[Family drama] Step, step, where do we go now?
by Guest Beanie
Step-families, now called blended families, have all sorts of resources at hand to help all family members thrive these days – books, support groups, therapists… My family drama story takes place in the 1940s, when those resources were non-existent and not blending was perhaps more common than it is now.
I grew up in a family of five siblings, with 25 years between the oldest and the youngest. I have a half-sister, B. (23 years older than me), a brother and sister (11 and 9 years older), and a sister who’s 2 years younger. My childhood memories of B. are when she was grown with a family of her own. When they came to our house for Sunday dinner, my sister and I and her daughters would play all afternoon. I didn’t really care whether she was a sister or an aunt. She was a grown-up. Maybe it felt as if she was an aunt, and as if her daughters were cousins, rather than the nieces they were, but it didn’t matter and we had a lot of fun together.
But when, as a young adult, I finally heard our family’s story, it made me determined to never call B. a “half” anything. So, long story short, my dad and his first wife had B., then his wife died. After his first wife’s death, my dad and his daughter moved in with his mom, Granny. Single dads weren’t expected to be hands-on then, and Granny lived in the same town. Granny cooked, kept house and took care of B. Win-win for all–at least temporarily. Sometime after that, he met my mom and they got married.
When my dad married my mom and they moved into their own house, B. was left behind at Granny’s. When I first learned this, I didn’t have any particular feelings about it. But once I had kids of my own, I started thinking about it a lot. How could my dad leave his own daughter behind and start a new life with the new wife? They even lived in the same town!
My mom took it for granted. It wasn’t a big decision or a demand on her part, it was just what they did. A newly married couple got a clean start, with no “step” or “half” complications. Because we’re not the type of family to talk much about family history and feelings, I never learned the details I would love to know now – did B. spend time with Dad? Was she invited to their house, but didn’t live there? All I know is that when my mom died, B. said she always felt like my mom’s relatives looked down on her. She wasn’t good enough for them and that’s why she had to live at Granny’s house. There were a lot of tears about a lot of things that day.
When the Camellia Blooms
I know grown-ups are often grown up in name only, like Dong-baek, Yong-shik, Jong-ryeol and Jessica in When the Camellia Blooms. In so many ways, Pil-gu will have a better story than the one my sister had. Yes, our Camellia parenting quartet will make mistakes, get on each other’s nerves, and do things that hurt and confuse Pil-gu. They all still have some growing up to do. But they all care about Pil-gu in their own ways, even Jessica, making sure he knows he can eat their food. Pil-gu will know he is loved, even if sometimes his family will drive him crazy.
Although Dong-baek’s status in Camellia is at the bottom of the Ongsan hierarchy, Pil-gu is accepted by the ajummas; even nurtured by Deok-soon. He feels hurt by the abuse his mom gets, but he’s not directly at the receiving end of it unlike the stepkids in an older drama, Brilliant Legacy. I’m re-watching it and getting my heart broken all over again by the stepmom’s cruel rejection of her stepchildren, Eun-sung and Eun-woo.
To the stepmom in Brilliant Legacy, family members are there to help you get what you want, and to be discarded if they don’t. After a horrible first marriage, she married Eun-sung’s father to gain financial security for her and her own daughter. She expects her biological daughter to lie to marry into an even richer and more powerful family. [SPOILER ALERT] And when her new husband dies, she literally kicks his children to the curb. The siblings do get their happy ending, reunited with their dad who isn’t really dead, but not until after a story with many sad and dramatic twists.
I think this drama still speaks to me strongly because of my own family history. The pain and suffering Eun-sung and Eun-woo go through gives me a window into the experience my sister had. She may not have been all alone, but she was surely lonely and confused. And seeing this just strengthens my commitment to always say that I have three sisters, not one half-sister and two (whole) sisters.
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Tags: Theme of the Month