The Rice that Binds

By Margaret Sharpe

I used to envy girls whose mothers had hot-glue guns at home. Do you know how many cool things that could be done with a hot glue gun? Forget the fact that some of these girls already had be-dazzlers; I would have settled for a hot glue gun.

Instead, I had sticky rice. When I had a project for school and needed the simplest Elmer’s glue to paste two pieces of construction paper together, we never had the Elmer’s. We were lucky to have those pieces of construction paper. More often than not, there would just be scraps, the edges of leftover paper from other school projects. Paper with cut-out stars and squares – all that was left were jagged contours of someone else’s better project. And with two older sisters, I was last in line to get the pad of paper, so the only pieces left were ugly colors like brown and orange.

When I would finally get all my shapes together and needed to paste them together, I would beg my mom for Elmer’s. But by that time, it was late at night, the stores were closed and I just needed to get my project done. Even if the stores were open, I doubt we would get the glue. With five of us living in a tiny apartment, it was low on the list of priorities.

So instead of Elmer’s, she would grab two grains of sticky rice from the pot and roll them together with her fingers. She would flatten them out and smear them onto the paper, and then firmly put the other paper on top and it would stick. It would stick so well that the rice always lasted longer than other projects where I had used real glue.

I remember the look on her face as she rolled the rice together. Her face lit up as though she was showing me a magic trick. When I think back, I can understand where the magic came from.

At that time we were close to the bottom. Struggling emotionally and financially. We were on our own, without my father. We were squished together, four kids and my mother, into a small apartment in a bad neighborhood.

As a newly single parent, I knew she was tired. She was working at least ten hours every day and then had to come home to take care of us.

My sisters were teenagers, so by definition, they were out of control. My brother was two years old and had just learned the art of smearing the contents of his own diaper onto the walls. I was an unkempt eight year old who ran around outside barefoot.

We were like most kids, oblivious to the struggle – and more concerned with the injustices of our own lives – why we couldn’t have new LA Gears, hot-glue guns, etc. We couldn’t understand that she was scraping by to get us out of the neighborhood, to give us all the life she had envisioned for us – the life we have now.

Although my mother was able to create this beautiful life for all of us, I look back and marvel at how she got through those times.

There were so many fates leaning on her – four children all depending on her being able to succeed. At times, I would guess she wondered if she could make it, and if everything would be okay. But this, this was a problem that she could fix with a little sticky rice.

I had initially cried when she brought the pot of rice over. I was convinced that she did not understand. I remember screaming for Elmer’s while violently waving my brown and orange paper shapes in my hands. But the second she started to spread that rice onto the paper, I was dead silent. My eyes were like saucers as I watched her use this rice that I had never imagined could be used on my construction paper. She was smiling down at me as she showed me the final ‘tada’ of the trick, pulling at either side of the paper to show me the strength of the rice. It really was a magic trick.

I remember feeling proud. I was proud because I knew that even though all the other moms had hot glue guns, they couldn’t do what my mom just did with two pieces of sticky rice.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: I’m a Korean-American hapa from Southern California. I work as a freelance writer – which means I work everywhere and nowhere.

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