My Mama was “something else” as they say in the South. There is not enough space in this blog to tell you her whole story, but here is a short quip. Mama was very attractive and she knew it because EVERYONE told her so. I guess you could say she was vain. She ALWAYS lied about her age. I know that stereotypically many women lie about their age, but my Mama took it to the extreme.
At first it was out of necessity. She was born in a little village near Po Hang, South Korea. According to her, she ran away from home (and poverty) at age 14. She went to “the big city” to strike out on her own. She got a job with a family cleaning house and told them she was 16. It was hard work with very little pay. The “employer” abused her and held her pay making all sorts of excuses. Mama was basically an indentured servant. So she stole some of the silver telling herself it was her backpay, hopped on a train without a ticket, changed her name and moved to another city.
Next she was able to get a job in a restaurant as an assistant. She did all the dirty jobs like gutting fish, chopping vegetables, washing the pots and pans, but she was paid fairly. She saved and scrimped until one of her friends said she was moving near a US military base. She was told there were jobs to be had for pretty young girls and they paid in US dollars. Mom went along but was too young to work there as she needed official papers so in the meantime she helped another lady press uniforms. There was good money in that as well. The lady appreciated her help and paid her well. The soldiers were generous with tips for the pretty young lady who pressed their uniforms perfectly and had a great smile. One day a local Korean magistrate offered to fake documents so she could lie about her age and work for the US military. He wanted a good amount of money for his services of course. Being an gambler, she took him up on it. She saved up her money and he gave her forged documents saying she was 19 which was the minimum age the US military required at that time.
Mama got a job as a coffee runner at first. The soldiers had a girl go get them coffee from the mess hall. She would run from one building to another making sure the coffee never got cold even in the winter. They loved her hustle and her pretty face lit up the room when she came in. She did a great job and soon, she was hired on as a waitress at the NCO club wearing a micro mini skirt and her hair in a bouffant. I have no idea how old MAMA was by the time she got this very adult job. It was really hard following her story as she relayed it in broken English. I am pretty sure she was not 19 though.
She saved and scrimped and by the time I came along, she was able to buy a house and hire a full time “nanny” for me. That was unheard of for a single mom in 1967 in South Korea. As far as I know, she was 21 when I was born. If she was anything she was a hard worker. She had many faults but she was not afraid to work as long as she was making good money.
She married and moved to the US when I was 9 (yeah that was my real age – she did not lie about that LOL) and when she got her official documents of course she continued to use the age she had been going by. On every birthday Mama would ask for 25 candles no matter how old she was becoming. One day I realized I had NO IDEA how old my mother really was! People used to think she and I were sisters because I looked older for my age and she looked younger for hers. She LOVED it when people would tell us that.
Eventually age did catch up with her and her hard living and even harder partying wore her poor little body out. She died in 2014 entirely too young – but how old was she? I’m still not sure. I mean we put the age on her Driver’s License on her obituary but we really were not positive. As we worked our way through her items after she passed away, my sister and I found all sorts of papers. Not only had she changed her age, she had also changed her name several times. I guess that was needed as well. At last count we found 4 different names.
So now, we still do not know Mama’s actual age OR her real name. Not that it matters anymore. I mean, she was always just Mama to us and Daddy called her “Yobo” half the time (which meant honey or some sort of term of endearment in Korean). Most people called her Song which was her maiden name. As a military employee her family name was put on her name tag so everyone just called her Song. It continued until her death. Most people really did not even know her first name which is good because we don’t even know if it is real. LOL
I guess I could feel awkward about it or sad but I have never felt anything but a slight fascination at how freaking independent she was. She was flying the middle finger at life before it was cool to do so. That was pretty badass. She had a goal and she met it. She did not die poor – she was not rich but she was not improvished as so many of her peers in war torn South Korea had been. She raised two daughters who were college educated and she died in the comfort of her own home not wanting for anything. I don’t feel like it is my place to judge her for her decisions as it did not really “hurt” anyone. She did what she had to do to survive. So yeah, I might as well laugh about it.