Another Day in the Country
© Another Day in the Country
It’s summer vacation for many of you — a chance to do something different, venture forth, and take a break.
Being mostly retired, I feel as if I’m pretty much permanently on vacation, without a clear destination in mind.
My daughter calls to tell me that her husband’s family plans to fulfill a bucket list wish for his mother, who is taking her entire immediate family — children, their spouses, and grandchildren — on vacation to Korea.
She and her husband immigrated to the United States from Korea when her oldest son, Richard, my grandson’s father, was just a baby.
The place she once called home is in South Korea. She wanted her progeny to see her beginnings, including Jeju Island, where her ancestors were banished when Japan invaded Korea.
Getting work schedules and school schedules for 15 people coordinated was quite an undertaking. All met in San Francisco. With 16 hours of time difference between California and Korea, it was the longest day of their lives.
Jana began sending pictures to us from a place where I had landed a couple of times before but never gone beyond the airport.
For me, South Korea had been a pit stop on the way to somewhere else. For the Chang family, they were going home.
What does it mean to go home? Richard and his mother were the only two who had experienced South Korea as home.
I remember how coming back to Ramona always felt like coming home for me.
I lived in lots of towns in Kansas as a child and in several other states as an adult, but Kansas spelled home. It was a place of beginning, an original imprint of belonging.
A piece of land outside of Ramona that I mostly remember from old photographs spelled home at first.
Mostly, however, home was a big white house and a tin-clad barn where my grandparents lived as I was growing up.
This spot represented an unchanging center of my homing instinct until Grandma and Grandpa moved off the farm and went to live in Lincoln, Nebraska. That move spelled liberation for Grandma and incarceration for Grandpa.
It pleased me to come back to Ramona and find little had changed. Most of the time, when we go home, we find that everything has changed. We hunt for the familiar like tourists.
This past week, I was in Hope, visiting cousins from California who were staying in their cousin’s home for a few days.
As we were leaving, an unfamiliar car stopped and an unfamiliar man got out.
“This used to be where my Aunt Vendata lived,” he called out.
He, too, had come home and was looking for familiar places and familiar people’s faces, up and down the streets of what used to be a familiar town.
“Korea is amazing,” Jana reports. “Even in big cities like Seoul, it is very quiet. There is no traffic noise or sirens, no crowds of people jostling. Most of the cars are electric. There’s no homeless on the streets or trash on the sidewalks. In fact, it’s hard to even find a trash can.”
I tried to imagine a city without trash blowing in the wind or a nation of people who carefully picked up their own trash. I couldn’t.
“We spent all of our time in super metro urban areas,” my grandson told me. “Everything was very modern.”
And that’s what I saw in the pictures — carefully manicured gardens, beautiful high-tech high-rises, fluidly flowing pristine thoroughfares.
Everywhere you turned, there were architectural wonders, right down to the public toilets with warmed seats and soothing music.
“Could you imagine living there?’ I asked my children.
“Oh, yes,” came the answer. “For one thing, it’s safe there.”
Today, I, too, have been traveling. I’m listening to their stories as we make our way through eight lanes of noisy traffic, my son-in-law muttering at careless drivers while news of the latest mass shootings plays on the radio.
We are headed toward a place on the side of a mountain that I once called home for more than 30 years, on another day in the country.