My Mom and Her Car

If there is one thing I am most thankful for, it is my God-given constitution; I don’t easily get tired. For someone who travels all the time, this is the greatest blessing. There is, however, an exception. I am unaffected by flights or train rides because I already expect the trips to be long, but I immediately feel tired when I travel by car. Why this is the case, I wasn’t sure at first. But after a while, I finally realized that  it’s because of my mom.

From the age of six, I traveled from Wonju to Seoul for piano lessons, at least once or twice a month, and at times as often as once a week. My life on the road reached its peak when I was in second grade of elementary school. Immensely worried about my imminent concert, in which I was to play with an orchestra for the very first time, my teacher called me so often that, eventually, I ended up going to Seoul five times a week. My mom and I could take off at about 3 or 4 in the afternoon, if my mom, who is a high school teacher, shuffled around her teaching schedule. What I did most on these long trips was to read books. My eyesight dropped down to far below average as a result, but the ride gave me the perfect reading time, undisturbed by anyone. Such was a precious gift for someone who couldn’t put a book down at meal tables. The next thing I did most was to sleep. I still like to sleep more than eat, but back then, it was even more so. Thanks to my ability to sleep anywhere I put my head down, I also slept a lot in the car.

Meanwhile, what did mom do? She drove, of course. Whenever we got in the car, the first thing she did was to say a prayer, wishing for our trip to be a safe one. Then she said, “go to sleep,” at which I immediately fell into deep sleep and woke up only at the sound of her voice saying, “we’ve arrived.”

When we arrived at my teacher’s, the sun would already be setting slowly. But it still wouldn’t be mom’s time to rest. Even though the tape recorder was on, she took notes on everything that was being said in the lesson that lasted for over two hours. It was mom who held a conversation with my teacher instead of me, who was so shy and could barely say “hello” and “bye.”

What happened on the way back home depended on how the lesson went that day. When it didn’t go well—in other words, when I got scolded—we mostly listened to the cassette tape together. While listening, mom would say, “see? I already told you this as well,” to which I would snap and respond, “ok, ok!” When we were about to drive out of Seoul, she would make me do the same thing each time: call my teacher and apologize. I couldn’t defy her, so I simply carried out her order and then forced myself to sleep.

But when the lesson went well, mom and I would listen to the radio together. The Classic FM was our favorite. Possessing a sophisticated musical taste, mom wouldn’t hesitate criticizing performances of famous artists. Of course, there were also great performances we were mesmerized by, and we lost ourselves to them. We would also debate current issues discussed on the news, and laugh together when a DJ recited someone else’s story.  

On the day I brought my recorder (musical instrument) back from school, we would hold the world’s most modest concert. Mom is a great singer who had at one point considered majoring in voice, so her singing and my playing became a rather nice harmony.

As I grew older, we came to talk most of the time. If I explained something that happened at school and said, “I don’t understand her! If it were me, I wouldn’t act that way!”, mom would tell me, “I understand. But she isn’t you, is she? Everyone is different.” If mom said, “nothing beats being diligent,” I would argue, “that’s not necessarily true for musicians!” Mom also told me a lot of things: her favorite stories about historical events, stories about music, sometimes stories about students she taught, stories about her colleagues, stories about my family I hadn’t heard before. Back then, because I had a lot of friends, I hadn’t realized that I was mom’s only friend.

When we returned to Wonju, it would be pitch-dark and almost midnight. At the end of our trip, we always checked how long the ride took. It almost never went over two hours. When it took less than that, we would be happy that we returned so fast. I think this is the reason I get tired whenever I am in a car for more than two hours; I unmistakably wake up, my body feels stiff and my head feels cramped. When this happens, I always think back to the times, thinking, “mom always made it in two hours.”

Yeoleum SON