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Nostalgia stirs introspection

Photos courtesy of Bailey Stover

Sunday mornings tasted like Bisquick pancakes covered in butter and drenched in bottomless pools of Mrs. Butterworth’s Sugar Free Syrup. Sundays sounded like “Scooby Doo” cartoons as I followed The Mystery Machine and Mystery, Inc. gang on their exciting expeditions as the comforting aroma of burning firewood and sizzling bacon wafted out of the kitchen. Sunday mornings felt like an old, threadbare, falling-apart-at-the-seams tan chair. Sunday mornings looked like wallpaper as old as my grandmother and sepia photos far older than sh e in dusty picture frames.

For the most part, the grand adventures of my childhood blur together in my memory. I have fragments of places I went and people I met, but my timeline twists in on itself until I can no longer recall how old I was for any given event. Talking about how my life has changed becomes increasingly difficult when I struggle to recall the sequence of my youth. The only consistent memory my Swiss cheese brain has kept safe from time’s thieving grasp has been the Sunday mornings I spent with my grandpa in his house, which hasn’t changed since I was born.

The only consistent memory my Swiss cheese brain has kept safe from time’s thieving grasp has been the Sunday mornings I spent with my grandpa in his house, which hasn’t changed since I was born.

Through my elementary school years, I would spend the night with my grandpa on Saturday, and he’d make peas in sugar, crisp, crunchy curly fries and hamburgers cooked to greasy perfection.

My greedy hands, still smaller than the onion flavored hamburger buns, were coated in salt by the end of the meal. We laughed the whole time we ate. I slept in my mom’s childhood room — a time capsule of when she was in high school with the same brass bed, family pictures and knick-knacks.

I fell asleep soon after sunset and woke as morning light breached the horizon, entering the kitchen to the fire-cracker popping of frying bacon and the muffled shuffling of my grandpa’s footsteps. He is not a diverse chef, and for the last 18 years I’ve eaten one of his same six meals — chili, cheeseburgers, pizza, stew, fried fish, hot dogs — every time I visited. But pancakes were special. Pancakes were for watching Sunday morning cartoons and playing cards after church. Pancakes were for after summer nights spent stargazing and for before long days of playing Frisbee and Wiffleball.

For a while my older brother and I would share these mornings, but as he grew up I, the doting younger sister, tried to follow in his footsteps. I idolized him, so whatever he did, I did. He took piano lessons, so, even though I hated them, I did, too. We both played soccer, learned an additional musical instrument, did jazz, concert and marching band and joined the journalism program. From the time he graduated elementary school while I was only in first grade, I held myself to the standard he set.

The first time I stepped foot inside Gentry Middle School and saw my brother’s name etched into plaques commending academic achievement and citizenship, I knew my breakfast venue needed to change. I traded in the smell of my grandpa’s house, a mixture of old spice and chopped wood and coffee, for the familiar fragrance of my own bedroom. Sunday mornings tasted less like Bisquick white flour pancakes and more like tart berries and cheesy scrambled eggs. Sunday mornings sounded like a jumble of voices — three now instead of one — traveling from the kitchen to my bedroom, slipping under my closed door to wake me up. They smelled like a griddle of cinnamon and nutmeg-covered French toast and felt like hardwood chairs. Sunday mornings looked like Fiesta plates, platters and bowls holding towers of perfectly crunchy toast.

Time might have flown during middle school if not for the stale, stagnant air trapped under its tired wings.

Time might have flown during middle school if not for the stale, stagnant air trapped under its tired wings.

I thought I would never leave, but after three years of eating the same foods, trapped in the same small hallways, I about to enter high school, and high schoolers must be serious students. I won’t have time for the sentimental parts of my childhood like spending time with my grandpa. The drive to his house is too long, and I have homework to do. It would be foolish of me to spend time with him when I have more urgent concerns like understanding the water cycle and writing essays about the Civil War.

Serious students don’t celebrate birthday parties or make weekend plans with friends. I have homework and tests to study for and projects to complete and papers to polish until they shine like the top of the Chrysler Building. Practice makes perfect, and if I want to have a chance at meeting the academic standards I set for myself, then I need to make sacrifices. If one of them is spending time with my family, then so be it.

I used to wake before my parents and wait for my dad to come out to the kitchen so we could start our weekly tradition of cooking together; now I can barely make it out of bed before 10 a.m. The weeks and months drag on, one blending in to one another as I succumb to the relentless monotony of the reality I signed up for.

Throughout junior year, as my course load and extracurricular commitments reach their peak, I spend my weekends sitting alone on the floor of my room doing homework. Sunday mornings taste like bland snack bars and stale Honey Nut Cheerios without milk. They sound like the tired chirps and chimes of my well-worn alarms. Sunday mornings smell like the dirty clothes I let pile up in my room during the week when I was too tired to walk the extra three steps to my laundry basket. Sunday mornings feel like the weight of my sheets as I flop around in my unmade bed. I fall to the floor, tripping over stacks of papers, textbooks, binders and bags littering my room on my journey to the door. Sunday mornings look like the blurry image of a red-eyed reflection: a girl with unbrushed hair and upside purple crescent moons permanently stamped under her eyes.

It is too much work to make time for family meals. We eat out or pick up food — “Mexican again?” “Sure, why not.” — and eat at different times, our schedules never lining up. My father stays downstairs watching sports and movies with my brother. My mother resides in the upstairs living room, drowning under the demands of relentless students. I confine myself to my bedroom, surrounded by a nest of papers and computers, textbooks and calculators and binders. Weekends are no longer a time to relax; rather, they are merely a bridge of work between one week and the next.

Weekends are no longer a time to relax; rather, they are merely a bridge of work between one week and the next.

But life is about more than being a serious student. I long for weekends with my grandpa and resent myself for allowing a warped idea of who and what I should be determine how I spend my life.

I quit jazz band after one year and concert band after two. I continue to play soccer for fun, but unlike my older brother I also am involved with volleyball. While he enjoys analyzing politics, I am passionate about languages. We will always be related by blood and history, but I no longer feel compelled to follow in his footsteps. I am my own person with my own mistakes; I have my own journey in life, just as my brother has his.

For too long I believed my self-worth came from my accomplishments — how many clubs I could manage, what grades I got, what accolades I received. Holding myself to an imaginary, unrealistic standard of the serious student I created for myself. Getting a full eight hours of sleep every night is not a criminal offense, and taking time on the weekends to visit my grandpa is not some fatal error.

I miss the smell of Bisquick in the morning, but I have also grown to love my family’s conversations at Las Margaritas as we laugh over queso and chips, sharing our daily stories. I cannot be all things to all people, but I can make sure I am present during the times that matter most in my life. All I have is this moment, this Sunday morning breakfast with the people I love and who love me. I do not need more.

What is your most memorable childhood experience? Let us know in the comments below.

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