccompanied" tour (meaning no extra baggage like a spouse or kids) for a year of Military service in Korea. He left when Lauren was about 15-16 months old. I'd moved home to live with my parents, but only after a few weeks of us being apart, I knew that I just couldn't live an entire year without him and he'd started missing us, too. Once he was over there he learned that there were actually families living there with their spouses. Basically, we could go as long as we financed the trip ourselves and lived on the Korean economy. Uncle Sam wasn't footing the bill for anyone but the "soldier" at this particular base, which was almost as far north that you could go without being in North Korea. He started asking around about apartments while I looked into passports, visas, airfare, etc. It would be almost two-months before everything was in order and we could head over.
I couldn't understand why neither of our parents was too thrilled with news of our plan. They knew so much more of what I didn't but there would be no talking me out of it. I was stubborn and determined to go, and the sooner the better.
Once we'd saved enough money for the flight over we debated on whether to pay extra for Lauren to have her own seat. She could ride on my lap for free, or we could pay a few extra hundred dollars for a seat, which on a private's salary was more like thousands. Nah, my husband assured me there'd be extra seats so I bought the lone ticket for the trip. The government was nice enough to allow us to move over a very small amount of essentials so I packed some toys, dishes, a television and a few other things that shipped out weeks before we left.
Our families were sad about us leaving. They'd hoped and expected to spend some time with Lauren after we’d been living in California for the past year. Plus, they were also "worried" and now that I have an eighteen year old myself, I GET IT and finally understand why. I can’t even imagine her going to live in a foreign country. No way!
The trip from Houston to San Francisco was a breeze. The plane was empty and we had our own row and slept the entire four hours. Lauren was used to flying and had always been a great traveler. We changed planes in San Fran and had a layover so we ate and waited. My only complaint at that point was the stuffed and heavy diaper bag that I had to cart around, in addition to carrying my purse and Lauren. She was eighteen months old and could walk, but not across the airport so I was pretty worn out after a few hours. Once we boarded our flight for Seoul, it was obvious it wasn't going to be as nice and relaxing as our first flight. Actually, there were only two empty seats left when we were ready to take off and the flight attendant asked someone on the end of our row if they'd like to move up so I'd have an extra seat. She declined because it wasn't an aisle seat or something and the other option didn't pan out either. I knew it was a nine-hour flight, so I had a slight panic attack then buckled my seat belt with her on my lap. We were in the front row with those few extra inches of floor space, but it still wasn’t all that cozy and comfortable. When we were served our lunch I couldn't flip the tray all the way down over us with her in my lap so I stood her up in front of me and we ate like that. She had coloring books so she attempted to color with the tray over us at a slanted angle. That was a challenge but it worked for a while. As always she got sleepy and I held her in my lap for several hours trying to doze with her. The lady next to me was very sweet and helped me spread out a blanket on the floor so I could lie her down in that little space in front of my feet. I hated to do that but it had gotten to the point that my legs and arms were cramping from holding her and I needed to wiggle into a few new positions and use the restroom while the lady watched over her. I'm not exaggerating when I say it was a truly hellish experience. After about eight hours (don't forget that I'd already flown four earlier, plus a few hours of airport layover time) I was starting to ache all over and really needed more room to stretch and move my body. Every extremity was cramping or going to sleep and my back was killing me so I was getting very anxious about us landing soon. According to my calculations, we should've been descending and nearing that last hour or less of flying time when they collect your empty drinks and food trays, but there was no indication of that. I broke down and inquired and the flight attendant said that we still had another three to four hours left to go so I questioned why I'd been told this was a nine-hour flight. She explained the nine-hour flight was the return flight back to California where they catch a tailwind or something that makes it a quicker flight and that I must’ve misunderstood. After she walked away my eyes were stinging with tears. I really thought I was going to just lose it and start screaming, “Let me off, let me off!” right there. Those were to date the longest four hours of my life.
When we finally touched down I was a wreck. In actual hours, and not including the time changes or anything, it had literally been twenty-four hours since I’d left Houston. I was exhausted and aching all over. We reached customs and had to wait in a long line for them to check our luggage. Once we reached the long line of people there we could see “Daddy” on the other side waiting on us. He was holding a stuffed panda bear in his arms and wearing a huge smile. Lauren was giggling and very excited to see him and so was I. It took a while to get through this process and I was already hanging on by a thread. Plus it had been three months since we’d seen him so I couldn’t wait for a big hug and to throw Lauren and all of the heavy bags I’d been lugging around at him and get to a nice relaxing location. He’d gotten us a hotel for the night as we had a few hours yet to travel before reaching our “new home”. Smart move because if I’d been forced to endure a bus ride after all of that I would likely still be in a straight jacket in some padded room today.
It was dark outside and the hotel was nearby so I didn’t really get much of a look at my new surroundings until we set out on our bus trip the next day. I’m not sure I can find the words to describe just how scary that experience turned out to be. There were narrow roadways, not big highways like we have here, mountains off in the distance, rice fields everywhere, and vehicles driving very fast but not in any sort of organized fashion whatsoever. Imagine kicking an ant bed and they scatter, but they’re all driving a car, truck, bus or motorcycle. It was pure chaos with every driver doing their own thing, barely missing the oncoming traffic and vehicles next to them. I couldn’t stop thinking that I’d just endured a twenty-four hour hell only to arrive in Korea to be killed shortly after in a bus collision. I was convinced we were going to die. I’d never seen anything like it before and can’t believe that I lived to tell you about it.
They say Korea has beautiful beaches in the southern part of the country. Unfortunately, we were too poor back then to take a trip down south. The area where our apartment was sort of reminded me what Brooklyn or the Bronx look like in the movies, but not even as nice. Two and three story buildings (both businesses and homes, but they looked the same) built right next to one another among alleys, streets and sidewalks. There were no yards, no grass or houses that looked anything like what I was used to in the US. At night these places all pull metal gates down over the doors just like the stores in a mall do when they close. It felt very crowded with the houses, stores, restaurants, etc. all in rows and except for signs in the window you couldn’t distinguish between them.
My husband had found us a fully furnished apartment above a rice store. He’d tried to forewarn me about how different things were over there and to prepare me for what to expect, but let's just say it didn't sink in very well. When he said the apartments there weren't like the ones here, I thought that we might not have a dishwasher or swimming pool, and that it might be a little small. I'll never forget the moment when I first arrived to see my new "home". It was definitely what everyone calls culture shock. (I REALLY need to scan some photos, but we don't have a scanner)
The rice store was on the ground floor and the owner and his family lived in the back part behind the store. There were two apartments each on the second and third floors. The stairs leading up were inside but on the far end of the building with a separate door to enter from the store, and each floor had a small hallway leading to the two apartments. We were on the third floor and Lauren was afraid of heights. The stairs were steep and I grew to hate them for reasons I will share in the future.
When I walked into my new home the shock continued to grow. It’s amazing that I was still standing with as much culture shock as I’d already endured. The first thing I noticed was the little ugly orange sectional sofa and that the living room, dining room and kitchen (if you could call it that) were all one room. The bedroom was right off of this room but at least it had a door. The bathroom was down a little hall and that was pretty much it. What was supposed to be “the kitchen” looked more like Lauren’s Fisher Price or Little Tykes toy kitchen. It had a two-door cabinet hanging on the wall, a small metal sink with a little storage place underneath it and a two-burner hot plate sitting on top of another two-door cabinet. It consisted of about 10 inches of counter space and a total of four cabinets between the two sets. It looked like I could’ve pulled the whole thing around with me if I’d just had a rope and could’ve slapped some wheels on it There was no oven but we did have a medium sized fridge that stood over by the bedroom door.
This was just the beginning of what would be a life changing experience for this Texas girl who was about to learn what life was like without many of the simple luxuries I’d always taken for granted.
Sunday, October 29, 2006
I broke a mirror tonight. It was a medium hand held mirror that was leaning against my nightstand but had slid down onto the floor, face down right next to my bed. I stepped on it and heard a crunch. When I looked down I wasn’t happy. I’m actually not all that superstitious, but there are two things that do cause me to pause and shudder.
I don’t like crossing the path of a black cat or breaking mirrors. These two superstitions evolved for me after suffering some bad luck after doing both of the above. I don’t specifically remember what happened after the black cat incident as it was many years ago. I just remember that I credited whatever misfortune I suffered to the cat and wishing I’d just turned around or at least spit out of the window three times after crossing its path like one of my friend’s mom’s always used to do. Since then, I’ve been known to actually turn the car around if a black cat crosses in front of me. Did I actually admit that right here in black and white?
The mirror thing is also big for my husband. A few years ago I broke one while sitting in our tent on a camping trip and didn’t really think much of it until much later when my husband pointed out to me that we’d had a string of bad things happen the following year and he brought up the whole mirror breaking incident. I looked back and had to admit that we’d certainly had some bad luck after that happened. I won’t go into all of the details but will just say that the year following the mirror incident was a bad year. (My parents had a bad wreck, my grandfather passed away, our finances were extremely strained, big and expensive things around the house and cars were breaking, and life was throwing some other curve balls our way) Don’t misunderstand me, I’m very grateful that we’re all healthy and know things could always be worse, but I did find myself questioning what role, if any, the broken mirror played in the string of bad things that happened over the following year.
After I heard the crunch tonight I looked down and said, “Oh, no!” When I told my husband what I’d just done I knew he was thinking the same thing I was. Oh, great! Just what we need, another broken mirror.I actually looked up a few things online tonight about breaking mirrors and superstitions but just wasn’t up for taking the pieces of shard glass outside to burn or burying them in the moonlight, nor did I react immediately as suggested by turning counter clockwise three times afterwards. I’m just going to hope for the best and that it’s not actually seven years for that first mirror and another seven for this one, because that would mean I now have about 11 more years of bad luck still left to go. So, wish me luck!
Saturday, October 28, 2006
When I was growing up my grandmother owned an antique store for many years and had a house full of expensive antiques in a variety of shapes and sizes. She still has a house full of antiques, though she’s long retired from the business, but she’s also distributed many things out amongst my mother and her siblings. One of the things my mom inherited when my grandparents retired and moved to the country were these three black heads, which were near and dear to my heart.
When we were little and stuck for hours at my grandparents house, which wasn’t all that fun for us kids considering we couldn’t take two steps without touching something old and expensive, I would stare at these three heads that sat on the fireplace mantle and just admire these three heads. I loved them and always thought of them as my sister, brother and myself up there, regardless of their skin color. They were appropriate in age to each of us and for whatever reason I made the association between them and us, and was just always very fond of these three heads. I once told my mom that I wanted the black heads one day so when my husband and I moved back home after our Military days, my mom gave me the black heads.
I was excited, although I wasn’t sure how they would look in my very plain house, minus the variety of antiques and things to go with them. When I brought them home about ten years ago, my husband asked me exactly what I was planning on doing with these three black heads, laughed and told me flat out they would look really stupid up on our entertainment center. I guess I was a little unsure myself, so I stuck them in a glass cabinet sort of hidden and waited until we moved into our new house then tried pulling them out and he again gave me a hard time again so I kept them hidden.
A few years later I redecorated our living room and was feeling really good about the “new” look, which wasn’t really done in a theme. I’d just decorated with lots of flowers and had new rugs and lamps and accessories, so I felt brave about going out on a limb and putting my beloved black heads on display, so I finally put them out on one of the shelves on the entertainment center and decided that if they meant something to me then I was going to display them, regardless of whether they went my motif.
They’ve been up there for several years and as recently as last week, I had a visitor whom looked up on the shelf and asked me why I had those three heads up there. Normally, my husband will just smile that I told you so smile and let me tell them about where they came from and why I have them. Apparently, they are out of place in my plain and simple living room. My oldest daughter informed me that her friends were also asking her about the heads. Seriously, if anyone came inside and sat down, their eyes would eventually find the heads and they would ask why we had those heads up there.
One night she had friends over and they decided to take the following pictures of the heads and then made them their own My Space. I was mortified to see that they had been carrying around my priceless heads and could’ve broken them while posing them for these pictures. They even took some outdoor pictures that almost sent me over the edge. Actually, I don’t think they’re all that “expensive” but they are sentimental to me. I also learned from my mom they were a Jamaican mom and her two children, not siblings like I had imagined them to be.
So, I ask is it really that out of place to have these three beloved heads displayed up on the entertainment center? Whether we were also black, or the heads were white, or brown or whatever, what’s the big deal? Do they really look that out of place? I love these damn black heads! If it’s such a controversy would it help if I changed the entire décor of the house to make them fit in? Maybe I’ll just print this out and every time someone new comes in and inquires, I’ll just give them this print out and let them read it for themselves.
Thursday, October 19, 2006
My friend Teresa commented that I should write about “the Barbie phone” and a few of you were curious to know the story behind that. About ten years ago Santa brought my oldest daughter a really cool phone for her room. It was actually called a “Clueless Hands Free” phone and is pictured above. It had this really cool voice changing option. You could talk normal or change it to four or five other choices. They ranged from making your voice sound like a “Chipmunk” cartoon character to that scary one that was featured in Mel Gibson’s movie, Ransom, where his son was kidnapped and he was getting those calls from the kidnapper using that exact voice. When we first tested the scary voice on each other it actually gave me chills.
I’m never one to pass up a good prank or not love acting like a kid again, so it didn’t take me long to pull out the old address book and start dialing up almost everyone we knew. (Well, those who could take a joke and didn’t have a heart condition) I’d call using the scary voice saying I was watching them or something along those lines. Yes, I know, that’s not very nice but let me tell you we had a blast doing it and almost died from laughing a few times. One of us would talk and the other would pick up the other phone and listen to the call, trying not to laugh out loud.
Of course caller ID was a bit of a deterrent but I was pretty clever and up to speed on some ways around it, such as “call block” which would not reveal the number you were calling from. Of course there were some people who had their phones set up not to accept blocked calls so there were a few foiled attempts, but most of the time we (the husband and me acting like two 10 year-olds) got through and totally scared the crap out of some of our friends and family. I know I really should be ashamed. Snort, snicker, bahahaha!
The absolute best one we pulled off actually lasted for several days. It was played on an old friend from our Military days. I had called the wife using the scary voice and then eventually told her what was going on. She wanted me to play a prank on her husband and for several days would call me with details of what they’d done that particular day, where’d they’d been and more or less what to say. I would call and say stuff like I've been watching you, I saw you at the beach with your family riding four wheelers, and I saw you do this or that. I never said I was going to kidnap anyone or really gave a reason to him for the call, other than just informing him in that scary voice that someone was watching him. I would find out from his wife what his reaction was in between the phone calls and learned that he was really tripping out about the calls. He even put the movie Ransom in the VCR to show his dad and wife so they could hear exactly how the caller sounded. If you're wondering if I felt bad about this, the answer is yes, in between my bouts of laughter I had small waves of guilt. I can't recall exactly how long we let him suffer or how many calls I made, but I'd say it was over a period of a several days before his wife finally told him the truth. Luckily, he took it well and we’re both still alive.
Teresa refreshed my memory yesterday that the trick I'd played on her was telling her that I'd seen her out at a club and thought she was hot or something along those lines, more or less posing as a psycho stalker/secret admirer. That was back when she was in the prime of her partying days so I’m sure I went with that line thinking it was believable since she went out a lot at the time. I can’t remember all of the calls we made or exactly what was said but I do know it was funny at the time. As a matter of fact, I’m now on a mission now to find that phone. I know I kept it and it’s in some closet in this house. I’ve made some new friends over the past ten years and am always looking for cheap entertainment!