The soldiers were in the field, and my parents invited Sgt. Damon’s wife, Kim, to stay with us while the men were away. Kim had only recently arrived in Germany, and I assumed my parents didn’t want her to be lonely with her being so new in the country.
When I arrived home from school, Mrs. Damon was there. I greeted her, because my parents taught me manners and every now and then I tried them out. Although she seemed nice, she also struck me as being quiet and shy. Mrs. Damon was Korean, and it was obvious that English was her second language.
I spent the earlier part of the evening in my room. Mom wasn’t home yet from work, and as I said, dad was away at drill. I only came out of my room when I smelled someone cooking something in the kitchen. I discovered it was Mrs. Damon.
“What are you cooking?” I asked.
“Seaweed,” she replied.
I didn’t know what I expected her to say, but it certainly wasn’t that.
“Yes, seaweed,” she said in her accented broken English.
She noticed the shocked looked on my face and smiled. We were having a conversation. She was the first Korean person I had ever known. As a matter of fact, I was going through all sort of culture awareness in those days. I was a young black kid from Alabama living in Europe. To me, this was just another chapter in my young life.
As she cooked the seaweed, the aroma started to flow through the house. It was alive, it was awful, and I made the mistake of saying so.
Kim dismissed my comments and assured me that seaweed tasted good. She placed some on a plate and offered me some. Naturally, I turned it down.
My generation came along when fast food was just on the bubble. My diet was similar to Wimpy from the Popeye cartoon series. I loved hamburgers, and to this day I consider them the perfect meal. It makes my wife angry because I won’t try other foods.
“You don’t know what you are missing,” she states.
“If one of the goals is to eat what you like, then I am already happy,” I counter.
“Why should I mess with happiness?”
Consequently, I don’t eat anything that looks or smells funny. This is now and that was then.
Somewhere along the way between my comments and Kim’s offering, our conversation took an unexpected turn. I didn’t even see it coming.
Kim turned off the stove, exited the kitchen, walked into the guest room and walked out of the house with her luggage in tow.
As she got into her car and drove away, I stood dumbstruck. It was like pulling the little girl’s ponytail in class. At first she seems to like the attention and next thing you know that teacher has sent you to the office.
“I’m sorry!” I yelled.
Either she didn’t hear me or she didn’t care, because she backed the car out and drove away. My mind raced.
It turns out I didn’t have manners after all, and when mom got home, I wouldn’t have much of a behind either.
When mom got home, I greeted her at the door and spilled my guts faster than an auctioneer.
“I’m sorry more times than Dorothy said I want to go home,” I said.
To my surprise, mom was very understanding. She called Kim and explained that her son lacked both manners and social skills.
All was forgiven.
That day reinforced a lesson that the aroma of the seaweed caused me to forget. When in the company of adults, keep your words to a minimum. To do otherwise would be unwise.
Another lesson I learned is that even if I don’t like what others are eating, I don’t have to say anything.
I can just keep quiet and eat my hamburger. In that way, they are happy and I am happy. In fact, everyone is happy.