For the past week, I have been helping my nephew Xiao Tu with his applications for college. For one of his required essays, he’s been asked to describe an obstacle he’s had to overcome. Xiao Tu moved from Taiwan to the United States when he was six years and did not speak a word of English. Even though his story about moving here will not set him apart from thousands of other immigrant kids who will be answering the very same essay question, what else is my nephew expected to write about? That single event pretty much defines who he is.
As I read my nephew’s essay, I thought back to my own move when I was the same age as Xiao Tu when he moved. My family didn’t pack up and fly to the other side of the world; we jumped in a car and drove across the state. We did, however, move a hundred miles away, which at the time, was the farthest I’d ever traveled. Two memories about that day stick in my mind after all of these years.
The lesser of the two remembrances is about watching television on the first night in our new house. When I turned on the tv, the cartoon Top Cat was on. This was a huge surprise, as I’d never seen cartoons in prime time before. Top Cat was on ABC, and I’d just come from a small city that only had CBS. Later that night my dad showed me that our new city (Green Bay) had not one station, but three. Until that moment, I didn’t know that there was more than one station. A more worldly kid might have thought he’d been transported from The Flintstones to The Jetsons, but I did not. I wasn’t familiar with those cartoons either.
Discovering three tv stations was a big deal then, but it seems quaint now. The other memorable event was nothing at the time, but seems unimaginable today.
On the afternoon of that first day, the moving van pulled up in front of our new house. One of the first things off the van were the bicycles. My brother and I jumped on our bikes and told our parents that we were going to go look for kids. My mom and dad were busy directing the movers and barely acknowledged our departure. There was no “be careful,” no “don’t go too far.” We just left.
We’d only pedaled halfway around our own block when we saw two boys playing in a front yard. It was late September, and they were building forts out of fallen leaves. Denny and I pulled up to the curb and, as kid etiquette demanded, waited for the locals to acknowledge our presence. Both boys walked up to us, and one of them asked, “Are you the new kids in the Phlueger’s house?” Once that was established (although I didn’t know who the Phluegers were), we left our bikes on the side of the road and joined them. It turned out that Dave and Skipper lived in the two houses directly behind ours, and they became our best friends right up until the time each of us aligned with different cliques in middle school. Dave died a few years ago. I saw Skipper, who now goes by his given name, at our fifty-year high school reunion.
I have never talked to my own daughter about my move from Wausau to Green Bay. Could a young woman who annually travels to Asia understand my trepidation about moving such a short distance? Could a post-millennial who thinks having only one streaming service is a hardship appreciate the joy of watching cartoons at a time other than Saturday morning? Could any kid growing up in the twenty-first century think it normal that my parents would turn my brother and me loose on our first day in a new town? And finally, will my daughter read this blog and conclude that I’ve turned into my grandparents?