Unto One of the Least
I love this photograph. It is of the Wulfekehueler family and the Doh family taken in 1974. It was taken in the home of Ed, Marilyn, Deb, Dave, and Chris Wulfekehuler, in Bakersfield, California. It is the home where I lived with my mom, dad, and my brothers Jim and Jinil for 2 months as newly arrived immigrants from Seoul, Korea.
This photo was presented to me, Jim, and my parents yesterday by Marilyn (who also goes by Lynn) during a dinner that brought our family members together to celebrate our 40th anniversary in the United States. Ed and Jinil are no longer with us but we felt that they were there in spirit.
This photo shows my dad carving his very first pumpkin ... as our first Halloween was upon us.
We shared so many memories.
- Like how Jim, Jinil and I were so thrilled to learn of America's tradition of Halloween where we were told that if we dressed up and knocked on doors, that we would be given free candy.
- Like how on the first night in their home, Marilyn made us a delicious dinner, followed by rainbow sherbert for dessert ... a treat that seemed so different and interesting and pretty to me as a little girl who hadn't ever tasted anything like that!
- Like how Dave and Deb were the coolest teenagers who we all looked up to, in hopes to become as hip and American as they were.
- Like how Chris was the littlest of them all ... excited and frustrated at times, with the reality that there were five people from a different country living in his home. His turf! What a sport he was.
- Like how Ed enchanted all of us with his larger-than-life personality and roars of laughter, as he and Marilyn extended the kind of support to our family that even family with blood ties hardly give to one another. They made us feel loved, they made us feel comfortable, and they never made us feel that we were a burden. They made sure we enrolled in the right schools, they made sure we got the right services including speech therapy for Jim, Jinil, and I, they made sure bullies left us alone, they made sure we got proper medical and dental care, and most of all, they made sure that we felt peace of mind as my brothers and I studied and my parents worked and saved to make our way.
And make our way we did. After scrimping and saving and with the support of my dad's uncle (standing in the middle), our family bought our first Der Wienerschnitzel restaurant. Here we are with Ed, Marilyn, Dave, Chris, and an employee, and also my dad's uncle, commemorating the new life chapter.
Our family eventually owned additional Wiernerschnitzels. My parents worked very hard making them all successful, and supporting my brothers and I thorugh college, graduate school, and beyond, one hot dog at a time.
With every pursuit, with every milestone, the Wulfekuehlers were there to cheer us on, making sure that we knew how proud they were of us, even in our most humble steps of wrapping hot dogs and dropping fries in the fryer.
And 40 years later, we gathered ... all of us together, with Ed and Jinil there in spirit, to catch up, to reminisce, and express our love for one another.
I want to share one memory about Ed that was shared during this weekend gathering: During high school when Ed was getting ready to go to a formal dance, he went to a secondhand store to buy the cheapest and the most unattractive suit possible. When his date asked why he was doing this, he said that he wanted to make sure that the kid who would be coming to the dance with a crummy suit would not be made to feel bad because Ed would be the one with the worst suit of all. He wanted to make sure that the least among them would not feel the least at all.
The love I feel for the Wulfekuehlers is so deep. And it's deep for Jim and my parents as well. I am grateful that we were able to express the feelings of love to one another during this celebration and I hope that we will find occasions in the future to continue expressing the love.
One extremely vivid memory I have as a child is when my mom asked Marilyn how we could ever repay her for the generosity and kindness and love that she gave to our family. I remember distinctly what Marilyn said to her in response. She told her that the way to repay her would be for us to pass along the same kind of love to a person or family in need with the same kind of love that she and her family gave to us.