To Till, To Plant | 경작하다

Charlotte Desprat
Dec 28, 2016 · 8 min read

By Sabina Lee, PC’17

ORIGINAL

나의 뿌리는 통쨰로 뽑혀, 시골 청년의 강인한 손과 젊은 어머니의 다정한 보살핌 하에 이 땅에 다시 심어졌다. 겨울 외에는 햇빛이 강렬하다. 비와 눈이 일상인 이곳에서, 나는 미국산 GMO 우유, 클리어 플라워 베이커리의 잡곡빵, 그리고 콩나물국을 먹으며 무럭무럭 자랐다.

우리 가족은 부엌의 창밖으로 보이는 차고 앞 꽃사과나무처럼 삽목되었다. 차고 앞 꽃사과나무는 원래 다른 나무의 가지에 불과했다. 가지채 꺾인 녀석은 학창시절 내 라이벌의 집과도 가까운 춥고 단단한 대지에 심어졌다. 그 후로 녀석은 훌룡하게 자랐다. 봄비에 젖은 어두운 가지들이 새하얗게 만개한 꽃사과나무꽃 천막 아래 감추어져있다. 가장자리가 분홍빛으로 물든 꽃잎은 바람에 파르르 떤다. 꽃잎은 며칠 내로 바람에 흩날려, 온 마당을 꽃잎으로 수놓아 결혼식 피로연을 연상케 한다. 여름에는 남아있던 꽃봉오리들이 살이 오르고 복슬복슬 해지며, 곧 자그마한 잎에 싸인 단단한 열매로 변한다. 가을이 오면 잎이 말라 떨어지고, 마침내 모습을 드러낸 루비색 열매는 겨울을 대비해 남향하는 철새들의 여행길 양식이 되어준다.

어릴때는 꽃사과를 먹어보고 싶었다. 그게 미국에서 배운 삶의 방식이라 믿었다. 뒷마당의 사과나무에서 열매를 따 파이를 구워먹거나, 학교 버스에 앉아 한 입 베어물고 김이 서린 창문 밖으로 부모님께 손을 흔드는 것. 하지만 이 날이 되도록 꽃사과를 먹어본 적은 없다: 아버지께서 꽃사과나무 열매는 쓰고, 씨앗이 독을 품었다고 당부하셨기에.

문득 의문이 든다. 꽃사과는 꺽꽂이된 자신의 처지에 대해 복수를 꿈꿀까? 모체에서 꺾일때, 가지는 아파하는가? 새로운 땅에 정착해 환부에서 뿌리를 뻗어 내리는 것은 얼마나 어려운 일일까?

그래서 꽃사과는 달콤함을 찾아 온 이들에게 쓴맛과 독을 선사하나?

가끔은 어머니께서 언제쯤 미국을 한국보다도 자신의 집으로 여기셨을지 생각해본다. 어머니께서는 한국에서 몇년간 비서직에 계시다 아버지를 만나 보스턴으로 이민을 오셨다. 그녀는 항상 한국을 떠나고 싶어하셨다. 자신의 거처가 자신의 보금자리가 될 수 없음을 어떻게 알게 될까? 전후 서울은 급격한 산업화와 경제 발전으로 인해 몇년만에 알아볼 수 없을 정도로 달라졌었다. 발전에 대한 국가적 집착에 숨이 막힌 수많은 서울 시민들처럼, 어쩌면 어머니의 뿌리는 다시 심기 쉬웠을지도 모른다. 어머니께서 자주 내 걱정을 하시는 것 또한 도시에서 젊은 여성으로 살았던 본인의 경험에서 나온 것이라 믿는다.

아버지께서는 내가 어릴 때만 해도 매주 일요일 절에 가셨다. 아이들이 자라나고 온 가족이 더 바빠지자 자주 갈 수는 없게 됐으나, 아버지와 나는 하지, 조부모님의 기일, 그리고 석가탄신일에는 꼭 절에 간다.

조부모님의 기일에 아버지와 절을 갈 수 없을때마다 아버지께서는 화가 나신다. 아버지께서 조부모님을 기리는 것 만큼 내가 아버지를 기억하지 않을거라 걱정하시는 듯 하다.

아버지께서는 할아버지의 임종을 지키지 못하셨다. 타계 소식을 듣자마자 12시간 내로 한국으로 돌아가셨다. 여덟 남매 중 나의 아버지께서 부모님을 가장 사랑했다는 얘기를 들은 적이 있다. 그렇기에 미국으로 이민을 오는 것 또한 아버지께는 더욱 어려웠을테지만, 보스턴에서 세탁소를 운영하시는 큰아버지가 경제적 위기에 처하자 그를 도우러 뒤돌아보지 않고 고향을 떠나셨다. 네 딸은 근방 남자들에게 모두 시집을 가셨으니, 막내삼촌만이 농장에 남아 모든걸 관리하셨다.

할아버지의 타계 이후 농지는 모두 막내삼촌께 넘겨졌다.

이민 후 아버지께서 한국에 돌아가신건 세 번 뿐이다. 처음은 어머니와 결혼을 하러 가셨고, 두번째는 나의 오빠에게 자신의 고향을 보여주러 가셨다. 세번째가 할아버지의 장례식이었다.

1998년, 할아버지께서는 세 아들 모두 새로운 땅에 정착을 했는지 확인이라도 하시려는 듯 몇 달간 미국을 방문하셨다. 나는 할아버지에 대한 나의 유일한 기억을 가끔 떠올린다.

저녁시간이 되기 조금 전이었다. 부모님께서는 부엌에서 식사를 준비하시고 계셨고, 나랑 오빠는 위층에 할아버지와 있었다. 오빠는 이미 도망을 쳤고, 나도 할아버지와의 시간을 빠져나갈 궁리를 하던 차에 할아버지께서 나를 부르셨다. 나의 이름이 그에게 익숙하지 않다는게 느껴졌다. 혀끝에 나의 이름을 오래 머금으시며, 과연 마음에 드는 이름인지 결정을 못 내리신 채 내게 “한국 이름은 쓸 줄 아니?” 라고 물어보셨다. 나는 고개를 저었다. 할아버지께서는 나의 이름을 종이에 적으셨다. 나는 글자를 베껴 적었고, 할아버지께서는 고개를 끄덕이셨다. 그의 아들이 미국에서 낳은 딸이 그녀의 한국 이름을 알아볼 수 있다는 것이 만족스러우셨나보다.

우리는 얼마 전 근처 재래시장에서 꽃사과 잼을 처음으로 발견했다. 어쩌면 인내심을 가지고 꽃사과나무에게 물도 자주 주고, 간간히 애정을 담아 말도 걸어주다 보면 새빨간 꽃사과가 달게 변할지도 모른다. 아버지께서는 겨울이 오기 전에 우리 가족도 꼭 꽃사과잼을 만들자고 하신다. 잼이 충분히 만들어지면, 절에 한 병 가지고 갈 것이다.

TRANSLATION

As a first generation Korean American born and raised in Boston, Lee reflects upon her uplifted roots and the toll it has taken on her immigrant parents. Generations collide as she digs into the history of her father, the last of eighteen generations of farmers.

My roots were pulled up and replanted into this part of the world with the firm hands of a farmer’s son and the tender care of a young mother. The sunlight is strong, the rain and snow are plentiful. I have grown tall on American milk, multigrain bread from Clear Flour Bakery, and locally grown red apples.

From the kitchen, we can see our crabapple tree in our driveway, which started as a branch sliced off another crabapple tree and grafted to this one. The tree has since flourished. In the spring, its dark branches, wet from springtime showers, are hidden beneath a floating layer of white blossoms. The flower petals are tinged with pink edges and quiver in the wind. They blow away within a few days, petal by petal, littering our driveway like confetti and rice at the end of a wedding reception. In the summer, the remaining buds grow fat and fuzzy, swelling into hard fruit, enveloped in little green leaves. By autumn, the leaves dry out and fall off, exposing ruby red fruit for birds to pluck on their way down south for the winter.

When I was younger, I wanted to pick the fruit off the branches and eat it. Isn’t that the American life? Pluck the fruit off the apple tree in your backyard and bake it into a pie, or munch on it while waving goodbye to your parents from the foggy school bus window? But I never did. My father tells me that the fruit is usually bitter and the seeds are poisonous.

I wonder, is the fruit unable to grow sweet because of its replanting? Does it retaliate for the trauma it felt when the branch was torn from its trunk? Does it have difficulty anchoring itself in the new soil and growing roots from its aching wound?


How do you know that your home is not your home? My mother worked as a secretary before marrying my father and flying to Boston. She had always known that she wanted to leave even before she had left the country. Perhaps her roots were more easily transplantable; after all, she was born in postwar Seoul, where industrialization made the city unrecognizable. Capitalism trapped many Seoulites, especially women, who were expected to be master typists for great men, prolific mothers, and efficient housewives in size four jeans. She hopped on the plane when she was a few months pregnant with my brother. Ever since then, she has spent her days chasing after her two children; we waddled through this world eagerly as my mother rested on playground benches with spoonfuls of baby food. Already she saw that we could navigate this world better than she ever could, and so she feared that we would always run off and never return because we seemed to be fine without her nurturement.

My father, on the other hand, left Korea more reluctantly. He moved to America because his oldest brother, who ran a dry cleaner’s next to Harvard stadium, was facing financial trouble. When I was younger, we used to attend the local Buddhist temple in western Mass every Sunday. We’ve stopped our regular attendance since, but the two of us still go on special occasions: summer solstice, Buddha’s birthday, the anniversary of his mother’s death and, more recently, his father’s.

My paternal grandfather came to America in 1998 for a few months, and he is the only grandparent I have ever met. I possess just one memory of him. It was a little before dinnertime, and my parents were cooking in the kitchen. My brother and I had been upstairs with my grandfather, but my brother had managed to escape. My grandfather and I were alone. As I looked for a way to escape as well, he called for me: “가영아.” I could tell the name was unfamiliar in his mouth as he lingered over it, testing it out, deciding whether or not he liked it. “Do you know how to write your Korean name?” he asked. I shook my head. We sat down and he wrote my name out on a piece of paper. I copied the letters and he nodded with approval, satisfied that his son’s American born daughter would recognize her Korean name.

The eighteen generations of family farmers on my father’s side ended with my generation. Upon my grandfather’s passing, his entire estate was left to the youngest son, while the three older sons tried their luck abroad and the four daughters, who had gotten married to men living nearby, received nothing. The youngest son enjoyed gambling, and one day, he gambled the farm away. The land that had been with our family for centuries is now being developed as a set of apartment complexes.

Every time I visit Korea, my seven aunts and uncles spoil me with time, money, and attention, perhaps to compensate for not having seen me grow up. We enjoy lavish meals and trips to various cities and once my third aunt gave me her credit card to use for coffee and snacks for the whole summer. It is strange and marvelous to be engulfed by a large family the moment I step out of the Incheon Airport. I see my mother’s family far more often than my father’s, as the former live in Seoul and the latter still live on the outskirts, closer to the countryside.

My mother’s sisters are variations of her: loud speakers, hard of hearing, entertaining ranters and formidable hagglers at outdoor markets. My father is also reflected in his sisters, who are kind and gentle with low chuckles and twinkling eyes. Before I leave, I always make sure to visit my grandparents’ graves, and, on the way back home, my father’s childhood home, which is in ruins and slow reconstruction. Every time I go, I photograph the progress and show my father when I return home. He smiles and tells me stories of his childhood there and, occasionally, stories from when my parents lived there for a few months after their wedding, according to custom. Once, I told my father that I would repurchase the farmland so it would remain in the family. He has never forgotten this promise.


My father is allergic to the majority of American-bred apples, as is my brother. It’s OK. They have adapted. We tend to look for Fuji apples at the store. Every year, my father picks new seeds for our garden, and most recently, he has tried growing a variety of berries. He called a few weeks ago to tell me that they have tried making jam, and I asked him to try with the crabapples. He said the fruit is usually bitter and the seeds are poisonous, but a few variants, very few, grow sweet enough to eat. Perhaps, he continued, if we water the tree regularly and speak loving words to it now and then, the crabapples will turn ruby red in the fall and will taste sweet. He promised to make our own jam before I come home for winter break. If we make enough, I hope we will bring a jar to the temple to show my grandfather. If my father won’t let me taste it before we go, I’ll sneak a taste and perhaps some sugar or honey. I don’t know if ghosts can fly across oceans or taste food, but still, I would hate to be haunted by a ghost for giving him sour jam.

accent

the undergraduate multilingual magazine at Yale

Charlotte Desprat

Written by

accent

accent

the undergraduate multilingual magazine at Yale