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Remnants of a past life in my present

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JULY 31, 2023

I always remember how my fingers felt pressed into the glossy pages of “Pinkalicious,” “Fancy Nancy,” “Corduroy” and “The Giving Tree.

How they’d breathe in the tingly scent of the fresh books, soaking in their warm colors and their spirited characters and allowing the small bits of dialogue to merge their flesh with mine. 

Picture books were a constant anchor in my childhood, bringing me tranquil afternoons lying on the kitchen floor and endless nights of long sleep and thoughtful dreams. These books — with their vibrant designs and intriguing characters, their simple text but clearly painted themes — were absolutely captivating.

But, the best part about picture books was how memorable each one was to me. It was impossible to forget them, to discard the successes and failures of the characters, the lectures they got or the help they received. 

One moment, I would be at the dining table, turning my head away from the broccoli sitting in my favorite pink bowl, refusing to put the green-headed food in my mouth regardless of how many airplanes my mom flew toward me with my favorite pink fork. Then, I’d think about the time Pinkalicious ate so many pink candies, cakes and other sugary treats that she literally turned pink — only the pile of vegetables sitting in her fridge were able to turn her skin tone back to its normal, peachy flush. 

I loved the color pink as much as Pinkalicious did, but I did not particularly love the idea of an unbalanced diet turning my skin any color other than its natural tone. 

So, I picked up my fork and mercilessly stabbed the broccoli right in its head, shortly popping it in my mouth right after.

Another time, I could be begging my parents to get me the rainbow-colored bicycle I saw at Toys “R” Us. I’d be telling them how perfectly smoothly it traveled across the gray, ceramic floors, how stunningly round and sparkly the pink training wheels were and how amazingly harmonious the ring of its bell was.

“And look at its handles! The handles! They fit in my hands perfectly! It’s like this bicycle was meant for me — please!” 

But at the sight of two, adult heads shaking left and right, I would scream and lay on the floor, refusing to move.

“You don’t understand! I can’t leave without this bicycle!”

The car ride home would be a pain, with lectures about how I had to accept that I couldn’t always get everything I wanted.

“Remember the book I read you once? The one with the tree that always gave the boy something? Wasn’t that tree nice? It’s good to give sometimes instead of always receiving,” they told me. 

“No one can receive things forever, without learning to give a thing or two at some point.”

These words did not make my heart ache any less or take my mind off the flawless purple handles that fit my hands just right. They did, however, make me understand where my parents were coming from, allow me to realize that it’d be good for me to be a little more like the tree. 

Picture books stick with you. 

They allow us, as kids, to connect the dots and either recognize or avoid making the mistakes our favorite characters made. 

But as this column has demonstrated, picture books are not the only thing from our childhoods that stick with us; there are so many little things that do as well.

It may have been peach tea teaching you how to love. It may have been a toy stuffed pig revealing to you the importance of sometimes feeling ashamed. Maybe, it was a pair of pointe shoes showing you why it is detrimental to care too much. Or, perhaps, a familiar perfume allowing you to understand the power of memory. 

It could also have been something entirely different from your childhood — the ones I listed were only from mine. 

But the point still remains: the little, seemingly trivial parts of our childhood play such a large role in shaping who we are.  

As we all get older, we will only continue to experience, endure and learn — developing ourselves in what we can only hope is in the best way possible. But as time inevitably runs ahead of us, may we always take a moment to turn our heads and look back at all our valuable memories before we take that next step forward. 

We do not have to fear that they will leave us. We just have to remember the core values that fuel us and remain confident that they will continue to live in our steps. 

And they will. 

They will always be with us, living in the loving home of our minds, thrilled to see how we continue to carry their lessons into tomorrow, the day after that and deep into the future.

So, I wrap up this column with that reminder, even as time continues to tick, begging and pushing us to move forward. 

I only hope that we never forget the wonderful values we have gained from our beloved childhood comforts.

Naomi Hsu writes the Monday column on childhood comforts that have shaped the person she is today. Contact the opinion desk at [email protected] or follow us on Twitter.

AUGUST 05, 2023