Tastes Like Home (by Guest Blogger Heidi Dixon Kwon)

“Do you think it needs more salt?” my mom asks in Korean as she blows gently to cool a spoonful of seaweed soup and carefully ladles it to my mouth. “Maybe a tiny bit, but otherwise it’s perfect umma,” I respond in English while smacking my lips. Here, on the granite counter top next to the stove, is one of my favorite spots in the house. It’s in this corner where I get to taste what’s for dinner and be the Dixon Family sous-chef. My mom does a cute jig as she agrees and dashes some salt into the mix. She offers me a hand as I jump down onto the tile. 

After closing the lid and lowering the heat to a simmer, my mom pours two cups of genmaicha and we make our way to the dining table. I open my books and start to organize my assignments by class. She places her cup on the glass table and lowers herself onto the chair across from me. She asks me how each of my friends are doing and how my day was. “Amber and I are thinking of running for ASB publicity — it’s like student council — and Emily is talking to a guy in my Chemistry class. Davis and Scott
are doing well,” I pause to take a sip of tea. The flavor is familiar and quietly sweet — the toasted rice softens the boldness of green tea. We unravel the day like this together, with a humorous interaction of Korean woven with bits of English; English punctuated with awkward Korean. Sharing with warm cups between our palms, we rest on homework, assignments and to-do’s that can wait. Our dog’s nails click on the hardwood floor while boiling soup sounds like whispers in the background. 

There’s a kind of peace that comes in the presence of your mom — an experience no work of art, open field or illustrative book can hope to attain. My eyes outline my mom’s lovely features, and find rest in her face.

I trace constellations in her freckles and write stories from her smile. Her hands, marked with burn scars and wrinkles tell of hours preparing meals, cleaning and giving. They are warm, tender and always open. 

These same hands will rub my back as I mumble we broke up into my damp pillow. She’ll climb into bed and hold me close. She’ll place a cup of tea on my nightstand that will feel like a salve over the pieces of my heart. 

Years later, we’ll collapse onto the couch after spending hours outside under the Southern California sun, potting plants for my wedding. I’ll vow never to look at Pinterest again and fall for the notion that DIY centerpieces will ever be easy or worth it. She’ll hand me a cup and laugh knowing full well I’ll do projects like this again. And when I do, she’ll be the one to help me through them. 

In a few months, I’ll move across the country to a city by a lake, where snow falls more than rain. Where the summers are unforgiving and humid, and autumn is vibrant and short-lived. We’ll visit each other only once a year, if we’re lucky — but every week through front facing cameras. She won’t realize she’s cutting off half of her face, and will rarely let my dad into the screen. She’ll tell me about her long days on her feet at the restaurant, never complaining and always beaming with gratitude. I am so thankful, she’ll say. Even though I know if I was in her situation, thankful wouldn’t be the word I would choose. 

I’ll be sitting in a corner in my kitchen on the east coast, nursing a cup of my own  and coaxing memories of my mom from the recesses of my mind. Smiling to myself and recalling these moments like beacons in an ocean.

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