The words “monsoon season” terrified me when I was little. Windswept storms would rage up in the Seoul summer, knocking out the electricity and filling the air with thunderclaps and rolling roars and the hammering of rain and hail. I would cower under tables and behind chairs in the darkness, my heart racing and my body shaking in raw fear. No one paid much attention to me, other than to mock me. “It’s just monsoon season, Carla,” my mom would reassure me, shaking her head and laughing. Which didn’t help me at all. At least that’s how I remember it, except for once.
It was a special day. Any day when I got to sleep over at Grandma’s house was special. We left the end of Skunk Hollow and marched down the road happily, side by side, my little hand in hers. We hadn’t gotten far when the wind picked up and a few drops of rain started to fall. Grandma was ready with her blue bamboo umbrella.
(That’s what I remember people using in Korea back in the early 1970’s. You’d see them everywhere, these flimsy bamboo umbrella frames covered with blue plastic.)
Just as Grandma opened the umbrella to hold over our heads, a strong gust of wind turned it inside-out and broke it. At the same time, there was a bright lightning strike right overhead and a deafening thunderclap, followed by a massive rolling peal of thunder, and then the storm dumped its load of water on us.
I crouched on the ground in a fetal position, sobbing in terror and unable to move.
I don’t remember Grandma being irritated or angry with me. She asked me to get up. I couldn’t. Then she spoke gently as she squatted down beside me. “Here. Climb on.” I climbed onto her back and hooked my arms around her neck, wrapped my legs around her waist. She clasped her hands under my butt and off we went, the way little kids are carried traditionally in Korea. “Oh-boh-bah,” in America we call it piggy back. Grandma carried me all the way to her home, through the soaking rain.
I was a little thing; I imagine I would have weighed somewhere between 30 and 40 pounds. But Grandma was very small too. I don’t think she ever weighed more than a hundred pounds. Standing as straight as she could, what with the damage caused by polio, back then she would have been about 4-foot-9 — a diminutive woman with bird bones. And if I reckon this correctly, she would have been about 60 years old.
But her granddaughter had need of her, so she carried me on her limping legs, slightly bent over to bear my weight better on her back. It never occurred to me that any of this was a physical challenge for her, as it must have been. She never made anything of it.
Instead, she told me cheerful stories and encouraged me not to be afraid as she trudged along. I felt her strength and courage come into me as my chest pressed against her strong back and my dripping wet head rested on her neck.
I don’t remember being much afraid of storms after that.