“Then this little-kid voice, this Tweety-bird voice, said, ‘We need to pray.’ I sighed again.
Eventually I lowered my face into the palms of my hands.
‘I know you have bigger fish to fry, I said to God, but I need a little help with this stupidity’.”
~ Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies
About a year ago, I had shared with y’all about the mom’s having made signs of the Multiplication Table on the walls of our house when I was a kid cuz I had really sucked at Math real bad during my school years. The mom thought that she would help me to memorize those dagnabbit Multiplication Tables by her plastering ’em on our wall.
I use the word “help” loosely. Cuz she had certainly clobbered my head countless times cuz of my failing grades in Math.
(p.s. I’d like to take this opportunity to do away with the cliche that Asians are good at Math. Cuz I is a perfect example that that dumb belief ain’t so.)
The way she’d make those signs was by getting herself a permanent marker and ripping off some calendar paper. Then she’d get on the floor, flip the long calendar sheets over, and write the Multiplication Tables real big on the back of ’em. So one calendar would have all the numbers from 2 thru 10 that was multiplied by 2. Another one would have everything that was multiplied by 3. And so forth. I think she went all the way to whatever was times 10.
Had I had any sense of humor left from all of the head-clobbering given to me, I mighta asked her, “How come you didn’t make one for zero? Wuz zero times two?”
Maybe I still had a little bit ‘o wisdom left that told me to not ask that, or else there’d be an even harder clobberin’ comin’ my way.
Needless to say, those super-sized Multiplication Tables had done nuthin’ for me. They were just like boring numbered wallpaper of my worst school subject.
Thinking back on ’em, they kinda reminded me of Garfield and his osmosis thing. Maybe the mom thought that I’d one day stare at those calendar sheets and have me a major “A-ha!” moment, and them answers would stick in my head permanently from then on somehow. But nope. Never happened. ‘Til today, I’m still confused as to what times 6 thru 9 is.
Therefore, I immensely thank God for the existence of calculators. I have ’em in every size. From ultra-jumbo number buttons that you can practically jam with your whole palm, to teeny-weeny mini calculators that I hang on a keychain.
Although the mom’s head-clobbering cuz of my lousy school grades throughout my elementary thru middle school years really sucked, the pops’ clobberings were, of course, worse.
‘Til today, the sis and I have a sense of fear of phones. Due to this phobia, both of us are not “phone people”. Seems crazy in today’s world of smartphones and nonstop social media sharing via phone.
When the sis used to live in CA, she’d very rarely answer our phone calls. We’d always expect to leave a message on her phone after all of the rings had gone through, cuz it was so rare for her to ever answer her phone. Reason she didn’t answer was cuz the majority of the time, her phone was on silent, was sitting at the bottom of her bag, and she wouldn’t remember to check if she had any messages on it ’til about 12 hours later.
One time, when a friend of mine had asked me how come I hadn’t answered his phone call, I had answered that it was cuz I had left my phone at home. He had gasped aloud and had an expression of utter shock as to how I could go on with my life with my phone having been left all alone in limbo back at my house. I told him that it was possible. And my life could go on fine and dandy without no phone.
The reason the sis and I have a fear of phones is cuz the pops used to clobber us so often when we were kids cuz we didn’t answer our home telephone “correctly”. His order was for us to make sure that we get the name of the person who had called while he was out of the house. Lousy for us, this was back in the day before Caller ID ever existed.
Whenever our home phone would ring, I don’t know about the sis, but my body would practically shudder. Our home phone’s ringing was like the harbinger of my death (would lead to a good clobberin’ later). We couldn’t not answer it, cuz it might be the pops callin’. It seemed like it was always me ending up having to answer that darn phone cuz I couldn’t find the sis nowheres. So I’d be the one to answer the pops when he came home later.
We had one of those rotary phones. Beige-colored with a thick cord. Used by turnin’ the dials round and round, one number at a time. Click click click, around it’d go.
Just like in the horror movies, whenever our home phone would ring, I’d creep up to it. Then I’d pick up the hand receiver ever so slowly, like I was scared someone on the other line was gonna tell me that I had to pay a whoppin’ amount ‘o ransom dough if I ever wanted to get my puppy back.
(Had that ever happened, I’d never see my puppy again, cuz I sho didn’t have a single penny to my name ’til I was 19 years old. Good thing the parents had never let us have a puppy.)
99% of the time, the caller was a male friend of our pops, which made the much-feared phone calls so much the more terrible. All those old dudes seemed to have the same loud, booming voice as they told me to give the phone to my pops. I’d then let ’em know (in my witto school kid voice) that my pops wasn’t home. (Had they been real macoy robbers, we woulda been robbed many a-times for reals.)
Then the caller would tell me he’d call back later. But right before he hung up, or even as he was tellin’ me that was gonna call back later, I’d hurry to ask as loudly as I could, what his name was. 99% of the time, the dude would say, “My name?” And then he’d either:
a) Say it so fast, that I’d have to ask if he could repeat it again. Even though he did, I still couldn’t hear it for some reason, that I almost always wrote down the wrong name.
b) Totally ignored that I had even asked him, and he’d just hang up on me.
In either case, I was dead meat when the pops got home later. And I’d again get whooped for not getting the caller’s name.
Why didn’t I just tell the pops that no one had called, you ask? Tried that. But many a-times those lousy, no-name-leaving dudes would call back, and let the pops know that they had called earlier. Then my booty would get into even bigger trouble.
So ever since childhood, a phone’s ringing sound (whether landline or mobile) has always caused for me to have a sense of fear whenever I’d hear it.
Just about everyday, I think of sumthin’ to write about. Sumthin’ would happen or I’d be somewhere, and I’d think to meself, I should write about this someday, yup.
But then that thought would just go up in the air cuz:
a) I had forgotten all about it, along with everything else I had told myself to take mental note of.
b) I’d put off writing about it over and over again, cuz I didn’t know how to start the story without it soundin’ too ultra-boring for even me to read.
When I had begun my so-called writing years ago (’bout 13 years now; with my grammar not having improved much), I’d reread what I had written and try to make it even funnier, if that was at all possible. If the sis happened to be passing by, she’d holler at me, “Are you laughing at your own writing again?!” And then I’d try to quiet my crazy self-chucklin’ into little held-in snickers.
~ ~ ~
One of those topics that I had been wantin’ to write about for some time now, but had kept puttin’ off cuz I didn’t know how to begin it, was of this topic, which I’m about to share widcha. It’s the topic of my havin’ learnt how to read Korean from the pops.
I know. From the topic alone, talk about a dry read. So after some jammin’ on my keyboard earlier, I had figured it out. I decided to start off this story by recalling to y’all about the mom’s Math memorization tactic for this ever so unedjumacate-able chick.
Then I’d share about the pops and of his havin’ been an even stricter parent who had clobbered me for other stuffs outside of my pathetic school report card.
Finally, (if ya haven’t fallen asleep yet) I’d reach to the end of my story and its grand finale point of how the pops had taught me how to read Korean.
~ ~ ~
What had made the situation oh so immensely, humongously, miraculously incredible for me is cuz it had contained no head-clobberin’ whatsoever to me for my lack of containing any sense of mental knowledge (my denseness) for the very, very, very first time in my life.
How it had happened:
One day, the pops told the sis and I to go get our bums over to where he was in the livingroom. He then pulled out a small chalkboard that I had never seen in my life. What was even stranger was that I had never seen that small chalkboard ever again. Maybe he had borrowed it from someone and had given it back to ’em after having finished giving to us “his lesson”.
He held that chalkboard upright on his lap, and it was about a foot and a half wide. I had no idea what he was up to, but whatever it was, I was shlumping myself down for another head-clobberin’. Cuz I knew without a hint of a doubt, that I was for certain not gonna have the right answer to whatever he was gonna ask us. (Unlike the smarty pants sis who always had the right answer.) So I braced myself to get whacked, as I listened to the pops as he held that chalkboard.
“Today, I’m gonna teach the two of you how to read Korean”, he said.
Just fabulous, I thought. I can’t even get a decent grade in my English class yet, and now I’ve gotsto learn how to read a whole ‘nuther language. Great. Just great. Somebody please shoot me now.
One by one, he wrote down the Korean characters and told us how they each sounded like. Then he explained how if one character was written down, then how another character would move on over to the spot below, or to the right of it.
To my recollection, his whole entire “lesson” had probably been about a coupla hours. Maybe 3 hours at the longest.
As to how in the world the sounding and the writing of each of those characters had been able to stick in my mind (when those dagnabbit wall-calendered numbers never had for years) is only by this reason: by the great, grand grace of God.
Cuz there is no other answer for how that coulda happened for a person like me. A school dunce like me. A poor student for like forever like me.
While in middle school and as an adult, I had taken the Japanese language several times. The Arabic language just a few years ago. But neither of those languages’ alphabet characters had ever stuck in my head. They’re all Greek to me now.
But for only by reason of being God’s miracle, I had been able to learn how to read Korean with just a coupla hours of havin’ been taught it with a little chalkboard that day by the pops.
Folks would often tell me about how they had taken up learning the Korean language cuz they had an infatuation with watching Korean TV dramas. Just about a week ago, it was in the news of how the language is being taught more in the colleges in the Middle East.
So if perhaps you too have ever had the desire to learn how to read the language as well, then I’d like to tell ya friend, that if a dunce, much-penalized for being a poor student like me can do it, then so can you.