He waited in dark for the family to fall in sleep. He closed his eyes and pictured the faces of his brothers and sisters. He did not know when to see them again.
He made up his mind after he overheard his father was going to the marketplace to sell the cow. He will leave when the day breaks. He will make lots of money in Manchuria, the new world with many opportunities, and buy his father a cow, pigs, and some land to farm. If any of his brothers and sisters want to continue with their education, he will take them to Manchuria and send them to the schools.
His father was very happy he got good money for the cow he raised. Father who had few drinks, mother who worked all day preparing for the upcoming memorial ritual for the ancestors, and the siblings who ran around all day were all in deep sleep. Any noise would not wake them easily.
He knew exactly where in the dresser his mother hid the money. He stood up, quietly opened the dresser and took out the money bag. He felt the money, took approximately the half, and put it in his pants pocket. He returned the other half in the bag and left it in the dresser.
His father was going to pay off the debt and buy another calf with the money. Since he took the half, father could either pay off the debt or buy a calf, not both. Hopefully, he could raise the calf and sell it again next year. His brother who was good at farm work will take care of the calf. He will make money in Manchuria and send some to his mother. She will be able to pay off the debt then.
He walked carefully not to step on his siblings and exited the room. He went to the barn and found the bag he hid the day before. There were his old clothes and few boiled potatoes in the bag.
He did not realize he was at the crossroads that would separate him from his family forever. He just hurried his steps with the hope and anxiety. That boy was my father.
I should start my father’s story with my grandfather.
My grandfather’s home town was Hong Won in Southern Ham Kyung Province. He was the second son of a poor farmer. He was adopted by a relative who did not have a son and he assumed the role of the first son. So, my grandmother became the wife of the head family. Every month, there was a memorial ritual for the deceased. She had to dry fish by hanging them on the pole. In summer, she had to fight with the flies and the hanging pole had to be raised even higher to avoid insects.
No one helped her. She had to cook while taking care of the young children. The mother-in-law showed up with her daughters. She criticized and found fault with the food she prepared. They ate after the ritual and took bags of food with them. There were not enough left-overs for the kids. The same thing repeated next month.
In the farm, children were valuable asset. They could help the farming. My father did not like the farm work. He wanted to become a train engineer. He was not able to advance to the technical school for train engineers. He started his plan to run away to the new world, Manchuria.