A long, long time ago, before Twitter and YouTube and the Facebooks, before Instagram and Skype and even before Harry Potter. It was a simpler time they call the late 1990s. A fresh layer of morning dew twinkled on the Sock ‘Em Boppers in the front yard. My two favorite Hot Wheels cars remained parked on my nightstand, right next to the lava lamp I got for Christmas. Normally, I would reach over and rev their engines and shoot them off the edge to see which one would make it further. But this was not a normal morning. Today was a big day, and I was so excited I could barely lay still. I flung off covers and headed downstairs. Everyone else in the family was milling around the house, following their usual weekend-morning routines. Dad sat at our oak kitchen table wearing his two favorite things: his pale Nautica robe he received as a wedding gift centuries ago and his caramel-colored scuff slippers, which were used so often that his footprints were worn into them. He scribbled little notes to himself in the ledger of the Chicago Tribune and took sips of coffee as he worked to decipher the daily crossword puzzle. Mom stood at the island in the kitchen; folding a paper towel over a plate as if making a bed for the bacon she had crackling on the stove. Brother was usually up before me, but never to do anything important. His gazed remained fixed on the cartoons that danced around the small, wood-framed TV screen, even as I passed through it to claim my favorite spot on the couch, which was so green and plaid that the material could have been repurposed to make enough kilts to clothe a small bagpiping troupe. But, it did have a spot near the right armrest where the middle of the cushion was a little softer and the angle to the TV was a little better than anywhere else. That was my spot- perfect for Saturday morning cartoon watching. But there was no way I could focus. Not today. Today was special. Besides, I had also already seen that Rugrats episode. No, no, no. I would not be distracted today. Not even for a really good show like ‘Hey Arnold’ or ‘Dexter’s Lab.” This was serious.
“Can we GO?!” I was losing my patience. These people clearly did not have their priorities in order.
“The movie doesn’t start for another hour, and it only takes ten minutes to get there?” Mom said inquisitively. She didn’t get it.
“He’s wanting to stop into the Best Buy near the movie theatre I think.” Said Dad. He gets it.“I don’t know though, maybe we should skip the movie today. Let’s just stay in and watch a movie at home.”
The laugh that immediately followed my desperate reaction made me realize he was messing with me. Classic Dad, but this was no time for jokes.
“What do you want at Best Buy?” Brother snapped at me. “Do I get to pick out something if he does??”
He’s is such a brat.
“You’ll see. And no, because I have a gift card.” I proudly announced, pulling it out of my pocket.
“Are you sure you wanna go?” Dad teased again.
“Okay, okay, I was just making sure.” He said with a grin.
I traced the many corners of the outside edge of the yellow plastic card with my thumb as I anxiously awaited the greatest pre-movie errand I have ever been on. The ten minutes that it took us to get there and the two minutes that it took me to find the right isle could have been a year and it would still have been worth the trip. There I stood, in the middle of the whole store, with a teal Gameboy Color in one hand and a tag-shaped gift card in the other. I didn’t even have a game in the cartridge slot because I was so excited for the new one. The cashier must have noticed my excitement as I pushed the box onto the counter. She smiled and asked, “Is this everything?”
“You have no idea,” I thought. I handed her the gift card and started opening the box before the transaction was even finished. I couldn’t believe that such a tiny yellow cartridge would transport me into the world I had watched on our many VHS tapes and imagined myself being a part of. I floated back to the car, double-checking that the new AA batteries I put in were inserted properly. She pulled open the sliding side door of our 1994 Plymouth Voyager and in flew a yellow bag with an empty box, and a very happy 7 year old. I’ll probably never remember whatever film my family saw that day, but I’ll always remember what happened in that theatre. That giant screen and the beautiful actors on it just couldn’t compete with the tiny, square screen that introduced me to a new friend and a life-changing adventure, without ever having to decide between Charmander, Squirtle, and Bulbasaur. Like I said, it was a simpler time, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.