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Our Engagement

July 25, 2012

As I compile and edit Don’s writings, I am getting to know him afresh. During our courting days, we met almost every day after work at the bar of The Hay-Adams (hotel). I read his account about our engagement.

Then came July 25, 1979. The usual Hay-Adams martinis with Bombay gin, extraordinarily dry, were in our hands, and the playful words crossed between us, flying like a ping pong ball over the table, with speed and ferocity. I heard myself saying, “Here I am trying to ask you if you can think of one good reason why we shouldn’t get married and you’re sitting there insulting me.” “What did you say? Can you rephrase the question in a normal way?” said Dai Sil. “Will you marry me?” I said. “Sure,” she said.

Yes, that’s how we got engaged in a bar. And we learned  about each other every day–new and unexpected stuff.  Don writes about one of those.

Don and Dai Sil, Courting

During most of the time we dated, I never really focused that much on Dai Sil as a Korean-American, even though we talked a great deal about her early life. But it certainly made a big impression when she told me how scared she was to inform her father that we were getting married. I thought to myself, Dai Sil, the fearless rebel, afraid to tell her father about her engagement at age forty-one to a white guy? Well, yeah, white guy could be a challenge. It gave me a whole new perspective about our relationship. It meant I needed to prepare myself to get to know her folks who, I now knew, must be different from mine, not just in terms of ethnicity and race, but also class. Because by that time, I had learned that she came from a wealthy family of landlords who ran a flourishing business in northern Korea, at least until August 1945. That’s not the background I came from, not by a long shot. For my part, I had told my family via phone, and as far as I was concerned, that took care of it, but Dai Sil thought we needed to go to Iowa to introduce her to my parents.

And indeed we drove to Iowa that summer of 1979. My eyes blur with tears, as I read what he wrote about that trip and come to the memory of my most shameful behavior. A few miles away from his parents’ home, Don pulled into a gas station, mumbling that the car needed gas. But he had other things on his mind.

I recall vividly pulling the car into a gas station a few miles from our destination on the pretext of filling it up. I shared my misgivings with Dai Sil about my family’s attitude toward non-Caucasians and tried to caution her not to take it personally. Her response is etched in my memory. “Who do they think they are? They are tenant farmers. My father used to own hundreds of them!” I was momentarily taken aback. My wife-to-be was expressing class discrimination against my family! I closed my eyes for a long minute trying to ensure that my reason would prevail over anger. Silently, I pulled out of the gas station and drove the few remaining miles to my parents’ house. During that time, neither of us uttered any words.

Till this day, I feel ashamed for my behavior, simultaneously being grateful for Don. He was such a decent man. He was a hundred times better than I was. I miss him.

P.S. Iowa Sky is scheduled for publication in January, 2013.



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One Comment
  1. So much love and pain in these memories.

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