I’ve had a love hate relationship with Peeps for as long as I can remember. I don’t know when or even exactly how it started. But I do know why.
Whenever the subject of Peeps comes up I have to re-explain what they are to my dad. “Peeps, You know those little pastel, marshmallow, sugar coated “treats” in the shape of baby birds. Or as the people at Peeps like to call them, “chicks”.” There’s a vague look of recognition and the conversation can continue.
Some of my earliest memories are of Peeps. Not of eating them so much as… well…
See I didn’t actually eat one until maybe… 2007? My friends, Mark and Maggie, gave me my first and only package of Peeps for my birthday. They were yellow and soft and kind of sparkly. (Maybe they weren’t actually sparkly. Maybe it was just the fact that I was so excited to have my very own package of Peeps?)
No, damn it, they were sparkly!
I remember holding that package in my hands. Looking at the Peeps looking back at me through the cellophane wrapping. Feeling the weight of it in my hands. Taking it all in. I looked up at Mark and Maggie with joy. For this gift, more than any other, told me they knew me, they knew my battle with Peeps. And I thanked them. Then Mark in his usual extra dry wit said simply, “go ahead.” See Mark knew me.
I remember very clearly growing up in Colorado Springs, as a Jew. For those of you who don’t know, Colorado Springs is the home of Focus on the Family and by the time I graduated high school more than 65 Christian Right organizations. (I’m not even kidding. I can’t make that shit up.)
I grew up going to the J-CC Ranch Camp in a little town in Eastern Colorado. The towns population probably tripled each summer because of our camp. It was well known that the residents did not care for the “Jew Camp”. As a camper the councilors protected us from any overt acts of anti-semitism. But it was hard to ignore those looks.
In Elementary school the entire 5th grade class took a week long trip to an outdoors camp in the mountains. Mr William’s, our teacher, thought it was an appropriate time to do something that he just couldn’t fit into his average, district 20, Public School day. He decided during a hike, high up on a mesa, surrounded by awe inspiring nature to lead us in a prayer. Not a little bow your head moment of silence to appreciate the beauty, but a full on prayer with Jesus and God and the whole gang. I was stunned. But I didn’t know what to do or say.
When we got back home and on familiar territory I walked into his classroom at the end of the day, summoned all the 5th grader courage I could. And explained, while trying to hold back tears and willing my body not to shake, that what he did was completely inappropriate and made me feel extremely uncomfortable. As my family can attest, I was a passionate little girl. And while I didn’t succeed in holding back tears I did speak about the importance of separation of church and state. Sadly I don’t remember his response. Obviously he didn’t cower in the corner like I wanted him to, I would have remembered that.
It was around this time that a pair of men visited my brother’s high school class to discuss the threat of cults. Cults were big in these days and viewed as an active threat to the youth of America. When asked their definition of a cult. It was any group that didn’t accept Jesus as their savior. My brother, Ben, challenged them, because he didn’t believe as a Jew he was a member of a cult. They were stymied. As the entire class stared at Ben they finally stumbled out something about Jews being “special” people. But they never actually agreed that Jews weren’t a cult. I’m fiercely protective of the people I love. I’ll defend my friends and family like a mother bear protects her cubs. So when I heard what had happened to my brother I was furious. I couldn’t track down these men but I could fight back, in my own way.
The bus ride home from middle school wasn’t very long. But it was long enough for my neighbor Todd Johnson to traumatize me. Todd and his family had moved in earlier that year. He was a drummer, one of the tallest kids in school and I had a crush on him. Riding home one day he leaned over and drew a swastika on the back of the seat. Right in front of me. I kept staring at it. Was he threatening me? He lived right behind me. He was tall. He had very short hair, practically shaved, was he a skin head? Was he going to kill me? I was supposed to feel safe in my home. But all I could think was Todd lives right behind me, we shared a property line, I could hear him playing drums from my house. And he just drew a swastika on the seat in front of me.
When I started to fight back I started small. When cashiers would greet me with a Happy Easter I came back with a snarky and unmistakable “Happy Passover!” I kept this up with Christmas and Hanukah as well. Those poor cashiers didn’t know what hit ‘em. (I was so relieved when “Happy Holidays” came around.) But soon that wasn’t enough.
My mother and I would enter the grocery store which was in full pastel extravaganza. My keen senses picked up the presence of Peeps. I remained calm, all the while scanning my surroundings, looking for my prey. We stopped at the 1 or 2 shelf Passover Display. Its color palette was and still is white, tan, black, and a splash of orange. When the Peeps came into view I locked on. I could walk the entire store and always knew where they were, how many there were, if they had broken into smaller groups OR if they were all living together in one massive pastel village.
It seemed only logical, to me, that I would take out my Jewish girl growing up in Colorado Springs revenge by smushing Peeps.
I didn’t run up and tackle them. No, no it was subtile. It was stealthy. It was Wild Kingdom! I could maintain an entire conversation WHILE smushing the fuck out of a peep. The feeling was exhilarating. Then we’d continuing with our grocery shopping. My mother none the wiser! 1 Peep 1 smush and I had made my statement for that visit. That was the rule. I mean I wasn’t some kind of lunatic smushing the entire Peeps inventory.
In 2007 I had my very first package of Peeps in my hand. And I could feel the excitement rush through my body. I took a deep breath, picked my target, positioned my thumb and smushed! The smush was the same, but I no longer needed the smash. Maggie suggested I eat one.
For years that little, soft, yellow, sparkly chick had represented so much anger, fear and hate and here it was just a little fluffy marshmallow “treat.”