My Grandmother’s Eyes

Posted on: April 1, 2013
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By Beth IIiff

My grandmother’s eyes were a deep shade of mossy green. Like the ivy climbing up her back gate. Green as the pine trees that covered the mountain where she lived. Or as green as the jade turtle she always carried in her purse.
My mother’s eyes are just like my grandmother’s. And mine are just like my mother’s. I would sit between them in Grandma’s old pick-up truck. Three pairs of green eyes sparkling as we laughed and bounced down the mountain road into town.
“You hold this fella for me,” Grandma would whisper in my ear. She would slip the turtle from her purse into my lap, “We’ll be right back.”
“You’re cold!” I’d murmur to the little stone animal while they ran errands. My fingers would gently stroke his back and he would come alive in my palm. “You’re my best friend,” I told the turtle as he stared back at me with his jade green eyes.
I had many things to tell my turtle friend that summer. Mama and I had come to stay at Grandma’s while Daddy worked in the city. Grandma was sick and needed the extra help. I missed Daddy and I was worried about Grandma.
I had my 10th birthday party in Grandma’s backyard that summer. She coughed a lot that day, running in and out of the house, decorating the yard, baking a cake, wrapping presents. “I’m going to make this only grand-daughter’s 10th birthday a special one she won’t ever forget!” Grandma gasped.
How could I ever forget that summer? It was our last one with Grandma. Just before she died, she insisted we take a slow walk down to the creek behind her house. The trees formed a green tunnel over the creek right where we liked to sit on the footbridge. We dangled our bare feet in the chilly water. She held the turtle in her wrinkled hands.
“My brother gave this to me almost 60 years ago. He had green eyes just like yours.” Grandma gently nudged me with her shoulder.
“I didn’t know you had a brother.” I said
“Jimmy was two years older than me. We lost our mama when I was 10 years old, just like you. After Mama died, he and I became very close. Daddy was grieving terribly for Mama.”
My green eyes searched Grandma’s face, “That must’ve been so sad for you!”
“Oh,” said Grandma, “it was sad, but Jimmy made it better for me. We spent that whole summer together. When school started, he walked me to class and picked me up each afternoon. He took good care of me. He was my brother, but he was also my best friend.” She smiled and squeezed the turtle in both hands.
“What happened, Grandma? Why did he give you the turtle?”
Grandma scooted me closer to her side and she held the turtle up so the sun reflected off the smooth jade of his shell. “The Korean Conflict, they called it. My brother enlisted in the US Marines in 1950, right after he graduated high school, and he was sent to Korea late that fall.”
I shivered just thinking about a war across the ocean and how sad Grandma must have felt.
Grandma continued her story. “Just before he left, he slipped this little jade turtle into my hand. ‘He’s the color of our eyes.’ Jimmy said to me. He held up an identical turtle and put it in his own pocket. ‘I’ll keep this one in my pocket and remember to pray for you. You keep yours and remember to pray for me.’ he told me.”
I put my arm around Grandma’s waist and leaned against her thin shoulder. “Did you ever see him again, Grandma?”
“No, I never did.” Grandma shook her head sadly. “He sailed to Korea the next day. He died in that war.” She wiped a tear from her cheek and tried to smile at me as she placed her arm around my shoulder. “But when your mama was born with Jimmy’s green eyes that turtle reminded me to pray for her. And then you came along with the same green eyes and guess what that turtle reminded me to do?”
“Pray for me!” I laughed. “I always knew this turtle was special.” I gently reached over and touched the turtle, which was still in Grandma’s hand. She lifted the turtle to her face, kissed it, and handed it to me. “I want you to have it. Remember to pray for people you love. Pray for people who need God’s comfort and your friendship.” She wrapped me and the jade green turtle in a firm hug and we sat quietly in the sun by the water.
The turtle and I, Mama, and Daddy all moved to a new city shortly after Grandma died. Missing Grandma was hard and so was adjusting to a different apartment, new friends, and strange places…all in a foreign country called Korea.
“Why did we have to move?” I asked Mama again as we unpacked another box of dishes.
“Daddy’s company needs him here in Seoul. It’s only for a couple of years. It will be an adventure!” she smiled and gave my hand an encouraging squeeze.
Our apartment building was in the very center of the city and Mama was right. It was exciting to see how people in another country lived. Daddy and I laughed when the movers removed our windows and used a special lift truck to move our furniture and belongings into our apartment on the sixth floor.
“It’s so hard to make friends here! Everyone is so different from me.” I complained to Mama one afternoon after school. She poured me a glass of milk and sat beside me at the small kitchen table. Our apartment in Korea was much smaller than in the U.S. and being crowded sometimes made me grumpy.
“Remember the story from the Bible about the stranger who helped the man who was hurt?” Mama patted my hand and reached for the cookie jar. We shared a cookie and she explained. “Just like Jesus taught in the story, your neighbor is anyone who is hurt and needs your help. Maybe you should look for a friend who is lonely like you.” I took the jade turtle out of my pocket and put it on the table in front of me. With my chin in my hands, I stared into his green eyes and thought about what Mama said.
The next evening, Mama sent me down the street to the neighborhood market. She needed fresh vegetables to cook with our rice. We ate a lot of rice in Korea. Koreans usually eat it at every meal.
After I bought the vegetables, I decided to return to our apartment by a different route. Just a few blocks behind our apartment complex was an older brick building surrounded by a black rail fence. The sign said “Youngnak Orphanage” in English below the Korean characters. I paused as I walked along the fence. Near the gate sat a small boy who seemed to be a few years younger than me. I could hear his muffled sobs.
“Why are you crying?” I asked gently. He looked up at me and tears shimmered in his large brown eyes. His gaze held mine shyly when I reached through the fence to touch his thin hand.
“Me sad,” he said and new tears plopped into his damp lap. “Nobody love me.” he explained in broken
English. “Grandfather die. I come here alone.” He looked up at the tall building behind him. Most children in Korea learn some English as soon as they enter school. I was very glad for this fact.
“I am so sorry about your grandfather.” I sat down in the dirt and faced him with the fence between us and our hands clasped through the bars. “My grandmother died in America just before we moved here. I miss her a lot.”
He nodded his head and his hair shone black in the sunlight against my blond curls.
“Anyan Haseyo.” I said. “My name is Ashlynn. What is your name?”
He sat up straighter and flashed me a hesitant smile. “My name Tae Hoon.” His brown hand shook my white one. We became friends and met at the fence almost every day after school.
One day, in the early spring, I found Tae Hoon sitting on a low brick wall near the stairs where we often played.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“My heart heavy.” He replied. “One year past, my grandfather die.” He was clutching something small in his hand and the tears rolled freely down his cheeks. “Grandfather tell me that I not be sad for him. He in heaven. But I miss him very much!”
I sighed. “My Grandmother told me the same thing before she died.” I scooted closer and put a comforting arm around his shoulder.
“Grandfather tell me great story about love. Tell me to always remember his love and to love others because of this story.” My friend wiped his eyes with his free hand. The other hand was still holding something in his lap.
“Grandfather tell me verse from Bible. “No greater love has any man than that he lay down his life for
another.’” he paused.
“Is that what the story was about?” I gently encouraged.
“Yes, Ashlynn.” Tae Hoon looked into my eyes. “I will tell you as Grandfather told me. Bad war between North Korea and South Korea. Many die. Grandfather young man with wife and baby, my mother. Grandfather joins army. United States helping fight for freedom. Grandfather fight with them as scout. Become best friends with American. They called this American “Cricket” because he always making noise. My grandfather and Cricket were together that first winter and spring of the war. It cold and they share blankets, coats, and food. Summertime and war not good. Grandfather and Cricket hiding in foxholes. For three days bombs exploding. Shooting bad and many afraid. Grandfather say Cricket read his Bible out loud and encourage others each night.
One night, many bombs. Man was wounded and Grandfather and Cricket help. Cricket push Grandfather and man into foxhole just as bomb explodes behind them. Cricket hurt badly and Grandfather held him as died. Last words Cricket say to Grandfather, “Be a good father. Share Jesus with everyone.” Then he reached into his pocket and gave something to Grandfather. “Keep this with you to remember our friendship. And pray for my sister each time you see this. She will be so lonely without me! Good-bye, my friend.” Cricket died that day but Grandfather never forgot him. He always remembered the friend that died for him. Before Grandfather die, he tell me this story and gave me this.”
Tae Hoon opened his hand and showed me what his grandfather had given him. I gasped in surprise and reached into my own pocket. His brown eyes met my green eyes and then we looked down at the matching jade turtles resting in our hands.
“Grandmother was lonely without Jimmy but the turtle reminded her to pray for him. She gave me the turtle to remind me of her and asked me to pray for others.” I said.
“Grandfather was lonely without his friend Cricket. Turtle reminded him to pray for Cricket’s sister.” Tae Hoon mused.
“Could it be?” I asked Tae Hoon. “Could it be that my grandmother’s brother and your grandfather were friends?”
“Could it be?” Tae Hoon grinned. “Could it be that we have both been praying for the same thing each time we touch our turtles that are the same?”
When we left Korea, Tae-Hoon came with us as my adopted brother. I was able to teach him all about my country and he taught me more about his. We never forgot the lesson of love and friendship that our
grandparents – and the jade turtles – taught us.


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