Tales from the Elk

By B.W.Thines

                               Hou Yoo

	Hou Yoo moved into the Elk on August sixth of 1999 by Social Services. She is a Korean lady about five foot five, wears glasses, is about 39 years old and always wears a knit cap. She is a very mousey woman who seldom says a word to anyone. Even though her clothes are worn, she looks and smells clean.

	As most people who check into the Elk, Hou was a broken, traumatized human being whom life had not treated kindly. She arrived wearing a backpack, a purse around her neck and shoulder, and three shopping bags that seemed to be all of her worldly possessions.

	As a child in Korea, Hou was sold to an older man by her father. The family was very poor, had little food and girls were of little value, not as much as boys, especially in marriage. 

	The man who purchased Hou owned many girls, who were trained as comfort girls (aka-prostitutes). Hou lived in the capital city of Seoul with other girls who worked the bars in a section of the Etawah.

	Etawah is frequented by local soldiers looking for a little excitement, entertainment and female companionship. Of course these girls were looking for a relationship for more than just a night. Most of these girls were hoping to enter into a contract wedding. These contracts would usually last for a year or for the length of the soldiers stay in Korea. The terms of the contract were: The girl was to take care of her man’s needs and no other and must be free of disease. The man must provide an apartment for them, money for food and upkeep of the apartment. He too must be free of disease and promise not to lie with no other.

	Hou Yoo met an American soldier, Tom, in a club, they dated a few times and she liked him. She trusted and felt safe with him. The two of them entered into a contract agreement and moved into a small apartment in the village of Etawah. Tom would catch the village bus to the army base every day where he worked as a tank mechanic. And at the end of the day he would return to the village and his apartment, life was good and he loved Hou.   

	When his tour of duty was over Tom married Hou in a civil ceremony on base and returned to the United States with her. Tom’s family was not too thrilled with his Korean bride, but they accepted his choice reluctantly.

	They rented a house on Berlin Street in Rochester. Tom got a job at Hallman’s Chevrolet on East Ave. as a service technician. Everything was fine for the first year of their marriage. Hou was getting used to the city. She especially liked the public market. Tom began to change, he started drinking and not coming home for supper. When he did come home it was late at night and he was drunk. Tom was abusive to her and she was scared. The last straw for her was when he threw her down a flight of stairs.

	After getting out of the hospital, Hou Yoo stayed at a women’s shelter on Lawn Street in the Columbus Building. They provided some counseling and helped her get in touch with Social Services who found her housing and enrolled her in the food stamps progam.

	Hou was a very quiet person that kept to herself. She would leave the building every morning at seven with her backpack, purse, and four shopping bags filled with all her belongings. I asked her once, “Are you moving out?” she replied, “Oh no, I will return”. 

	Suzy Figgs told me that Hou would go to the Transit Center, get an all-day bus pass and ride all over the city with all of her belongings. Suzy would see her at Lifespan for breakfast and lunch. Hou would be a regular at the Salvation Army on Liberty Pole Way for the food give out every week. She knew the city well, that is where to get free meals, free clothes and even a place to take a shower and wash your clothes.

	Andy Arrow would see her at Social Services on Westfall Road sitting with a cup of coffee. Andy tried talking to her but she would just ignore him, or tell him to go away. She was very reclusive, she didn’t trust anybody, with exception of her social worker.

	As odd as Hou was, she was not stupid. One of her hang outs was the city library on South Ave. where she would read or use the computers. One day I was at the Rundel building. I sat down to use a computer and I found a flash drive in it; pulling it out I gave it to the librarian. When I returned to the computer I met Hou Yoo standing there. She asked me if I found a flash drive in the computer, I said that I did and that I gave it to the librarian. A few minutes later Hou approached me and gave me a can of Coke and said thank you for returning her flash drive. I don’t know what was on that flash drive, but evidently it was very important to her.

	At the end of the day, between five and six in the evening, Hou would return to the Elk with her many bags and retire to her room. No one would see her till the next day.

B.W. Thines is in his 70s, retired and a long-time patron of the Rochester Public Library.  He is a writer of short stories and the author of the forthcoming story collection, Tales from the Elk Hotel.