The 40 Year Old Suit
October 22, 2015
It was on summer vacation when I saw something wrapped with yellow silk in the drawer at my grandparents’. My grandfather was getting ready to go out, opening the drawer to take something out.
“Grandpa, what is this?” I asked curiously.
“It is a suit. It belongs to your uncle, Kiun,” he answered reluctantly. (None of my uncles were named Kiun!)
And he took the dark blue suit out, and let me touch it. It was the nicest suit that I had seen at the age of 10.
“Why are you keeping it? Why didn’t you give it to the uncle?” I asked back.
“I wish,” he said with a sigh.
He seemed to be lost in deep thought. Then, he started to explain who Kiun was. I was too young to understand what he was telling me about at that time. Yet, I felt surely that he was bringing out something significant and tragic, which made him suffer in his life.
My grandfather was born in a wealthy family in Sinuiju, North Korea. He was an intelligent (he graduated from a university in those days) and successful businessman who had a dedicated wife and six children. However, he didn’t get along with communism in North Korea because the government took away much of his property. He decided to move to Seoul, South Korea in the early spring of 1950. But, his parents were not healthy enough to travel to Seoul together. Besides, he had no place to live in and no jobs for a living in Seoul at that time. So, he took his wife and only five kids to Seoul. He planned to come back and bring his eldest son and his parents to Seoul as soon as he settled down.
“Dad, come back quickly!” That was all the 11-year-old boy asked his father who was about to leave.
“I will, Son! It won’t be long. Be good, and take care of your grandparents!” My grandfather tried to reassure his son—nobody, however, predicted it would be the last dialogue between my grandfather and his son.
A few months later, the Korean War broke out on June 25, 1950. My grandfather’s family had to flee from Seoul while his son and his parents were still waiting for him in North Korea. It took three years for North and South Korea to cease fire. Consequently, the Korea was clearly divided along the 38 parallel; North and South Korea have been separated ever since. No one has been allowed to travel to the other side. No one.
My grandfather was sweet, kind and patient. But, obviously he was in a lot of pain and guilt. He waited for the time to meet his eldest son again, and pay back the love that he couldn’t give his son as a father for more than forty years. He never gave up the hope that his son could come, and open the door some day, calling “Dad!” For that day, he prepared a nice suit for his son, and kept it in a drawer, wrapping it with yellow silk—that was what I saw!
It was a beautiful day in May when I visited my grandparents in my 20s. I always liked spending time in my grandparents’ garden, picking peaches and apricots because my grandfather had the green thumb: he grew many flowers, vegetables and fruits beautifully. That year, however, the garden was not as neat as before. My grandfather was too old to take care of it.
I was washing the dishes after dinner when my grandfather approached me with a lovely smile. He was holding a rose picked from his garden (though he had trouble walking).
“This is for you,” he said. “I love you, and thank you for the dinner that you prepared for me today.” He stroked my cheeks with his thick and rough palm, but it was the sweetest moment I had ever had.
I couldn’t even say, “I love you, too. Grandpa!” I remained speechless.
The following year, he died--in 1996. He knew he couldn’t make it to see his son in this world. So, he left all his property and the suit in his will to his eldest son who he had lost contact with for more than 40 years, although nobody knew whether his son was still alive. However, that was all my grandfather could do for him.
Now, my mother has been keeping “the 40 year old suit” in the top drawer, instead of the bottom, showing her respect for her big brother since my grandfather died. It became old and faded.
I heard about my uncle, Kiun, more from my mother later. Actually, my grandfather asked the youngest son to wait and take care of his parents at that time, but the youngest son started to cry, and refused it. And then, his eldest son voluntarily suggested that he would stay and take care of his grandparents, instead of his younger brother. My uncle’s good heart kept him apart from his family (forever).
I really appreciate that I had a wonderful grandfather. Thanks to him, I learn what missing and waiting for loved ones means. He also taught me how to show love to someone. I say to my grandfather, “Don’t worry, Grandfather! Now, my mother and I are waiting for your son, Kiun. The house and the suit you left will return to the rightful owner sometime soon.”