January 17, 2010

My grandparents have seven kids. And those seven kids got married and had at least two of their own kids - more or less in the same order as they were born. Eldest aunt had a kid first. Second Aunt had her kid, roughly the same difference in years between her and her older sister. I was third. Because mom is the third eldest Aunt. And so forth with some blurring among the younger kids but in good Confucian style, we knew our places not only in our own families, but in the greater family when at holidays my grandmother and grandfather were the head of the table.

For as long as I can remember our family has gathered at New Year’s and one of the cousins’ favorite things – besides the games, the karoake, and the adults urging college aged children to perform and sing songs, the feasting, and the jjul (bowing)- was receiving our sebeh envelopes from each Aunt & Uncle pair, flanked on both sides of my Grandparents, and reading what they’d written. They almost always attempted to write our names, mostly because they gave us money according to our age and didn’t want to mix it up. It irked my sister for years that she received half of what I did even when she graduated college.

Grandpa wrote the best envelopes. Over the years my sister Becky received envelopes that said, “Beggy,” “Libekah,” and once she was given an envelope that said, “Rebekah” but then our cousin Erica, who is the second eldest in her family but in reality closer to my age then my sister, got an envelope that said, “Bekki.” (Actually I want to say this often happened to my cousin who’d have a small identity crisis each time)

Throw in some great grand children, and I imagine my grandfather now spends a good hour before New Year’s, painstakingly writing out names on the envelopes. More than a few bear his earlier efforts, guesses would simply have a line penciled through, and it wasn’t unusual to have two or three different spellings or entirely different names crossed out on your envelope before he settled on one.

When I married a “Raul”, and resisted my mother’s best efforts to rename him from the Bible (How about Peter? Or John? John is best name!), my entire family came to believe his name was really Lau, and spelled it that way because that’s how they pronounced it. So when it came to my own kids I had little expectation that anyone would know how to spell their names, especially the eldest, Raul Andres. I was particularly charmed though by this year’s envelope from Grandpa, the sweet note, how he formatted it as though he were mailing it, and the mysterious Nou following Andre. I’ve no idea what I’m going to do with all these envelopes I’ve saved over the years ... but each one causes a funny little pang in my heart, and one day I’m sure to weep over them.

posted at 12:04 PM by jenn

Filed under: general


01/17/10 04:40 PM

I *miss those envelopes dearly! My grandmother would always write my name in Korean and usually include a small note. When she passed, I found a few of them and really regretted not keeping all of them. They are the only few written items I have of hers (plus a short autobiography she wrote - a page long). But it's really sweet that your grandfather tries especially with all of the great grandkids!

01/21/10 10:03 AM

So sweet, I've always wondered how common these New Year's envelopes were... ! And it's true, maybe these are the only written things I will have from my grandfather... Thanks for your note! I wasn't sure when I jumped back into the blog if anyone would still be around.

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