I had forgotten about my father’s statues. They were in the basement in a box. I didn’t know what to do with them, so that’s where they ended up. One day last week, Melissa was cleaning and rearranging the house while I was at work. When I got home, she had created a Buddhist shrine with these lost statues.
There are 6 of them. They’re about eight inches tall. They’re carved of wood and stained a dark cherry color. Each one is a different character. One is a man holding two buckets, each suspended from and end of a staff he holds on his shoulders. One is a man carrying a large grassy pack on his head. One is a crouching woman grabbing a rice plant in her left hand, her right hand now missing the scythe that is racing down to cut the grain. One is an old man with a beard and a large hat, sitting. One is a man holding a huge pack on his back. The last one is a seated Buddha.
I never heard the story of how and why my father purchased these statues. He bought them in a market from a local artisan and sent them home to his mother from Korea in 1973. About 30 years later, my grandmother gave them back to Norman. When he died, my mother gave them to me. One day not that long before he died, I asked him about them. He was a very stoic man, at least to me, so when he spoke, I listened.
We were sitting in the living room of the old house. The television was loud, a western. I was just visiting, watching westerns with him. I remember now it was Petticoat Junction. What was the fascination with the westerns? I thought it must’ve been some comfort zone from his childhood. I got into them with him, and smelled the dust of the tavern. The thick whiskey smell mixed with horse manure and gunpowder. We watched a few episodes and then I tried to talk to him. I had to ease into it.
As long as I can remember, I thought my father knew something I needed to know. I was very inquisitive with him, even as an adult. I thought he possessed some arcane spiritual knowledge that had made him quiet and I wanted to know what it was.
I asked him about the statues and he got the faraway look in his eyes.
“I’ll do you one better. Check this out. ”
He was actually a little exited about whatever he was about to unfold. His bright blue eyes flashed.
“When I was in Korea, we were forever doing ftx. Field Training Exercises. We were always scouting out the countryside. It was beautiful, Joshua. All the rice fields and mountains and old gnarled up trees.”
“And the people. They looked just like those statues, working out in those fields and in the villages. I mean, they were poor, dirt poor. But there was something special about them. They just seemed really happy, especially the poorest ones.”
“There were Buddhist shrines everywhere. I mean, they were into it. I remember once, we were out on ftx in the mountains, way up there. We were walking on a cliff dirt path. It was really narrow, and off to the right was a deep canyon. It was scary shit. And we were carrying our rucksacks full of gear. ”
“But I remember, we kept going on this path and I looked up. There was this huge, huge, huge Buddha statue, carved right into the side of this mountain. It had a real weird feel to it. The whole area was just quiet. Do you know what I’m talking about?”
I don’t know what I said. I thought this might be one of those moments I was waiting for, but I didn’t know what I was missing. Something, though, from the look in his eyes. I did know what he was talking about, but I didn’t know what he wanted to hear or what to say. he seemed hurt and I thought he might be mad for being dumb enough to open up to me. We watched another western in silence then it was time to leave. I gave him a hug, and told him I loved him.
Wherever you are Dad: Thank you. I miss you. I love you.