“Well, I’m glad Grandfather is dead. He hated me, always sneering at my tattoos or my shaved head.” Totee thrust the shovel into the ground. “I will be happy to see these hateful flowers ripped out and turned into, I don’t know, dead flower shit, I guess.”
Totee’s mother, Shinatu tsk’d at her daughter. “When you were only ten, you and he were best of friends, scheming, cooking, dreaming up strange recipes that the two of you would stew and forced us to eat.” Shinatu removed a clump of weeds. “And we’re not digging up his favorites, only the nasty volunteers that took over when he could no longer garden.”
“Weeds. They’re all weeds to me.”
“For the record, he loved you very much. When you grew distant and rebellious, he didn’t know how to talk to you.”
“So he mocked me instead?”
“He blamed himself which, I suppose, came out as anger.”
“Maybe.” Totee continued to dig, plunging the spade deep into the rich soil that her grandfather had lovingly cultivated. She spoke as she worked. “After Daddy died, only Harabuji would listen. He never looked down at me with those caterpillar eyebrows. He always bent to my level or lifted me up. Eye to eye was how he said we should speak.” She paused and hung an elbow on the end of the shovel. In a gruff voice that mimicked her grandfather she said, “Little Totee, we are equal, all people equal. Never think you not worthy.”
“You see, he loved you very much.”
“So, why did he change? I didn’t change that much, did I?”
“You both did. In opposite directions, I’m afraid.”
Totee, now a young woman, emptied the shovel, a clump of dark green leaves flopping upside down. On her next strike, one a little softer than the last, she hit something and an odd sound came up from the soil: ‘tink’. “I didn’t think there were any rocks left in his garden.”
“Be careful. Maybe he buried sacred treasure down there.”
Totee knelt and with gloved hands, scooped away the dirt from the shovel’s slice. “There’s something shiny down here.” Reaching in she retrieved a clay pot with what looked to be a wax sealed lid.
Shinatu exclaimed, “Ah ha, he did leave you treasure.”
Turning the vessel around in her hands, Totee found a date inscribed. “This is from like, five years ago.” She gave it a shake. The mason jar-sized container sloshed a bit. “Whatever it is, I think it’s gone…”
“It’s kimchi, silly.” Shinatu held out her arms. “See if there are any more in there.”
Mother and daughter sat in chairs on the porch; four cleaned-off clay urns rested in a low-cut cardboard box on the table.
“No note?” Totee seemed disappointed.
“Why would there be a note? I doubt very much your harabuji would have intentionally forgotten he’d stashed these in his garden.”
“So, he buried them, and then…”
“We all grow old, Totee.” Shinatu hefted one of the pots. “I’m sure he thought he’d be sharing these with you, when they were ready.”
“Ready? Rotten now, I’m sure.”
Shinatu squinted her eyes and gave the smallest of head shakes. “Don’t be so sure. Kimchi gets better with age.” She inspected the lid and the seal around it. “As long as nothing gets inside.”
She ran a paring knife around the top, flicking off shavings of beeswax and wiping away any flecks of remaining dirt. With a quick thrust she drove the blade beneath the lid and a faint hiss escaped.
“Hmm, smells just like my childhood,” Shinatu said, lifting her nose to take a deeper breath. “Go fetch a bowl and some utensils.”
“You’re kidding, right? We’re not actually going to eat that?”
Shinatu furrowed her brow and gave her daughter a look, off you go.
“Fine,” Totee said. She returned after a moment and handed her mother a spoon.
Shinatu dished out a healthy serving. The red chili flakes, the pungent odor of fermentation and the colorful varieties of cabbage all gave indication of a heady brew of kimchi. She touched her tongue to her first bite.
“Mmm, tangy.” She took in the forkful. “Very nice. Quite bubbly, like a fizzy drink.”
“Soda, Mom.” Totee sniffed and sniffed again. She loved kimchi, a trait no doubt developed by her grandfather. She nibbled, swallowed then took a larger bite. “It’s perfect.”
They ate a third of the jar.
“Whoa,” Totee said, her head lolling back against the cushioned deck chair. “That’s some freaky-looking light show.”
“Why are the lanterns swaying with the music?” her mother asked.
“You hear music too?”
“Old Korean music, the kind Harabuji would play. His record skipping at the second song.”
Totee jerked upright. “You see him, Mama?” She pointed to a spot in the garden. “Grandfather’s right there. Harabuji, is that you?”