What One Remembers in Her 30s.

Jen and the Cherry Blossoms
The first time I saw a Cherry Blossom Tree. 30s. Salem, Oregon. May 2008. Photo by James Delcastillo. 

 

I remember the first time I saw snow. It was in Aschaffenburg, Germany and it was December. Snow was a rare unfamiliar thing. Its white speck of nothing comes down and becomes a white speck of everything; covering the ground and all those who stood outside to watch as quiet whiteness gently lands on their tongue. Amazing. My sisters and I ran outside to see for the first time what they meant when they say “it’s snowing!” We stood there in wonder and awe.

I remember my Mom sitting on a bench swing in our yard when we used to live in the Philippines. I came home from private school and a “hard” day of Kindergarten. She would ask me how my day went. Irritated, I would ask her why she kept asking me that. I didn’t realize her intentions until now when I’d ask my own children how their day went after school, and I get the same response.

I remember the first time I laid eyes on my little brother. His face was swollen after several hours of being pushed through the canal. He gripped my finger and wouldn’t let go. I told him right there and then that I am his oldest sister and that I am the boss of him for the rest of his life. And, that I would always take care of him. He squeezed my finger tighter and I told him that I’m glad that he agreed, and that it will avoid any future bickering.

I remember when I first saw my husband. I knew right away that I will be married to him—a whisper in my ear told me that he is the one. Sentimental as that may have sounded at the time, I waved the voice off like you would a mosquito or a fly. The female instincts are often right. And it is often the ones that women ignore which happens to come true. I forgot about that whisper until I realized that we have been together for 17 years. Where the hell did all that time go?

I remember when I first saw two of my favorite trees: a magnolia tree, and a cherry blossom tree.  I was in Salem, Oregon for my brother’s graduation ceremony at Corban College. In my 20s, I fell in-love with a photo of the American Poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay under a magnolia tree and I always wondered how such beauty looked in real life. My fascination with the cherry blossoms tree reminded me of the concept of renewal, and how each spring a cherry blossom tree blooms offering the chance to renew itself. It gave me hope.

edna
Edna St. Vincent MIllay. American Poet. PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF ARCHIVES & SPECIAL COLLECTIONS, VASSAR COLLEGE LIBRARIES

I remember on a vacation trip to Hawaii, I watched my daughter touch sand for the first time. She had no idea how an ocean looked like except for the ones that she has seen in Kenai, Alaska. But the sandy beaches in Hawaii are different. The sand is whiter and finer—granules that exfoliate the skin without the slightest invasion. They glide through the crevices of fingers and slip through without hesitation. I watched my daughter wiggle her feeling the grains between her cute manicured toes. She looked up at me and said, “I wonder how these look like under a microscope?”

I remember fall in Paris. The air was crisp and chilly enough that walking by a Pattiserrie or a bakery warmed the fingers and noses tinged red with the cold. The trees were displaying their magnificence—dancing in colors of orange, bright yellow, and chocolate brown. Everyone speaks of Paris in the spring as beautiful, but fall in Paris celebrates the end of summer and the anticipation for the wintry holidays.

I remember a beautiful Sunday morning with blue skies and the quiet that only an undisturbed lake can have. I watched as my Dad took his kayak out to the lake for the first time. He used the paddle to stroke left side and then the right. The water rippled and welcomed this disturbance. His back was turned to me as he paddled away from the shore. Left and then right. Paddling with the strength he had no idea that he had. I turned to go back to the cabin and I took one last look at the beautiful Sunday morning. I smiled and kept walking.

I remember when I decided to take on fishing just so I can be with the love of my life. I sat on a boat holding a book as he stood there with his fishing pole. I asked him how long will this take and he told me that it will not take that long. I sat there for 2 hours infested with mosquito bites, and an irritation from a realization that this was the most idiotic thing I have ever done for a man. As soon as I made the decision to get the hell out of there, he caught a fish. He gave me a small bat instructing me to beat the monstrous salmon’s head with it. I stood there and I remembered debating whether to hit the salmon or him instead.

I remember my sister Jackie and I laughing. We were laughing about the perm that grew a life of its own on her head. She insisted on having a perm done at home. We bought the Ogilvie box and she decided since I had one semester of cosmetology that I am experienced and equipped to be able to curl her hair and perm it. What was intended to be the perm of the century turned into a Medusa-esque product. Curls never before seen sprung on her head like old worn out mattress coils that have seen far too many occupants. She and I looked in the mirror and laughed. After the laughter came the realization that the perm will need to get fixed—no laughter came forth when we told our parents that they will need to spend some money to get medusa out of her head.

I remember when the principal of my elementary school almost made a mistake. In 4thgrade, my essay won first place. I stood in front of the class with the other 3 students who also placed in the essay writing contests. The Principal was awarding the 4th place prize and she walked up to me. My teacher stopped her and said that the 4th place prize is Lily Xue-Chang who was standing at the end. Lily had blue eyes and blonde hair. Her mother remarried to a Chinese when Lily was only 2 years old. I remember that I was the only Asian in that row as we all stood there. Lily’s essay was about her life in China. My essay was about how the schools should work harder in keeping their students from dropping out. The Principal assumed that since I was the only Asian that I was Lily and that I wrote about China. Today, I understood her confusion and her own realization that her stereotyping was witnessed that day. I felt bad for her then. Lily, on the other hand, felt bad that just because she doesn’t look it, she felt that she was Chinese.

I remember telling myself that the 80’s fashion will never come back. High hair, stone washed skinny jeans and loafers will never find its way back into fashion. I remember realizing that just by remembering that, I was reminded that I am now in my 30’s.

Magnolia
Magnolia on my lap. Salem, Oregon. May 2008. Photo by JAH.

Essay Written in September 2010. 

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