When I was a kid my dad would take me to play tennis or basketball at the schoolyard on weekends. Afterwards we’d go to the drugstore and he’d let me pick something from the candy aisle. He always got the same thing — a Snickers bar. He had a philosophy about this, he called it the Snicker theory.
“You get a Chunky bar, and you like it, but next time you get Bottle caps and you’re sad because they’re gross. It’s a wasted treat opportunity. But I get a Snickers every time because I know it’s going to be good and I’m never disappointed.”
“But Dad, how do you know you’re not missing out on something great? Maybe there’s even better candy than a Snickers and you won’t know because you didn’t try.”
My dad smiled big, something he didn’t do often. “Very good point. You must try a lot of things in life before you settle. But, he winked at me, “I have tried most of these candies before and now I know the Snickers is my favorite.”
Special occasions would call for ice cream. We would get it at Thrifty’s drugstore. You could get one scoop for $.05, two for $.10 and three for $.15 At my age I didn’t realize how insanely cheap that sounded for anything. For ice cream! Seriously. Thrifty’s had the classic flavors, maybe 12 or so, tops. I tried most of them but usually got strawberry or cherry vanilla. My dad always got Rocky Road. When I think about childhood memories, he is the only one I associate with ice cream. My mother never took me out for treats.
For my eighth birthday, I got a gift certificate for Baskin Robbins. A gift certificate for $2.00 A veritable windfall in 1981!! I didn’t really have a good sense of what $2 value was at the age of 8 but I knew it would buy a LOT of ice cream at Thrifty’s. So I was quite excited to go to Baskin Robbins.
A few days later, my mother said she’d take me to use the gift certificate. Surprised and excited, I ran to my room and carefully opened my jewelry box. The dancing ballerina on the rotating spring popped up and music started playing. I fished the gift certificate out from under the $5 bill I’d gotten in my grandmother’s birthday card. I was feeling so flush with good luck from all the generosity I’d received.
My mom waited in the car outside the Baskin Robbins. “Go get what you want” she said. I ran inside, clutching my gift certificate. The bell on the door jingled as I entered.
In my younger years, Baskin Robbins was the fanciest place in our area for ice cream. It was pink! And 31 flavors! The idea alone was decadent — so many choices. Given the chance, I would usually get bubble gum. It was either pink or blue. Pink was the preference, because the blue would turn your mouth blue and that was gross. Bubble gum ice cream was a double treat. Ice cream and after, a pile of gum balls! It never really phased us that the gum was tasteless, and grey — most of the colors sucked off when you took it out of the ice cream.
But now I was 8! It seemed like perhaps an occasion to try something new and special. More adult ice cream flavors…Cookies n’ cream was new at that time, and you might get a whole chunk of oreo if you were lucky. But then there was mint chip. Mint chip is the cool kids flavor. I figured it was what an 8 year old should order.
“How can I help you, young lady?” A nice, older man was behind the counter. I showed him my gift certificate. “Oh I see, is this for something special?”
“Its for my birthday” I said proudly.
“Well, then this is special” he grinned, and began to pile my chosen flavor into a dish. It was a really big dish!
When I got back into the car my mother just stared at me, She looked funny. Mad, sort of. I had a feeling I was in trouble, but I didn’t know what I’d done…I hadn’t made her wait a long time. I began to eat my ice cream very carefully. She had taken me for ice cream, so I was allowed to eat in the car, this time. She wasn’t looking at me as she drove, turning the radio up louder. It was Billy Joel, “Its Still Rock and Roll to Me.” My mother clicked her fingernails on the steering wheel in time to the music. She smelled like Jean Nate After Bath Splash.
Stopping at a red light, she moved the mirror to check her hair and lipstick. In the early 80’s my mom looked a lot like Jane Fonda. She even taught aerobic dance, just like Jane in all of her videos and she had lots of neat leotards with matching legwarmers too. They even had the same pretty shoulder-length fluffy perm.
Everything looked good on my mom. She tried to make me look pretty too, but it never ended up working out. The perm she gave me at home made my hair frizzy and burned my scalp so it peeled in white flaky chunks. I looked like I had dandruff for weeks. I tried to dress like her with my gymnastics leotard under my knickers. Before I left for school she said I looked ridiculous and I should change before I embarrassed both of us. I tried to dance like her too. She put me in ballet, tap and jazz classes. I liked them and had fun learning all the steps. I’d try to show her at home after class, but she was usually busy. She promised to come to my next recital. She missed the last ones because of work. But my dad was always there. He’d take me for ice cream afterwards.
I was carefully working my way through the first scoop of my mint chip. It was so big and hard. Usually our ice cream would melt so fast in the hot southern California sun. But the A/C was blasting in the car. Mom always liked to have the air on high and the windows up. I was chipping away at my hard ice cream when I realized we weren’t going toward home. “Mom, where are we going?”
“I have errands” she turned and gave me that look again. She seemed mad. “Are you going to eat all that ice cream?” she asked.
“Oh gosh, I’m sorry. Do you want some? Its really good, here, I’ll…”
“No” she cut me off, looking like I’d offered her to pet a snake. “I guess you’ll just have to bring it with you. We’re going to the S&L and it’s going to take a while.” Her face scrunched at me like she smelled something bad. “Try not to get everything sticky in there.”
She pulled into the parking lot of the Far West Savings & Loan. I clutched at the extra napkins the Baskin Robbins man had given me. I was a neat eater. I didn’t get food on my clothes or wear a milk moustache like other kids. I wouldn’t embarrass my mom. I would mind my manners. Getting out of the car was like walking into an oven. It was still upwards of 90 degrees even though it was October. I watched my ice cream slowly melt as we walked through the long parking lot.
Inside the S&L, the air conditioning was freezing, just like mom’s car. She steered me to a row of brown and orange upholstered wood chairs. A smiling blonde lady walked straight toward us. She looked like Cheryl Tiegs, or some other model from the cover of the magazines my mom read. “Mrs. McCullough, is that you? You haven’t changed a bit! That dress is gorgeous.”
My mother straightened up. She always seemed to run into old students, most of whom seemed to adore her. “Peggy! My goodness, well you’re stunning as ever. Working here now?”
“Yes, I’m a loan officer, and I’ll be helping you today. And well, who is this?” She pointed at me, as if a child in a woman’s company couldn’t possibly be her own daughter.
My mother’s face, still flushed from surprise of seeing this woman and her compliments, fell a bit as she glanced at me. “Oh that’s Nicole. She’ll just wait here while we get the paperwork done.”
Peggy, still looking me over said, “well it looks like that ice cream will keep ya busy, huh? Ok sweetheart, nice meeting you.” She turned to lead my mother to her desk. My mom gripped my upper arm and hissed into my ear, “Sit still and don’t you dare make a mess.” She then glided off behind Peggy.
I sat there with my dish of melting ice cream. The once hard scoops had slowly melted into soft blobs in a light green soupy puddle. Still looking so good, I wanted to eat it all but the mintiness was overpowering. I suddenly felt nauseated thinking about the rich cream and the sharp mint smell. I looked around for a trash can. There was an ash tray stand by the door. I knew if I put my ice cream in there it would spill and mom would be so mad. I looked down at my lap. Big pink goosebumps were all over my legs. I was freezing in the air conditioning but I knew if I went outside I’d be in big trouble. I sat. I ate my ice cream. It felt thick in my throat. I didn’t know what to do. So I ate as fast as I could to get rid of it. If it was gone I couldn’t make a mess and embarrass my mom. I finished but still had the empty dish and pink plastic spoon. Nowhere to put them. No place to hide the evidence. I held them, minty-green liquid pooling around the dish edges.
This meeting was taking forever and I wanted to go home. I was so cold and uncomfortable. Suddenly my cold feeling turned very hot, but inside me, not in the bank. All the conversations and noise in the bank went dim like a grey curtain was pulled to muffle all sounds, there was a buzz in my ears. I felt dizzy even though I was sitting. Oh no oh no oh no. I knew this feeling. This was a really bad feeling. I looked around, panicking. There were no bathrooms. I could feel the heat from inside me leaking out of my eyes. I got up, clutching the dish and spoon. I ran toward the door and out into the parking lot, around the corner of the building.
The minty green liquid came gushing up my throat and into the gutter.
I leaned over and surrendered the remainder of the ice cream onto the ground. Hot tears were streaming down my face. There was splatter around my ankles and in the holes of my jelly sandals. It was sticky and gross. I felt hot and cold at the same time. And dizzy. I knew I was in trouble. I said a quick prayer that I wouldn’t get grounded for making a gross scene and embarrassing my mom.
Just then, she came flying around the corner and stopped just short of me and the green puddle at my feet. “OH!” she barked in surprise. Her expression quickly shifting from surprise to disgust. “Well, that’s pretty much what you can expect if you’re going to eat so much garbage like a little pig. Ugh, I’ll have to tell Peggy they’re going to have to hose off the sidewalk back here. Lucky for you, I was just finishing so we can leave. Get in the car, I can’t even look at you.”
Wiping my face with the back of my hand, I trudged behind my mother’s brisk walk. She trailed Jean Nate scent in the heat of the shimmery parking lot. My silent tears and suppressed sobs turned into hiccups as I climbed into the car. Before she started the car, my mother turned and glared at me, “Why are you still holding that dish? You don’t think I’m getting you a replacement for that ice cream, do you?” she scoffed at me.
“No mama” I hiccupped. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t find a trashcan. I didn’t want to leave a mess.”