YK’s 365 Release: Day 19

I only stole something once in my entire childhood. As I have mentioned several times, we were really well-behaved kids with a blissful childhood. I was definitely a misfit, but not the law-breaking kind. Just the Curious George kind.

My mother did not allow us to eat candy except for once a week, and she never bought us gum because she believed it was rude. She kept a huge glass jar on top of the fridge, that she would take down only on Saturdays, our allotted day for candy. Even so, we never took from it of our own accord the rest of the week, though I’m certain we could reach it. Perhaps we took pleasure in the reward of scarcity.

To this day, I don’t really eat sweets. Once in a great while, I’ll buy a box of Nerds and pour the entire box into my mouth all at once. And my sugar fix is met for another few months.

Back before gum companies realized they could create gum in shapes and packages other than 5 long flat sticks, all of the gum packages looked alike, save for the color of the packaging. My younger sister, Kate, and I were standing by the checkout gum/candy section while my mother was waiting to pay for groceries. Those gum/candy displays are the exact height of a child’s reach. Strategic marketing.

We saw the lime green package of spearmint-flavored Doublemint. Remember those commercials with the twins? “Double your pleasure with Doublemint Gum!” Since neither of us had ever stolen anything before we were completely ignorant of how to go about executing our plan. We glanced at each other, then at the gum, and I nervously grabbed it in my damp palm. I don’t think it even made it to my pocket. The look of guilt must have been glaring on our faces because my mother looked and us and said, “Did you take something?”

Immediately I outstretched my arm with my palm open, spearmint-flavored gum in hand. My mother was embarrassed and apologized to the bemused clerk. Then my mother chastised us, made us put it back, and then made us apologize to the clerk.

The rest of our youth was spent theft-free. She was a genius.

Well, I’m not counting that one time Kate and I biked around our neighborhood taking everyone’s mail, putting it in our bike baskets, taking it home, “sorting” it, and putting it back in any mail box we wanted to. We were playing Post Office. Obviously. Oddly, my mother did not agree that that was the most brilliant game in the world. She was terrifically angry. She made us knock on the doors of all of our neighbors, return their mail appropriately, and apologize.

During my last year of high school, after I had been accepted to college and before I graduated from senior year, when senioritis kicks in, my friends and I would gallivant off  to a café (I didn’t even drink back then), to sit for hours eating dumplings and drinking tea. One past-time would be to take a souvenir from each location.

Compared to the teens in the U.S., our idea of being rebellious was innocuous. (Don’t worry, I made up for rebellion later in life.)

We would take a teacup, an ashtray, a spoon, etc., so that we ended up with a stockpile of various pieces of Korean café culture. I labeled each piece with the date, and the names of the friends that were hanging out that day. Nerdy. Eventually, I moved on from those objects to just collecting matchbooks. Again, all of them dated with names. Nerd again.

day19_The only items from that brief spree of thievery that remain are a bag of matchbooks and an ashtray that I have held onto. The ashtray is substantial, weighted and sturdy. If there is such a term as a glass industrial ashtray, I would call it that. It’s actually a marvelous piece.

I quit smoking over a year ago, but have held onto the ashtray because it holds memories for me. It reminds me of Korea, the time I spent with my friends. It reminds me how my idea of rebellion was comparatively benign. It also reminds me of how many of my closest friendships were developed around smoking moments. Sitting on porches, in front of bars, in backyards, on stoops, fire escapes, sometimes the most ideal moments to talk with someone are those moments you share smoking.

I still have many friends who smoke, and sometimes when they come over, I pull out the ashtray and we sit on my stoop or my fire escape while they smoke, and I listen. Yet, I see that I don’t need an ashtray to do this.

On Day 19 of my 365 Release, I am giving up the something I took as a souvenir and that has fulfilled its purpose in maintaining fantastic memories. With this I release I remind myself of friendship, stolen moments of connecting with people, and the power of making the time to exchange a few minutes of words, listening and relaxation.


[I created the 365 Release Project to practice non-attachment, letting go and change by giving away 1 thing a day for 1 year. The background, vision and guidelines to the 365 RELEASE project are here. The running list of everything I have released is here.]

2 responses to “YK’s 365 Release: Day 19”

  1. […] I grabbed more significant souvenirs (see Day 19), but what I made sure I grabbed from each cafe was matches. Every single cafe and eating/drinking […]

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