All good Polish girls must learn to eat their soup, properly

My grandmother began my training at an early age. Spoon-to-mouth method mastered, hand steadying the bowl, I still regularly had tomato soup with drop noodles running down my face.

“What, do you have a hole in your chin?” chided my Babcia, handing me a napkin and a severe look as my tongue searched, catching drips.

I was instructed to always tilt the bowl away; As good as the soup may be, it’s still never polite to tilt the bowl towards you for those last good bits. 

One day, I was alone in the dining room eating my usual bowl of after-school soup. Babcia was in the kitchen preparing dinner. Determined to follow the rules and seal up the hole in my chin, I focused on the tilt. Away from me went the far lip of the bowl, and I scooped and slurped, and tilted and scooped, and tilted until the tomato soup slipped out of my control and all over the table. 

Babcia came in to see me looking abashedly at my lost soup. She immediately set a rag to the mess and said, “See? That’s why you always tilt away, because it’s better to have soup on the table than soup on your lap.”

Unexpected Luxury

My mother first discovered Wal-Mart long after she had passed through the customary garage-sale rummaging phase of recent immigrants.

One weekend when I was home from college she showed off her new bedspread—just the right shade of green, the one she had been looking for to match the heavy new drapes. I gave some show of noncommittal approval, and she suddenly admitted, “Do you know where I bought it? Wal-Mart. Is that really bad?”

It had taken her three decades to get this American Dream.  

Swapping Americas

“Welcome to the USA” says a brown and white sign in a long, empty hallway. These words, green twinkly lights at the foot of the escalator, and a sunrise greet me at 5:50am in the Houston airport.

I was surprised at how funny it felt to fish out the dollars from the bottom of my backpack and get clean money back as change instead of the odd assortment of rumpled, taped-together notes, hard candies and aspirin. Welcome back to the place where different-colored people politely say “excuse me, is this yours?” when you accidentally leave your belongings behind. The place where a middle-aged woman in a pink t-shirt solemnly looks straight ahead, arms up in ballet motion ready to pirouette right out of the body scanner in the security line, and you try not to laugh as you witness this misplaced grace.

Airport Timeflow

The woman bent over to adjust the rubbery legs of her handy little tripod, and her shirt lifted up to reveal the strap of a money belt, and half her butt crack. Enclosed travel spaces like airports are not conducive to helpful breezes that act as reminders to pull up one’s pants. So maybe we should take a moment to remember to turn around every once in a while, and see that there are people on the other side of that billboard suspended in the air that doesn’t quite reach the ground, who are vacantly hoping their flight’s gate will finally be assigned, ready for any small source of amusement, however crude.

Between The Bottles

Maybe you can tell a lot about a person by the type of shampoo they buy. The girl with the waves wouldn’t try smooth and shine goo unless she thought her hair was breaking the rules. Just peek in her bathroom cabinets to uncover the bottles of self-perceived deficits lined up on a shelf. I have blackheads-cellulite-wrinkles-pimples that I must remove-smooth-erase-pop.

When I was less than double-digits years old, I would choose the kids’ shampoo for curly hair. Besides the fact that it had the best scent of the whole collection (watermelon), I truly believed that once I used it all up, I would emerge from the shower with perfect ringlets.

Carried To Play

In my fifth grade class there was a boy that combined a most vivid imagination with an encyclopedic knowledge of speedboats. He would squat in his chair, hands up at the steering wheel, providing the sound effects for his cruise through the bay of his mind.

Our teacher would call him back to chalkboard words, calling his name, but never telling him to stop. She would ask him to please bring his boat in and park it at the dock. The rest of us would listen as he revved his motor, slowed down as he approached the classroom coast, and reversed perfectly into his spot before shutting off the ignition. Now he was back with us, and ready to learn.