I can count among the many fine gifts I received this Christmas one bag of Tostitos (thanks to my youngest sister) and an oinking chip clip (thanks to my soon-to-be-ex-husband). What can I say? I appreciate a good triangular corn snack. Incidentally, I also appreciate good writing. That's why I'm so excited that I convinced Ashley Brown Allen of Big Top Family to share her amazing post, "Next Stop, Doritoville, USA," with you, my fine readers, you, the ones in whom I confide my deepest, darkest, saltiest junk food fantasies.
Ashley, also known as The Ringleader, is rounding out my guest posts for the month of December, which is fitting because this essay is, deep within its nacho cheese heart, a lesson in appreciation. Maybe you didn't get a new iThing for the holidays, but if you're reading this blog, I bet you have a roof over your head, computer access, and a bathroom that's not a plastic bucket in a cow pasture (just read the essay). That is what makes Ashley's writing not only funny, but utterly gripping. She share stories about a life growing up in poverty, of being raised by a wildly religious mother, of becoming a mother herself (to three boys no less). Her essays feel immediate and awing and, yet, Ashley has such a light, often hilarious touch. Check out "The Night the Devil Chased My Mom," "A Wake" (which is a personal favorite), and "Mortification Purge Party." The Ringleader has appeared on Scary Mommy and BLUNTmoms, and she contributes regularly to Huffington Post, but you can still nuzzle up against her greatness (Hmm, should I leave that line? Yes, yes, I should.) by following her on Facebook and Twitter.
Next Stop, Doritoville, USA
by Ashley Brown Allen
My first memory of my True Love dates back to first grade, when my mom, sister, and I lived with Grandpa MacNamara for a couple years. Prior to moving in, we had been living for a short while in an abandoned trailer, in the middle of BF dairy country, with no running water or electricity. This is when we had the sweet experience of peeing and pooping in a plastic bucket, storing our food in an Igloo cooler, fetching our water from a nearby spring, and keeping warm on chilly fall evenings by way of kerosene heaters. I had fun imagining for a time that I was Laura Ingalls, living the prairie life, but my fantasy got totally annihilated one night when I woke up at midnight to find our trailer surrounded by a herd of mooing cows. And they weren’t “mooing” in a cute little fluffy baby cow kinda way—they were mooing in a pissed-off “This POS trailer’s in our way, now mooooove it” kinda way. My prairie dream was over, and I’m pretty sure my mom was disenchanted too, because the next morning she packed us up and made the four-hour trip to her father’s huge, warm, well-lit house complete with a real gosh-darned Frigidaire and four operational commodes. All of a sudden, we were living high on the hog. And that brings me back to Doritos.
I noticed right away Grandpa had all kinds of kid temptations in his pantry, and one of them happened to be a shiny red bag with a clear oval window at its center, previewing and promising nacho cheesy triangular goodness. I eyed the bag for a few days, showing herculean restraint, really, for a kid who had never enjoyed processed food. I’d seen this bag plenty of times, on a smaller scale, in the lunch boxes of schoolmates in last year’s kindergarten class. My mom couldn’t afford those kinds of extras, and I didn’t complain because I really didn’t know what I was missing until that fated day in Grandpa’s pantry. I waited for my mom to go upstairs, her footsteps echoing on the wooden steps, and I reached up and ripped open the bag. My first bite could be compared to what a newly-sighted blind person might experience on the Fourth of July. My second, third, and twenty-third bites were just as euphoric, and soon I had devoured the whole bag as if my six-year-old life depended on it. I was happy, VERY happy, until they were all gone and then. . . I wasn’t. I was pretty nauseated, actually. I couldn’t eat my dinner, and I got a spanking when my mom discovered the empty bag still slick with my piranha saliva. But in no way did that deter my newfound obsession.
I soon realized that whenever I was sad, or lonely, or sick, or scared, in the back of my mind, the image of that big, red bag blinked like a neon sign through the dirty window of a dive bar. My mom caught on pretty quickly too, because after Grandpa passed away and we moved to Steubenville, Ohio, I seemed to be begging for Doritos all the time. I missed my grandpa, so I needed Doritos. I missed my dad, so I needed Doritos. Someone made fun of me at my new school, so I needed Doritos. I had a cold, so I needed Doritos. My mom was hanging out with a bunch of religious weirdos, so I needed Doritos. We were moving for the trillionth time, so I needed Doritos. They became my salve to the stress, my calm to the chaos, and my sane to the crazy. Unfortunately, though, money was tight, and my habit became relegated only to special occasions like holidays, weekend visits to our dad’s house in West Virginia (he kept them well-stocked), and my mom’s occasional moment of weakness, when she’d give me the precious $1.49 to walk up to the neighborhood market and soothe my soul.
Once a family-sized bag was in my hands, no one was touching them unless they wanted their fingers bitten off with razor-sharp, cheese-coated teeth. Even after Mom re-married and I had all sorts of siblings running around, I felt no obligation to share with their grubby little mitts. By that time, however, it was even harder to get my own mitts on them, because with more mouths to feed, my new step-father considered them an extravagance. My mom and he would get into fights whenever he’d shut down a Dorito request, and I can still hear the insistence in her voice when she’d argue, “They make her happy!” By that time, I was almost ten, and our family was collecting welfare money and using food stamps from time to time, whenever my step-father was out of work, which seemed like an awful lot. Child support from my Dad helped, but was only enough for the two kids that were actually his own—Alyson and I. I knew we were struggling, so instead of nagging, I took to daydreaming about them, drawing pictures of them, and I even did an entire school art project on them. It was a diorama of a town I named “Doritoville, USA,” and if I could’ve shrunk myself down to the size of an eraser, I would’ve happily lived in that Utopia for the rest of my life.
I was yearning along and enduring this long, pathetic Dorito Dry Spell until the night of my tenth birthday. My family was having a birthday party for me, and Mom made a chocolate cake. I wasn’t expecting any presents; those usually came from Dad and his side of the family at a later date. But lo and behold, right after blowing out my ten candles, a huge wrapped box was presented to me. I ripped off the paper in wild anticipation, and a large, moving box was revealed. What could it be? I wondered. A stereo? An Atari? A puppy (even though the poor thing would’ve suffocated by now)? It turned out the contents of the box were even better. Ten, sparkling, red, unopened, family-sized bags of crispy, powdered-cheesy deliciousness were inside, and even though I noticed my mom’s eyes were teary and downcast, I couldn’t have felt happier.