I’ve been thinking a lot about ice cream lately. This may sound strange for someone living in a place that’s had sub-zero temperatures many recent mornings, although cold doesn’t seem to stop us Mainers. (In fact, of all the states, we have the second highest number of ice cream shops per capita.)
But that isn’t what has me thinking about ice cream. It’s because of my maternal grandfather, Pepere, and a bit because of Mom.
I remember hearing one of my relatives say that in Pepere’s last year, when he lived in the nursing home and his Alzheimer’s was pretty advanced, what he most looked forward to was having ice cream every day.
When I mentioned this to other people, sometimes they’d say, “Well, who wouldn’t be happy about that?”
It got me thinking about food restriction, and how sad it seems to me that someone wouldn’t have ice cream every day if they really wanted it. Not a whole carton, but a little, something to satisfy that desire. It’s something I indulge in over the hot summer months, especially now that I’ve perfected making my own vegan ice cream. But I also realize I might be unusual in this, both for making my own, and for being satisfied with small portions.
The situation with Pepere also made me think how sad it was to consider that ice cream was one of the only pleasures left to him, especially since my grandmother died. I love food, and ice cream, but I would have a hard time without other joys in my life.
But then another family member reminded me that Pepere used to drive an ice cream truck, and I started wonder if ice cream might have been about more than taste for him. Maybe it helped him cling to his identity, at least in a small way.
I remember Mom talking about the pallet of ice cream drumsticks that partially melted, so Pepere couldn’t sell them, and how she ate so many of them she never wanted to have them again. And I remember hearing how he used to bring my younger aunts and uncles on the truck with him, even making his own child car seat to help keep them safe. It must have been an interesting sight.
Did eating ice cream help Pepere remember any of this, even when more recent memories slipped away? I don’t know. Maybe he just really liked the taste of ice cream, but it seems possible that it helped him stay connected. After all, food is so tied up with emotion for us, and even identity, it could well be one of the last things to fade.
It also made me consider how much my own enjoyment of ice cream goes back to my childhood, when Mom would let us stop for cones on the way home from swimming lessons, in those golden, idyllic summer days.
And speaking of, Mom also loved ice cream. She couldn’t eat it often due to dairy allergies, but she loved getting a soft serve vanilla and chocolate twist for a treat. In fact, even on the way home from the hospital after her mastectomy, she insisted that we stop at Dairy Queen. Given that tomorrow she would have been 66, it seems like an appropriate memory.
I don’t normally eat ice cream in the winter, but all of these thoughts combined to nudge me to get gelato recently – well, that and the fact that Gelato Fiasco gives a discount when it’s below freezing.
I don’t know that I’ll be eating lots more this winter, but when I do have it, whatever the season, I want to pay attention to whatever good memories come up, and the connections they help keep alive. I expect it will make the ice cream even sweeter.