Butter Rum Cartoon

Butter Rum Cartoon

Search the Butter Rum Cartoon

Monday, July 18, 2011


When I lived with Penny in Korea, we had a nice double bed. This was uncommon in most of Korea in 1969. Most Koreans slept between two thick quilts on the floor. Several times I had gone either alone or with Army buddies to Taejon, a nerve-racking, horn-honking, ten-mile, taxi trip. I or we would meander about the city, taking advantage of its wares and vices, and I would usually buy something and bring it “home.” Each time, Penny would be upset. She would see how I had been ripped off, and told me that if I had brought her along, I wouldn’t have had to spend so much.

During the night of April 4, 1969, Penny died. She never did go with me to Taejon.

Some months later, some buddies and I went to Taejon again. South Korea had yet to build a paved highway, and the only vehicles on this pot-holed, dirt road were taxis, buses, and occasional cars driven by people wealthy enough to afford them. We passed a bus that had left the road and lay on its side in a field. Pedestrians everywhere had the right-of-way, and the taxi drivers would constantly honk their horns trying to clear the way.

In the city, after having survived the ride, we walked about, seeing things for sale we had never seen before. There were booths selling dried squid, hanging from racks and bothered by flies. I bought some, and ate it, and liked it. I called it “jerky of the sea.” We bought a ginseng root in a jar, without even knowing what a ginseng root is.

Down a back street (all streets seemed like back streets) we came upon a quilt shop. I stepped in and immediately admired a beautiful, thick, Korean quilt hanging on the wall behind the counter. Before it, stood a short, middle-aged man with a happy and hopeful smile on his face. He greeted us, “Annyong hashmnikka.”

I couldn’t take my eyes off the quilt. It was brighter than anything around--orange, with a mushroom design on it. “How much?” I asked, pointing. He turned and looked, then said with pride the amount, which I forget, but for me it was affordable. “I’ll buy it,” I said.

He looked incredulous, then thrilled, and called employees, or other family members, to help him take it down. They were busy talking in Korean as he wrapped it up for me to carry. Then, to our surprise, he closed up his shop, and with a group of his friends around us, they directed us to climb into an ox cart out front. We did, and since there was no ox, several men pulled the cart a block down the street, beaming and practically cheering with words we couldn’t understand.

Apparently this quilt had been the shop’s pride and joy, the most expensive thing in their stock, and I had popped in and purchased it. It was a cause for celebration!

The cart stopped in front of a bar, and we climbed out and went inside with the men. We couldn’t communicate verbally, but we could in every other way, and we were all good friends for the festivity. They bought all the drinks, and it was there that I drank makkoli for the first (and only) time. I had heard that this liquor is made from fermented coconut milk, but it isn’t, although it looks like it. It’s really a “rice wine”--about 6 to 8 % alcohol volume. They made sure I had enough to enjoy myself, as we all did. Afterwards they wheeled us back to the shop, and we shook hands good-bye, with much appreciation on both sides.

Sometimes you don’t know when you’re going to make someone’s day, but you know and remember when someone makes yours.

This Korean quilt was enjoyed for many years afterwards. When I married Micki six years later, we lived our first year in an 8-by-12-foot cabin with no utilities, near Lake Stevens, Washington, and for the first six months without heat. A motorcycle was our only transportation, and both of us worked, in different towns. Often, we’d ride home in the rain to a cold cabin, and would finally climb up into the sleeping loft and cuddle on our mattress beneath this thick, warm, bright orange, Korean quilt with the mushroom design. Having first ridden with it in an ox cart on the other side of the world, this quilt traveled with our growing family when we moved to various other homes in various towns throughout the years, until finally it just gave out. But it’s there in my memory as real as it ever was, and its memory still warms me.


For the complete contents of the Butter Rum Cartoon, click here.

No comments:

Post a Comment