We are not born with culture, but we are born into it. As we grow from babies into children into teenagers and finally adults, we collect memories, languages, behaviors, and customs. In this Freely Free Write, we asked writers to tell us a story from childhood in 10 minutes. Here are the responses…
By Kiyoon Lee
Growing up, I had a lot of animals. Rats, rabbits, turtles… and a chick.
Most Koreans would have experiences of having chicks in their house. When spring comes and schools start, there is a person with a box of chicks in front of every elementary school. All male chicks–possibly sick. They are leftovers from chicken factories because they don’t lay eggs.
Kids, fascinated by small, yellow, puffy creatures, hand over their 500 won (5 cent) coins they had reserved for candies. Parents would scold them for irresponsibly bringing animals into the house. However, they let the kids get away with it because parents also know the chick won’t live for so long.
My brother brought one, too. I remember our family watching over the chick as it ran across our living room and jumped on our cushions. A few days later, it died. My dad made a small pit in front of the building to bury the chick. It had a tombstone and flowers. I forgot about about the chick the day after.
Eight years later, there was a free essay writing contest in my high school–every student had to participate in it. The topic was ‘a chick’. I started to put a lot of fake meanings into my blurry childhood memory with the chick. I wanted my memory to look special, but I didn’t win. After the contest, the classroom was full with chatter about chicks. One story very similar to another. Nothing special.
I now realize how special it is because it was not special. It is funny to think that my other friends I met as an adult should all have chicks buried in their memory. Did they cry when their chicks died? Did they smile at their chicks’ jumping? Maybe I should ask.
The Little House
By Anh Nguyen
From 5 to 15, my family moved a lot. We moved from our first house together, a three-story my parents built four years after they got married, to a smaller house near the market. The move helped supplant my parents’ income, but also accommodated our shrinking family size –my dad was going away for his Ph.D. While I have little memories about the big house, the smaller house was where my sister and I grew up. We never thought we would return to the big house, where there was a bathtub and a chandelier, so we made this smaller house our forever home. There was a steel sliding door in the front where as kids we could stick our whole hands through the holes, and a front yard small enough to hold one motorcycle. Stepping in the living room from this yard, the first thing you see is the kitchen. There was no barricade from the street and the kitchen, so many times when my mom, my sister and I argued and yelled at each other around the dining table, I could feel the peering eyes from neighbors and cyclists who happened to walk by. It was intimate: the small kitchen that was barely a living room.
What the Fourth of July Means to Me
By Emma Krampe
The Fourth of July has always been one of my favorite holidays. When I was 10, I had an American flag bathing suit and matching flip flops, but it never had to do with the territorial words people associate nationalism with today–fear, alt-right, xenophobia. It was about brilliant fireworks over lawns of families on warm blankets and cool grass. It was hamburgers and potato salad and lemonade. We pulled a big red wagon to the top of our hill and rode it until we crashed at the bottom. It was a holiday for friends and family, bike rides, and yes, plenty of red, white and blue.
This past summer I celebrated it for the first time, out of the U.S. and alone. Although I prided myself on finding potato salad and cranberry sauce in a restaurant in northern Italy, there were no fireworks, family or friends. It’s difficult to understand why I feel such a loss for my country when I criticize it daily–the politics, Trump, mass-shootings, immigration. The divisions that have cut across our country have made everything seem like a political statement and sometimes as though we are living up to the American stereotypes I detest. Even still, the U.S. is my home. Though to some parts of the world the U.S. might be ignorance, McDonalds, and excess, I cannot cut the roots I did not plant, nor would I want to. Surely there must be some way to feel pride and shame at the same time.
The Henna Tattoo
By Rjaa Ahmed
In Pakistan (mainly South Asia and other Middle Eastern countries) we typically wear henna tattoos on the day before Eid. The idea is to put henna on your palms the evening before and let it dry overnight so on Eid day, the henna has baked into a perfect, long-lasting dark stain. When I was 10 years old, I remember having a henna pattern done on my arm by an artist, but I was very tired and fell asleep. Being the clutz I that I am, I accidentally fell asleep with my hand on my cheek. To my horror, when I woke up in the morning, the henna was sprawled all over the side of my face! It was an ugly and very obvious reminder of my clumsiness for days afterward. I had to spend not only Eid, but also two more weeks with an ugly brown stain on my face.
By Ana Vigueras-LaRocelle
Hanging up the phone, I threw my head in my hands whining, “Oh my god that was horrible!” As I let the tears ruin the mascara carefully applied that morning, a memory calmed my embarrassment. I recalled the smell of my dad’s smoky cologne and the feel of his cotton blouse on my cheek. No matter the place–a supermarket, the mall, after a brutal battering by my older cousins, my dad’s shoulders always welcomed my face as a child. “It’s okay, just cry. It’s okay to cry,” he would say to me as he patted my back. Being sensitive and expressing emotion was an essential part of my upbringing. Raised by my Mexican father, he helped me to never feel ashamed of showing this vulnerability because after you cry, you’re able to sing. Mexican culture portrays countless songs of tears from heartbreak, longing, and even has a word, “la llorona” for these musical melodramatic characters. The “Cielito Lindo”, a song about the Mexican identity sung at every festivity throughout the country holds my motto for living, “Canta y no llores!” Despite this meaning of “to sing, don’t cry”, I am empowered by the acknowledgement of my tears. So after I lie my cheek on my dad’s shirt, even within a memory, I can continue on.