Continuing my memoir encyclopedia theme, here are my Letter B entries.
I’ve always loved kids, so it made sense that some of my first jobs were babysitting for family friends and neighbors. I began babysitting at age eleven, which I now find absurd. What does an 11-year-old know about babysitting? How can you leave someone that young alone with your kids? I guess the early 90’s were different times, but still. I wouldn’t trust an 11-year-old to babysit.
I babysat for many years, off and on, sometimes on a random night, and sometimes on the regular. I think I gained a lot of responsibility by looking after other kids. Most of the time I loved it, but there was that one time I caught two of the five siblings I was babysitting smoking up in the tree in their backyard. They were 10 and 12 years old. I quit that day.
My Mamaw was the best cook that ever lived. Because she grew up very poor during the Great Depression, she made everything from scratch. I spent a lot of time out in the country at her house, and much of that time was spent in the kitchen. My brother, Andrew, and I loved her banana pudding. Mamaw’s banana pudding was served hot, fresh from the oven. First, she’d make the pudding from scratch on the stovetop. As her official taste testers, she gave us each a spoon and waited for our approval, which we always gave because, like I said earlier, she was the best cook ever.
Andrew and I were always Mamaw’s special helpers, and she’d pull tall stools up to the counter top where we’d assist her. Our job was to cut the bananas into slices and help her layer the pudding. A layer of Nilla Wafers lined the bottom of the 13×9 glass baking dish, followed by a layer of bananas, and then a layer of pudding, which Mamaw poured because it was too hot for us. More Nilla Wafers, bananas, and pudding. The final piece was meringue, which she’d whip up in her mixer, stiff white peaks indicating it was ready. She always did that part. Then it went into the oven for what seemed like an eternity. Fresh out of the oven, she’d dish out four helpings, one each for Andrew and me and one each for her and Grandaddy. Each time we had it was better than the last. The taste of warm banana pudding will always bring me back to that kitchen and my Mamaw.
Kids are funny, and their idea of insults is even funnier. My first year as a camp director at iD Tech camps, we had an 11-year-old camper named Mitchell who came a few weeks in a row. He was a spitfire with a temper much bigger than him. His go-to insult whenever he was upset at a fellow camper or an instructor was, “Gawd! You’re a bean burrito!” Hurling that insult was always met with laughter or a smile, which only fueled his anger. But, how can you not smile when someone calls you a bean burrito? Is that supposed to hurt? 😉
I’m not afraid of a lot of things, but I’m deathly afraid of bees. Like, I completely freak out whenever one is flying anywhere near me. I have no idea how other people aren’t bothered by them. They have stingers, and it hurts like hell when they sting you! When I see a bee, I completely come out of my skin, running away, screaming, and sometimes crying.
I think my fear stems back to two major incidents from my childhood. Once, when I was about four or five, I was playing at my cousin Katy’s house. We were in her front yard, and for some reason, we were playing under a bush. That’s when it happened. We had inadvertently messed with a wasp’s or hornet’s nest, and they were angry! I ended up getting stung four times in the head. I remember crying like crazy, and my parents running out to get me. Another time, I was around eight years old, and I was playing in my playhouse that my Grandaddy built for me. I was rearranging the furniture, as you do, and when I moved my pretend Kenmore refrigerator, I unknowingly disturbed the bee hive that had formed on the back of it, causing an angry crowd of bees to attack. The fact that I was in a confined space of about 12 square feet, with the door and windows closed, did not work to my advantage. I managed to escape and run around to the back of the house, where my parents’ room was, but not before I’d been stung a bunch of times, mainly in my knee. Ever since then, bees terrify the crap outta me!
About 6 months ago, a couple of friends and I took a trip to Morocco, and we were on a road trip from Chefchaoen to Casablanca, me riding shotgun. The weather was sunny and slightly cool, so I cracked the window, turned up the tunes, and settled in for a relaxing ride. Suddenly, I felt a leaf fly through the window and land in my hair, along my hairline. Reaching up to get it out, I felt a red hot pain shoot through my finger. Bringing my hand down to inspect it, I see a bee attached, which falls down beneath the seat. I begin screaming bloody murder, a combination of the pain and the fear of the bee, Celeste and Jen unaware of what is wrong with me. Celeste wants to help me, but she’s driving about 100km/hr down the highway. Jen, in the backseat, offers assistance. I shove my finger back to her, crying and shaking, begging her to remove the stinger. Miraculously, she has a pair of tweezers in her bag, and she’s able to remove it; I manage to calm down. I am so glad I wasn’t driving, or we would have certainly crashed. Also, what kind of luck is that where a bee is able to fly through a cracked window of no more than 2 inches wide, while we drive at a high speed down the highway, and land in my hair? Freaky things like this happen to me a lot.
I’m a bike rider, although I don’t consider myself a cyclist. I’m more of a casual bike rider. In elementary school, my main thing was riding around the neighborhood on my yellow Huffy with white tires, speeding through the streets like I owned the place. When I needed a break, I’d throw it against the front porch steps, run in and get some water, only to get right back out there. I’m not certain when I stopped riding, but by high school, I was more concerned with driving than riding my bike.
I didn’t own a bike again until I moved to Shanghai, and faced with not having a car and not wanting to rely on taxis all the time, I braved the hectic, busy streets and got a bike. That first bike was sahweeet! It was a red and white Giant with a basket on the front. I loved that bike. About 8 months after I bought it, I stupidly left it overnight at the Metro station, and the next day it was gone. Sadness.
My next bike was so nice…vintage colors that made me smile. I had that bike a total of 6 days before it was stolen from inside my apartment building, locked up to the stairwell in the middle of the day, on my birthday no less! Lots of tears were shed for that one.
After another few bikes were bought and stolen, I decided to get a custom-made fixie. I got to choose the colors and being the neon lover I am, it was bright! I only stored it in my apartment, and I’m happy to say, I still have it. When I left China, I broke it down, packed it in pieces in a box, and brought it as checked luggage. It’s currently sitting in my parents’ garage.
Aggie (see entry for Aggies under Letter A) bonfires were an annual tradition for as long as I can remember. Our biggest football rivalry was the University of Texas Longhorns, and they were always the last game of the regular season, right around Thanksgiving. In Aggie tradition, a huge bonfire made of whole tree trunks was constructed by a host of volunteers over a number of weeks leading up to the big game. The night before the big game, thousands upon thousands of people would gather as the bonfire went up in flames, whoops and gig’ems galore. As a kid growing up in Aggieland, I attended many bonfires, and looked forward to the days of attending them as an actual Aggie. But that never happened.
In 1999, during my freshman year in college, the bonfire fell in the early morning hours of November 18, killing twelve people. I remember being woken up for class by my radio alarm around 7:00 am and hearing news reports of the collapse. I thought, This can’t be happening. This isn’t real. But it was real. Much of the A&M campus was shut down that day and the town was in chaos. I heard the call for blood donations for the wounded, and I dutifully waited hours to donate blood at the local blood bank. A couple days later, my family and I flew to England for a week-long vacation to visit my aunt and uncle. I remember watching news footage of the Aggie bonfire collapse in London, surprised that it had made international headlines. There hasn’t been another official Aggie bonfire since.
I love books, like, really love them. I have amassed huge collections of books over the years. My favorite books to collect are children’s picture books, young adult novels, and professional development and self-help/psychology books. At present, I probably own upwards of 800 books, but I’ve had so many more. I’ve ended up donated many books when I’ve moved around the world, thus leaving a trail of books in my wake. Leaving books behind is very hard for me, as I become quite attached to them and have come to love the fact that I can pull out just the right book that someone may need, but books are heavy and lugging them around gets very expensive. I wish I was super rich and could take my books with me everywhere I went, and I wish that I could buy even more!
My most favorite books, in no particular order, are 1984, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, The Dot, The Great Gatsby, Angela’s Ashes, Fishing Sunday, Brown Girl Dreaming, Wonder, Out of My Mind, 10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know, The Book Whisperer, The Watsons Go to Birmingham- 1964, The Fault in Our Stars, Walk Two Moons, Tuesdays with Morrie, The Giving Tree, Bridge to Terabithia, Start with Why, and Okay for Now.
Growing up in the land of big hair when you have fine, wispy hair means you need to create your own height. Enter hair bows. And I’m not talking little barrettes with dainty little bows made of thin ribbon. I’m talking gravity-defying bows that stick off the top of your head at least 3-4 inches. I went through a phase in late elementary school where I made bows. I would buy wide ribbon with wire built in to help it stand up, wire for wrapping, and plain silver barrettes. I’d use the wire to make bows with 4-6 big humps (imagine ‘mmm’) on top of the barrettes. I’d wear my hair in a half ponytail with the bow at the top of my head. I’d like to say I was fashionable, but that would be a lie. (See Exhibit A below.)
Andrew, my younger, but certainly not little, brother and I had a typical brother/sister relationship growing up. We were thick as thieves one day and at each others’ throats the next. He’s nearly four years younger than me, which means that we weren’t really in the same place in our lives very often, if at all. The only time we went to the same school was in elementary, when he was in first grade and I was in fifth. He was entering middle school when I was in high school, and he was a freshman in high school when I was a freshman in college. I think that the four-year age gap is an awkward length, and we struggled to relate to one another’s experiences.
But growing up, there were definitely times when we banded together for the common good. One of my favorite memories of us working together was one Halloween when we were in elementary school. For some reason, our family didn’t go trick-or-treating, which really stank, especially since Andrew and I loved free candy! As the older sibling and brains of the operation, I hatched a plan. I had Andrew dress up in his tee-ball uniform, the closest thing either of us had to a costume, and I snagged a plastic grocery sack from under the sink, and we “went out to play.” As we were on our way out the door, my mom reminding us to be home for dinner, she asked, “Why are you wearing that, Andrew?” We pretended we didn’t hear her, as the door slammed behind us.
Running to the backyard, we schemed. I taught Andrew the basics in trick-or-treating etiquette, and instructed him to go to the neighbor’s house across the street, ring the doorbell, hold out his bag, and say “Trick or Treat!” when they opened the door. Then, when he had the candy, he was to bring it back to me. We would split the candy 50/50. The fact that it was 4:30 pm and still light out didn’t deter our mission. Hiding out in the backyard, watching him as he ran up to the door, my heart was beating a mile a minute. I didn’t want to get caught and have to explain what we were doing to my parents. After sending him to a few houses close to home, we dug into our candy, gladly ruining our dinner.