Families were separated when the border was suddenly placed dividing North and South; neither of them could cross. Among those separated was my great grandfather. It’s difficult understanding what exactly that means. Are people from the North and South the same people?
Before 1950, North and South Koreans were able to freely cross over to one another. My great grandfather was a rice farmer in the North who lived very close to the border. His family had been running a rice farming business; while they weren’t rich, they always had plenty to eat.
My great grandmother lived in a household full of children with barely anything to eat. She too lived close to the border but on the south side.
Back then, Korean parents chose the husbands for their daughters, often to ensure that the two parties came from similar social classes. The daughter would then move into the family home of the husband in exchange for a dowry. She would have to cook and clean alongside all the women of that household; all the brothers still lived in the house with the parents and daughters were wed away.
Although my great grandfather was from a wealthy family, his parents had a difficult time finding him a bride because he had a limp to his walk. He was born with a birth defect on one of his legs, causing him to limp the rest of his life. So when his parents searched for a bride, women stuck their nose up and looked the other way.
Meanwhile in the South, my great grandmothers family began to starve. They had one last daughter left they could wed in exchange for a dowry and it seemed like it was time. She was a beautiful young woman so many families had been anticipating on her to grow up.
In North Korea, my great grandfathers family heard of this beautiful South Korean woman in search of a husband and that they would take up the offer with the best dowry. They quickly offered an enormous amount of rice.
The offer of food reached the family in the South and they were sold. My grandmother were to be sent to the North.
So the two got married and lived in North Korea in a farming family. My great grandmother got pregnant and was due soon. The tradition is that the woman gives birth in comfort of her families home so the two traveled to the South and settled into her home. Usually couples stay for a couple of months so the maternal grandmother can help with the baby in the first couple weeks. But shortly after my grandfather was born, the North invaded the South and the Korean war had started.
Unable to contact his family in the North, my great grandfather was worried, but just prayed the war would soon be over.
Three years later the peace treaty was signed, pausing the war. But NOBODY were to cross that 38th parallel. My great grandfather never got to see his family again. For the rest of his lifetime; the border was not able to be crossed and communication across the line was prohibited.
Later on in the 2000’s the two countries started recognizing the problem with separated families like my great grandfather and began allowing families to meet in at a designated area. Anyone from the North or south who were separated jumped on a train to this meeting spot and searched for their family. But it was too late for those who couldn’t make it that far. My great grandfather never got to see his family again; he passed away in 1997.
This is a photo depicting one of the reunions.