More than a few times this week, the universe has sent the site Calligraphr across my social feed. This is a website where you can create your own font. The funny thing is I’ve already tried and made my own font using my handwriting. (It’s pretty easy and cool if you’re into that kind of thing.) Seeing these ads brought back some memories I have around my penmanship…
When I was about eight years old, my stepmom and dad bought a “Chinese” restaurant. It had a big yellow sign in front with a stereotypical (racist) Asian font that read Yu’s Restaurant and an illustration of a Chinese junk ship. Who was Yu? Who knows? But it sure sounded Chinese. The menu, on the other hand, included bacon and eggs alongside chow mein. Not exactly authentic Chinese.
The custody arrangement between my mom and dad was pretty loose and I never knew where or for how long I’d be staying in any house. That year, I stayed the whole summer with my dad and stepmom and that meant I got to go to the restaurant everyday and help out. For some kids that might sound like a bore, but I was excited because I had lots of fond memories of hanging out at my grandpa’s coffee shop. Also, it was the 70s and I didn’t have a phone or tablet to keep me occupied.
Being a good helper turned out a little more challenging than expected. When I “worked” at my grandpa’s I was in charge of buttering toast and pouring milk orders. Sometimes, I got to make little packets of lettuce and tomato for the burgers. I made them into little squares that fit on top of the patties perfectly before getting a toasty sesame bun placed on top.
At Yu’s though, I was allowed to have more responsibilities, but that also meant I was able to make more mistakes. Wait, I wasn’t supposed to give the merchant copy of the receipt to the customer? Oops, I wasn’t supposed to yell, “Is that a cockroach?!” while customers were in the restaurant? For the record, it was a shrimp tail, but the damage was done.
After a few more days like this, my stepmom decided that perhaps I could do minimal damage if she gave me the task of writing the specials of the day on the board. She gave me the board and some special markers with the words to write. I took my time forming each letter just right. When I was done, I stepped back and admired my handiwork. Not bad, not bad.
Just a few minutes after I propped it up, one of the customers stopped and gave my sign a look on their way out. “Did you do this?” she asked. I was perched on the stool next to the cash register. I nodded my head with the pride you still have when you’re only eight. “What nice penmanship you have!” she exclaimed. I beamed. Finally, something I could do right! And that was my job for the rest of the summer.
I always enjoy your posts. This one was innocent and vulnerable just like the childhood you captured.
Sounds like your stepmother was a wise woman. She found something you can do that you excelled in and made you feel good about what you did – a lesson we could all learn.
I have terrible handwriting. In college I had an education prof who deducted points on exams for “leaving your O open.” I’d often have perfect scores, except for my open Os. Life is unfair, yes? I envy those w/ lovely handwriting, which you obviously have. I laughed at the cockroach inquiry. That’s certainly one way to clear the restaurant at closing time, but I understand your being relegated to sign duty.
I enjoyed all the details in this memoir piece. I can just picture you on the stool, the shrimp tail on the floor, the menu sign, the condiments under the bun. I hope you will share more memory pieces.
I worked in a few different restaurants at different times in my life. I loved it! Every now and then I think I should stop teaching and go back to one of them. 🙂
A child’s perspective is so very different, and you’ve managed to capture your experiences so beautifully here. You weave together memories of being a kid who wants to be Helpful and Needed (even though kids can’t help but be too honest or…just plain…KID-LIKE sometimes). And I also like the way you talk about the larger perspective of having a Chinese restaurant within a community that expects a stereotypical definition of Asian-ness, even when you know at a young age it doesn’t all feel right. Loved this post!
What a lovely memoir. One nice comment means so much to a child. The ending is such a feel good one, Vivian.
The cockroach/shrimp tail! Your posts have a touch of humor in just the right places. And how cool that you created your own font. I’ve enrolled in a free hand lettering course every year for the past several years. I’m just now getting around to actually practicing and maybe learning something.