Lunch, they tell me, will be pizza. Dinner, picnic. Someday, I tell them, I will make pizza sauce with tomatoes instead of ketchup.
A few hours later, Se Ho says, “Sara, we go to my father’s grave, you will come with us?”
“Your father’s grave?”
“Ah, no, grandfather’s grave.”
Put two and two together–we will picnic at his grandfather’s grave. “Sara, you must wear long sleeves.” So I put on a pullover and Se Ho wears a mint green track suit.
The sun is going down as we arrive and the weather is perfect. If I could photograph the moments that I can’t photograph without ruining them, I would have a picture of my host’s older brother in a straw hat, hands behind his head leaning against the mound of someone’s grave in the field of rolling grave mounds, each about three feet high, saying “Good afternoon. The weather is nice,” as a wind blows and the sun sets behind the trees. It smells faintly of manure from a field somewhere nearby.
The three brothers have spent the better part of the day with a small farming scythe trimming the grass. My host then, for the final ceremonial trimming, climbs on top of his father’s grave with a weedwacker.
There is a small stone block in front of the mound. They put out a bottle of soju, tupperware container of meat, a plate of braken, a bowl of rice with chopsticks standing upright in the center, a small tin cup, the last watermelon of the season, three apples, three pieces of pat bbang–bread filled with sweet adzuki beans– and three sticks of incense.
Se Ho bows twice then pours a small amount of soju in the tin cup while his father and one of the oldest brother prostrate in unison, two times, and the youngest sits on his knees.
Se Eun and her mother then do the same. My host takes some of the rice and puts it in the soju and a small amount of everything is put into the small tin cup–a scrap of apple peel, a crumb of bread–then it is dumped out on the ground beside the stone and we dine in the space between the graves.
The kids are bored quickly. Se Eun discovers the scythe and cuts at the grass, Se Ho scratches the small of her back with the rake as she bends over, then finds a frog and although I try to rescue it, he takes it away and slaughters it behind a mound where we cannot watch. Se Eun runs to her mother looking visibly upset. Se Ho is playing music from his cellphone so even if we cannot see him in his mint green track suit, we can hear him faintly in the distance.
My host’s mother, a little bent over, hobbling along in shoes that seem too short for her feet, looks familiar to me. But surely, with sons as successful as hers, she does not sell peanuts and sweet potatoes on the wall outside the bank I pass to go to the gym. We have to climb over a low wall of stacked-stone to get to the car and she refuses my offer to help her down. I have been told that the walls on Jeju Island are made, without mortar, so that the wind passes through and does not knock them down.
Se Eun massages her fathers shoulders with peppermint oil that evening in front of the television. After he goes to bed early and sore, they put on the Animal Planet for me because it is in English. In the morning, Se Eun and I eat the leftovers from the picnic for breakfast–rice balls wrapped in egg.