17 tagged with #iowa

( page: 1 2 3 4 )


content note: bugs, eating bugs

i remember a small, stained white envelope that my parents opened, telling me it contained the seeds of silkworms. we planted them in a box with some mulberry leaves, and left the box in the den next to the patio door.

when the silkworms sprouted, you could hear them quietly grinding down the leaves. these delicate little noodles, clinging to the sides of the box, reaching for the wilted green flaps of fiber, slowly converting the plant matter to flesh. they'd nap, once in a while, and you could tell they were asleep because a triangle would appear on their foreheads, and when they awoke, they would be bigger.

when they stopped eating, they'd search out corners. my mother showed me how to build platforms for them, construction paper spread over the top of a plastic cup, held in place with a rubber band or a piece of string. if you moved a cornered sillkworm onto the platform, they'd spray silk across it, making a little disc of fabric.

then, they'd curl up and turn hard on top of the disc and die. sometimes, my mother would fry them for a snack.

we had to let some of them cocoon normally, though; they'd eventually become moths, which would join end-to-end and quiver until more silkworm seeds scattered across the bottom of the box, and then we would let them fly off into the woods.

02 March 2018 19:47


my parents got me a slot in the chinese new year pageant to play the piano. i had never worn my concert dress with that particular bench before, and by the time i reached for the first chord, i already knew i was sunk; the sheer material on the back of my legs made very little friction against the hard black enameled bench, and no one thought to give me a stool for my feet.

i sank continuously from the bench, but maintained rhythm as much as i could; at one point, i played with my hands up by my chin as my feet scrabbled for a foothold against the pedals to push myself back into the position. up and down i maneuvered, until i ended with the last few measures standing, pushing the bench back with my butt in frustration.

i don't remember if i felt embarrassed or worried, only that i locked onto a determination to finish the piece properly. my mother still tells this story, and always laughs herself to tears in recollection.

i believe her when she said it was a riot, but i also hope she was proud of me for sticking to it.

17 February 2018 23:25

fish tales

i remember a day when my parents and i brought a white paint bucket and a fishing rod to the dam and strung worms on hooks and threw them into the water all day long, and caught nothing. i remember watching my father tie the worms in knots so they wouldn't fall off. i remember the dingy water that smelled like rotten fish.

we watched in disbelief as a group further down pulled fish after fish from the water, catfish that scraped the mud off the bottom of the lake and came up squirming. they'd always throw them back, until they noticed us staring. after a while, they started keeping the ones they caught in their cooler once they'd finished their lunch, and when they were leaving, they dumped the whole cooler-full into our bucket.

maybe we really did look hungry.

my mother made fish head soup, putting a cut, gape-mouthed, greyish face in my bowl so i would have the most nutritious parts. i didn't like seeing it.

once, a summer flood came and went so fast that the sides of the road were full of fish, still flopping. my father's baby brother was visiting us; he yelled for the car to stop, then jumped out and scooped fish into his shirt. 'fish soup for dinner, fish soup for dinner!' my father's family grew up on starvation rations during the great leap forward, and once tricked one of the other brothers into eating sheep droppings by first saying they were candy, then saying they were special medicine. i didn't know if picking half-dead fish from the muddy ditch was also a joke.

years later, i followed the farm dad around during his evening chores, and he pulled a bass from a bucket; it was still alive, but he needed to dress it for dinner. he cut into it on the chopping block next to the chicken shed, eying me over the wet ripping sounds that i was fascinated to listen to. 'i'm not sure your parents would want you seeing this,' he said.

'why not? we've had fish before.'

it was grilled whole, but i had to go home before it was time to eat.

08 February 2018 21:59


jets was an old chesnut quarter horse, fourteen and a half hands high, just tall enough to escape being labeled a pony. people still called him a pony, though, but he was the best horse at the stable to give to a seven year old in purple zigzag tights from down the street. he was steady on his feet, experienced enough to know when you're not holding the reins correctly, but generous enough to give you good feedback when you were close enough.

while jets had a calm, plodding demeanor most of the time, he also had a weak spot for being startled. once, i was left alone to do drills in the barn on a rainy day. some birds had nestled into the sandy floor, and during one of my passes, they found our proximity offensive and escaped into the rafters. this, i hardly noticed, because the sudden rustle of wings sent jets up on his hind legs, screaming bloody murder, catapulting me fourteen and a half hands to the ground.

i was never hurt, but i was just as scared as jets was, scrambling to my feet before i stopped tumbling to make sure i was out of his way. i cried out of confusion and a sense of betrayal, that i had done nothing wrong but still ended up on the ground.

jets wasn't a tall horse, but i was still too small to climb onto his saddle without help. he stood calmly, as if nothing had happened, staring back at me quizzically while i struggled to get a foot into a stirrup.

i remember trying several times and failing, then abandoning jets to walk around the stable, sniffling though each door i found to try and find my riding teacher. someone else helped me back onto jets. i'm not sure if i ever told my mother this story.

05 February 2018 21:35

camel soup

this is a task familiar to most children of immigrants; as the more natural speaker of english, i was often called upon to take phone messages, schedule appointments, relay inquiries. once, my mother asked me to listen to a particularly confounding voice message from a neighbor.

"hello, [mom], this is [neighbor]. i just dug up a stash of camel soup labels, and was wondering if your child wanted to bring it in to school.'

camel soup labels? ladles? camel-sue playbills? i didn't know what it meant, either. but, this was a neighbor we trusted, so my mother sent me down the street to ask.

the result was as baffling as the message; i returned with armloads of ancient gallon-sized ziploc bags stuffed with labels that had been painstakingly removed from cans, flattened, neatly stacked. 'give this to your teacher,' my neighbor had told me. i didn't understand why.

i brought them to school and gave them to my first grade teacher, who seemed both confused and suspicious that i had just shown up with hundreds of dollars worth of education credits from campbell's, especially because i didn't understand what they were or why they were important. i remember her walking me down to the principal's office and helping them get filed away for our class. this is the same teacher that once sent me to the principal's office because i wouldn't stop talking about negative numbers during our subtraction lesson, the same teacher that sent me to the principal's office for sneaking books from home to read because the class books were too boring, the same teacher that sent me to the principal's office for fighting after the bell for recess because one of my classmates was sitting on my chest to slam my face with fistfuls of sand.

there were a lot of rules that were never explained to me. i didn't understand what camel soup labels were until once, much later, when i was doing my own grocery shopping; i looked more closely at a box of pre-packaged food and saw that a school could be partially compensated for a student who consumed a box of cheerios.

04 February 2018 21:44

( page: 1 2 3 4 )

  Commons License this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License. for more details, please see my license information.