Sampson the bunny and second grade cheese

3 Apr

Until I was about eight, my father had a very well-paying job at Shell Corporation, but chose to leave it so he could  spend some time at home to enjoy his children growing up. My mother was a public school History teacher –  in Brazil this means she went to work every day but would sometimes go months without seeing a paycheck – the government “had no money.” My father tried self-employment after leaving Shell, but his business went under months after (something or other about thousand per cent inflation and all of his investments suddenly being worth less than a pair of dirty knickers). That was the toughest time financially our family had.  My dad spent over eight months officially unemployed, doing odd jobs here and there – he left early in the morning, returned for lunch, and was out the door again until dinner time. Out on interviews, at employment agencies, doing temp work, soliciting interviews at companies… doing whatever he could to bring home good news.

I knew things weren’t the same because amenities were cut here and there. My after school English language course was no more, our country club membership was cancelled, eating out became a special occasions only deal, and most memorably, the cheese I was consuming looked different. My ingenious, money-stretching mother started buying cheese scraps – the bits that don’t go into the deli bag after going through the slicer. Same taste, lower price.  But what mattered; tuition for the best school in the city, film and book rentals, trips to museums, zoos, parks, family quality time; those were as certain to me as the sun rising the next day.

Tivoli Park

I was 8 years old when my father resigned his position at Shell and I was PISSED at him for it. See, Shell sucked all the blood out of its workers but the company spared no pennies on Christmas season. Every year they rented out the largest amusement park in the city of Rio and bussed entire families of employees to spend a Saturday,  providing meal tickets and Christmas gifts. Oh yeah, and each family could bring a kid friend, who also got a gift. It was a LOT of fun and something to brag about at school. It’s no surprise I disapproved of my father’s decision to cut ties with the best company ever. I  remember sitting on his lap one afternoon as my mom prepared dinner a few feet away from us.

Ju, dad doesn’t work at Shell anymore. It was a very tough job and I had to spend too many hours there, and it wasn’t good for my health (he apparently was this close to a heart attack and the doc told him to lower his stress level ASAP).

You don’t? What are you gonna do?

I’m going to own my own business now.

You are? But what about the Christmas parties? Can we still go?

No, I don’t work for Shell anymore.

But, DAD, I never got my Barbie house! They’re gonna give me the Barbie house when I’m 10! Can’t you work there for two more years?

My mother must’ve interjected with some logical argument about having to make sacrifices in the midst of an unstable economy and a promise that I’d be able to use my sister’s Barbie house whenever I wanted.  I, a genuinely good and empathetic kid, spoke no more of the issue.

That’s how my parents dealt with everything; calmly, reasonably, and truthfully.  A toy wasn’t offered in exchange for good behavior; I behaved because that’s how I’d get others to respect and listen to me. I studied because the more I learned, the more I understood about the world around me. I thought twice on how to spend my money because I had to earn it – and that took time, effort, and lots of good behavior. I remember so well walking into a store to buy a stuffed animal I had been eyeing for months. It was a replica of a toothy blue bunny that my favorite cartoon character lugged around and occasionally threw at the heads of insolent little boys. She was feisty and so was I – Sampson the bunny had to be mine. It took weeks of chores and good behavior to save enough for that weekend afternoon when my dad and I walked into Lubene store.

Sansão

That one. I want that one, please. I inspected the box, the painted eyes, the plushness of his fur and took big whiffs of the new toy smell. This one would do. I parted with my money at the register and walked out, clutching to my dad with one hand and my new inseparable toy with the other. I still have the little guy – he survived a  left leg amputation, courtesy of my ex-boyfriend’s pit bull, but his toothy smile brings me back to these irretrievable days of joy and simplicity.

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5 Responses to “Sampson the bunny and second grade cheese”

  1. Lorna April 3, 2010 at 17:32 #

    Funny how the hardest times are those that you’ll always remember and yet, when you realise that you are a better person for it all, it all makes sense why it had to be like that in the end.
    mmm…enough of my philosphical ramblings,nice post…so you’re Brazilian?!

    • Juliana April 4, 2010 at 13:03 #

      your philosophical ramblings are welcome, because you’re fucking right, my friend. i am indeed, brazilian! moved to the US in my teens, though.

  2. mitya April 4, 2010 at 12:46 #

    What ever happened to that well-behaved, reasonable girl?

  3. subject-verb agreement April 4, 2010 at 17:51 #

    i like getting this peek into your upbringing. your parents sound like the kind i’d enjoy hanging out with in front of the tv while waiting for you to figure out what you’re going to wear.

    when my brother and i were tots, we ate lots of grilled cheese sandwiches and mac n cheese at my house. we thought it was a treat, because we loved them so much. later, when i was much older, my mom revealed that we ate it so frequently back then, because it was cheap and we were poor. but i never felt poor. parents are special like that.

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