Grandmas of Springtime

Stories about home and food written by a woman: Meeting old pixies

Kim Hye-ryeon 2020-05-16

Old age, come naively like this


In the morning, I go to the backyard to pick shepherd’s purse. The soft and smooth earth has an abundance of it. The sunshine warms my back as I dig up the soil and pick shepherd’s purse, and I feel strange satisfaction from it. Or should I call it “fullness”?


▲ Shepherd’s purse is blooming in the field.  ©Kim Hye-ryeon


Recently, a Buddhist prayer room that looks like a palace was built on the street behind my house. A grandma who lives in a humble, old-fashioned house across from the room is now “commuting” to the senior community center. She always travels on this street at this time. Today, she is using a cane instead of a baby carriage. Her back is hunched perpendicularly, and she is wearing a pink muffler around her head.



I must say it loudly. She has a hearing problem.


“Do you have shepherd’s purse?” she asks.



“Great. You should eat it before the flowers bloom. You can’t eat it once it wises up. It becomes tough.”

“Ah, yes…”


Then she stops and comes to the field, a few furrows away from where I am picking shepherd’s purse. While I watch her in bemusement, she lowers her bottom and starts to pee on the ground. Slowly, in a relaxed and comfy pose in the cozy sunlight… She is naive like a frolicking child. As she rises after finishing, she observes the shepherd’s purse under her feet and says:


“Uh-oh, it is already too wise…”


With her pink muffler fluttering in the air, the grandma walks further and further away with her cane. Her drained little body has no weight to it, like a falling flower petal.


I stare for a moment like I am bewitched, but then I burst into laughter. Shepherd’s purse “wises up”? That’s a brilliant expression. Wise shepherd’s purse gambols before my eyes, waving its white flowers and saying “You can’t eat me. I’m tough, I’m tough.” How innocent she is to pee in the middle of the field with no shame at all! And her appearance from behind when she disappears while fluttering her pink muffler! She is so lovely that I want to hug her tight, and so wise that she resembles a wildflower.


Watching the grandma from behind, I see an image of a frolicking girl in a pink dress coming in and out and overlapping with her.  


 Come, come,

 Old age, passing time.

 Come naively like this.

 Come wisely like this.


 I feel cheerful after meeting the grandma this morning.


▲ A grandma from the village is going home.  ©Kim Hye-ryeon

Being nonchalant as if there is no hardship in this world


Looking back, my view on grandmas has changed. Several years ago, old women throughout the world were merely old women to me. I did not recognize them as unique individuals. I only saw them as “old”, and the old were an unspecified mass of people. But now, I’m starting to see the individuality of old women. I’m starting to detect their gestures and words.


Just like in any other rural village, there are a lot of old women in this town. One of the grandmas from the inner part of the village looks like an old chief. When she passes, the wind also seems to follow her in dignity. It looks like she is well past her mid-eighties, but her back is straight and her walking posture is full of confidence. On her own, she plants buds, roots out weeds, and tends a farm that stretches over hundreds of square meters. Every time I see her, I greet her loudly and clearly like a child in order to win favor with her, but she always treats me like a stranger.


“Who are you…?”


“Grandma, I moved into the house down that way, by the two towers.”


“Ah, is that so? I appreciate that a young person like you says hello to an old person like me.”


She exchanges polite remarks and moves on. She has no interest in my desire to win favor. I give her a ride home when I see her lethargically sitting in a pharmacy in the town center, but she does not make a fuss about it the next time I see her. When she holds a cigarette in her mouth and looks at the mountain in the distance, you can feel grandeur from every part of her body like you are looking at the great outdoors.


On the other hand, a grandma who lives across from Namsan Market is tidy like her house. Her house is neatly decorated, and she has a slender build and wears natty clothes. She takes a walk with her cane every day. She stops while passing our farm and watches M building a fence around it and says:


“Ah, you look so lovely doing that.” 


An acquaintance of mine, who lives on the other side of the mountain in a village called Naenam, said an old woman from his village saw him working on a bamboo fence and said, “My goodness, you’re doing it so adorably.” My acquaintance is huge. But to these grandmas, big, grown men look “lovely” and “adorable” when they work. Aren’t their ways of seeing life remarkable? Hahaha.


And then, there is this grandma who walks from Baeban-dong to Namsan village to tend a farm. They are almost three or four bus platforms away from each other, but she travels on foot every day. She also corrected my clumsy sickling when I started to farm several years ago. One day in April, I ran into her on her farm.


“Isn’t it exhausting to farm?”


“What’s exhausting about it? The mountain gives you a tonic when pine pollen is in the air, and the soil gives you food. Just by walking around, you get to have all the healthy stuff.”


As if there is no hardship in life, this grandma comes to the farm in the morning with a lunchbox, receives the tonic from the mountain and food from the earth, and goes back home in the evening. That nonchalant attitude must not have been formed overnight.


▲ Magnolias. White creatures that seem to be flying into the sky.  ©Kim Hye-ryeon


Next to Seochulji Pond, there is a grandma who lives with her friend who is now her tenant. The grandma is eighty-nine years old this year, but she is still vigorous except that she has lost her hearing a little bit. On the table in her kitchen, her son from far away left a memo out of concern: “Things you should never do.” The memo is filled with things like, “Do not work on the farm, do not eat jjajangmyeon, do not have instant coffee.” And the grandma says:


“Good grief! Why not tell me I should die? If I can’t work on a farm, isn’t that the same as being dead? What should I do when my body simply travels to the farm when spring comes? I can’t stop hoeing, because I would miss the greens. And it’s so fun to have a bowl of jjajangmyeon after going to a bathhouse with my village friends, so how can you tell me not to do any of these things?”


Like tiny flowers that are blossoming in her garden, the grandma’s small eyes twinkle playfully in her old and wrinkly face.


Elegance like a wildflower, wisdom like the wind


The fact that I can detect the grandmas’ uniqueness reveals that I am getting old. It must also be because I have grown more sensitive to little and hidden things in nature. Is it not great news that I am slowly learning wisdom like the wind and elegance like a wildflower, things that are hidden behind the big and flashy things of the world?


In the evening, I take a walk around the village. White magnolias are splendid in the garden of the traditional house where a small grandma with white hair lives. In the darkening sky, they are stunning like white creatures that are flying into the sky. This spring, everything feels earnest and deep. And this is why this spring feels unfamiliar.


By Kim Hye-ryeon, the writer of School Bell is Ringing and A Man’s Marriage and a Woman’s Divorce, is starting a new series for Ilda. She will discuss everyday life as a woman, the journey of finding life’s fundamental meaning, and the epiphanies and enjoyment encountered along the way.

Published  April 10, 2017

Translated by Shyun J. Ahn


*Original article:

기사입력 : 2020-05-16


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