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Grandma was a tough old bird. She stood about 4’10 or so and weighed a little over 100 pounds. She bore five kids, three out of five survived the Korean War. Around our neighborhood, she was known as the “one-eyed grandma”, having lost her other eye during the chaos of the war (if you’ve missed my Korean War ramblings, read more about how the war had shaped my family’s life here). I grew up with two workaholic parents, so grandma was my main guardian during the day. When I was a baby, much of her day was spent with me attached to her back. She ran errands, she cooked, she cleaned, visited friends while I pretty much nestled myself a home on her back. I was snuggly cased inside a podaegi that wrapped around me and tied onto grandma at her waist in the front. I heard that I was no feather light baby.
I swear, mine looked almost identical to this one (minus the graphics). This one looks all modern and made for the softer today’s babies. Mine was also yellow.
Grandma had a mouth on her. A potty mouth that had me hearing things said that no kids ever should be hearing before 18, or even before 13. She talked mad shit. She’d tell me to never be like my mom and how she thought my dad could’ve married better. She’d refer to every little girl as “ji ji bae (it means “girl” but with more of a negative connotation. It can also be an endearing term among friends. But definitely not something you might call your boss or something)”. She’d speak to everyone she met in Korean, whether they spoke the language or not.
When I started preschool, apparently, I wasn’t fully weaned off of her back. I insisted on being piggybacked to school everyday.
“When I become an old lady that can no longer walk, are you going to carry me on your back like that? I did that with you for years and you weighed a ton,” she’d tell me, referring to a scene that was on TV once where somebody was carrying an old lady on their back.
My family rarely ate out. Grandma always had a full table of dinner prepared when my parents got home. She was a splendid cook. One of the things I hold in my fondest memories is the shikhye that she used to make. She’d make them by the kimchi jars and share the love with friends and neighbors, too. We’d have shikhye all day, everyday until ithe last drop was gone and the next batch was made. I remember that it wasn’t made regularly. I remember it being made on birthdays. So yeah, it was a pretty special, not your everyday thing with us.
When the shikhye would get low, with one or two more servings left, I’d be able to grab the jar with my little hands to pour it into my cup by myself, with no adult supervision. The gratification of the self-pour made the shikhye just a bit extra tasty. I miss grandma’s shikhye and hadn’t tasted anything that came close to it, ever.
When I was in my teen years, grandma was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Her illness took the whole family on a roller coaster ride for many years. In the earlier stages, she called me by my aunt’s name, and my brothers by the names of her nephews that she had parted with during the war. She’d often escape home to go find the ones she lost during the war. The local police would bring her home to safety after searching the neighborhood for hours. She’d soon become incontinent, and then aphasic. Being left at home was no longer an option. She needed a caregiver 24/7.
During her “coherent” moments, she’d scream in hot tears, being aware of her situation, nonstop until she fell back into her “confused” state of mind. During my visits, it would be a hit or miss what state of mind she’d be in. “Do you know who she is?” a nurse would point to me to ask her. Fighting for what little energy she had, she’d weakly nod and her one eye would be glued on me. The nurse would tell me that she seems more perked up when I’d visit, and even eats better when I fed her.
Grandma lost her battle with Alzheimer’s and passed away in 2007. It’s been a while since I thought of her, but writing this post took me back to a place down the grandma memory lane that I hadn’t visited in a long time.
I swear, this post was supposed to be more about shikhye, but I somehow got carried away in distraction with the flooded grandma memories. Forgive me for not going back to edit this post and SHIKHYE-FYING it a bit more. Bottom line, my grandma made delicious shikhye that’d make me do jumping jacks each time she made it. Both are gone now, but the memories of both grandma and her shikhye will live on this blog post.
I don’t think I’ve had homemade shikhye since. I mean I’ve had restaurant made ones at restaurants. And I sometimes get shikhye by the can. It’s usually great. But yeah, the grandma shikhye that has been ingrained in my palate memory may never be identically replicated again. To be honest, I don’t even remember the exact taste to every detail, other than that it was delicious. I remember more of how it made me feel, – the anticipation for when the shikhye was ready for me to drink, indulging the cold sweetness, chewing on the rice, sometimes wishing I had more rice to chew, and how happy I felt after drinking it.
But I understand that shikhye is not that difficult to make. I’ve yet to try it though. Maybe one of these days….
And when I do decide to get around to giving it a try, I might pick from one of these recipes.
In the meantime, I’ll be sippin’ on them canned shikhye. Paldo – Shikhye Reis Punch
Stay tuned for the next post where we will cover ㅅ (s) in the Korean alphabet! We’ll be breaking down 식혜 (shikhye)!
Click here to jump on over to part 2!
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