Every kid growing up looks up to someone, a hero so to speak. For me, that person was my nana. She was a small, petite Korean woman who married an American soldier during the Korean war and made a home here in America. Her name was Deuksoon “Carol” Simmons and when she met my pap he called her Carol. (If you are unsure exactly what the Korean War is check out the video below and what the video doesn’t mention is that many in Korea do not consider the war over.) She may not have looked like much at first glance but looks can fool and anyone in my family who knew her would probably agree my nana was a bad-ass. So here are 5 reasons my nana was a total badass.
1. She escaped Japanese soldiers with her crippled mom and younger brother.
One of the many stories I would eagerly listen to her tell at her kitchen table while she prepared us food was the story of what happened during the Japanese Occupation in Korea. My nana was in china and had to sneak back into Korea. She first snuck back into Korea using her dead sister’s birth certificate. Using that she was able to get back into Korea, but her journey was long and hard.
During her trip, she had to carry her crippled mother on her back and bring her younger brother along as well. At one point they reached a bridge where all travelers trying to cross were shot. She didn’t know what to do. This is where she says a young boy offered to help them get across the bridge. He went and talked to the soldiers for a minute, came back, and told her to cross but not to look back. She, her crippled mother, and younger brother were the only ones to get across that day. She believed the boy was an angel. Did I mention she was probably like 12 or 13 at the time?
2. She Stood Up To Her Aunt
Here in the US, it may not seem like a big deal to stand up to your Aunt, but context helps. First, in Korea, there is a large amount of respect for your elders and second, my nana’s family was very traditional in those days. This was with a full-blown head of the family and if one of your elders told you were going to do something you did it.
Apparently my nana had been training at her Aunt’s Buddhist temple to become a priestess. (My Great Aunt was pretty amazing too, but she’s another story). My nana had long beautiful hair that she really took care of. So when the day came for her to shave her head to become a priestess my nana said no. She flat out told her Aunt she would not cut her hair.
Well, that didn’t go over well with her Aunt. Her aunt threw her out on the street. Thankfully, she was taken in by some catholic missionaries and she soon after gave her life to Christ.
3. She Responded To Racism With Love and Grace
When my nana married my pap they decided to make a life for themselves in America. My nana knew her son, my father, wouldn’t be accepted in Korea because he was half American. So she went with her husband to America to give her children their best chance. Wondering about Korean War Brides? Check out the link to learn more!
It wasn’t all roses and peaches when she got there. Unfortunately, racism wasn’t just a thing she had to face, but the family she married into had trouble seeing past color. They were furious their son married an Asian woman.
Most people might have responded with equal anger or rage. They might have thrown around some hurtful words, but nana didn’t do that. While I am sure she was hurt she treated her in-laws with the love and grace they probably didn’t deserve. Years later before my great grandmother died she did admit she was mistaken to judge my nana like that. That she had been a wonderful daughter in law and she was thankful for her. She taught her children by example how to deal with those hateful attitudes and I can tell you my father is grateful for that lesson.
4. She Was The Head of Her Korean Family
Here in America how families are thought of and come together are vastly different from the family makeup in Korea. Here in America we value independence and push our children to become self-sufficient and independent and if they grow up and leave the nest we’ve done something right. In Korea, children are indebted to their parents. They try and honor their parents at all times and when their parents grow older they are expected to care for them. This usually falls on the eldest. By care for them, they would have their parent live with them. They would not be put in an assisted living or nursing home.
My nana’s family was very traditional (although this could have changed I can’t be sure). The head of the family had to approve of many decisions. If you wanted to get married the head of the family had to approve. You couldn’t buy or sell a house without approval. You also were expected to bow to the head of the family, maybe even give gifts. You also were expected to follow any instruction the head of the family gave you.
Thing is a head of the family is usually male. So for my nana to become head of the family was a huge thing. She told her family that they couldn’t sell a certain property because land ownership was hard to come by in Korea. She also approved marriages and when she visited with her daughter even her daughter had to bow, but when she visited with my father her eldest son they also bowed to him.
The two sides of my Korean family don’t always get along but when she ordered them to all get together for her visits they put aside their differences and came together. So many years have passed and while I was able to visit them briefly I cannot be sure if they are still this traditional. Since my nana died I am unsure who the new head would be. My guess would be her younger brother if he is alive, but I can’t be sure.
5. She Bought A House Selling Levi’s
My nana always had a good sense of business and making a buck. My pap wasn’t half bad either. In order to pay for a house here in America for their family, they made trips back to Korea and sold Levi jeans and American cigarettes on the black market. Apparently, Levi jeans were hugely popular back then and hard to come by. They made enough money doing this to buy a house.
It still boggles my mind they managed to make enough money doing this to buy a house. It also makes me grateful they were never caught and never got in any trouble.
I honestly could write a whole book about this woman and her life would probably make an awesome movie, but all I have room for here is a blog post. In short, my nana was a bad-ass woman that didn’t take any crap, went for her dreams, didn’t let anyone tell her what to do, and did it all with a smile and love in her heart. I wish my children could have met her.