Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The small things which shape us.

When I was in elementary school I used to go with my grandfather when he ran errands around town. In the summer evenings we would get ice cream at the Salem Ice Cream Parlor. We would take Papa's big black poodle Choo Choo with us. Papa worked for Norfolk and Southern Railroad and that's where the dog's name came from.  He was one of those gigantic poodles, fluffy and curly and coal black.  He was the friendliest dog on the planet and if it's true that dogs take on their owner's personalities then that explains it.

Choo Choo always got his own cone of ice cream, butter pecan. That was my Papa's favorite and I'm not sure Choo Choo had a say in his ice cream flavor so that's what he got too.  Butter Pecan, such a Southern flavor I doubt it's sold in Maine.  I always got Mint Chocolate Chip in a sugar cone.  All that lovely pastel and so green you could taste the mint just by looking at it.  My mom never let me get a sugar cone as she said it was "too much sugar" but Papa always let me. 

We would get our ice cream and go sit at an outside table in the grass across the street.  There is a church there now.  That same church was there back then too so I don't know where the picnic tables were, but they are in my memory.  Papa would hold the cone and Choo Choo would lick the ice cream.  He had a regular cone.  I always wondered back then if dogs had to worry about "too much sugar" too.  When there was only an inch of cone left Papa would let him munch it down. 

Although the sharp details have faded over the years, I remember those ice cream eating nights. They have shaped my entire life concerning ice cream.  Mint Chocolate Chip is still my favorite flavor although I will sometimes choose Coffee or Black Cherry these days.  During my rebellious teen years I tried every one of the 31 flavors.  Bubble gum was the only one to hold my attention...I was mesmerized by chewing gum that stays in your mouth while eating ice cream that slides down to your stomach.  Quite the challenging combination for someone who has difficulty multi-tasking.

As for Butter Pecan, it's an okay flavor.  I will sometimes choose it if I'm missing my grandfather.  It is rare for me to order an ice cream cone and not think of my grandfather.  And I still feel a little traitorous if I pick Black Cherry over Mint. 

When we become adults we usually stop caring about the color of ice cream.  We are more focused on the price or the calories of it. If I asked my mom or dad about those ice cream nights, they might reveal that those endless-to-me summer nights only occurred a few times over one summer. Or how they lamented over the oodles of sugar my grandfather adored giving me.  Or worse- maybe those picnic tables in the grass never even existed...that Choo Choo really licked his ice cream cone in the dull gray parking lot instead. 

But the details are woven into the fabric of those experiences, even if my mind filled in some of those details on its own.  That's okay with me. I want my green and black of mint and poodle and golden yellow of butter pecan. I want my summer green grass under picnic tables and all that wonderful milk and sugar and my Papa.  I want those nights to be endless in the way only a child can comprehend summer nights. 

I feel those are the important parts because they represent relationship and story.  I am forever part of the unique story of me and Papa and Choo Choo and ice cream.  That story has shaped me into who I am.  And it isn't the reality-based facts of the story which have stayed with me.  It is all the small details.  

Which stays most in the mind- My grandfather took me for ice cream in the summer when I was a child.


My Papa took me and his fluffy, curly black poodle to get ice cream on summer nights at twilight, he bought me a mint chocolate chip sugar cone and a butter pecan one for Choo Choo and he would hold the cone while Choo Choo licked it, and we sat at picnic tables on green grass until the stars came out.

The details tell everything.  The first sentence says I had a kind grandfather.  But the second sentence says that I had a Papa, and he spent time with me and knew my favorite ice cream flavor.  And he loved me.   

You might say the details are important to me because I am a writer.  Perhaps.  But consider this:

"Every man's life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another. "
Ernest Hemingway

The details of how we live are more than just a list of facts on paper showing our jobs and homes and assets.  They are those small moments of daily life and loving gestures that make us who we are.  I love mint chocolate chip ice cream because my grandfather loved me and bought it for me on summer nights.  Our lives are stories and we choose the themes and settings and relationships every single day.  We make the details and the details shape our lives and the lives of those around us.  
I don't have a blinding send-off to leave you with today.  Just a quiet thought- Choose well today. 


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