Sparky Remembers

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Memoir  |  House: Seung Geel Hong

Despite the fact that Sparky and Paul were racially different, they could not have been better matched as sister and brother. From the moment they entered each other’s life, they regarded one another as true siblings; and this close relationship would endure throughout their lives.

Sparky Remembers

First Edition

By Hong, Seung Geel

© 2019 by Hong, Seung Geel

All rights reserved

ISBN:  978-0-359-68750-3

Disclaimer

The following story was inspired by true experiences; but the names of persons, organizations, and locations were changed to protect the privacy of everyone involved.  Therefore, any similarity between any of the names in this story to any known individual, whether living or dead, is purely coincidental.

Hong, Seung Geel

Introduction

Despite the fact that Sparky and Paul were racially different, they could not have been better matched as sister and brother.  From the moment they entered each other’s life, they regarded one another as true siblings; and this close relationship would endure throughout their lives.

1.At the Hospital

Sparky Castlebury (age 62) entered the surgical lounge and seated herself near the north window, where the natural lighting was more comfortable than the artificial lighting near the door.  She looked at the recently installed Flat-Panel television on the wall in attempt to calm herself, but she could not pay attention to what was happening on the television.  Instead, her eyes quickly noticed the yet-to-be-repaired “bracket holes” on the wall (from the previous, heavy, CRT television) and determined that the television must have been installed only a short time ago.

 Incidentally, “Sparky” was not the woman’s real name:  Her name was Alice.  She got her nickname “Sparky” from the initials “A.C.” of her maiden name Alice Cantwell.  Hence, the nickname “Sparky,” as in AC Spark Plugs.

Anyway, Sparky’s adopted brother Paul (age 64) had suffered a heart attack, and Sparky and her husband Dennis had driven for six hours to see Paul.

Dennis was outdoors smoking, and therefore Sparky had to sit alone.  Sparky looked in the direction of the television, but she was completely oblivious of the program that was airing.  Her mind drifted back to the year 1955 and remembered the first time she and Paul met, the day that Paul entered her young life.  For the next five or six minutes, Sparky re-lived some of the more important moments that she and Paul had shared during the past 58 years.

Sparky and Paul were seven and nine years old respectively in April of 1955.

It had taken two years for Sparky’s parents to make the necessary arrangements to bring Paul to the United States from Korea, and today (April 27) was the day for Sparky and her parents to pick up Paul from the airport.  They took along a Korean college student, named Ken, as their interpreter.

Incidentally, Paul was originally named Dae-Jung (pronounced Deh Jung), which supposedly means “great and righteous, honest.”

Anyway, at the airport, Sparky’s family and Ken noticed many photographers who were waiting for the next airplane to land, and Sparky’s mother commented:

 

“Somebody important must be coming on the same plane that Paul is coming on.”

 

Then, Sparky’s parents learned that the photographers were waiting for a Korean orphan to arrive, which made the parents feel proud yet somewhat uneasy.

About 45 minutes later, the airplane landed and its door opened, and Sparky’s father and the interpreter (Ken) walked briskly onto the tarmac to receive Paul.

Paul was the last passenger to exit the plane, and as soon as Paul stepped onto the wheeled stairway, the photographers began to take pictures.

As Paul began to walk down the stairs (on crutches), interpreter Ken hurried up the stairs and introduced himself (and Sparky’s father) to Paul (in Korean).  Ken, then, extended his arms to help Paul come down the remaining stairs.

Unfortunately, Paul mistook Ken’s intention:  Instead of interpreting Ken’s extended arms as “helping hands,” Paul believed that Ken intended to carry him down the stairs.  Hence, Paul released his crutches and reached for Ken.  He (Paul) fell into Ken’s arms and caused Ken to lose his balance and stumble (backward) two or three steps.

As Ken was stumbling down the stairs, Sparky’s father and two of the nearest photographers rushed forward to help him:  Father supported Ken’s back while the photographers supported Father’s back.  All the while, Ken held onto Paul for dear life.

After Paul was safely carried down the stairs, Sparky’s family was led to a makeshift photo studio (still at the airport), where photo-lights seemed to be everywhere.  And after about 15 minutes of waiting under the hot photo-lights (which seemed like forever to Sparky and Paul), the photographers took pictures until they were completely satisfied, and Sparky’s family then set out for home.

On the way home, Sparky learned why Paul needed to use crutches.  (He was wearing an artificial leg as well.)

According to Paul, during the second year of the Korean War, American soldiers arrived at Paul’s village one sunny morning to escort the people to another place.  A Korean interpreter explained that trucks were waiting for them several miles away.

Hence, the villagers abandoned their homes-and-livestock and marched toward the trucks.

Then, as the villagers were being loaded onto the trucks, an explosion injured many of the villagers, possibly even killed some of them.

As for Paul, he lost his left leg above the knee, and he almost lost his right leg at the knee joint.

For almost a year, Paul did not speak:  His mind was conscious of everything that was happening all around him, but the trauma from the loss of his family (as well as the trauma from the loss of the use of his legs) caused Paul to withdraw himself from the others.

Paul would have to undergo three surgeries to regain partial use of his right leg.

About a year-and-a-half after the explosion, Paul encountered a below-knee amputee teenager from his village (while in a hospital).  Paul learned that his favorite sister (the younger one) had lost her foot and ankle, and she had married approximately nine months earlier. . . .

 

Back in the United States, during Paul’s first evening-meal at his new home, Sparky helped Paul to solve his first major adjustment-problem in his new country.

During the meal, Mother served a glass of milk to everyone at the table, and unbeknown to Paul’s new family, approximately 70% of the world populations have trouble digesting milk after the age of six:  Only Western Europeans and their descendants have better luck.

As for Paul, he occasionally had sampled formula that he had taken (one can at a time) from a supply room in Korea, but he never had tasted refrigerated fresh whole milk before.  And when Paul tasted the cold milk, he began to experience severe nausea and nearly vomited.

Mother and Father could not understand why Paul refused to drink the milk, and they tried to explain that all people needed milk to stay healthy.

However, Paul refused to drink the milk.  He simply stared at it and tried to keep himself from vomiting.

Then, Sparky suggested that Paul might drink the milk if sugar were added to it.  Therefore, Mother put three heaping teaspoonfuls of sugar to the milk so that Paul could drink it without vomiting.

It would take nearly a year for Paul to be able to drink a glass of milk with only one teaspoonful of sugar in it.  Even then, Paul often would have to hurry into the bathroom so that he could “dry-heave” for five or ten minutes.

Anyway, for the next day or two after Paul’s arrival, photographers and news reporters visited the Castlebury family.  The photographers took pictures of the family both inside and outside the house.  Most of the pictures were taken with the use of sturdy tripods and large flashbulb units.

Eventually, Mother decided that too much attention was not in Paul’s best interest, and she refused to receive any more photographers and news reporters.

Many years later, Paul would insist that some of the stories written by the news reporters were not accurate.

For instance, one reporter wrote that a Communist machine-gunner had killed Paul’s parents and then shot off Paul’s leg.  Another reporter wrote that enemy planes had dropped bombs on Paul and the other villagers. . . .

Interestingly, Mother and Father both refused to believe Paul’s account of his experience.  They felt that Paul was too young at the time to have accurate memory, and therefore they believed that the news reporters’ account of Paul’s experience must be true.

Sparky’s memory fast-forwarded a couple of years, and she remembered how her mother had tried not to show any favoritism.

For example, Sparky and Paul had to go to bed at the same time, which meant that whenever Paul would graduate to a later bedtime, Sparky would automatically get to stay up later as well, even though she was two years younger than Paul was.

Thinking of such “impartial” arrangements, Sparky could not refrain from pressing her lips together and giggle inwardly, because she knew that she had received the better part of such arrangements.

Meanwhile, Paul had to deal with dyslexia, a learning disorder that was almost unknown to the public at the time.  Whenever Paul would make mistakes because of confusion or misunderstanding, many (including teachers, friends, and Mother) would usually accuse him of being careless, not trying hard enough, or making mistakes to get attention.  As for Sparky’s help toward her brother, she would do her best to help him to understand what he was reading.

Then, during Paul’s teenage years, he began to experience breathing difficulty whenever he would be exposed to irritants such as perfume, cigarette smoke, air pollution, etc.  He would also experience occasional seizures, breathing stoppage, and even convulsions during sleep.

Therefore, at night, whenever Sparky would hear disturbing sounds coming from Paul’s bedroom, she would hurry into the room and shake him awake to get him to breathe normally, which would bring Paul out of seizures and/or convulsions.

Of course, Paul also had to deal with the same hardships that nearly everyone else in the world had to deal with:  problems associated with being a teenager, finding suitable employment, not having enough time and/or money to satisfy all one’s needs and wants.

When Paul started dating and then began working, he sometimes had to deal with racial prejudice, which was something that Sparky could not understand; because even though Paul was Asian and Sparky was White (which was quite obvious to outsiders), Sparky somehow failed to notice any difference between Paul and herself.  As far as Sparky was concerned, it was almost as if racial differences did not even exist.

In any event, the parents usually ignored most of Paul’s problems, because the problems were the type that most people normally tried to hide.  Moreover, the parents did not feel that Paul was in any real danger.

At age 22, Paul began to have problems with his digestive system.  Then, a year later, in order to save Paul’s life, a surgeon removed part of the intestine.  Therefore, for the rest of Paul’s life, he would be restricted to a bland diet, and he could never be very far away from a rest room.  Otherwise, Paul would have exposed himself to embarrassing personal “accidents.”  Such life was inconvenient, but Paul was thankful that he still was alive and was able to work at certain types of jobs that were near rest rooms.

Sparky helped Paul throughout her entire life, and at times, it was stressful for her.  Nevertheless, Sparky enjoyed helping her brother, and she routinely helped him to find employment.  She sometimes even arranged dates for him.

Sparky recalled that, as for Paul’s love life, he and a woman named Donna married at the age of 37 and 34 respectively, but the marriage lasted only 15 months.  Paul did not earn enough money to sustain the marriage:  They often could barely afford groceries after paying their rent and the other monthly expenses.  Therefore, Donna’s family eventually encouraged Donna to divorce Paul and look for a husband who could be a better provider.  Paul would never marry again.

Sparky believed that, because of Paul’s many difficulties, his life had been very challenging.  She also believed that, because of her continual help, she possibly had prevented Paul from getting into serious troubles.  And she inwardly credited herself for having made Paul’s life somewhat easier to bear, but she never made Paul feel that he was indebted to her.

Sparky’s mind, once again, drifted back to the year 1955, and she recalled a particular incident that she completely had forgotten all these years.  The incident occurred during Paul’s first month in the United States. . . .

Then, as Sparky began to relive the incident, her husband Dennis seated himself beside her and explained:

 

“According to the nurse at the nurses’ station, things are going well, so Paul should be out of surgery anytime now.  And unless something unexpected comes up, he should be able to go home in about three days.”

 

Sparky exclaimed:

 

“Wonderful!  Maybe he’ll come out of this okay!”

 

Dennis gave a nod of agreement and said:

 

“I’m sure he will, Dear.  I’m sure he will.”

 

Then, Dennis asked:

 

“What were you thinking when I came into the room?  You seemed to be deep in thought as if your mind were a million miles away.”

 

Sparky wanted to answer her husband immediately, but she could not do so.  On hearing his question, Sparky’s mind instantaneously recalled something that Paul had told her when they were teenagers:  Paul had claimed that he had seen Dwight D. Eisenhower when he (Paul) was living at the orphanage in Korea.  And of course, nobody believed him . . . except Sparky.

Sparky asked her husband:

 

“Sweetheart, I just now thought of something, so let me ask you a question before I forget:  Paul once claimed that he saw Dwight Eisenhower before coming to the United States.

Do you think it’s possible that Paul actually did see Eisenhower in Korea?  Or do you think that Paul’s mind somehow integrated American history into his childhood memory?”

 

Dennis thought for a moment and then replied:

 

“Well, Paul was very young at the time, . . . yet he does seem to have exceptional memory. . . .

You once told me that Paul’s village did not have any type of mass media:  no TV, no radio, no magazine, no newspaper. . . .  And the villagers got their news from visitors or from those who happened to be traveling through the village, which means that Paul and the other villagers had to develop (and depend on) their memory much more than we ever did.

So, that being the case, Paul must have seen someone who, at the least, looked like Eisenhower. . . .”

 

Just then, a nurse entered the room and informed Sparky and Dennis that Paul was out of surgery, and they could see him as soon as he wakes up.

Sparky now could breathe easier.  The worst was over:  Her brother was finally “out of the woods.”

Sparky and Dennis stayed at the hospital until the end of visiting hours.  And three days later, they drove Paul home and got him comfortably situated before setting out for their trip home.

2.On the Way Home

After they had traveled for about half an hour, Dennis asked:

 

“You never did tell me what was going through your mind in the surgical lounge.  I had commented that your mind seemed to be a million miles away.

Do you remember?”

 

Sparky thought for a moment and then answered:

 

“Yes, I do remember your asking me, but now I’ve forgotten almost everything about what I was thinking.

Strangely, when I was all stressed-out over Paul’s heart attack, my memory was very clear:  In only five or six minutes, I was able to recall so much of what Paul and I had shared during our lives.  But, now, my long-term memory is almost blank. . . .  But wait!  I just now remember what I was thinking.  It happened during Paul’s first month in the United States.

Around nine o’clock one Saturday morning, we had set out for the amusement park, approximately 45 minutes away.  And our parents explained to Paul that, in the United States, he was only eight years old, not nine.  The reason for the difference is because, in certain parts of the world (including Korea), the age of the infant begins at conception instead of at birth.  In other words, the baby gets credit for being in the mother’s womb (the uterus).

Therefore, the time that Paul had spent in his mother’s womb was rounded off to a full year.  So, in Korea, Paul was already a year old when he came into the world.

On the other hand, we in the United State don’t start counting until the baby is born.

Of course, Paul did not understand the English language well enough to make any sense of the explanation.  Moreover, because of his innocence, he probably could not understand why people everywhere in the world did not think the same way.

Nevertheless, Paul understood that he somehow had acquired a new age along with his new name!

Incidentally, Paul had to learn to speak-and-write his individual name (Paul) ahead of his family name (Castlebury).  This is because much of the world populations, including Koreans, place their family name ahead of their individual name.  Therefore, in Korea, Paul’s name would be spoken-and-written as Castlebury Paul instead of Paul Castlebury.

Anyway, at the park, Paul and I rode the children’s rides:  the pony ride, the roller coaster for children, the train, the merry-go-round.

Then, when we got off the merry-go-round, Paul pointed at it and began to speak in Korean.  And of course, none of us could understand him.  We only could make out the beginning and the ending of one word:

 

‘Uh . . . wuh!’

 

Since Paul seemed to have enjoyed the merry-go-round so much, Father purchased two more tickets and put us back on the merry-go-round, after which Paul, again, tried to describe the merry-go-round ride.  He again said:

 

‘Uh . . . wuh!’

 

Next, after lunch, we threw darts at balloons, threw balls to knock down stuffed cats, ate cotton candy, etc.  We then went back for more rides.

This time, our parents accompanied us on the Ferris wheel, the teacup ride, and the airplane ride.

And finally, our parents once again put us back on the merry-go-round, the ride that Paul seemed to enjoy the most.  And as before, as we walked away from the merry-go-round, Paul pointed at it and jabbered away in Korean:

 

‘Uh . . . wuh!’

 

Hence, Father purchased two more tickets and put us back on the merry-go-round.  And Paul, again, tried to describe the ride:

 

‘Uh . . . wuh!’

 

By now, I was sick of the merry-go-round, and I simply refused to ride it anymore.  So, Paul had to ride the last merry-go-round ride alone!

Finally, our parents feared that Paul would become spoiled from being allowed to ride the merry-go-round so many times.  And when Paul again began to jabber away in Korean, our parents tried to demonstrate that they could not afford to pay for any more rides:  Father opened his wallet and showed Paul that there was no more money.  (Actually, Mother had instructed Father to hide the money before showing Paul the empty wallet.)

Our parents, then, took our hands and led us away from the park.  All the while, Paul continued to speak in a language that none of us could understand:

 

‘Uh . . . wuh!  Uh . . . wuh!’

 

That evening, Mother telephoned Ken the interpreter and explained what had happened at the park:

 

‘Ken, we took the kids to the amusement park today, and I have a feeling that Paul thinks we’re rich.  He wanted to stay at the park and ride the merry-go-round forever.

We don’t want him to think that we’re made of money.  Could you please explain to Paul that we are not rich people?’

 

Mother, then, handed the telephone to Paul, whereupon Paul described to Ken what he had experienced at the park.  And Paul, then, handed the telephone back to Mother.

 

Ken explained:

 

‘Paul said that he enjoyed the day at the park, but he doesn’t understand why you made him ride the merry-go-round so many times.  He kept saying:

 

“Uh jee luh wuh!”

 

He mispronounced the word, but it means:

 

Dizzy!”’”

 

Sparky and Dennis laughed loudly for several seconds; and after Dennis had regained his composure, he shook his head slowly and commented:

 

“Wow, what a way to begin a new life in a new country.”

 

Sparky agreed and added her opinion:

 

“Yes, what a way to begin a new life, and it seems that Paul’s entire life has been one continuous experience of misunderstanding and unusual challenges.  And Paul always did his best not to complain or disagree with anyone, because if he did, he often would have to face unkind and insensitive remarks such as:

 

‘You should be grateful to be in this country.  Do you know how lucky you are?  You should be thankful for what you have, not complain about things. . . .’

 

When Paul was in the sixth grade, his class was having a birthday party for one of the students.  And, not wanting to be wasteful, Paul politely refused the piece of chocolate fudge that was offered to him.  And a fellow classmate asked Paul why he had refused to accept the fudge.

Then, when Paul explained that the fudge was too sweet for him, a second classmate (a female) blurted:

 

‘Too sweet?  How do you know it’s too sweet?  You didn’t even taste it!

You should be thankful for having the chance to get any (of the fudge).  There are people who are starving in many parts of the world, and they would be glad to get that piece of fudge! . . .’

 

Of course, Paul was embarrassed, and because he neither could think fast enough nor speak well enough to explain his decision, he had to endure the arrogant stares from many of his classmates.

Even our own parents often were harsh with Paul.

For example, they knew that Paul had breathing difficulty.  Yet they refused to stop their chain-smoking:  They believed that their smoking was uncomfortable to Paul, but not harmful to him.

They also believed that healthy family-members should not be expected to help the unhealthy members, because they (our parents) felt that those who had problems should be forced to adapt-and-survive on their own.

Therefore, I was not allowed to help Paul to get back onto his feet whenever he would fall down, which were several times a day when our parents forced Paul to learn to walk without his crutches.  It took several years for Paul to be able to go through an entire day without falling down.

In our parents’ defense, they had problems of their own:  They had serious marital problems, and they did their best to be good parents.

If I remember correctly, Father began to drink heavily just before my ninth birthday:  At approximately 8:00 p.m. one evening, Father came home with the smell of liquor on his breath, whereupon Mother screamed at him for over an hour.  And Father reached the breaking point and went berserk:  He opened the basement door and shoved Mother down the stairs.

A few seconds later, Mother marched up the stairs shaking her fists.  She pounded on the basement door and demanded that Father open the door for her, which Father did after about five minutes.

They screamed at each other for two more hours before they finally wore themselves out and went to bed.

Meanwhile, Paul and I were too frightened to make a sound.

Father’s drinking eventually led to drugs, which caused him to lose several jobs; and he was picked up by the police at least five times.

He later ended up in mental hospitals, three of them at least.  Therefore, Mother had to be the stronger marriage-partner, and she did her best to keep the family together.

Since Mother was such a tough fighter, I sometimes wonder if she unintentionally drove Father to drinking-and-drugs:  I don’t think she ever lost an argument against Father, at least I don’t remember.

It seems that Father never had the courage to stand up to Mother unless he had alcohol or drugs in his system.

Anyway, whenever Paul or I had any problems, there was no one to help us:  Father had his own problems with drinking, drugs, and marriage; and Mother had her problems with marriage and with earning enough money to keep us together.

Therefore, since our parents were unable to help us with any of our problems, they usually responded to our problems with denial.

For example, Paul once told Mother (on Pearl Harbor Day) that a truck-driver had driven off the pavement and had caused the truck to splash slush all over him.  And Paul believed that the driver’s action was intentional, because the driver had glared at him and had gestured to him with the middle finger during the incident.

In response, Mother questioned Paul and determined that he must be exaggerating or possibly just imagining, and she ordered Paul not to think about it.

Mother treated me the same way.  Approximately seven weeks after Paul’s experience with the truck-driver, I told Mother that my chemistry teacher was harassing me, and I feared that the teacher would give me a bad grade.

Mother questioned me just as she had questioned Paul, and she remarked:

 

‘You’re just over-reacting.  Don’t dwell on it; things could be worse. . . .’

 

Throughout the years, our parents separated three times.  They’re in their 80’s now, and they seem to be doing okay, thank goodness.

Anyway, I believe that Paul has felt lonely and insecure all his life, even though we never talked about it. . . .”

 

Before Sparky could continue, Dennis interrupted:

 

“Maybe he has, Dear; but you’ve been a big help to him, and his life would have been even more difficult if you had not been there for him.  So, you should be proud of yourself for what you did for him, and Paul is lucky to have such a considerate sister.

Besides, you must remember that your own childhood was no ‘bowlful of cherries’ neither. . . .”

 

Sparky paused for a moment and then responded:

 

“Thank you, Sweetheart, that’s very thoughtful of you to say so. . . .

You’re right; I did have my share of traumatic experiences during my childhood.

For example, one summer, Father was ‘between jobs,’ and we were living with Grandma and Grandpa at the time.

One Friday evening around 10:00 p. m, Father came home half-drunk, and he drank more before going to bed.

Then, during the night, Father entered my room and tried to molest me.

The next morning, Mother became upset with me and denied that such thing ever happened.  She claimed that I was only trying to get attention, and she ordered me to stop being a troublemaker.

About five years later, Mother hit my face so hard that I couldn’t open my mouth for several days.  She hit me because I came home an hour late after a Friday-night date.

My jaw never did heal properly:  I still can’t open my mouth very wide.

Anyway, at last, I think Paul’s life will be somewhat easier before long.  Since he’ll be retiring soon, he won’t be so stressed-out anymore, which means that he’ll be able to ‘take it easy’ for the rest of his life.

Yes, Paul is lucky to have me as his sister, . . . and I likewise am lucky to have him as my brother:  I became the type of person that I am because of my life-experience with Paul.

We’ve been very close ever since we entered each other’s life, and if our roles had been reversed, he would have done the same for me as I did for him.

Could any two siblings have asked for more?”


Submitted: May 10, 2020

© Copyright 2021 Seung Geel Hong. All rights reserved.

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