Condensed Milk

My very earliest memory is of being left.

My mom and brothers were going on a picnic.  I would guess it was a trek with the larger family, to a cool spring that bubbled between large rocks. We wore what we had - underwear, a t-shirt, bloomers.  Some of us had bathing suits because we had some money.

She left me.  I was sick so I couldn't go.  She left me with our housekeeper, who cooked and cleaned. I suppose childcare and whatever else was asked of her came with the territory.  Run to the store.  Pick me up from school.  Watch a sick child.  Housekeepers were often illiterate or undereducated young women from the country side.  The countryside back then of rice paddies and thatched roofed houses on dirt roads.  Shacks, really.  You can romanticize thatch but in real life bugs and rodents found refuge there.  Dirt alleys.  Even Seoul had dirt alleys. The main roads were paved, but iIn the country, which was pretty much all of Korea except Seoul, it was dirt.  Dirt ditches.  Kids playing in the dirt.  Washed by the creek bed.  They came up to the city to find work as a domestic.  Stoking the stove with coal.  The heat from the stove lithe, snaking under the floor of the house.  The first radiant heat system.  She'd have to go to the soot-covered storage hovel behind the kitchen, use a 5-prong grip to pick up the large, round lozenges of coal.

My mom asked me what I wanted - a bribe.  I can still hear the impatience in her tone.  Commanding a brother to run and get me one.  She was clearly desperate to go.  Maybe because the other 3 children deserved it and couldn't cancel a trip because of 1?  I asked for condensed milk.  The creamy, sticky stuff that comes in a can.  I still love it.  And I still remember that moment, standing on the threshold of our courtyard house, watching my mom, my 3 brothers, dressed, waiting to make their exit.  It must have been expensive. The milk, I mean. I remember standing there, sucking on the can, crying, watching her leave me.

Checked the picture.  Nope.  I'm not there.  This must have been the trip.

I know I wasn't in Kindergarten yet, so I was pretty little.  If Boo were what? 4? If my child was too sick to be out of the house, would I leave him at home?  With the cook?  Would it matter if there were 3 others to care for?  All I knew was she left me.

1 comment:

Lora said...

oh, G(do you use your name here? I don't think so.
Oh, BbO
I have a memory of the first time I was left too. I blame most of my mental health problems and my entire character flaw of being a caretaker to people I can't really take care of on that time.

Maybe I'll write about it.
If not, I'll tell you all about it over pho. I might cry.

Don't say I didn't warn you