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This I Believe: I Believe in Fast Food Napkins and Ice Cubes

Julia Bader midshot
Beatrice Bonner
/
NPR Illinois 91.9 UIS
Julia Bader - Litchfield High School

For most people, fast food napkins and ice cubes have no correlation whatsoever. For me, they provide countless memories and a very important lesson.

My family is very tightly knit and very geeky. Every weekday at noon, we would take a break from our days and have lunch together. My grandpa, uncle, and mom — who worked together — would carpool to whatever restaurant we had designated that day, and my grandma would take me and my siblings there with them after picking me up from preschool. My family, being the geeks they are ,and having just come from work, would always have fountain pens with various types and colors of ink in the breast pockets of their starched button-down shirts. I would always ask to borrow them to draw on napkins. Fountain pens, however, have delicate nibs and my ape-like grip would ruin them. My grandpa suggested something else: chromatography. My grandpa picked up a napkin and drew a simple line about an inch long. The line was drawn in the most boring black ink, and I was confused as to what he was doing. He said “watch” as he placed an ice cube from his cup on the top of the line. A beautiful rainbow appeared before my eyes, and I was in awe. My grandpa explained that all inks, even black ones, were composed of various colors and that as the ice cube melted those colors would separate and bleed across the napkin. That day, I had him show me that same trick with every single fountain pen in his pocket, every fountain pen in my uncle’s pocket, and I even made my grandma dig hers out of her purse.

I was infatuated with this for years, and I would ask him nearly every day “Papa, can we do chromatography?” And, of course, he would let me, and I would leave lunch with a handful of rainbow napkins. To this day, I am still in love with the science and beauty behind chromatography; however, it has developed an entirely new meaning. Chromatography has taught me not to judge a book by its cover. I used to dislike using plain black ink because it wasn’t pretty or it was too boring, and, similar to people, I was judging it based solely on its outward appearance. Some maroon-red inks had hints of earthy green and some brown inks had the brightest violets. I learned from these simple science experiments at lunchtime that there is so much more to people than what they portray and that is so incredibly valuable. I believe in fast food napkins and ice cubes, and I believe that beauty truly comes from within.

This I Believe Illinois is NPR Illinois' annual essay program for Illinois high school seniors. An expression of where their minds are as they prepare to enter the adult world. This I Believe was started by radio journalist Edward R. Murrow in 1951 to allow anyone able to distil the guiding principles by which they lived. Special thank you to our sponsors: The Rotary Club of Springfield Sunrise, State Journal-Register, BLH Computers, KEB, Marine Bank, and Roni Mohan of RE/MAX Professionals Springfield.

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