From: The Case for Grace
Here was a child not much older than a toddler, cast adrift in a frightening and dangerous place that was predisposed to reject her – a world without grace. “You must have been panic-stricken,” I said.
“Not at first. I thought, I’ll stand here on the platform, and my uncle will come for me. But when evening came, the trains stopped. The trainmaster came out and asked me what I was doing there. I told him I was waiting for my uncle – and that was the first time someone called me a toogee,” she said, almost spitting out the epithet.
“What does that mean?”
“It’s a very nasty word, like using the n-word today. It basically means half-breed or child of two bloods, and yet it’s more than that. It sort of means garbage, dust, bastard, alien devil – it has all those connotations. It’s odd – I’m sure my mom must have given me a name, but I can’t remember it.”
“And so that became your name, in a sense.”
“Yes, it was like my identity began that day with toogee – garbage, bastard. That was what people called me.”
“What happened next?”
“The trainmaster shooed me away, so I left and found an ox cart that was leaning up against a wall. I crawled in there the first night. I gathered some straw around me and opened the parcel and ate some food my mom had given me. I tried to sleep, but I remember hearing the dogs, the strange noises, the rustling sounds. I was scared, and yet I wasn’t overly panicked.”
“Even at that young age?”
“I trusted my mom, and somewhere in my mind I thought my uncle would come.”
I hesitated before broaching the next question. Finally, I said, “Today, as you look back, do you think there ever really was an uncle?”
She didn’t flinch. “Honestly, I have no idea. It could be that she really was entrusting me to someone and I simply made a mistake by getting off at the wrong station. But in those days in Korea, it wasn’t uncommon for mothers to abandon their children, especially if they were biracial. Sometimes they couldn’t take the harassment, the social stigma, and being cruelly ostracized by others. They often left the children in train stations or other public areas.”
“So to this day you don’t really know your mother’s intentions?”
Her eyes were downcast. “No, I don’t,” she said. Her eyes met mine again. “But I want to think the best of her. I have to, don’t you see? I guess all orphans think of their mother as a princess. Still, she was under a lot of pressure, there’s no question about that. Her whole future depended on it.”
“I understand,” I said. All of us, it seems, want to believe our parents have the best intentions. “That day at the train station started an odyssey for you. How long did it last?”
“I was basically on my own for at least two to three years. If I had stayed in the city, organizations were starting to rescue biracial children, but I was always in the mountainsides and villages.”
A small child wandering aimlessly for years – what had she faced? My thoughts went to little Penelope, my cute granddaughter with the quick smile and spontaneous love for life. She’s so protected, so innocent, so tenderhearted – and so dependent on her family for everything.
“I’ve got a granddaughter who’s four years old –,” I began.
“Oh, I do too!” she exclaimed.
“Then you know what I’m going to ask. You probably look at her and think, How in the world did I survive at age four? How did you manage to survive?”
“Only the Lord, I think. One thing about Third World children is that they don’t have the pampering that our grandchildren do. Sometimes they don’t have the degree of nurturing that our children do. Often, from the time they’re little, they’re sort of raising themselves. My mother had been busy in the rice fields, so she wasn’t there to take care of me all the time. So that in itself was a blessing. I was already a bit self-sufficient.”