A Honeysuckle Home
Aaron and Paul were enrolled in their college classes and waiting for the fall classes to begin. The probate hearing of the Wheat estate was at a standstill. When they weren’t making love they spent time reading and catching up on movies they had missed during their year in near isolation. They arrived home from a movie one evening with the phone ringing. Aaron rushed to answer the phone, “Hello.”
“Paul?” A female voice asked.
“No, this is Aaron,” Aaron said. “Hold on and I’ll get Paul.”
“Hello,” Paul said when he picked up the phone.
“Paul, this is Jin-Kyong your grandmother in Korea,” the caller said.
“Grandmother,” Paul said. “I never expected to find you. What have you been told?”
“Only that my grandson was looking for his Korean family,” Jin-Kyong said.
“Grandmother, I regret having to tell you this, but my mother is dead,” Paul said.
There was first silence on the line and then Paul could hear crying. Finally Jin-Kyong came back. on the line and asked, “What happened?”
“She was murdered by my dad.”
“I knew he wasn’t good for her. Her father and I tried to talk her out of marrying him, but she thought she was in love with him.”
“Grandmother, I hope I’m not disrespectful. But, I haven’t had the opportunity to learn about Korean culture. Could you tell me how it is that you speak perfect English?”
“I worked for the United States Army and had to be fluent in English. Your grandfather speaks perfect English also. He earned a medical degree at Northwestern University in Chicago. We lived in Chicago while he was in medical school.”
Paul and his grandmother chatted for more than an hour. Paul told about his father’s suicide, the will, how he had come to live with Aaron for almost a year, and his goals for a college education. He learned that he had an uncle who was also a physician and two cousins, a boy and a girl.
Finally Jin-Kyong asked, “Who is Aaron?”
“I live with Aaron,” Paul said. “He also has no parents.”
“Aaron is your friend?”
“Yes, Aaron is my friend and my lover.”
There was a long uncomfortable silence and finally Jin-Kyong said, “This is something I don’t really understand. We have very few gays here in Korea.”
“Grandmother, again I don’t mean to be disrespectable, but you’re wrong. I have gone online to learn as much as I can about the Korean culture. I understand that homosexuality is rarely discussed there. They are still there, but not seen.”
“I would love to see you, Paul, but…”
“But, Aaron isn’t welcome?”
“I’m not sure if your grandfather would accept a gay.”
“Grandmother, I’m gay. Does this mean that he wouldn’t accept me?”
“I will talk to him and call you back tomorrow.”
“Okay, goodbye Grandmother.”
“She wasn’t very happy with you being gay?” Aaron asked when Paul hung up the phone.
“My family there is well educated and have adopted many of the western customs,” Paul said. “But from what I’ve read the gay culture is pretty much ignored.”
“Babe, if you want to go you should go. My feelings wouldn’t be hurt if you went to see your family alone.
If you’re not welcome because you’re gay then I’m not welcome either. We both go or I’m not going.”
Paul was a nervous wreck the next day waiting for a call from his grandmother. “What if she doesn’t call?” he asked several times.
“She will call,” Aaron assured him.
When the phone did ring Paul rushed to answer it. “Hello,” he answered.
“Paul, this is your grandfather,” Kim Jae said. “We are pleased that you searched for us. We would like for you to come to Korea for a visit.”
“Grandfather, is the invitation for me alone or does it include Aaron?”
“Of course it does, Paul. The only thing I ask is that you don’t show affection in public. Many Koreans still do not accept gay people.”
“I will let you know when we will arrive. Tomorrow we’ll go apply for a passport. Could you recommend a hotel for us?”
“There is no need for a hotel. We have plenty of room for you.”
“Grandfather, Aaron and I sleep in the same bed. We wouldn’t want to disrespect you if we sleep together.”
“It doesn’t matter if you sleep in the same bed in our home or in a hotel. You’re both welcome here. When will you be here?”
“Neither of us has ever been out of the country and we don’t have passports. I’m not sure how to go about getting them.”
“If you can find a good travel agent there they could advise you and help you with tickets.”
“When you know the cost let me know and I’ll send you the money.”
“No Grandfather, we both have money. You can spend your money later to come and visit us.”
Paul chatted with his grandfather for a while and then with his grandmother. They were all excited about his upcoming visit.
“Let’s go talk to a travel agent and find out what we need to do to get tickets and a passport to Korea,” Paul said in excitement.
“Why don’t you call Monty and see what travel agent he uses?”
“You probably should ask about the probate case too.”
“You’re right again. We may have to plan our trip around that.”
“Go ahead and plan your trip,” Monty said when Paul called. “I’ll confirm with Judge Jang that the probate hearing will not occur while you’re out of the country. I use Get-Away Travel. When you go there ask for Alice.”
Aaron had to remind Paul to slow down as he drove to the travel agent. “You’ll get a speeding ticket,” Aaron warned him.
“What may I do for you gentlemen?” Alice asked when Paul and Aaron arrived at the Get-Away Travel.
“We need two round trip tickets to Seoul, Korea.” Paul said. “We also need help getting a passport.”
“When do you plan to go on this trip?” Alice asked.
“As soon as we can get a passport,” Paul said.
“Then you need to apply for an expedited passport,” Alice said. “There is an additional fee of about $60.00, but you will get your passport in about two weeks rather than four. Your parents or guardian will have to sign for you.”
“We’re emancipated,” Aaron said. “We brought documentation of that in case you need it.”
“I’m sure we’ll need it,” Alice said. “Take this form to the court clerk’s office at the court house after you to get a passport photo. We’ll go ahead and book your flights for three weeks from now. That should give plenty of time for your passports to be received. Do you need to book a hotel?”
“No, we’ll be staying with my grandparents,” Paul said.
“That answers my question as to why two young men would be going to Korea,” Alice said.
The passports were ordered and there was nothing to do but wait. Paul and Aaron decided to go shopping for new clothes for their trip. “I can’t believe we’re spending all of this money,” Aaron said. “Remember when we were in our honeysuckle home how we had to watch every penny we spent?”
“I do, but we were happy.”
“Are you not happy now?”
“Of course I’m happy now. I would be happy anywhere as long as I’m with you.”
When the passports arrived Aaron and Paul wished they had booked their flights for a few days earlier. They made copies of documents such as birth certificates and court ordered emancipation documents. Tina and Matt, who now had become a couple, volunteered to drive them to the airport.
When the day finally arrived for the flight to Korea, Aaron and Paul could hardly contain themselves. They both had huge grins when Tina and Matt picked them up for the drive to the airport. They would fly to Atlanta to connect to their nonstop flight on Korean Air Lines to Seoul. Since neither had flown before, Matt and Tina gave them some tips and explained what they might expect.
“Are you afraid?” Paul asked as he and Aaron waited for their flight to Atlanta.
“I am a little,” Aaron admitted. “Are you?”
“I am too, but I’m also excited,” Paul said.
“I hope we can find our gate,” Paul said when they arrived in Atlanta. “This airport is huge.”
“We have forty-five minutes to before our flight,” Aaron said. “That should give us plenty of time.”
“I’m glad Tina suggested that we take a book to read,” Paul said. “I don’t know if I can sit for fourteen hours.”
“We can get up and go to the restroom. I don’t know how large the plane is, but I’m sure it is much larger than the one we flew on here to Atlanta.”
“There is our gate. We even have time to get a quick snack and use the restroom.”
“Paul, why do you think Monty suggested that we fly business class?”
“He said that we would have better food and more leg room. He also said that we would be glad we did for the fourteen hour flight.”
“These seats do have more room,” Aaron said when they boarded the plane for their flight to Seoul.
“You’ll be glad you have business class,” the middle age gentleman, who occupied the seat across the aisle, said. “I’m George, by the way.”
“I’m Paul and this is Aaron. This is our first flight,” Paul said. “We’re going to visit my grandparents.”
“It’s good that you have someone to show you around,” George said. “I’ve been to Seoul many times on business.”
After about four hours the flight was finally over the Pacific Ocean. There was nothing but water as far as the eye could see. Neither Paul nor Aaron was interested in the movies offered. They had finally caught up on the movies they had missed. “I’m glad I brought my book,” Aaron said as he opened the book to the page where he stopped.”
“I know what you mean,” Paul said as he opened his book too.
The flight attendant interrupted the boys’ reading to ask if they preferred Korean or western food. They decided on western since they would likely be eating Korean food at Paul’s grandparents. The roast beef was surprisingly good.
After eating the meal Aaron and Paul slept for a while. However, because of the time change and excitement they didn’t sleep well. They were thankful that they had decided to fly business class rather than coach. “Isn’t it amazing what a difference few more inches make,” Paul whispered to Aaron.
“You should know,” Aaron laughed.
When the plane finally landed in Seoul Aaron asked, “How will we know your grandparents?”
“I’m sure they will recognize us,” Paul said. “There shouldn’t be that many Korean and Caucasian boys traveling together.”
After going through customs the boys began to make their way to the baggage came area when they heard, “Paul.”
They looked around and saw a couple dressed in stylish western clothing waving at them. “There they are,” Paul said as he pulled Aaron toward them.
Paul’s grandmother, Jin-Kyong , hugged him and said, “I never thought I would get to see you. You are so handsome.” She then hugged Aaron and said, “You must be Aaron. You too are handsome.”
Aaron was surprised at the public affection that Paul’s grandmother was showing. He understood that Koreans rarely show affection in public. Paul’s grandfather, Kim Jae, first hugged Paul and then Aaron. “Let’s get your luggage and then we’ll get you home,” he said. “You must be tired after your long trip.”
The boys were surprised to discover that Seoul was a large modern city. Paul’s grandparents pointed out different sites as they drove. They were surprised when they saw the grandparent’s home. It was a large modern house. The interior was tastefully decorated in a mixture of western and Korean styles. They were given a bedroom with a private bath.
“How should I address you?” Aaron asked after he and Paul had unpacked.
“Grandmother and Grandfather,” Kim Jae said. “We are your grandparents the same as Paul.”
Aaron had expected Paul’s grandparents to be conservative and not accepting of him. It was almost as if they were liberal Korean Americans.
“You boys can rest for a while and we’ll have dinner in a couple of hours,” Grandmother said. “I know the time change makes it difficult to get on schedule.”
“I need a shower,” Paul said.
“You’ll find towels and everything you need in your bathroom,” Grandmother said.
“I discovered that it is best not to nap,” Grandfather said. “It was always easier for me if I just stayed awake until regular bedtime.”
Dinner was a Korean meal of kal-bi (barbequed short ribs), man-du (Korean dumplings, filled with ground pork, spring onions, and bean curd, poached in a richly flavored beef broth), na-mul (seasoned vegetables), and of course kimchi (the national dish.) The dinner was surprisingly good; however, neither Paul nor Aaron cared for the kimchi.
After dinner Grandmother got out the family photo albums. There were pictures of Paul’s uncle, his mother and even of him when he was small. “Your mother was beautiful,” Aaron said when he saw the pictures.
“Yes, she was a beautiful person inside and outside,” Grandmother said as she wiped a tear from her eye. “I had copies of these pictures made for you to take home with you.”
“When will we meet the rest of the family?” Paul asked.
“We will go to church Sunday with the family and then we go to Samwon Garden for lunch,” Grandmother said. “We’ll go to the Dong-Myoung Presbyterian English Worship service.”
“Grandmother, you don’t have to go to English service because of us,” Paul said.
“We all understand English,” Grandmother said. “We may as well go to church services that we can all understand.”
Paul’s uncle, Kim Jae-Sun, was a friend handsome distinguished looking man. His male cousin, Kim Kwang-Sun, was a younger version of his father and about a year younger than Paul and Aaron. His female cousin, Mi Hi, was almost a carbon copy of Paul’s mother and about a year younger than her brother. Uncle Kim Jae-Sun’s wife, Kim Sang Hee, had taken the western custom of taking her husband’s family name.
Following a big lunch at the Samwon Garden the family went to the grandparent’s home for a family visit. Paul’s cousins were both intelligent and friendly. They were curious about what it was like living in America. “You should talk Aunt and Uncle into bringing you to America for a visit,” Paul said. “When you come we will take you to Disney World.”
Both cousins were excited about the prospects of going to America and going to Disney World. The Sunday with the family was a pleasant one that ended with a light dinner of sandwiches and a vegetable tray.
The next few days were spent touring the sites of Seoul area. Aaron was surprise at the large numbers of men in military uniforms, both American and Korean. “We are only 30 miles from North Korea,” Grandfather explained when Aaron mentioned this. “There was never an official end to the war.”
“Would it be possible to tour the DMZ (Demilitarized Zone)?” Aaron asked.
“Sure, I have already arranged a tour,” Grandfather said. “We will go Thursday.”
The DMZ tour fascinated Aaron and Paul. Both had heard of the Freedom Bridge, also known as the Bridge of No Return. They were surprised to see that it was a small wooden bridge, and the only bridge crossing the Imjin River. It also was the only bridge connected between South and North Korea. The entire area was a propaganda area for both the North and the South.
“I have relatives across the DMZ that I have no way of contacting,” Grandfather said.
“Do you think the North will ever be reunified with the South?” Paul asked.
“There is hope,” Grandfather said. “I had increased hope when the two Germanys were reunified. Some said that would never happen. Countries should never again be divided like that.”
“I wonder what it is like on the other side of the DMZ,” Paul said.
“Not good,” Grandfather said. “We have a janitor at the hospital that escaped. He had to first escape into China and then Vietnam, to Cambodia, and then to South Korea. He said there were few consumer goods there, and that there was a great deal of hunger. He is just now beginning to trust people. “
The next few days were spent visiting areas of Korea that most tourists never saw. Grandmother and Grandfather pointed out things that the typical tourist never saw. Paul and Aaron learned a lot about the Korean culture. They decided that the grandparents were hardly typical of the Korean culture. Paul’s family had managed to adopt the best of both cultures.
When it came time for Aaron and Paul to return home, they were looking forward to being home. But, they were also sad to say goodbye to their Korean family. They hardly had room to pack the items that they had purchased for themselves and for their friends at home.
Grandfather got the boys to the airport in plenty of time to go through security. After saying goodbye, Paul and Aaron found their gate and waited for their flight.
“It is confusing to think that we leave Seoul at 10:30 AM and arrive in Atlanta at 11:00 AM the same day,” Aaron said. “I hope Tina understands that it isn't only 30 minutes flight, and that Seoul is 14 hours ahead of Atlanta.”
“Remember that we have another hour fight on home from Atlanta,” Aaron said.
“Right, and then we have just over an hour on the ground in Atlanta,” Paul said. “We should call Tina and Matt before we board the plane in Atlanta.”
The flight was announced and the boys made their way to their gate for boarding. They were pleased to learn that their seats were the newer lie-flat type. The couple, who appeared to be in their fifties, across the aisle from their seats seemed to be discussing them. Finally the female asked, “Aren’t you boys a little young to be on an international flight alone?”
“No, we flew here alone,” Paul said without offering an explanation.
“How old are you boys?” She asked.
“We’re sixteen,” Aaron answered. “How old are you?”
“I don’t believe that is any of your business,” she said in a huff.
“Exactly,” Aaron said.
“Young man, somebody needs to teach you a lesson about manners,” the male said.
“Okay, we’ll take them with you and your wife,” Aaron said.
The man stopped a flight attendant and said, “I want these boys moved or move us to another location.”
“What seems to be the problem?” The attendant asked.
“These boys got wise with us, and insulted my wife,” he said.
“What was said?” The attendant asked.
“That one asked my wife her age,” he said as he pointed to Aaron.
“He sure did,” Paul said. “He asked her age after she asked us our ages.”
“All we can do is see if other passengers would be willing to trade seats,” the attendant said.
“I believe these are our seats,” a younger man said as he and another man about his age stood in the aisle waiting for their seats.
“May I see your boarding pass?” The attendant said. “Yes, you’re right these are your seats,” she said after checking them. “May I see your boarding pass?” She asked the older couple.
“I can assure you that we’re in the correct seats,” the female said. “These are the seats we selected.”
“I still need to see your boarding pass,” the attendant said. After checking the tickets she said, “Your seats are in the upper level. I’m afraid you’ll have to move.”
“Well, we’re not moving,” the female passenger said. “Our travel agent assured use we had the best seats.
“The other seats are the ones you chose, you’ll need to move,” the attendant said.
“We’re staying right here,” the male said. “You can make these boys move.”
“I’m sorry, but we can’t make them move,” the attendant said. “You might ask them nicely.”
“We’re not talking to them, and we are not moving,” the male said.
“Then we’ll have you removed from the plane,” the attendant said.
“This is the last time we’ll fly Korean Airlines,” the female passenger said as they gathered their belongings.
“I’m sure Korean Airlines appreciates that,” Paul said.
The new passengers were laughing as were the other passengers in the area. Even the attendants were suppressing a laugh.
“I’m Ben and this is Kevin,” one of the men said after they had taken their seats.
“I’m Paul and this is Aaron,” Paul said.
“What was that about?” Kevin asked.
After Paul and Aaron explained what happened, both Kevin and Ben were laughing again.
“I guess they met their match when they met you two,” Ben said. “Do we dare ask if you’re here on vacation?”
“We didn’t mind the question,” Paul said. “It was the attitude that came with her question. But, we were here visiting my family.”
“We were in Korea teaching English,” Ben said.
The plane began to taxi to the runway and they were soon in the air headed home. Aaron and Paul chatted with Ben and Kevin for about an hour when lunch was served. After lunch they learned that, as they suspected, Ben and Kevin were a gay couple. Aaron explained how he and Paul came to be on their own at the age of sixteen. Kevin then suggested that they all nap until dinner was served.
“I see that you wisely brought sleep mask,” Ben said. “We learned that since we are flying east it is more difficult to avoid jet lag. The mask help get some sleep and that helps a lot.”
Before going to sleep the four asked the flight attendant to wake them for dinner. Surprisingly, they were able to sleep until dinner. Following a delicious dinner, they visited more before napping again. The flight seemed to go by quickly and the pilot announced that they would shortly be landing in Atlanta.
Ben and Kevin had a connecting flight to North Carolina and they said their goodbyes after exchanging phone numbers and E-mail address with Aaron and Paul. The boys then called Tina to confirm that she and Matt would be meeting them at the airport. They were very happy to see Matt and Tina waiting for them at the baggage claim area when they arrived at home. It would be difficult to say who was happier to see who.
Both boys were happy to be home. “Who mowed the lawn while we were away?” Aaron asked.
“Matt did,” Tina said. “The cop in him wanted the place to look occupied.”
“Thank you Matt,” Paul said.
“You’re very welcome,” Matt said. “Tina restocked your food supply. She thought you may be too tired to go shopping.”
“Tina, you figured right,” Aaron said.
“You’ll see that there is some extra food in the refrigerator,” Tina said. “Tomorrow I’m coming over and cooking dinner. I invited Monty and his family over. I thought it might be easier here since your kitchen is much larger than mine.”
“Cool,” Aaron said. “I enjoyed the food in Korea, but I’m ready for some western food now.”
“Let’s go and let these guys get some rest,” Matt said.
After a good night’s sleep the boys were doing surprisingly well, with little effect of jet lag. They spent the day resting and sorting the vast number of digital pictures they had taken. By the time Tina arrived to start dinner they were pretty much back to normal. They offered to help prepare dinner and Tina gladly put them to work.
“I thought we might have southern fried chicken and all the fixings,” Tina said.
“What are the fixings?” Aaron asked.
“Well besides the chicken, we’ll have mashed potatoes, gravy, corn on the cob, coleslaw, and homemade biscuits,” Tina said. “For dessert we’ll have key lime pie.”
“I’m hungry already,” Paul said.
After the delicious dinner Paul and Aaron gave everyone the souvenirs they had purchased. Everyone seemed pleased with their individual gifts. The boys then had to tell all about their Korean trip. “I’m happy that Judge Jang still had connections back in Korea and was able to locate my family,” Paul said.
“Speaking of Judge Jang,” Monty said. “He is losing his patients with Virginia Wheat. That crazy woman tried to break into your house, Paul. She used a crowbar and actually got the door open. The alarm went off and the police arrested her when she couldn’t prove that she lived there. She spent five days in jail.”
“How long will it be before we are done with the probate?” Paul asked.
“It’s still going to be about a year,” Monty said. “I know you want to get it over with, but that’s the way courts operate. Virginia is trying to get Judge Jang removed, but I can’t see him being removed because you’re both Korean.”
“I have an announcement to make,” Tina said.