Fortune Cookies

A scholar's writing lasts longer than a martyr's blood.

A scholar’s writing lasts longer than a martyr’s blood.

You have an excellent sense of humor. Lucky number: 13

I have a moderate book problem.  I inherited my addiction from my father, who suffers from a severe, raging book problem.  He spends hundreds of dollars on books each month, scouring book-buying clubs for the newest titles, the latest, greatest publications to acquire.  He views his acquisitions in terms of collections, and is continually searching for ways in which to improve his collections. His Africa collection is exhaustive, as are his Peoples of the World and Peoples of the American Southwest. He taught these subjects at Utah State University throughout my youth.

I go on book binges, but have not yet reached a point in my life where I can afford or find room to house hundreds of dollars worth of book purchases.  My only prized “collection” – of food writing and cookbooks – falls far short of comprehensive. Sometimes I make second-hand purchases, a practice my father finds reprehensible.  I can’t help myself.  Books comfort me.  I love their distinct printed smell, the silken heft of their pages.  I do not feel settled unless I can see their colorful spines, lined up in rows on my bookshelves and arranged alphabetically by author’s last name or, in the case of anthologies, alphabetically by book title.

Can a love of words really be transmitted through a genetic line?  My dad and I both love to read in general.  We’ll read anything we can get ahold of, and spend all day doing it if time and circumstance permit.  Though I didn’t grow up in my father’s house, we cultivated our relationship over summer breaks.  My mother showed little interest in books and she sometimes teased me – not maliciously – about my reading habit, which causes me to wonder if I picked it up casually through observation of my father (whose houses over the years were technically libraries with beds, measured in linear shelf space rather than square footage) or whether there’s something to the theory of genetic transmission.

Your smile lights up a room. Lucky number: 2005

Another thing I inherited from my dad: a button nose.  I got my mother’s hazel eyes, and my father’s round chipmunk cheeks and pert nose.  My sister and brother are also blessed with the nose.  I used to like my nose passively; it was something that made my face seem less plain in photographs, though I gave little regard to it otherwise.

A large black Chow subdivided my nose in 2005.  Thirty-seven stitches later, I retained a nose, with a board instead of a button.  It healed into something wholly unremarkable, except for the thin vein of white scar tissue that flashes like lightning over the bridge.  I actively appreciate my nose now.  Had I been standing an inch to the right or left, I might have been severely disfigured or blinded.

Recently, my daughter, who is six years old, contracted mono. (We live on the campus of a boarding school, and, as such, germs befriend one another quickly.)  I have never before been so acutely aware of her spleen.  The weight and worth of my daughter’s existence catapulted to the forefront of my mind.  Simple tasks like riding her bicycle to school or competing in team sports are out of the question for the time being.  Nothing is worth risking the rupture of this small internal organ.

The body is such a miracle.  My daughter will recover.  My nose remains in tact.   Sometimes it’s the misfortunes that make us feel fortunate.

You have lovely eyes. Lucky number: 2

As a writer, I rely on my eyes to gather the visual details I tuck away for later: the tufted dandelion sprout, floating in the air; the crooked upturned arm of my spiny blue cactus; the silhouette of a horned owl, high up in a tree against the blush of sunset.  My eyes revel in my son’s playful smile; they drink in my daughter’s freckled cheeks.  They are vessels that carry the words I read onto the vast, curvaceous rivers of my mind.  If the day’s first blessing is waking up, the next true blessing must be opening one’s eyes to the possibilities of a new day. Thanks be.

You are an enigma. Lucky number: ?

Research for this essay returned me to a book I hadn’t read in years: Amy Tan’s The Joy Luck Club.  In a chapter titled “Double Face,” one of Tan’s characters, Lindo Jong, recounts sifting through potential fortunes at the fortune cookie-making factory where she once worked, in the hope of finding one that would elicit a marriage proposal from her beau.  She selected a fortune that read: “A house is not home when a spouse is not at home.”  Her clever plan succeeded.  The next day, her boyfriend asked, “Lindo, can you spouse me?”

My research also brought me to an article about the largest producer of fortune cookies, Wonton Food, Inc., which distributed over four million cookies a day in 2005.  That amounts to nearly a billion and a half cookies annually!  Who eats them all?  My theory is that most people – excluding children, who would eat cardboard if it tasted moderately sweet – are more interested in the fortunes than the golden cookies themselves.  Sometimes the messages resonate; sometimes it’s the lucky numbers. In 2005, lucky numbers won 110 people sums of approximately $100,000 each in a single day’s Powerball drawing.  The accompanying fortune?  “All the preparation you’ve done will finally be paying off.”

I don’t harbor strong feelings about fortune cookies, but I love the intrigue they hold within.  Maybe if I had taken the time to read a fortune on the day of my new nose, it would have read: “Beware of inauspicious strangers.  The admiration of their beauty wields a deleterious cost.”

All the preparation you’ve done will finally be paying off. Lucky number: 2013

My dad once advised me to prepare to hold at least three professions in life.  The changing world, he said, required adaptability.  To date, I’ve worked in about twelve positions – with vastly different titles and responsibilities – without interruption (and sometimes simultaneously).   My love of words has threaded through each of my professional incarnations.  I am very grateful to possess a skill that benefits myself as well as others, and buoys me, despite sharp changes in the economy and employment rates.

Right now, I teach Humanities to a gregarious group of middle school students.  I have no idea how I got so lucky in this latest gig: not only do I get to read and write, I get to geek out about reading and writing with young, enthusiastic minds!  Together, we explore worlds that are so different from our own with characters who are so similar to us.  I love when my students ask questions about the text and I can literally see their imaginations flare.

I do not know what the new school year will look like for me, but I hope that the long weekends of lesson planning and grading will pay off.  I hope that this year of channeling my own creativity into the creativity of others will not have been in vain.  In truth, I have missed the freedom to write and read on my own schedule.  I have missed marching into the grocery store; sweeping ingredients into my arms, like long lost lovers; and coming home to a joyous orgy of cooking and photography.  But I have also cultivated positive relationships with seventeen great students.  I’ve learned a lot about what it means to be a teacher… and learned that the process of learning never really ends. Nor does the adaptability of my spirit.

I face the fortune ahead of me with gratitude and optimism.  My love of words has yet to let me down.

© Julia Moris-Hartley 2013

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1 Comment

Filed under food, literature, travel

One response to “Fortune Cookies

  1. Sue

    Fantastic, Jules!

    Like

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