“That’s the biggest cookie I’ve ever seen!” I was watching the most beautiful Korean woman in the whole world pull the tray from the oven. The cookies were so big, there were only four on the tray. The smell was intoxicating, and filled the whole house. After playing in the yard her two sons, my brother and I had gone into the kitchen right as Oksoon was bringing the first batch out of the oven.
Just a moment later, I was holding a warm chocolate-chip oatmeal cookie on a napkin in my two hands. It was far too big for only one hand, and much too precious to take a chance any part of it might wind up on the floor. We sat at the kitchen table and slowly ate The Most Delicious Cookies in the Whole World. I appreciated how the soft, warm cookie edges lifted up longingly as I removed small pieces, savoring each. This was before the era of shopping mall cookie stores with their giant cookies, but even those could never compare to this heavenly, homemade treat.
At our house, we made cookies, but in respectable sizes – maybe 10-12 on a tray. Four cookies on a single tray seemed outlandish, outrageous, luxurious. It was a new concept for me – giant cookies that tasted better than anything else in the world. Another was meeting a Korean person for the first time, and finding out she made what seemed to me to be American cookies that were beyond outstanding. Aren’t chocolate chip cookies and oatmeal cookies American food, and how does a Korean woman know how to make the best I’ve ever tasted? These were the thoughts running through my young mind.
I had seen dolls with painted Asian faces in stores, but they were nothing like Oksoon. She was a small woman, just a little over five feet tall. Her makeup was perfect, and her hair looked beautiful in a stylish beehive. She was wearing a pretty dress, nylon stockings, high heels, and an apron. She was smiling and laughing, and telling us in her broken English to sit down at the table and eat. She was an absolutely stunning beauty.
I grew up in Texas and Oksoon was my introduction to Korea. As an adult I learned she was a Korean military war bride, having married an American G.I. My mother was volunteering to help teach adults to read that summer, and Oksoon was her student. They struck up a lasting friendship. Oksoon’s goal was to become an American citizen.
In order to be a citizen, a person needs to know a lot of things as part of the citizenship test. The test consists of 100 questions, including some specific to each state. During the exam, the candidate will be asked ten questions randomly from the list and must get 6 out of 10 correct to pass. Some of the questions are quite tricky. For example, do you know what the two longest rivers in America are? Can you name the wars fought in the 1800s? How about the names of your representatives? If you want to try your hand at a sample test for fun, here’s a link. We were all so proud the day Oksoon earned her citizenship. My mother gave her an engraved silver platter to commemorate the occasion.
As a thank-you Oksoon asked our family to join hers for traditional Korean food prepared by her. We ate in the formal dining room, and she fried the egg rolls at the table. These egg rolls were huge, perhaps the size of a small burrito, and to this day, I have never had an egg roll anything like what she prepared. There were many exotic dishes to try; Oksoon was a wonderful cook.
When I was twelve, Oksoon introduced me to something completely new – domestic violence. My mother and I had gone to visit her at work. She worked in a Wyatt’s Cafeteria, cleaning tables. She showed me her foot which was swollen, bruised and purple. She was wearing a slipper because it wouldn’t fit in a shoe. She said her husband had stomped it with his motorcycle boots because he was angry with her. Her face was puffy from crying, and she cried while she talked to us. She no longer looked like the beautiful woman I first met. Instead she looked sad, afraid, unhappy, desperate and hopeless. Her family was back in Korea, and she had only her few friends to help. She worked a lot to help take care of the family, and didn’t have time for a big social network. She considered my mother to be her best friend, and really had no one else.
Domestic violence crosses all ethnic boundaries and ages. The Department of Justice defines domestic violence as “a pattern of abusive behavior in any relationship that is used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another intimate partner. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person.” The Domestic Violence Resource Center says that 1 out of 4 women has experienced domestic violence, and three-quarters of Americans personally know someone who has been a victim of it. The National Organization for Women states that three women per day are murdered by an intimate partner.
The National Domestic Violence Hotline phone number for victims of domestic violence is 1-800-799-SAFE (7233). The State of California provides a domestic violence resource directory by county which gives a list of local agencies that can help a battering victim and their children.
In San Mateo County, Communities Overcoming Relationship Abuse (CORA) serves domestic violence survivors. The website states, “We provide free and confidential emergency, intervention and prevention services, including the county’s only emergency shelter and transitional housing for victims/survivors and services in Spanish, English and Tagalog.” The toll free 24-hour hotline is 800-300-1080.
My mother and father helped Oksoon escape from her violent marriage along with her two sons. Within a year or so she met a wonderful older man, and married him in a service in our living room. My mother was her matron-of-honor. It was a joyful time. She and her new husband spent holidays with us, and with them. Oksoon enjoyed a life she had never experienced with her new husband, a widower, who absolutely adored her, just as she attempted to spoil him rotten. They were a cute couple.
When I was 17 years old, Oksoon and her new husband were murdered by her former husband and his new wife. The lovely Korean beauty, who smiled and laughed, was a wonderful cook, and made the world’s best cookies, was suddenly and horribly gone leaving a terrible, empty, scary hole in all our lives. Murder creates a unique kind of wound.
My parents attempted to get custody of her two children, which was both Oksoon and the murderer’s wish. Her sons lived with us for six months and my parents spent thousands of dollars of their own money on attorneys and taking the kids to therapy. But the Texas courts placed the children in the custody of the murderer’s family – the place that spawned this sociopath.
While Oksoon’s story is really tragic, over time I have learned to focus on the ways I loved her and she created magic my life. To rave reviews I have prepared her cookies many times for my children, family and friends. I’ve never managed to learn how to transfer a 6-inch cookie from a tray, so alas, mine are normal-sized, about nine to a cookie sheet. Actually, that’s still pretty big.
I would like to share the recipe of The Most Delicious Cookies in the Whole World. I can imagine Oksoon’s beautiful, broad smile right now thinking her cookies continue to delight others, especially children.
Oksoon’s Super Delicious Oatmeal Chocolate Chip Cookies
1 c. white sugar
1 c. brown sugar
2 sticks margarine or butter
1 t. vanilla
Sift together and add:
1 1/2 c. flour
1 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
3 c. dry oatmeal
1 1/4 c. semi sweet chocolate chips
Optional 1 c. pecans
Bake on ungreased sheets
350 degrees, 10-15 minutes