If I try hard, I can still faintly feel the fiery aroma of boiled hot Szechuan peppers and their burning aftertaste around the edges of my nostrils. If I try even harder, I can still feel the tingling aftertaste of twice-cooked pork around the edges of my lips. And if I try even harder, I can still see Waigong in front of me, laughing at my antics.
My childhood was characterized by daily visits to Sichuanese Cuisine with my grandfather (Waigong). A caring, appreciative ex-school teacher, Waigong loved spoiling my 4-year old foodie self, and nothing made me happier than indulging in Szechuan dining. Throughout elementary school, my Waigong took me to the restaurant, where we'd spend hours on end pouring rice into our mouths, telling stories, and simply enjoying the moment. Each day, my grandfather told me a new story about his childhood. Of these, my favorites were his story of the woods.
As a young child, granddad would spend most of his time in the woods behind his house. Myself, having grown up in the busy metroplex of Dallas, Texas, never had the opportunity to even know what “the woods” truly were, much less get to explore and spend time in the woods, so I was engrossed by his tales of insects, toads, birds, and his interactions with them. He delved into thrillers about his friend squirrel, who would wait for him beneath a pine tree every day at the exact same spot and the exact same time, and I could almost envision myself in his place, dropping acorns by my feet for my very own clever, striped squirrel friend.
Waigong's stories, accompanied by the familiar aroma of Szechuan cooking, became a respite for me to appreciate the time and experience the joy of familial attention and love, an opportunity that many children don't get. No matter what happened at school, good or bad, I always looked to Waigong to brighten me up even further, and I knew that our escapades would be the best part of each day, trumping anything else. Each school day 4:00 pm, filled with anticipation for the next dish and newest story, I would excitedly search for my Waigong, in the Taylor Elementary carpool line, where he would ecstatically wave at me.
But all good things come to an end. Unfortunately, I foolishly chose this end. As I ascended into 3rd and 4th grade, in a quest to be “grown-up,” I started biking home with my friends, no longer visiting the restaurant. Somehow, Waigong waiting in front of the school just made me frustrated, and I felt embarrassed to be associated with him. Often, I ignored him, pretending like he was waving to somebody else, or that he had mistaken my identity. And although I would shun him, disrespect him, and deny him, he still acted with appreciation and love for me. Every time I biked home, keeping my head down so I wouldn't see him waving at me, I found him waiting outside my home. But still, I chose my friends and social standing instead of the man who had supported me for years. Every time I saw him in front of our house waiting for me, instead of excitement, I felt embarrassed and annoyed. My friends would ask who he was, and I just called him a nuisance, choosing my in-school reputation instead of continuing the six-year-long custom that I had so loved every day. Waigong had always been there for me, every day without fail, but I chose not to be there for him.
Three years later, I had completely forgotten about my arguments, good times, and experiences with Waigong. Instead, I was focused on school, basketball, and painting. In middle school, I had somehow taken up basketball and painting, and they'd become longtime hobbies of mine. I practiced my shooting and dribbling, as well as my sketching and inking skills every day, a custom that replaced the hole that not going to Sichuanese Cuisine left. By this time, Waigong had moved to a different state and didn't live with us anymore, and thus, I disregarded our time together as a thing of the past.
But in eighth grade, I learned that Alzheimer's had driven itself into Waigong and had spread into his memories like a pathogen. Suddenly, I regretted all the time I hadn't spend with him. Never once while I was shunning Waigong, yelling at him for being “bothersome,” did I ever think about how little time we had left together. Never once while I biked home, trying to ensure my friends didn't see Waigong at all costs, did I think about what would happen when he was gone. And never once, in the past six years, when I was aligning my feet for a three-pointer or pushing a white charcoal stick against the fibers of the acid-free paper, did I even consider the possibility of revisiting Sichuanese Cuisine with him and reviving the magic of our times together. Now, I would never be able to do it. I felt cheated. Waigong would never relive the piquant zest of Szechuan peppercorn; his memory would be devoured by this thieving, destructive illness. All I wished for was one last trip to Szechuan Cuisine, but it was too late. Sichuanese Cuisine had closed after all these years, and within a few years, he wouldn't even remember what it was.
Although I visited my grandfather, he lived a thousand miles from me, and due to both school and my parents' jobs, we were never able to stay for long. Instead of stories at Sichuanese Cuisine, at my grandfather's house, we ended up having long talks over a bowl of rice and peppercorn chicken, reminiscing about old times. Still, though, it just wasn't the same. Somehow, with my increased age, I could no longer feel the fascination and wonder that I once did as a child.
However, I decided that even if we couldn't revive the magic that we once had, I still owed my grandfather for all unanswered time and love he'd put into my childhood. Being an experienced painter, I decided that I would do my best to bring back the feelings we shared years before through my artwork. I painted the stories that Waigong had told me of him in the woods, sharing acorns with squirrels, catching toads, and watching spiders form their webs. As I relived each story through the artwork, I realized how joyful of an impact that Waigong had on me. And although I've never been able to pay back the love my grandfather gave to me, I've managed to thank him with appreciation and love of my own, through paintings.
But through it all, there was one group of people I never thanked. Each year, hundreds of shipments containing valuable items, artwork, and furniture go out. And each year, hundreds of thousands of people take the shipment process for granted. And given how superb a job they've done, it's no wonder that people do take them for granted. These people constitute packaging and shipping services, like that of Ship smart's Custom Packing and Shipping. America's socioeconomic structure relies on these companies. Without custom shipping, the infrastructure that society is built on would collapse. Each time a family moves, they trust that their shipping companies will properly transport family heirlooms and artwork to a new destination. After all, these items are priceless, because they can't be bought; they're memories, valuable for their sentimental value, and nothing can replace them.
Businesses would fail, and the economy would fall drastically. Modern-day consumerism relies on shipping and packaging infrastructure to properly get products to their consumers as well as communicate with them, and without packaging and shipping services like Ship Smart, these businesses would find themselves unable to sufficiently operate.
But for myself, packing and shipping services have done something more than just transform my family's lives by perfectly moving memories and sentimental pieces from one location to another. They're how I've managed to come to terms with my relationship with Waigong. The pieces that I sent to him are invaluable, not because of their price monetarily, but because of the stories and joy that they carry within them. I wanted Waigong to live through our childhood adventures at Sichuanese Cuisine one last time, and I did so only because of the services a company like Ship Smart provides. The time, effort, and sentiment that were enclosed in the shipment far outvalued any price cuts I could have made, and thus, I'm appreciative that I could rely on the services of shipping and packaging companies to ensure that my Waigong would revive the joy of my time with him.
On June 14, 2016, a postmarked package set for Durham, North Carolina that was shipped from Dallas, Texas. In it were dozens of paintings, ranging from stills of nimble fox squirrel to images of an old man and his grandchild sitting in a bar, laughing over a bowl of fire-red Szechuan peppers. Those were the legacy of my relationship with Waigong, and those will be the memories I carry onwards.