After Medical Center, the official treatment for my polio ended. Unofficially, it did not. My grandmother and aunt continued to take me to the acupuncture, moxibustion, herb medicines, and other folk remedies. I drank so much bitter herb medicines. My baby teeth went all bad. It appears that I had no teeth on the old pictures. They are all eroded and black. People said that the strong medicines ruined my teeth. I think there is some truth to it. Once I lost my baby teeth, I got healthy set of adult teeth. I haven’t had any cavities.
Grandmother put Chinese herb medicine in the earthen pottery, added water, sealed the opening with the paper which wrapped the herb medicine, and simmered it for a few hours. She poured them onto the hemp cloth, wrapped it around two wooden sticks, and squeezed it by twisting the sticks. I wanted to drink less of the bitter liquid and asked her not to squeeze it so hard. She wanted me to drink every drop of it. She twisted the sticks until her face turned red. She also believed in Shamanistic rituals. She burned paper charms, put the ashes in the water, and asked me to drink them sometimes. She also gave me various types of herbal teas. None of them worked. My condition did not get any better.
I have no memory of walking on my own. Even in my dreams, I don’t walk. Our dream cannot go beyond what we experience and remember. In my dreams, I just float around instead of walking. If you don’t know about something, you won't have any regret. I have lived as the crippled my whole life. I thought that was the life given to me and I accepted it. There is no need to greatly despair or overjoy. What appears to be a bad luck often brings good things, and the time of disappointment becomes an opportunity.
I separate what I can change and cannot. I do not cry over what I cannot change. I believe it is my responsibility to accept the life as it is and live up to it.
I encountered the first major disappointment in the 7th winter of my young life. A notice for me to register with the neighborhood elementary school came. My sister who was three years older than me attended Jae Dong Elementary School. Her 1st grade teacher was my aunt’s friend. She was petite and friendly. My aunt used to call her “peanut.” My aunt sometimes carried me on her back and visited the school. “Peanut” teacher told me she would put me in her class when I enrolled.
I believe my mother was ready to carry me to the school herself. But my father would not allow me to go to school. My mother and I cried and begged him to let me go to school. He would not change his mind. He said that the kids would make a mock of my disability and tease me.
It is important to understand what Korean society in 60’s was like. They did not have the word “disabled.” They used to call disabled person “crippled.” It was impossible to find a disabled person doing any kind of meaningful work in the society. Father probably thought, even if I finished the school, there was no opportunity for me. He rather wanted to leave me some money and raise my brother to take care of me. (I have never confirmed it with him.) No one could change his decision. He had the ultimate power over all of us at home then.
I had a school bag filled with school supplies for the spring semester. I carried it back and forth between the bedroom and living room, and learned Korean and simple math from my mother. She used to tell me and my brother stories every day. I found her secrets later. There were huge encyclopedia books at home. One of them had all of these stories. She read and recited them to us.
I learned how read and write from my mother. She gave me the foundation for the future learning.