Faith Norris evokes her family’s time in Dilkusha

From: Dreamer in Five Lands, by Faith Norris. Drift Creek Press, 1993.

The Grigsbys arrived in Seoul in January 1929, from Tokyo. After a few days in the Choson Hotel, they moved into Dilkusha. Faith was 12 years old at the time. Her account of the way the Taylors first met and wed is far from accurate, and her account of the events leading to the state the house was in when they moved in is completely wrong. It is not possible to tell if her mother gave her wrong information or if she spun herself wild stories that later she took for the truth. She knows nothing of the destruction of the house by lightning, or of Bruce Taylor’s illness. When the Grigsbys arrived, they probably dealt with Bill because Bruce Taylor was still very ill, if he had already returned to Korea by that time. That would explain why Faith is confused, and believes that Mary’s husband’s name was Bill. She is convinced that Mary has gone to California because she has decided to leave her husband! There are other discrepancies between Faith’s account and Mary’s which are hard to explain; Mary never indicates that part of the house was being rented out. Presumably there might have been a need for additional income to cover the cost of rebuilding .  Mary never mentions the Australian family who lived in the house from 1927, and who welcomed the Grigsbys in 1929, although Faith's rather unkind account of them mainly shows how little she could remember.

Mary wrote William Taylor to say that she thought she would never come back. Then began the conversion of the beautiful brick house into a pair of bizarre rental properties, one of which we leased in January, 1929.

The house we moved into was vastly different from the spacious and charming house of Mary Linley's dreams. Mary's departure had angered and hurt William Taylor. He decided he no longer wanted to live in Dilkusha, this eighteen-room mansion with its enormous drawing room on the ground floor, its splendid library on the second, its grand piano, and all the antique furniture he and Mary had picked up during their European wedding journey. He had what my mother called "some patently amateur carpenters" board up the top of the lovely black oak staircase. Then the carpenters removed several courses of bricks in the rear of the second story. Into each of the rectangular openings they thus made, they installed a cheap, badly varnished door. Because the  rear of the house was some eight feet from a steep granite ledge, the carpenters built two rickety bridges from the ledge to the two doors. These bridges were the access routes for the tenants of the upper story. At the ledge end of each bridge the carpenters put up a large, but leaky, dog house-a curious touch since Taylor despised dogs. He added it, presumably, for the sake of dog-loving  people like my mother.

The tenants on the ground floor were to use either the wide, black oak front door or the small pinewood "servants' entrance" in the back. Taylor lessened the magnificence of the front door by removing the Sheridan crest above the lintel and replacing it with a block of yellow painted pine. The dream house had become an architectural monstrosity.

Inside the house, Taylor made even more drastic alterations. The built-in shelves in the library—our living and dining room—were torn out, leaving ugly scars on the paneled walls. And Taylor  apparently felt that the tenants of the two apartments would not be affluent enough to hire servants to maintain eighteen fireplaces in the middle of a Seoul winter. He blocked up all the fireplaces.

Taylor provided heat for his tenants' cooking by installing a Montgomery Ward kitchen stove on each floor. For heating the drawing room on the ground floor and the ex-library on the second, he bought two hideous cast iron German coke-burning heaters. The German heaters turned from black to cherry-red when going full blast and made the drawing room and the "library" excessively hot. Save for the kitchens, the other rooms were miserably cold. Both we and the family below lived largely in the "heater rooms." My father bought three Japanese paraffin stoves to heat two of the bedrooms and the bathroom. The paraffin stoves did a less-than-adequate job of making those rooms comfortable in the dead of winter.

On the evening of the cold January day when we moved into the second floor apartment, after signing a two year lease, my mother declared that the place was a "horror." The living-dining room was "too hot to bear." The bedrooms were like "ice caves." The stove in the kitchen evoked fierce swearing from Wu. The stove's oven was all right but the chimney smoked. Wu also swore, and continued to swear. at the coke burning heater. He disliked having to go across the rickety, sometimes slippery bridge and down the path to the ramshackle shed that housed the coke pellets. He also disliked fetching and carrying them. He would throw a handful of the dirty things through the stove's open door, slam it shut, and give one of the heater's four legs a kick. To the end of our stay in Dilkusha, Wu accompanied the kick with a muttered "She bad." As Wu went off to his room after our family's first day in the house, he looked around the scarred, once beautiful library and said, "Room bad. Kitchen bad. House bad." My mother nodded in silent agreement.