|REVIEW STORE: Did you enjoy John's short story? Please tell him so. We know he will appreciate your
feedback. CLICK HERE to write a review of "Our Street".
NEW REVIEWS: A beautifully nostalgic piece about a beautiful place to live. Written with great care
and sensitivity, making me wish I had lived on a street like that. Papa Han is perhaps one of the most
memorable characters I have ever met in a non fiction piece. Well done, Mr. Cashwell *****__Su
A pleasant and memorable trip to a special place created by circumstance and the interaction of the people
who were fortunate enough to share such a special place. Would that all neighborhoods could someday be
such as the neighborhood of "Our Street." I enjoyed this story so much. I will read it again and again. At
least once to my children. *****__Leann Marshall.
A beautiful and touching story crafted at the fine hand of Mr. Cashwell. Indeed, an unusual place at a
special point in time for all to look back to with envy and a great deal of joy. Carefully written to please
even the most jaded reader. *****__Barbara A. Sabo.
|Literary Masters, Inc.
Publicists for Short Stories, Books, Poems and Songs
Long Island, New York 11971
By John E. Cashwell
Monday, October 1, 1995
Rated -G- by the author
A Trip Along Nostalgia Lane Can Be Most Pleasant.
|Ours was a safe street with its two ends pinched together. So that the entrance and exit to our street were
the same. The word in real estate language for this kind of homes site is cul-de-sac from the French
meaning a closed passage with a turnaround at the closed end.
The builder's plan for this homes site was special. There were ten houses on our street. Some had more
than an acre of park-like grounds. Nine of the houses were located around the perimeter of the cul-de-sac.
The tenth house was in its center. A cul-de-sac with a house in the middle was special because it held us
together, like the axle of a wheel.
The family who lived in the house to the right of us was Russian. They traced their ancestry back to Czar
Nicholas. The grandparents in this family immigrated to America after the Second World War, so their
children Sam and Marina were raised and educated in America, as were Sam and Marina’s children. Sam
and Marina’s daughter Vera played field hockey and their son Nicholas was a volleyball star. Both were
fine students, fluent in Russian and English.
To the left of us was a Jewish family. Leona and Artie were both artists, one might say, although their
individual artistry found expression in very different forms. Like our Russian neighbors, they also had two
children. Both were active boys. Roger was an exceptionally fine football player, and Mitchell was a very
Leona was a southpaw, at least when she practiced her golf swing, which made the sport difficult for her.
Yet, when viewed from our driveway, she was so lovely and her swing so graceful that she created a most
alluring picture. So much so that if you watched her practice too long, it could make you melt down like
fresh butter in the sun.
Artie, on the other hand, painted his pictures with a lawnmower. He had a powerful ride-on mower that
cut perfectly aligned swaths through his lawn at his every instruction. Sometimes Artie rode along with his
hat on. Backwards. You know, the way kids wear their hats today. And the mower’s grass catcher off.
Then he would paint large rainbows of grass in the sky as the mower’s vacuum ingested and then expelled
grass cuttings in bright-green arcs behind him.
Artie believed that leaving the clippings behind was good because they were their own form of fertilizer
used to strengthen his lawn and make it even greener. I always bagged the clippings. I like the lines my
mower leaves behind after I’m finished. I never gave much consideration to the recycling benefits of
clippings until I met Artie. He just let them fall back to earth like healing rain. I guess that’s one of the
reasons why I have always felt that Artie was closer to God than I.
To the left of our Jewish friends were our Korean neighbors. They had two children who were first
generation Americans. The mother and father of this family had lived in America more than fourteen
years. Like our neighbors to the right, their children were also bilingual. Something I have always envied.
Around the circle we had other good families and friends who were of Irish, Italian, English, German and
Lebanese extraction. A Scottish family lived in the house in the middle. Roy and Lovena really were the
steel that held us all together. When they bought their house they set out on a major remodeling program.
Roy is a fine architect, so he drew up the plans for the changes that Lovena wanted. It took Roy a-month-
of-Sundays to complete the renovations, every change being crafted by his hands. It took Lovena no time
at all to break the bank in orchestrating all the improvements and new purchases needed to make the
renovations just right. Which is the way it turned out, because back then their house was the finest on our
Maybe the best thing about Roy was his unselfish use of spare time and skills. If there was the smallest
job with which a neighbor needed help, Roy was there to lend a hand or one of his tools. Once, I borrowed
his roof ladder to clean my roof. Although he never directly asked me to return it, he did mention, after a
year or so, that he might have to start charging me interest. So, you see, our street was very diverse in its
families and traditions. That’s why we liked to say things were very American on our street.
It was a safe street too. When we moved there more than twenty-five years ago, we had looked at several
houses in the area. All were built on streets that led eventually to town. Two-way streets as far as traffic
was concerned, and therefore deemed by us not as safe as a cul-de-sac. We watched our children and
those of our neighbors romp and play safely on wagons, three-wheel trikes, big wheels, dirt bikes and in-
line skates on our street. We pushed our infants in baby carriages around the circle. Neighborhood games
of Whiffle Ball, soccer and street hockey spread spontaneously from lawn to street and back to lawn again
with hardly more than a scraped elbow or bruised knee on our street.
The houses, built around 1957, originally shared the same two-story-ranch architecture. They were built
on the grounds of what was once the Briar Rose Gardens. The gardens were bulldozed to make way for
the new development leaving the land barren except for the cookie-cutter type houses. Even today you
don’t have to dig too deep into the ground to uncover some remnants of the land's past like small pieces of
glass or residue of the cinder blocks that were used as foundations for the greenhouses that dotted the
Over time, the houses became homes to the families who lived there. Their architecture was reshaped
to the taste of the owners. Patios, decks, dormers, picture windows and rooms were added. There was
much new plant life too. As new homeowners, we enjoyed a veritable planting spree. Adding long-leaf
pine, blue spruce, oak, ash, maple, birch, and willow trees. Roses of all colors, green juniper, white
honeysuckle, purple wisteria, yellow forsythia, pink rhododendron, red-and-white azalea, and fiery-
orange burning bush shrubs and plants were just a few additions that helped complete the reclamation of
the landscape on our street.
Eventually, our street was lined with towering willow trees enhancing its tranquil appearance. But today,
the willows have been thinned by time and storms.
I'll never forget the winter of 1971. We had arrived in early August. There had been two magnificent
willows in our back yard, up close to the house, and I remember telling my wife that they could be
if they fell inward.
"Stop worrying about things like trees falling," she had admonished me. "We have enough to deal with just
getting settled before school starts. Besides, those trees are not going to fall on our new home. It just
wouldn't be right if they did."
"How do you know that?" I had asked, warming to her intuition.
"It doesn't matter,” she had said, "they are so big that if they fall on the house there won't be anything left
to worry about anyway."
She had been right about that, too. By late November, our two oldest children were secure in the
elementary school; the baby had been weaned from his bottle; and the house had been washed and
scrubbed, broomed and vacuumed, and painted and stained into shape for Thanksgiving. Then, the two
willows had fallen. Away from the house, thankfully.
The fall of 1971 had been unusually wet, and in late November a heavy snow and ice storm hit our street.
The wet ground, coupled with the weight of snow and ice clinging to its many arms, had caused one of the
willows to fall onto the other bringing both down. The result had been a huge mess with hundreds of
branches, limbs and two giant uprooted willow trunks lying across our back yard. Fortunately, a friend of
ours had given us a chain saw as a housewarming gift. I can remember laboring evenings and weekends
from November to May the following year to harvest the trunks and limbs of those willows and clear away
their branches. Some time later, I remember having occasion to pause and reflect upon my good fortune.
If we had not had the chain saw, I could not have completed the task.
In August of 1988 our Korean neighbors, Sang-Keun (Ken) Park and Young Hae Han, lost a similar size
tree in front of their home. It was one of the willows that grew along the grassy shoulder of our street.
Because it was on town property and some of its limbs and branches had fallen across the electric lines,
our local utility company came and cut it down. But they did not remove the stump or its root system,
which was formidable.
Young-Hae's father Kyu-Dong Han had been visiting with the Parks to be with his east coast
The children, Youngju, age ten, and Minyoung, twelve, were beautiful young ladies, very bright students
and great soccer players. Because they were natural born Americans they were happy and comfortable
here. And they loved living on our street.
They also love d grandfather Kyu-Dong Han. They called him "Papa Han.” Papa Han’s home was in San
Francisco. He had came to America in 1977 after he retired. Papa Han and his wife of thirty years, Kwan-
Ok Lee, had ten grandchildren. Eight of the children lived near Papa Han in San Francisco, which helped to
fill up some of the loss he had experienced in 1975 when Kwan-Ok died.
Papa Han had helped Ken and Young-Hae clean up the willow branches and leaves that remained after
the utility company had finished its work, and then he began to do something totally remarkable. He
began to dig up the willow stump, whose circumference measured over ninety-two inches, and its roots
with his hands.
Each day Papa Han worked in the hot August sun of 1988 removing small amounts of dirt, glass and
cinder from around the base of the stump. He used only his hands and a small pruning tool that he had
negotiated for in broken English with the owner of the hardware store in town.
Papa Han dressed himself in short pants and a large straw hat. His feet and legs had been bare as was his
chest. Yet he had not seemed to be bothered by the sun or the heat of August as he squatted next to the
large hole he had been creating around the base of the willow stump. He said later that he was not
uncomfortable because he was protected from the heat by the shadow cast by the brim of his hat.
It was not long before Papa Han began to attract the attention of parents and children on our street. To
the children he was a mystery. To adults he was a proud and courageous man who, for reasons indigenous
only to his culture, seemingly had undertaken an impossible and, in terms of modern day work ethic,
unnecessary task. Papa Han paid no attention to the awe of the children or the curiosity of the adults. He
simply started to do the thing that seemingly shouldn’t be done, and he did it.
As a pile of brown-and-orange earth and white roots began to grow around the base of the stump, Papa
Han recruited Minyoung, Youngju and two of their friends to help remove the dirt and roots. Fortunately,
Ken and Young-Hae had a rather large compost area under the pines behind their home and it was just a
short trip by wheelbarrow from the willow stump in front of their home to the compost pile in back. So
Minyoung, Youngju and the two girls who lived across the street helped Papa Han move his diggings every
day. He fed them lemon drops from his well-supplied pockets in the afternoon and trundled them around
in the wheelbarrow in the evenings. He spoiled them, every one. Yet they obeyed his every command,
anxious to help fill the wheelbarrow with dirt and roots when asked, and then fill it with themselves when
the day's work was done.
While he stayed with the Parks, Papa Han also built a soccer field. And as his way would have it, Papa
Han’s soccer field turned out to be the pride of the neighborhood. Partly because of its simplicity and
utility and partly just because it was Papa Han who had fashioned it.
He took six cast iron patio chairs that Ken and Young-Hae kept for guests when they cooked outside and
placed them at strategic intervals along the front lawn thereby marking the right and left boundaries each
with three carefully spaced chairs. Then, four plastic lawn chairs were used to mark the goals, two at each
end of Papa Han’s imaginary soccer field.
When the children argued over who would be on Minyoung's team because she was always the best soccer
player, Papa Han had chosen the players for them. It had been easier for him to create a careful balance of
the strength and weaknesses for both sides from his observations of the skills of each child.
"Treat the children as if they are flowers. Treat the flowers as if they are children," he had often advised
Ken and Young-Hae. Then he had added with a twinkle in his deep-brown eyes, "That means they both
get a good pruning when they need it."
To see Papa Han working patiently with his hands in dirt and cinders one would have suspected he had
been raised close to the earth or had made his living as a laborer. Nothing could have been farther from
the truth. Papa Han's patience and ability to work peacefully and tirelessly with his hands could be traced
back simply to his love of gardening and landscaping. Before they were married, Papa Han made a
promise to Kwan-Ok Lee to beautify any house they might decide to buy. Very soon he had gotten his
chance to spend many happy hours diverting water that flowed freely from the mountains above into
what first became a pool and then a pond of fresh water on the front lawn of their new home in Seoul,
Korea. They were newlyweds. So, it's easy to understand how Papa Han had fashioned this particular
landscape with his hands, and his heart.
The truth is; Kyu-Dong Han and Kwan-Ok Lee had been accomplished and famous musicians in their
home country. Initially their careers and fame had grown along separate paths; but after they were
married, whenever she gave a performance, Kwan-Ok who had developed a carefully trained, beautifully
soft, soprano voice had refused to sing with anyone other than her favorite tenor Kyu-Dong.
Both were prodigious writers, translators and publishers of music. Kwan-Ok is remembered fondly by
her children for having published the first translations of Austrian and German art songs by Schubert,
Brahms, and Schumann into Korean. Kyu-Dong was famous for having translated and published the opera
“Faust” from French to Korean. He also had published the first edition of art songs written by modern-
day Korean composers.
Kyu-Dong's natural gift for music had not flowered until later in life. The oldest of five children, he had
spent his early adult years working as an accountant at the Bank of Korea to help support his family and
to pay for the education of his younger brother and two nephews.
Then in 1947, at the age of 35, he went to Japan to study at the Tokyo School of Music. Three years later,
in the fall of 1950, he returned to Seoul, Korea, where he became a music teacher. It was then that his
love of music found an immediate avenue for expression; for, during the Korean War, he wrote and
established the first generation of music for the Korean Armed Services Band.
After the war, he accepted a position as Professor of Music at Sookmyung Woman's University School of
Music where he taught, wrote and published until he retired in 1977.
The music legacy of Kyu-Dong Han and Kwan-Ok Lee could have been enjoyed any afternoon around
4:00 pm on our street. That was when the soft sweet voice and pure piano notes of their daughter Young-
Hae would drift pleasantly from the windows of the Park's home out onto the cul-de-sac as Young-Hae
gave music lessons to the children on our street.
Then one day a big moving van came to the Park's home and all of their possessions were loaded onto
that van. All except those of Young-Hae Han. One week before her fiftieth birthday, Young-Hae Han had
succumbed to metastasis cancer after many years of most courageous struggle and very private pain.
And so it was that in a cool evening breeze of October 1995, we had said a final good-bye to Ken and
Young-Hae and their two beautiful little girls. As the big van pulled slowly away, followed by Ken’s dark
green station wagon with Minyoung and Youngju waving bravely out the rear window, we all were filled
with nostalgia created by the solitude of what once upon a time had been such a vivacious home, and the
new emptiness of their lawn.
I can see the boundaries of the soccer field that Papa Han had created. I see the fun and action of the
evening games as the servile blue-and-white ball whizzes off the fast true foot of Minyoung through the
shinning imaginary goal. I cheer too; as I see the upraised arms of her proud father signal another score
for the Park girls, who lived on our street.
I knew then that I would always miss them. And their "Papa Han."
For even today, there is the soft mound of sturdy green grass that marks all that remains of the large
excavation around the willow stump that Papa Han had patiently dug up and rolled away, end over end, to
the compost pile behind the Park's house.
Like the trees and grass and shrubs and flowers that we had planted to help replenish our few barren
acres, the Parks had helped to replenish our multicultural homes. For the short time that they had been
our neighbors they had enriched and brightened life, on our street.
©1995 John E. Cashwell [All Rights Reserved]