Liquor Store Baby: It's so hard to say goodbye

Danny Cho, June 13, 2016, 6 p.m.


If there was one person that I had to pinpoint as my role model, aside from my parents, it would be my Grandmother (Halmoni). She was an extraordinary woman that really kept her family together through many terrible events. Originally Halmoni and her family lived in North Korea. But when there was news of a potential war between North Korea and South Korea, my halmoni gathered up her eight children and her servants and decided to head to a relative’s house in the south. My granddad was out hanging out with friends he wasn’t part of this mass exodus. However, my halmoni left directions for my granddad to hide in a barrel of rice until the coast was clear. So that is what he did. He stayed in a barrel of rice for 3 days. When the coast was clear, he too found his way to his family.

The thing is, my halmoni was pretty well off in the North, but when she went to the South, she came with virtually no money. So she worked by making rice cakes (dduk) on the street and selling them. This is how she kept all her children and her servants alive. So slowly, she made money and saved up and again had enough to buy a house. She sent about 5 of her children through college. She really ran the household more than my grandfather. If you still can’t picture what kind of woman she is, then go rent 'Soul Food' the movie. She was exactly like Big Mama in the film, minus being black.

Well Halmoni moved to the US in the late 1970’s. Eventually, most of her family moved to the US too in search of more opportunities. Back then, the US was very much known as the Land of Milk and Honey. If you are not familiar with Korean History, let me just say that South Korea was pretty shitty in the 1970s and 1980s. Military coup de tat, shitty economy, etc. Basically, they immigrated to the States just for a chance at a better life. For most of my family however, they didn’t really get to experience the milk and honey that was promised to them. Most of my uncles owned liquor stores in shitty neighborhoods. Well, when I was born, my Halmoni really treated me well. I was her favorite grandkid. Its probably because I was the first born child of her youngest child. I remember liking her more than my own mother many times. My halmoni also showed me how a person should live. Some people have the bible or religion but I had my halmoni.

She lived in an assisted housing program in Downtown LA with my granddad. My granddad was like that cool playa type you see in blaxploitation movies. He was always dressed like a G. He smoked cigarettes out of a pipe. He also drank a glass of Chivas Regal after every meal. My halmoni was always the warm grandmother that always did everything for me. When I was 5, I went to my first taekwondo tournament. I was unbelievably nervous and I kept on going to the side to throw up. Then I remembered what my grandmother always told me. “No one in this world is better than you. No one is worse that you. Its all about how much you want it and how much you work for it.” Well I did lose that tournament but her words still ring with me today.

I would have to say the saddest moment of my life was in the 8th grade when my beloved halmoni passed away. I felt like the only person that I could count on to be supportive of whatever I wanted to do just left my side. I remember crying profusely at her funeral. But every now and again I see my halmoni in my dreams. She continues to tell me to work my ass off if I want to do anything. So halmoni, I know I haven’t been the good person you always wanted me to be but I want you to know that I still will do my best. 

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