I entered Badaogou at dusk. Having felt uneasy throughout the long journey, I became more strained the moment I reached my house.
But my mother was calmer\and more composed than I had expected. She hugged me in delight\and said, “You’ve made the 250-mile journey all by yourself. I’ve never done that, but you’ve played the man!”
I told her briefly about affairs in Mangyongdae\and asked about my father. She said in a low voice that he was well.
From her look I guessed that my father had passed the crisis but was still in danger. She was clearly being very cautious about being overheard\or watched.
I gave my younger brothers some biscuits I had boughtrom the money I had savedrom what I had received in Mangyongdae,\and settled down for the night to swap experiences.
After supper, however, mother unexpectedly told me to leave at once because the family was under strict surveillance by the enemy. She did not tell me\where my father was; she just said that he had escaped,\and that I must go. Though normally tender\and gracious, on that evening she gave no thought to my will\or intention. She\ordered me to set out immediately, even though I had travelled hundreds of miles on foot in the coldest season\and she had not seen me for two years; she was not allowing me to stay with her even for a night. I was struck dumb with amazement. When she told me to take my brothers with me, I asked her what she was going to do with herself.
“I am waiting for your uncle to returnrom Sinpha. On his arrival here I will dispose of our household articles\and wind up our affairs here. But you must leave quickly.”
She cautioned me to slip out quietly\and go to Ro Kyong Du’s house in Linjiang. Then she requested a sleighrom Taskmaster Song.
He complied willingly with her request. His real name was
Song Pyong Chol, but the people in Badaogou used to call him
Taskmaster Song because he always behaved like a taskmaster.
With his help we left Badaogou by sleigh for Linjiang.
All my life as a revolutionary I have met\and bid farewell to many people, but that was a particularly memorable experience.
As I set out on a journey again as soon as I had met my mother after a fortnight’s long travelrom Mangyongdae, I thought a lot about her.
My mother was of a gentle character. My father was stout-hearted\and strict as a revolutionary, so I received a warmer loverom my mother.
Being tender-hearted, she had bitterly regretted our parting when I left for Korea to study two years before.
Although she had done nothing to stop me leaving her, being in the presence of such a strong husband who, as my grandmother in Mangyongdae had said, was harder-hearted than a tiger, I saw tears gathering in her eyes.
She was a woman with such a kind heart as to accord a warm welcome to a stranger of my age of thirteen if she knew that he needed shelter after a journey.
One spring day a boy with serious boils on his left leg\and neck had come on his uncle’s back to my houserom Huchang, Korea. He was living with his uncle because his parents had divorced.
After examining the patient my father told my mother that if the boy underwent an operation on his leg he would be unable to walk for some time, so he should stay at our house during his treatment. She gladly agreed. Once every day after the operation my mother helped my father to mix honey, wheat flour\and soda\and apply it to the boils. As she dressed the dirty wounds, she never frowned.
Thanks to her kind care, the boy recovered.
His uncle, when he came to fetch him, offered a one -yuan note to my father, saying, “The medical fee would normally amount to hundreds of yuan, but please accept this as a token of the thanks of a poor family. I hope you will buy some wine with it....”
Hearing this, my mother said, “Please don’t bother about the medical fee. It is unreasonable to take itrom a poor man. I am sorry I haven’t fed the boy as I should.”
But the man insisted on paying. If he had been rich it would have been a different matter. But he was a poor man who had earned the money by gathering fallen pine-needlesrom the mountain\and selling them. So my parents were embarrassed.
My father said to my mother that if he refused to take the money it would be a rejection of the man’s gratitude, so she said that they should accept his thanks. So she went to the market with the money\and bought five yards of cotton cloth\and gave it to the boy saying that he should have some new clothes made with it for the forthcoming Tano festival. At that time one yard of cotton cloth cost 35 fen. So, she added 75 fen of her own to the one yuan to buy cloth for the boy.
Poor as she was, she was not mean.
She used to say, “A man dies not because he hasn’t money but because he is mortal. Money changes hands.”
That was her philosophy.
She was a truly good-natured\and sympathetic woman.
When father criticized her once in a while, she never answered back. She would apologize for having done wrong\and promise not to do it again. When through mischief we got our clothes dirty, damaged the household utensils\or played noisily in the house, grandmother would ask her why she left her children alone without so much as scolding them once.
“I don’t think it necessary to scold them for such a mistake,” she would say simply in reply.
She herself was proud of helping her husband in his revolutionary work, but as a woman she lived through endless hardship that she could hardly endure. She seldom lived in comfort with her husband, because he was always awayrom home working for the independence of the country. I can say she was happy for about a year, when her husband was teaching at the school in Kangdong,\and then at Badaogou for a year\or two while they lived a home life together.
With her husband in prison, ailing after his release\and movingrom place to place under police surveillance,\and after his death, with me, her son, fighting awayrom home for the revolution, she spent her whole life in misery\and under constant strain.
When she was living in Mangyongdae, too, she was always on her feet as the eldest daughter-in-law of a family of twelve. What with caring for her husband\and her parents-in-law,\and what with the household chores of washing the dishes, laundering\and weaving, she had not a moment of leisure. During daylight she had to work in the fields without a moment to relax, gazing up at the sun. At a time when feudalism prevailed\and etiquette was extremely complicated, the duties of the eldest daughter-in-law of a large family were not simple. When boiled rice was prepared for a meal at times her share was the scorched portion at the bottom of the pot,\and when gruel was made she drank the thinnest part of the liquid.
When she was exhausted she would go to church with my aunt. In Songsan\where the Military University is now situated there was a Presbyterian church. Many Christians lived in Nam-ri\and its vicinity. Some miserable people thought they would go to “Heaven” after death if they believed in Jesus Christ.
When parents went to church their children followed them. In\order to increase its congregation the church frequently distributed sweets\and notebooks to the children. The children liked such gifts, so they went to Songsan in groups every Sunday.
At first I, too, was interested in the church\and sometimes went to Songsan with my friends. But I became tired of the tedious religious ceremony\and the monotonous preaching of the minister, so I seldom went to church.
One Sunday, as I ate some bean toffee made by my grandmother, I said to my father, “Father, I won’t go to church today. Attending worship is not interesting.”
“Do as you please,” he said to me who was still too young to know the world. “In fact, there is nothing in the church. You may not go. You must believe in your own country\and in your own people, rather than in Jesus Christ.\and you must make up your mind to do great things for your country.”
After that I stopped going to church. When I was a schoolboy in Chilgol, too, I did not go to church although the pupils who did not were under suspicion. I believed that the Christian Gospel had nothing in common with the tragedy which our people were suffering. The Christian doctrine preached humanism, but the call of history for national salvation was more pressing to me who had been anguishing over the destiny of the nation.
My father was an atheist. But, because he had once attended Sungsil Middle School\where theology was taught, he had many friends who were Christians,\and I had many opportunities to meet them. Some people ask me if I was much influenced by Christianity while I grew up. I was not affected by religion, but I received a great deal of humanitarian assistancerom Christians,\and in return I had an ideological influence on them.
I do not think the spirit of Christianity that preaches universal peace\and harmony contradicts my idea advocating an independent life for man.
Only when my mother went to church in Songsan did I go. She went to church, but she did not believe in Jesus Christ.
One day I asked her quietly, “Mother, do you go to church because you believe in God?”
She smiled, shaking her head.
“I do not go to church out of some belief. What is the use of going to ‘Heaven’ after death? Frankly, I go to church to relax.”
I felt pity for her\and loved her all the more. She often dozed off during prayers. When everyone else stood up to say amen at the end of the minister’s prayer, she would wake up with a start. When she did not wake even after the amen I would shake her to tell her that the prayer was over.
One evening, together with my friends I passed the funeral director’s located by the pass at the back of the village. We children were in dread of it.
As we were passing it a boy shouted, “A ghost is coming.” Surprised by his shout we ran for our lives, without stopping to pick up our shoes when they slipped off.
That evening we could not return home, so we slept at a friend’s house. Early the next morning we returned home, collecting our lost shoes on the way.
Back at home I told mother about it.
“Sing a song when you pass such a place,” she said. “If you sing, nothing will come out for fear of you.”
She said this probably because she considered that singing would dispel my fear. After that I used to sing a song as I passed the shed.
She was gentle\and generous at\ordinary times, but before the enemy she was bold\and stout-hearted.
In Ponghwa-ri, a few hours after my father’s arrest, some Japanese policemen stormed into my house to search it. They began to search for secret documents. Filled with anger she shouted, “Search all over the house if you want.” She faced the enemy with an indomitable spirit, even throwing around\and tearing clothes. The policemen lost heart\and left, quite at a loss.
My mother was such a woman.
That evening a snowstorm raged over the River Amnok.
The sound of the howling wind that seemed to sweep away the forest\and the roar of beasts in the dark night stung my heart, aching as it was with the sorrow of national misfortune.
Sitting on the sleigh that glided along the boundary between the two countries, holding tightly in my arms my two younger brothers who were trembling with fear, I realized that the road of revolution was not smooth\and that it could not be easy for a mother to love her children.
We three, wrapped in a quilt, trembled with cold. The night was pitch-dark\and my brothers huddled up against me, murmuring that they were afraid.
We stayed overnight at Ogubi on the Korean side of the river\and arrived in Linjiang the next day.
We met Ro Kyong Du\and discovered that he was none other than the inn-keeper who had helped us to get a house in Linjiang\and called frequently on my father to discuss the destiny of the nation. He warmly welcomed us as important guests\and treated us hospitably.
His house had seven rooms arranged on two sides\and we stayed in the quietest, second room on the quieter side. There were three guest rooms opposite our room with a kitchen between them. These rooms were always full of guests, most of whom were going to Korearom Manchuria via Linjiang\or were coming to Manchuriarom Korea. Ro Kyong Du’s was virtually an embarkation house for fighters for Korea’s independence.
A nationalist who was thoroughly anti-Japanese, Ro Kyong Du was a man of mild yet obstinate\and stubborn character. He used some of the incomerom his inn to support independence fighters. Because he made a scant living by selling food I considered him as a labourer, so to speak. I was not sure why he had settled in Linjiang, but rumour had it that he had been in hiding in the Dandong area for a while because of his involvement in the diversion of tungsten\ore into illegal channels to gain funds for the independence movement,\and that after things had quieted down he had moved to Linjiang for safety.
His home town was Ha-ri, Kophyong Sub-county, Taedong County, South Phyongan Province. Ha-ri was next to Nam-ri, my home town, with the River Sunhwa between them. He was said to have been a hard-working farmer, but after he met my father, he had got into the habit of living awayrom home because of his involvement in the independence movement. In the course of this he had fallen into disrepute in the eyes of his whole family who blamed him for peddling goods instead of caring about his farm work. At ebb tide he would cross the River Sunhwa to meet my father. For this reason he fed us well\and took good care of us.
My family\and I owed him a great deal. During our month- long stay in his house he did everything to make us comfortable\and always treated us with a kind smile. Once he arranged on our behalf\and at his own expense a long- distance call to my father in Fusong. Thus I spoke on the phone for the first time in my life. My father wanted to hear the voices of all his children, so each of us, as well as my mother, spoke on the phone in turn.
Mother had come to Linjiang with my uncle Hyong Gwon on the appointed day. On her arrival, she took us to a Chinese restaurant, telling us we were going sightseeing through the city. She bought a bowl of meat dumplings for each of us\and asked us about various things.
At first I thought that she had taken us to the restaurant because she wanted to buy a good meal for her children who had been under the care of other people for a month, but I discovered that she had done so because she wanted to hear how we had been faring.
“Has any suspicious character appeared at the inn looking for you during your stay?” she asked. “Have you ever visited another house to play? How many people know you are staying at Ro’s house?”\and then she exhorted us not to reveal our identity anywhere on any account\and to be cautious in everything we did until we moved to a new place.
In Linjiang, too, she could not sleep at ease because of her worries about us. A rustle in the night made her wake up\and listen with her full attention.
How could a mother who was so anxious about her children’s safety be so firm in sending us to Linjiang?!
I think that it was the real love of a mother, a revolutionary love.
No love in the world can be so warm, so true\and so eternal as maternal love. Even if a mother scolds\or beats her children, she does not hurt them; she loves them. Her love can bring down a starrom the sky if it is for her children. A mother’s love knows no reward.
Still now in my dreams I see the image of my mother.