Author:Min-Sun Song (Sunny Song)
When I think of my grandpa, a certain scenery and smell first comes to my mind. A white wall and hallway in hospital’s ward and a smell of disinfectant spread lightly in there. In the midst of that moment, I used to be a naïve and excited child. The place was my playground, whether other people were sick or not. I used to p lay top-spinning game in the hallway all day long whenever I visited my grandpa. Also, it was the place where I met his last moments. Maybe that is the reason why I feel like I’m going on a picnic and also feel sorrow at the same time when I visit that hospital ward.
My grandpa was a colonel in ROK Army for several decades. He participated in the Korean War and had received more than 10 medals from government before he left the army. In the cabinet of his study, there were a number of medals and badges that he had been awarded while he was a soldier. The Order of Military Merit Taegeuk, Eulji, Chungmu, and Hwarang. Those were brilliantly shining and fascinating. To me as a child, the shiny medals and badges seemed like ‘Saylor Moon’ broches or ‘Pocket Monster Gymnasium’ badges.
Grandpa suffered from a quadriplegic for three years after having a stroke when I was eight years old. At first, he just couldn’t walk normally, but as time went on, his conditions worsened and finally he wasn’t able to speak at all. In my young mind, I didn’t like my grandpa as his conditions worsened. I didn’t recognize him when he drooled at his mouth when he is supposed to be the head of my family. There was something unnatural and awkward about the appearance of grandpa that I wanted to avoid and hide. When he sat next to me at dinner, I slipped away. Grandpa obviously knew I was ignoring him and trying to avoid him. But he didn’t express his sorrow at all.
When I was ten years old, I still didn’t respect grandpa that much. However I still liked appreciating his shimmering medals. One day, I sneaked into grandpa’s study and opened his cabinet secretly, stole the brightest medal. The medal was heavier than it looked. I put it in my back pocket and then got caught by my dad just before returning home. I had no choice but to give it back to grandpa and to apologize. I expected I would be punished. However, he wrote something on the whiteboard with his trembling hands and showed it to me. “It’s all right, sweetheart.”
Grandpa was getting sick as time went by. Domiciliary care became long-term hospital care. Every Sunday morning, I went to the hospital where grandpa was at. Childishly enough, I greeted grandpa quickly, and went out right away to play with my younger brother. We played Top-spinning, bingo, hide-and-seek, rock-paper-scissors, Gonggi(game with marbles), chanting, and treasure-hunt. We usually played at the hallway of hospital ward, the lobby on the first floor, and the outdoor terrace and the yard. The boring Sunday was gone when we played in the hospital. I was eleven years old and didn’t know anything serious. Back then, it was more important for me to play with my brother than to know and care about grandpa’s medical conditions.
My grandpa passed away that autumn. At his last farewell, I shook hands with my grandpa for the first time. His hands were hard and cold as steel. He gave me a present, and it was a medal-Taeguek Warrior’s Order of Military Merit- which I had tried to steal once from his room. I received it from the bottom of my heart. He also left a will note for me. “Be an excellent adult who treats the world without prejudice.”
After he left, I grew up little by little. I read many books ranging from literature to newspapers. I had also experienced various events and things. I also wrote a daily diary to reflect on myself, and had deep conversations with friends and comrades. Then I grew up, and gained a sense of consideration, an ability to understand others, and sensitivity to think about communities and society. As I grew up, I gradually began to realize what I did to grandpa when I was young and how sorrowful and hurt he would have been from my childish acts. The more I realize the gravity of behavior from the far past, the more I felt sorry and guilty for my actions and behaviors.
My growing pain is my grandpa. The weight of the medal was heavy and is still heavy like the weight of his absence. The will became a guideline of my life and a belief that should be kept in every aspects of my life. I tried to develop a sense of balance looking at the essence rather than being buried by its mere looks or appearances, when facing certain issues.
Hospital ward is a place where the patients’ lives are melted into. Some feel the regret of their last lives and some others feel the joy of having fresh start in lives. It is an intersection of emotions and a place where human affairs and history may be stored. My memories of youth are also is melted in the hospital ward. I’m still standing in the middle of the hallway, holding my grandpa’s medal. I will never forget him and always hold his medal in my hands.