A GRAPHIC ILLUSTRATION SERIES
Here's to the little things that became a part of growing up.
To the menial things that weren't quite menial in hindsight.
PAST :: The Bush
I could smell the fading indications of rain in my sleep through the windows. The dirt emanating earthy scents, hinting at my olfactory receptors to remind me of the many other mornings when I had gotten pleasantly lost in nature. My relationship with rain has changed over the years, but perhaps that's an explanation I'll save for another time.
In the early hours of the day in my rain-swept neighbourhood, I was the giddy kid in her pyjamas and flip-flops, stepping out onto the doormat with a destination in mind. Closing the door behind me, I'd listen to the silence that loomed the air, occasional cars whooshing along in the distance in irregular intervals. I could hear those speedy wheels rotating through the wet asphalt, and like those cars, I'd begin to work my muscles, racing past three to four houses, jumping across puddles, and reaching a bend that was landscaped with an assortment of plants and trees. I remember there was one particular bush I cherished most after a rainy day. One housing a lively population of...snails (ew, I know). Brushing aside the outer leaves to reveal the inner protected layer - jackpot.
I can recall the fascination I found in their jelly-like form and movement. They came in all sizes: as small as just a few millimetres in length to as large as a couple of inches. I loved their suctioning ability, but I hated the slime; I was careful to hold them by their shells, gently between my thumb and index finger, bringing them 2.5 inches away from my eyes for detailed observation as they would slowly retract into hiding. I'd select my favourites and place a family of four on a leaf. Then, I'd proceed to building structurally unsound grass walls around them to resemble a home. This was an interesting alternative to the Barbie, Ken and Kelly family tossed away in my toy box, but I suppose similar play principle, with "A Bug's Life" that my brother and I would religiously watch partially feeding into my (then) snail affinity. In the movie, there was a pub scene where a slug was served a food platter with salt and dissolved away like the Wicked Witch of the West. At the time, I was always curious to know if salt actually had that effect on slugs, and if the same could be applied to these snails, but of course, I couldn't fathom carrying out so cruel of an action that I'd quickly shake away the thought. All in all, with some imaginary story-telling, watching them move their feelers around, engage in flight response by constricting their bodies to fit into the tiny shell opening or placing them close together to see if they would interact was entertaining.
But as we all know, snails don't do much.
My attention span with these molluscs was only as long as until my legs would start to feel sore from all the squatting. I'd place them back on the leaves of the bush where I first found them, bidding farewell with hopes to visit again after another passing rain.
PAST :: Choco Pie
A sound cloud full of high-pitched, celebratory screams would eagerly be waiting behind the exit. It was never not ready to blast out the moment that recess bell would ring. And when it would ring, on the daily, I'd carry a brown paper-bag, crunched up in my grip, out into the open, squinting my eyes with the bright California sun bouncing light off the white/grey pavement. I'd let my eyes gradually adjust then make my way over to the picnic tables on the opposite side of the playground.
That playground appeared massive before me and I'd be navigating around the San Diego islands of sand, fields of grass and Fisher-Price manufactured cities. L.A traffic didn't have a chance against rush-hour within these fences and hedges with unruly, underaged drivers maneuvering vehicles far more creatively advanced than those of 2017, back in 1996. Our imaginations would take us from one end of the town to the other in teleportation devices and rockets that would launch and land with higher success-rate than modern-day capsules. We'd also have hopper balls that would be less about transportation efficiency and more about driver fun, mixed in with fire trucks and cop cars chasing down the bad guys, all modes sharing lanes with pedestrians, some running to work and others tumbling to the beach, five steps away from the sandbox. Through this chaos and excitement, I'd walk, saying hello to friends walking stuffed-animal dogs and dinosaurs.
I'd sit at the picnic table, facing the parking lot, and occasionally, an adult would pass by with a smile and wave at me. Before my palms got sweaty, I'd release the brown paper bag from my grip and stick my face into the bag opening to see what surprises my mom packed up for me. Some days, fruit, other days - if I was in luck - Choco Pie.
No one else other than my one Korean classmate knew of this snack. Other peers may have either coveted this rarity or thought strangely of it, wondering what kind of world I came from. It was around that year that I had moved the States, so while holding this hit home, it also rooted me away - a reminder of how something so normal and widely recognized amongst my previous peers was no longer the case. But it brought contentment.
My five-year old self had a precise consumption order for Choco Pie, the same way other kids my age at the time would have a particular way of eating an Oreo. It was about leaving the best for last, and for this particular item, it was the marshmallow in the middle. Frankly, en route to the core, I'd make a mess, and the peeling of the chocolate covered bread was nearly similar to peeling the shell off a hard-boiled egg, cracked unnecessarily into a million pieces. Frustrating. But at least with Choco Pie, I could eat the outer layer. With the core uncovered (don't picture a nicely bare white marshmallow) it'd be ready to be bitten into. Sinking my teeth into this cushiony texture would nullify the arduous procedure before it and make it all worth it.
Do I still do this? Thank fortunately not. I've left the task to my younger me.
PAST :: Sticky Hands
25 cent machines at the end of the cash registers at this one H.E.B grocery store we used to frequent - I'd quickly rush over to these as my mom would wait in line to pay at the checkout counters. It could have been any one of the following Texan afternoons, scorching hot at 30+ degrees or in complete chaos with roof-lifting gales from a nearing hurricane, skies grey and black birds flying disoriented in the sky in endless flocks...ominous. But despite the kind of day, my routine was there. As my mom reached into her purse for her wallet, I'd reach into my own pockets for a shiny quarter to exchange with a pod-encased toy.
Sticky Hands. If it weren't the Mexican Jumping Beans they'd sell on the counters, I'd go for the Sticky Hands.
Align, drop, twist in clockwise motion, and wait. Sticky Hands. Never a permanent toy...just temporary with diminishing utility over the course of a couple hours, depending on my quality of care. Exercising caution, I'd prop that pod open to reveal a tactile-pleasant goo. That first stretch & stick was the most important, almost as important as dipping a spoon into a peanut butter or strawberry jam jar, or maybe even that first toothpaste squeeze. I knew well enough to aim clear of fuzzy surfaces, so I saved the first stretch for the car ride. Car windows were ideal, and back when cellphones weren't a thing, you needed something for the car ride back home, to distract you from the scorching heat, or the forceful winds that made home feel terrorizing.
At home, if my younger brother was around, it became a cat and mouse chase. If we had both acquired the third hand, then the power would waver between us, depending on offence and defence positions, until slowly, the power waned with particle accumulation making our flimsy, "Elastigirl" weapon of choice rubbish and soon obsolete. A few hours later, my mom would walk into the room and we'd be lying there cooling off, underneath the ceiling fan, looking up at the blades...counting rotations of a playful blur of neon yellow and blue making colourful circles above us.