What my best friend never told me

…he had doubts, like me, about who he was.

Korean mother and child

Nena (Ho Mi Hyung) and her Korean mother,  Ho Soon Ja, 1956

After I asked readers to share stories about books that have made a difference in their lives, I was thrilled to hear from my best friend from childhood.

Nena Adams Benhoff and I go way back.  We shared Nancy Drew books. We played piano duets and went to Brownie meetings together. We were in Mrs. Ryan’s kindergarten class of 1960 at Broadway Elementary School. Nena’s first job was in my family’s flower shop, where my father taught her floral design.

Sometimes I was a little jealous of Nena, because she was something of a celebrity in our town.

But even best friends don’t tell each other everything, and I didn’t know the whole story.

So when she sent this guest post, I was amazed. I’m still getting to know my best friend after all these years.

Here is Nena’s story.

I was born in South Korea and adopted by an American family when I was 15 months old. In my new hometown, it was a newsworthy occasion because foreign country adoptions were unheard of in the 1950s. Articles were printed in the Cleveland Press, The Plain Dealer, and the local papers. My life story was known to just about everyone in our town.

When I started school, my teachers always spoke about how wonderful it was that I, a poor little Korean orphan, was given a chance to grow up in the United States. I was expected to bring in my Korean clothes to share with the class and talk about Korea. Now, I had no memories of Korea, I wasn’t even walking when I arrived, so I really didn’t have anything to share. Only half Korean, I thought I looked more Italian than Asian. Everyone thought I should think and act Korean, when I looked and thought, “American.”

I was confused about myself and my place in the world.

When I was about thirteen, a librarian recommended a book to read.

That book was The New Year by Pearl S. Buck, the story of a mixed race boy, half Korean and half Caucasian, who was brought to the United States by his birth father’s wife at the age of ten. While his story was not at all like mine, he had doubts, like me, about who he was. In Korea he was considered American, while in the United States he was considered Korean. Pearl Buck explained about mixed race children being like “bridge organisms,” not wholly of one world or another, but joining the best attributes of both.

After reading The New Year, I must admit I was thinking quite highly of myself, as being better than anyone!

But after a short time, I came back to reality, and started the journey of just becoming myself.

Nena Adams Benhoff has been a floral designer for over forty years. She lives in Oklahoma City.

The New Year is out of print but available from used booksellers and libraries.

About Pearl S. Buck

Pearl S. Buck won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1938 and the Pulitzer Prize, among other high honors and awards. She published dozens of novels, as well as short stories, biographies, and other nonfiction.

Visit Book Tips – Pearl S. Buck on the official site of the Nobel Prize to see comments by readers of Pearl Buck’s books, and to comment on your favorite books by Nobel Prize winners.

Share your book stories

If you’d like to share a story about a book that is special to you, send an email to valoriegracehallinan[at]gmail[dot]com with the subject line: My Book Story. Please include a post of about 500 words or less in the body of the email or an idea/book you’re interested in writing about.

Losing our newspapers is not a good thing

I visited my hometown of Cleveland, Ohio this weekend. On Sunday,  The Plain Dealer printed artist and critic Karen Sandstrom’s creative work ethic, “I Must Remember This.”

Enchanted, I happily discovered Karen and her blog, Pen in Hand, as well.

Even better, Karen succinctly and eloquently sang the praises of The Plain Dealer, daily newspapers, and printed newspapers.

I’m all for electronic media and the creative flourishing and publishing opportunities now open to more people.

But Karen reminds us not to forget our daily newspapers and their talented, hardworking staffs. They are doing important work.

Some daily newspapers have disappeared, with more to go, I’m sure.

Journalism is changing like everything else, but we still need unbiased investigative reporting, long-form news and analysis, depth and breadth of content, and media everyone is comfortable with. (I believe a significant number of readers still prefer their news in print, and have not found or would not know how to go about finding comparable news online).

Most important, we need engaged readers and citizens who care and understand what vibrant journalism means to a healthy democracy.

If we let our daily newspapers go, we damn well better make sure we know what we are doing.

Bay Village view of Lake Erie

Bay Village view of Lake Erie at sunset. To the east, the Cleveland skyline glittered and fireworks blossomed over Lakewood.

(Full disclosure: a member of my family works for The Plain Dealer.)

What do you think? Please comment!

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