Little woman. Big choice. No problem.
Fifty-four flavors of homemade ice cream. I had worried the choices would overwhelm her. Mami has always been an anxious woman. Whether asked how she’d like her tea, if she’d be paying cash or credit, or to print her name and address on a form, her response is to reach for my arm, remain silent, and wait for me to respond. It’s been that way since the days when I could barely see over store or municipal agency counters. The askers behind the counters were always startled when my mother’s lips didn’t move yet their questions were answered by a voice that rose from below eye level. Social anxiety and self-consciousness about her English has kept her on mute throughout my life. In the past few years, I think it’s also her increasingly failing memory and recall. As her forgetfulness increases, so do my worries and the heaviness of the questions we face. I have less answers. Standing in front of the counter at Torico with her yesterday though, I should not have worried.
Mami didn’t want almond cream. She reminded me that’s what she’d had on our last visit to the ice cream shop. Maybe piña colada, I asked. No. Perhaps a scoop of chocolate chunk, offered the young woman behind the counter. Mami dismissed the suggestion with a wave of her hand, looked at the girl and told her she did not like chocolate ice cream. Well! I thought and before I could recite any more of the listed flavors I thought she might like, Mami spoke. Chunky cherry. One scoop in a wafer cone. Decision made, she walked to a table by the window, sat and waited for me to pay and deliver her cone.
The scoop was bigger than my fist and chunky with cherries indeed. I knew better than to take a lick. The women in Mami’s family, we can be generous, but we don’t share our sweet treats. Mami watched me as I walked toward the table. Mmmm was all she said when she waved off my offer to taste my scoop of pound cake. I was cool with that. I’d brought napkins, but we are both long-time ice cream professionals. We don’t waste a drop. We have a system. Lick around the edge first then continue toward the top to eliminate any overhang. Nudge the scoop with your tongue into the cone opening; not too hard or the cone will crack. The goal is to ease the ice cream into the stem of the cone as you lick and nibble your way down. The reward is the ice cream-stuffed cone bottom, a mini cup to be popped into your mouth where the last chews allow you to savor the crisp and the cream.
Mami noticed the sign that indicated Torico has been in business since 1968. She reminded me it is the year my husband B was born. She mentioned that she’d ask him the next time they spoke how old he had been on his first visit to Torico. We approved of the shop’s recent facelift, extended hours and expanded menu selection: all reassurances that Torico would be around for more years of Sunday afternoon strolls to get ice cream and chat. Mami wondered aloud how long they’ve been in business.
“I don’t know,” I said.
Mami is aware that she forgets more often. She has mentioned it to me, never at the moments when she repeats herself though. I don’t know that she’s aware of it at those times. I am but I don’t point them out to her. We both know.
Those moments are like drips from the ice cream cone. They were never supposed to happen to professionals like us. We knew how to manage and control our scoops. A wasted drop on my shirtfront or on the pavement used to make me cry as a little girl. The system had failed, and the remaining scoop was less sweet because of the one drop lost.
There are circumstances that exceed the powers of my system. A too-warm air temperature that causes the scoop to melt too fast: for every drip I lick, another two slither down the other side of the cone onto my fingers until my chin and hand are sticky with lost sweetness. Life feels like it’s all too-warm days: I can’t lick fast enough to save every – or any – drip. They all escape me and I’m a drippy, sticky mess.
What I tell myself is that the sweetness is not lost forever. Torico will be in business for as long as Mami and I can walk there to deliberate over the flavors: mamey? Avocado? Skip dinner for two scoops of rum raisin? (Never to share though.) I tell myself that things change and there is sweetness even in the differences. I’m a big girl in my forties. Big girls know the pleasure of the experience of the whole cone isn’t lost with one drip. I still want to cry though. I repeat to myself over and over that the sweetness is not lost so I won’t forget to savor what I have at the moment.