Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Grass & The Straw: Bordering-Crossing 2

Perhaps it was the very first chilly touch of the slightly damp grass beneath my bare foot or the tasteless, plastic chewiness of the straw in my mouth that made me remember that moment.

I was barely three yet had grown to be a head taller than S. S is the daughter of Mrs. Irv. who was born only a few months ahead of me yet with whom I shared a complete different physical feature. S was blond, petit, white, and soft like a marshmallow who melts in your heart. I, on the other hand, was tall (compared to the other kids in age), broad-shouldered, round-faced, and hung above my head (really) the ugliest (yet typical) boyish haircut that only the Asian moms seem to be too fond of fixing for their kids for the sake of 方便 (convenience) and this whatever notion called 清爽 ("a refreshing look"... so my mom says).

(and yes, all the way until 5, I remained in that so-called convenient and refreshing haircut)

Standing next to S, I looked like a dwarf-sized giant wearing some plain, striped shirt and black pants. Standing next to me, S looked like a picture-book little princess dressed in Cinderella-like pretty dresses with delicate ribbons tied onto her long, silky pony tail.

That afternoon, when the sun has pretty much sunk under the horizon and the remaining water drops from the sprinkler began to chill on the lawn in front of Mrs. Irv.'s house as the temperature began to drop, S and I went out to the lawn, waiting - for S, perhaps for her dad to come home and for me, for mom to pick me up from work.

We began to toy with the thick, plastic straw that either someone had somehow handed over to us or perhaps we had secretely saved from the afternoon Kool-Aid break.

Barefooted, the thick grass underneath me first felt like a tickle; soon, it turned into discomfort. Perhaps the early-evening breeze had begun to blown, brushing against my bare arms and signaling the arrival of the night and the closing of the summer. I started to feel a bit antsy - the same kind of antsyness that I felt years later when I arrived in New England to start college in the fall, tasting the loneliness of being away from home for the first time, and feeling the same way for every autumn/winter to come in grad school when daylight disappears shortly past 4pm and the brisk wind from the coast starts blowing as soon as the sun goes down.

Subconsciously picking up the straw in my hand, I started biting and chewing the tip end. Seeing me doing so, S picked up her straw and started chewing too. Tasteless, I discovered for the first time, when no ice Kool-Aid or early-morning orange juice runs through that hole. Tasteless still, I double checked, but stubborn I thought, as the straw began to form an interesting and sensational battle against the teeth in my mouth.

Barely three, I had not learned about what plastic is or what a straw is made from. But for the first time I discovered that there is such a thing in the world where you put it in your mouth after a hard bite, it remains intact rather than breaking into pieces or exploding into flurry balls of cotton or thread.

The tickle underneath my feet subsided, for for a while I was too absorbed in the act of biting and chewing. The sun set even deeper, and there was still no mom in sight. In the distance, crickets began to sing, pine trees began to sway, and the grass beneath started to grow colder.

In Taiwan, there is always a brown, squarish album tucked on top of the rest of the family albums in A4 size. This odd-sized album bound in leather was a farewell gift that Mrs. Irv. prepared for us before we left.

In the last page of the album, there was a picture of S and me, standing next to each other in disproportional heights, looking not at the camera but far away to the distance waiting for something. Barefooted, in summer short sleeves, with two straws half hanging from our mouth, we barely noticed the cameraman nearby.

"This is taken in your last fall in South Bend," mom says.

Ah, so it wasn't a dream. Once again, the picture and mom's comment confirmed that I have remembered it correctly.

That first and perhaps last touch of the cool, damp grass in late-summer wind, which I would have to wait till 15 years later to feel it again back in the U.S. when taking a walk on campus, and the bland yet chewy sensation of the straw that did not return to me again until mom and dad took me to McDonald's for the first time in Taipei and I sipped empty every drop of the strawberry milkshake that night, aged of 5, when the first McD's appeared in Taiwan.

You see, McDonald's straws are always thicker and sturdier than the thin, flimsy family-use straws you can buy in the Taiwanese supermarket. And the grass in the U.S. is always meant for walking on, rolling on, taking a nap or picnicking on, rather than just for looking.

The grass and the straw - the random, tiny, yet unforgettable memory of mine of my U.S. childhood.

梅ちゃん at 1:46:00 AM



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