Eating in a restaurant was a rare occasion when I was a little girl. Ordering out? impossible. Frozen pizzas? Somewhere in the future-fare. Soda pop? Only if company was coming for dinner; milk was our everyday drink, flavored with Nestles’ Quik for a treat, Kool-Aid, if it was summertime. Now dessert, dessert we had every day: Cake, cookies, and ice cream. We had ice cream in the freezer all the time. First, when there were just a few of us, we had a quart, then a half-gallon, and finally, when we were eleven total, we needed a whole a tub of ice cream. Dad said ice cream was in a genetic right.
Mom’s dishes were different colored melamine; each kind of dish a different color, all speckled in grey or white: white plates, red sauce dishes, black soup bowls, blue serving dishes. She got them from the grocery store, free when she saved up enough coupons. We could get all kinds of free stuff for saving stamps or receipts or box-tops, or at the gas station, just for buying gas. Once Bonita and I got this great idea to save Post Toasties box tops for our own cereal bowl and juice glass: three box tops for each of us, that’s six boxes of cereal altogether. Mom liked those plastic dishes so much, we ate enough Post Toasties to save up so all nine kids had their own cereal bowl and juice glass, and maybe some extras in case somebody stayed over. It started to be like torture to eat corn flakes for months on end; for sure, I ate enough corn flakes to last me the rest of my entire life.
I got my ice cream in a red sauce bowl, Mom and Dad had theirs in the black soup bowls; such a big heaping pile of ice cream, I couldn’t wait until I got grown-up so I could have that big of bowl of ice cream. I liked putting Hershey’s syrup on top and mixing it around until the ice cream got like a malted milk shake, then I took a big heaping spoonful and slid it in and out of my lips, just taking a thin layer off each time until the whole spoonful was gone, then start over. Mom told me to cut that out, it made her feel sick to her stomach to see me pulling my spoon in and out of my mouth like that. But it hurt my teeth otherwise, so I just waited until she wasn’t looking.
Afterwards, I had to wash my bowl and Frankie’s, cause he was my Pal and that’s how the Big Kids helped out the Little Kids. Bonita and I came up with a great plan to get out of that chore. We just licked our dishes clean. It was easy to show our Pals how to do it, too, they liked putting their faces right down there in the bowl, pretending to be kittens. Julie got her face a tinsy chocolate-sticky sometime, but Bonita just had her lick a Kleenex so she could clean all the sticky off Julie’s face, and when Frankie got some on his nose, I just pretended he was my kitten. By the time Mom settled on the davenport, ready to watch “Father Knows Best”, we had those dishes stacked neatly in the cupboard, right where they belonged. Same for the spoons. I figured that’s the way the cats cleaned their whole selves and their kittens, so it should be good enough for people to clean dishes, and no one could see a drop of ice cream left in those red bowls.
The best was home-made ice cream in a cone. When Dad and his brothers got together, the best ice cream got made, ’cause they talked up a blue streak about what made the best ice cream: cooked custard or not, bits or no bits, hand cranked or electric. Dad believed in custard, bits, and hand cranked. Sometimes those brothers would get two or three churns a-going and have a blind taste test. All us kids took turns churning on the hand crank, we had our own contest going: who could make the most turns of the crank before her arm got too darned tired to take one more turn. It got harder and harder the closer the ice cream was to done. Right at the end, Dad added the bits, then when even Dad had to quit turning ’cause it was too hard, the ice cream was done. Dad tried all kinds of bits: Grandma Z’s raspberries, Snickers, plain old peanut butter, Mom’s strawberries. My favorite was vanilla ice cream with Butterfingers bits; of course I always added the Hershey’s syrup, no matter whether or what bits got added.
The other thing my uncles and my Dad liked to have contests about was losing weight. About once every spring, after a big picnic with lots of Koegels, watermelon and ,of course, ice cream, Dad brought the scale outside, and each brother got on. Everybody groaned and moaned like they were getting their fingernails pulled out by wild savages, but at the same time all those blue eyes were laughing and their big hands were rubbing their happy bellies, trying to suck them in, so they looked like those funny pictures from the olden days. The prize for the winner was always something to eat, while the others went hungry, like a big gooey banana split for the winner, while everyone else watched.
No aunts were getting on that scale; they just laughed and said stuff like, “Not on your life.” Most of the times all the aunts and Mom had big bellies, too, not from eating ice cream. I heard Mom tell Aunt Annie, she got a big belly from swallowing watermelon seeds that started to grow in there. Aunt Annie said she didn’t think it was a watermelon growing in there, and then they both laughed that secret grown-up laugh. I loved it when Mom laughed like that, her head thrown back and her mouth open wide, so I could see all the silver fillings in there. She looked so darned happy, it was like she forgot for a minute that she was a mother. I liked watermelon seed, they tasted like nuts; I never swallowed one whole, so nothing ever grew in my belly.
I’m happy not to ever eat corn flakes again, well, I could try them crushed on top of a hot fudge sundae. I still love ice cream, so does everyone in my family. Ice cream is one of the first solid foods a baby gets; it’s gotta be, it’s part of our heritage. I make sure all the bowls get in the dishwasher, whether they look clean or not.