Home 9 Issue 9 Grassy Hilltops and Garlic Knots by Morgan McIntosh

Morgan McIntosh, age 16

This essay was written as part of the Ofrenda Community Project, a collaboration with the Natural History Museums of Los Angeles County. The inspiration piece was a Mickey Mouse miniature and Disneyland pin.

Grassy Hilltops and Garlic Knots

I’ve been in lockdown for over a year, and it’s easy to feel like I’m living Groundhog Day over and over. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, LACMA events have been closed until further notice. During these challenging times, it’s important to remember the little things we took for granted — such as going to the movies, visiting friends and enjoying delicious food at restaurants. However, something that calms me is thinking back to nostalgic memories like my time at the museum, when my only worry was whether or not the pizza parlor would be out of garlic knots. Such resonating memories simmer in my mind now and then, reminding me of the many joys in life — the little things that deserve utmost appreciation.

When I was younger, my family and I would take a trip to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA) every Friday afternoon with family and friends. With picnic baskets packed in the car, my parents would pick up my sister and me immediately after school, when I was eager to meet my friends on the lawn outside the museum and welcome a day of fun.

Going to LACMA on Friday was a particularly special day, because the museum would host a live jazz band, food trucks and games on the outskirts of the museum. People danced to the gentle tunes that tickled their ears while visiting the various food stations, where fresh meals and drinks awaited them. On the grassy lawns and hills surrounding the museum, my friends and I would wander off and explore the land like curious explorers blazing a trail in new places, rediscovering new things like we’d never seen them before. We’d climb the animal statues and stand on our very tippy-toes to balance ourselves on the curbs of the sidewalk that followed the various museum exhibits, documenting every step as if we were narrators in a nature documentary. From there, we’d race to the grassy hilltops, rolling down and giggling as our skin grew itchy, but we didn’t care.

Amid all of that thrill and joy, here’s my favorite part: Tired from exploration and exercise, my friends and I would race back to my family’s picnic area, murmuring soft “excuse me”s and “sorry!”s as we scampered around others’ blankets and picnics and across the grass to reach our spot. I’d nonchalantly squeak to my father, “I’m a little hungry … pizza doesn’t sound too bad right at this moment,” while innocently rubbing my belly as a pure smile spread across my face. He would laugh, and, playing oblivious, pull out a rolled twenty from his front pocket. “Alright, but get some extra bread rolls, will ya?” he’d chuckle as I grasped the money from his hands.

My friends and I, beaming in success, would race down to the local pizza parlor, ordering the classic: two pepperoni pizzas, garlic knots with marinara sauce, and extra parmesan cheese, please. Although the walk was a little ways, the food was always worth it. The steaming assortment of Italian cuisine wafted through the air – an enticing odor that left stomachs growling and mouths drooling. The mozzarella cheese melted in our mouths, leaving my friends and I competing for the last slice of pizza.

However, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. With our stomachs stuffed, the jazz band quieting down, and food trucks closing their windows, I knew it was time to depart. I’d wave goodbye to my friends, taking a longing look at the famous row of lights – the Urban Light sculpture – that marks LACMA and illuminates the evening sky. Although I had to leave a day of exploration, excitement and thrill, I knew that I would once again taste that savory pizza and rediscover familiar land in a couple days’ time – and that gave me solace. That gave me peace.