So my students and I had a free-write today. We had just wrapped up a unit on opinion writing and to celebrate we just wrote whatever moved in us. I asked them for their input as I was writing too. The first response I heard was “Ice Cream!!!!” So I went with it. The memory that I have most attached to ice cream is not a recent one, though the boys and I did recently celebrate with ice cream during our February heat wave. Nope, my memory came from my childhood in the front cab of my father’s company truck…
Ice cream was my family’s favorite treat and there was only one (or thousands) of ways to have it…Dairy Queen. It was our go to for birthdays, report cards, baseball team wins…and baseball team loses. But my favorite trips to Dairy Queen was in my dad’s company truck after dinner on a random night in the middle of the week.
I remember vinyl covering on the seats that crinkled, hardly giving a sense of comfort and sticking to any exposed skin in its grasp. I remember the only way to get comfortable was to hunker down in the corner between the bench seat and the door’s molded plastic arm rest. I would stare at the tiny line segments that shone like glowworms through an LED screen casting an eerie blue-green sheen on its surroundings. Usually with my dad in the truck it shone TAPE reminding me that my dad was in control of the music, not even Dick Biondi. I would sit and listen to one of two things: Willie Nelson or Ferrante and Teicher…Google it…one of the original instrumental cover bands…
My dad, who normally didn’t speak much at home, would wax poetic about the buildings he helped wire (electrician), or his day at work estimating electrical jobs, or his time in the army, or how he grew up as the eleventh of 12 siblings, a widowed mother and a childhood full of trapping muskrats for furriers or finding and selling golf balls to help his family (and maybe by a 5¢ bottle of Coke from time to time. Stories I wish I would have recorded.
But the highlight of our trips to Dairy Queen was to watch that man eat an ice cream cone. Myself, I would linger with my newest concoction of a blizzard, sucking away at the soft serve until only the candy or cookie bits were left pressed into the roof of my mouth. But this man, a man who grew up with hardly nothing, didn’t linger with each bit of his simple vanilla cone. No. He ate it. Chomp, after munch, after bite, he worked that cone down to the little grid of a bottom faster than we could make it to the town’s single stoplight two blocks down the road. It was during this time that the talking stopped and he almost seemed to go into a trance hacking away at the ice cream tower in his left hand. It always fascinated me to see him bare his teeth and sink them into the side of the DQ signature cascade of cream and cone. I used to track where his earliest and latest finishes were. Would he finish before we even got to the stop light? Would he linger until the Northcote intersection or even better Hilltop Ave.?
But today, well, my dad and I haven’t driven to get DQ in a while, but my boys and I do. And here I am, ordering a vanilla cone (sometimes with the crunch coating, I can’t be too much like him) and my boys are amazed at how fast it goes down. I don’t bite it, I don’t bare my teeth, but I do realize that my dad’s break-neck pace of inhaling an ice cream cone was not some fanatic love of the stuff. No. It was pure survival instinct. Get the ice cream down so that it doesn’t spill all over you or your vehicle. It’s so that you have a hand available to give your son a high-five or squeeze above the knee because now that you are on the way home, the silence sets back in and you don’t know exactly how to say you love him and that you enjoyed this time listening to “Always on My Mind” and reminiscing about your by-gone days.
Thanks, Dad. Next cone’s on me. And maybe this time you’ll make it all the way home because I’m the one driving now.