Friday, April 1, 2011

Tupelo Honey

It's amazing how a song can bring you right back into the heart of a moment.

It's been a long time since I've thought about my time in Korea.  Certainly I think about it in passing on a daily basis.  I have Korean masks on display in my office.  I wear my Seoul Pub rugby shirt to bed on a regular basis.  Very recently, news of events in South Korea have made me think about what it was like to be an ex-pat living in a country that is, technically, still at war and while not widely publicized has daily border squirmishes.

But I haven't really had one of those moments when my senses are thrown back into the moment and if I close my eyes that world swirls around me.

Today I was trying to concentrate on a project and put on my headphones to block out other noise.  On a random play list the song "Tupelo Honey" by Van Morrison came up.

And in a moment, I was thrown back into a little bar "up the hill" that we went to on a regular basis.  If I closed my eyes, I could smell the aftershave of the boys on 48 hour leave and the wafting aroma of foods not found anyplace stateside.  I could hear the music in the background and the laughter of people enjoying the freedom of leave or the freedom of a moment without students encircling their knees begging for attention.  I could taste the kool aide and soju of a "kettle".  I could feel the heat of the night and the weight of the humid air on my skin.

Normally Van Morrison wouldn't be something I would listen to.  Through a friend, I'd met a sweet man named Skip.  Skip was a contractor that worked with the US Military on security issues and regularly traveled to Seoul.  Skip had shockingly white, thick hair, a smile a mile wide, a gentele demeanor and when we danced my nose would be squarely in his chest. 

Skip was from the East Coast and had, by all accounts, a lovely wife and two grown daughters he adored.  Having been in Korea awhile, I knew the difference between someone looking to step outside of his life back in the world and someone who never waivered from what he was, no matter where his location or distance from his family.  Skip was the latter.  If he asked me to dance or bought me a kettle, it wasn't because he was trying to forget his wife, Joy, or accomplish some sort of ulterior motive.  He just wanted to dance with a friend. 

Skip was the sort of man that worried about us girls being in an unsafe environment and would call us when he heard intel that might suggest we should move to safer ground for a period of time.  He never told us any details, he just casually suggested that we might want to spend time south of the Hahn River so that should something happen, we not be trapped when they blew the bridges crossing the river.  He would bring us treats from home....magazines and books that we couldn't find in Seoul.  He would go shopping at the PX and bring us a fridge full of food that we'd have to pay triple the price for at a black market shop.  He genuinely cared about our well being.

Skip regularly told me I reminded him of his youngest daughter.  One night he requested the DJ play Tupelo Honey and asked me to dance.  He said that when he was at home and out and about, he'd always dance with his daughter to the song because she was "an angel of the first degree".  For the rest of our friendship, whenever Skip was in town, he'd request that song and ask me to dance.  Skip knew that some of the experiences I was having at the time made me question my worth and would continue to lead me down a road of insecurity and self doubt.  Being young and inexperienced in a environment like I was in can do that to a girl and it took me a long time and a good deal of therapy to reclaim what I'd always known to be true about myself.

Before I left Korea, I saw Skip and we danced to Tupelo Honey.  At the end of the song, he said, "Heather, please always remember that you're as sweet as Tupelo Honey."

I don't know what became of Skip, we lost contact when I left Korea. 

So for the sweet young girl that I used to be...

For the sweet young daughter I'm raising who will hopefully never question herself the way her mama did and will not have to go the sort of self doubt I did...

And for Skip where ever he may be.....