No Small Tales: 70th Birthday

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When I teach my fiction classes, I always tell my students: Write what you know. Of course, I didn't make this up; it's a cliché by this point, but one that makes sense. Even if you're a 55-year-old male who grew up in Spain and you're writing a story about a 93-year-old woman who spent her entire life in Alaska, you've got to bring what you know about life, your own experiences, to the character if you want your reader to be able to connect.

Carolyn Sun knows a lot about Korean families. She's Korean, 1st generation, and has spent a lot of time writing about her experiences growing up in what she calls a "crazy, neurotic family."

She also knows a lot about Korean customs, like special birthdays. For instance, a 60th birthday in Korea is cause for a major celebration. Every 60 years, the Chinese Zodiac cycle repeats, so if you're born in the year of the Tiger, when you hit 60, it's the year of the Tiger all over again. Koreans call it the gahngee cycle.

In Carolyn's touching and hilarious story, "70th Birthday," a girl is asked by her father on the occasion of his 70th birthday (also a big one in the Korean tradition), to write a 10-page letter filled with all the best memories she has of her childhood. But what's a girl to do if she can't recall a one?

Give "70th Birthday" a read and find out. And for more great short stories, head on over to apt23.com, our partners in this feature.

70th Birthday

by Carolyn Sun

It's a few days before my father's 70th birthday.

I'm on the phone with my younger sister, Jenny.

"Have you written yours?" Jenny already knows what I'm talking about.

"No," she responds, "have you?"

"No," I say, glumly. "I'll come up with something."

We're both silent. We've been having this same conversation for the past eight months. The fact that we're having that same, boring conversation in the first place is my fault, too. I shouldn't have asked my father THE QUESTION. Here I thought I was being a good daughter at the time.

You see, eight months ago, I'd been feeling pretty flush, financially. I didn't own a pimp cup with my name in diamonds, but still, I had a steady, full-time job teaching English, and for the first time in my life, I'd actually seen money in my bank account that wasn't a gift from my family. I'd felt proud of myself.

It then occurred to me: I could actually buy my father's love for the first time in my life for his birthday! He was turning 70, a big deal in a Korean's lifetime. Like the Jews, Koreans have set aside big deal birthdays that are expensive and require elaborate parties and expensive gifts.
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March 16, 2009 - 5:56am
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