A few weeks ago my son and I shared a father son moment over ice cream. These little outings are becoming the regular and they are important. I know these are one of a handful of memories he will keep of our time together when he becomes a man. As I sat watching him this particular Wednesday afternoon my thoughts drifted, I thought about life, how quick it gets away and the many moments like these. I saw myself as a boy, the summer ball games, the many birthday celebrations at my grandmother's pool, and I saw the common thread–delicious ice cream.
Ice cream has been a constant. As a child, it was there as simple vanilla and as an adult, it is a flag in the ground at the end of the day, a sugary treat that tells me I have conquered the cloister of the cubicle. Ice cream has been a comfort, a confidant, it never judges and is the standard by which the seasons of my life are measured. I can tell my life story by the flavors I favor.
Vanilla is where we cut our teeth, it’s the gateway flavor, it’s where most of us start our love affair with ice cream. Vanilla ice cream conjures memories of Sunday afternoon rides in my dad’s Dodge Power Wagon down to the Tastee Freeze for a soft-serve, it was tradition and my favorite part of the week. There wasn't much to the flavor profile and to be honest it likely derived from a powder mix, but it was my first exposure and I was hooked. Vanilla opened Pandora's box causing me to experiment with an ever-growing assortment of flavors but none so dangerous as chocolate.
Chocolate is the dark side of ice cream and must be moderated. If vanilla is yin, chocolate is yang and when I started to grow hair under my armpits it was my go to. As a young man, I gravitated to German or Double Dutch Chocolate and on rare occasion would bury my spoon in Ben and Jerry’s Phish food which even for my adventurous palette seemed gratuitous. The rich flavors made for a decadent escape from the hardships of university life. After a long day of hitting the books studying up on remedial math, decimating intro level acting classes and dominating ultimate frisbee tournaments there was nothing better than unwinding on chocolate ice cream until I gave myself the itis. I was an addict and I would gnaw through iron bars to get my fix. It never came to this thank God but if it ever had I was open to dentures.
Chocolate ice cream led to a dark season of dairy abuse with frequent binges and experimentation with toppings. The more toppings the better, I never met a sprinkle, marshmallow, snickers, butterscotch or hard shell fudge I didn’t like. I was in heaven and then I was in hell. My stomach was a typhoon, my relationships were nonexistent, I was lost in the chaos of warring flavors buried handle deep in gallons of sweet sweet frozen cocoa. I had introduced to too much complexity and possessed little self-control.
The abuse went on for most of my college years and it wasn’t until my late twenties that I developed discipline when deserting. I came back to basic chocolate following a strict policy of no pints in the freezer and a simple scoop serving enjoyed seldom on the weekend minus toppings. I lost twenty pounds in the hips and swore off my Adidas tear aways for proper fitting trousers.
I am now in my thirties and my ice cream dalliances are far and few between, but when I get the hankering I favor fruit infused vanillas. I have learned to balance the flavors and sense when overdoing it. My favorites of late—chunky monkey, Cherry Garcia, and basic bro strawberry. All flavors that would have prompted a gag reflex in five-year-old me.
It’s not just the flavors that have changed. It’s the textures. I crave the velvety folds of custard and thick swirls of frozen yogurt. I feel like my palate has matured to the point of savoring these finer flavors and I can tell myself it’s healthy. Ok, it’s not making my palate sophisticated. I’m not like some high falutin flavor fop. But, the fruit perpetuates a delicious little deceit I tell myself, that ice cream that has fruit in it is not bad for me or less bad for me. Either way, I feel it's less prone to activate the diabetes and prompt the binges of my twenties.
As I march toward my golden years and to my ultimate dirt nap—all dependent on the high blood pressure not getting me first— I imagine I'll stop caring about all the carb counting or the looming diabetes boogey man. At that point, I’ll bulk stock a deep freezer with butter pecan.
You can’t go in an old person's freezer(s), old people always have more than one, without finding butter pecan. After you lived through a few recessions a fear of rising dairy cost prompt hoarding of all freezable products. But for the visiting child beware, when you find Butter Pecan you are also likely to find 3 inches of freezer burn. Old people will eat it anyway—it’s still good because their taste buds aren't.
I am not attempting to ridicule elder persons for their taste in spoiled ice cream, this is all fact. Butter pecan is the fate of us all. It is the taste of the impending long sleep and our ultimate fate. When I reach that winter of life I will meet it spoon held high.
Also published on Medium.