Ice Cream Lessons
I stood in line at the sandwich shop, looking at the ice cream counter and crying my eyes out. Every time I think about ice cream, I think about my grandparents, who taught me the importance of eating it myself and sharing it with others. My grandparents have more cones behind them that they have to look forward to -- as mentioned before, my grandpa's got diabetes and congestive heart failure, and his kidneys are slacking on the job. My grandma's doing awesome for ninety-four, but ... she's ninety-four. Every day is gift and for her, tomorrow is not a promise.
My grandparents are going to be gone soon. It's both completely normal and utterly fucked up and in case this is not immediately obvious, I'm having a hard time with it. I was kind of embarrassed at first, crying like that in the sandwich line, but then I decided to just let it go.
Shunryu Suzuki said in "Zen Mind, Beginner Mind" that stopping a ripple on a pond only causes more waves. I think. I read Suzuki in college, back when I bleached my hair blond, wore overalls and listened to a lot of free jazz. A lot's changed since then.
So I stood there, ordering a turkey on wheat through a face full of tears, just losing it. And then I remembered: I am trying, consciously, to write more paper letters. I've all but stopped using the mail, and it's kind of a shame. I love getting letters from people, real ones, and I really miss it. So I'm trying to revive the habit.
Especially to my grandparents. I want them to know how special they are to me, what an incredible impact they've had on my life, and I'd rather give them this ahead of time than deliver a fantastic eulogy later. So I pulled out a Sharpie and a legal pad, and wrote them a letter about ice cream, and why they'll always be associated with it in my mind.
It took a long time. I sat on a park bench in the sun, a grown man writing, eating, periodically bawling while a city full of suits streamed past talking about policy, briefs and whitepapers and totally ignoring me. Better that way, but weird all the same.
And now that I've written that letter and gone through those tears, I feel completely drained, but a little better. I'm going to sleep now, and when I wake up I'm going to send this thing, just as soon as I find a stamp.
I've typed that letter up and posted it below, if you're so inclined. I feel kind of weird about it, telling the whole world like this. But ultimately, I want people to know how great my grandparents are to me, and I want to be able to click back, six months from now and read this and remember this day, too ... over and over again.
Dear Daro and Pop-Pop,
I'm on my lunch break, standing in a sandwich line and staring at the ice cream case, thinking of you both. I think about you both a lot lately, and this ice cream is amplifying it, because I can't look at ice cream without remembering two very, very wonderful experiences, both of which you created.
Pop-Pop, I can remember when I first learned how to eat an ice cream cone. I think we were at the mall, and at that moment, I had only ever had ice cream out of a bowl, with a spoon and someone nearby with a lot of napkins. I'd seen people on TV eating cones, seen older kids and grownups with them, but never had one of my own. I was incredibly excited, to say the least. I can remember you handing me that cone and me taking it in both of my little hands -- it was so HUGE -- and then having no idea what to do with it. I think I just started biting it from the top down, kinda like an apple. Man -- if you thought I needed napkins before ... I think I actually got ice cream in both ears.
You said "No, not like that. Like this," and then paused. As a diabetic, demonstrating how to eat the cone would have been risky. "Lick the sides," you said. I did, bottom to top. "NO, around it," you explained. I tried, but made a bigger mess. You thought for a minute, evaluating the risk against the importance of the lesson. Then you said "here, let me show you," and took the cone. You quickly, patiently showed me how to lick a circle around the cone, how to head off all the drips, how to take little bites off the top, and how to nibble the cone away, biting the bottom tip off and sucking the last bit of melted ice cream through the hole. Somehow you managed to show me this without eating the whole thing yourself. Every time I eat an ice cream cone, and sometimes when I don't, I remember that lesson. I hope I get to turn right around and teach it to someone small one day.
Daro -- do you remember Tilfred? He lived next door to you, and he was such a little pill. He tackled too hard and yelled too much, threw toys in the air and was quick to ball up his fists and use them. One afternon, me and you and Jess hand-cranked peach ice cream together and you let us invite one friend each over for dessert.
I picked Paul from two doors over. I certainly did not invite Tilfred. Nevertheless, as we all sat down and you scooped soft, sticky peach ice cream into our bowls, there was a knock at the door. It was Tilfred, who said "my babysitter said I could come and eat peach ice cream with y'all after dinner." You invited him in and told him to get himself a bowl out of the cabinet.
This kind of blew my little mind. You'd taught me that it wasn't nice to invite yourself places, and told me just that day that ice cream was for well-behaved children. That same day, Tilfred had thrown two of my Star Wars guys and one of my flip-flops into the oak tree out front AND invited himself over after supper. And here you were, rewarding the behavior with ice cream! I just shrugged, figuring the world had gone completely crazy, and handed Tilfred a spoon.
You knew then something it has taken me years to figure out: Sometimes all jerks like Tilfred need is someone to be nice to them ... then they can stop being such jerks. Tilfred was never my best friend after that, but he did stop hitting me quite so much. 24 years later, your example is still a tough act to follow, but I'm going to teach it one day, too.
I've got to get back to work now, but please know that I love you both more than I can possibly explain. And despite all appearances, I actually was paying attention to you ...