When I tell people I'm not a big fan of ice cream they sometimes react with abject horror. And when I tell them I enjoy chocolate, but could certainly live without it -- well, you can imagine.
But this post isn't about chocolate. It really isn't about ice cream either, but it figures into the story.
The neighborhood in which I grew up was wondrous. To me anyway. Up the street lived T, my best friend. Across the street lived a kid who I never really got to know very well. He was a year older than me, and different in just about every way. When I would love to sit inside and read, he would be pitching a baseball against the concrete wall that separated his house from his neighbor.
When I sat home watching TV, he would play football with his friends next door (three or more boys, I can't seem to remember) in his front yard. And when my best friend T and I would go ride bikes ... he was swimming in his pool in the back yard.
Down the street were other friends of mine, but they moved only a couple of years after we moved into the neighborhood. Down the street further, were bigger houses, or at the time they seemed bigger anyway, and one even housed a rich family, or so T and I would say.
Living right next door to me was S. She was older by a year or two, but always had a smile on her face and could guffaw at any joke with the best of them. T and S were my closest friends. But it was S that I seemed to have the most in common.
Her family was from Oklahoma, a town that bordered Texas and one that produced families with thick accents. S had been born in San Diego so she had none, but her father and mother sure did.
Her father was a quiet man of few words. And to say few words I really mean very few words. Always kind to us kids, always a driver to his daughter who had to go to the store to get a snack or the latest magazine, he was part of what made our neighborhood a safe place to live.
One hot summer I remember him bringing out a large white machine that I had never before seen. He filled it with what looked like ice and salt and called me over.
He told me we would make ice cream.
It never occurred to me that ice cream had to be made. It just was. He poured other ingredients into his machine and when his daughter joined us, he told us that we were going to switch off turning the handle on the machine.
I went first. I was the boy after all. It was simple, if a little tedious. Then S would take a turn at it, and then back to me, and so it went, I began to wonder if he was pulling our leg until, if I remember correctly, it began to get harder and harder to turn.
"That's good enough I think," he said. Signaling our chore was done.
He opened up the machine and inside was vanilla ice cream. He handed us each a spoon and we took a mouthful each. Now, I guess when I say I'm not a big fan of ice cream, I really mean I'm not a big fan of store bought ice cream.
This stuff tasted great. It was amazing even. Simple vanilla ice cream had never tasted so good. It was creamy, it was sweet, it tasted like vanilla had never tasted, and it was great.
I don't remember if we finished it off. I do remember that for all our hard work, we didn't seem to make a lot. Then again, I don't remember how much we made, I just know we ate our fill.
It seems such an odd memory to have, but one that I really cherish.
I got word the other day that he had passed away. He had not been in good health for the last few months, but a diagnosis of emphysema (he was a heavy smoker all his life) a few years ago and a broken hip when he insisted on climbing the stairs unaided to retrieve the paper two years ago were clear signs he was on his last days.
Well, he had a remarkable recovery from the broken hip. Though he had to use a walker to get around, he was up and about four weeks after his surgery, and back to driving two weeks after that. We were all amazed.
But a year or so after that, and he slowed down. Still a man of few words, I would see him from time to time. "How are you Mr. V?" I'd ask. "Doin' the best I can," he would answer with no regret, just a matter of fact.
Mr. V used to drink Coke, a rare treat for me and my family, and he used to add peanuts to his bottle. His kids followed suit, and when I would accompany them to the story, a Coke was always bought for me too. And like them, I would pour a handfull of salted peanuts into the long neck bottle.
A habit I have rarely seen since, but one I still practice from time to time.
I think about Mr. V and can't help but reflect on what he said that day a year or so ago.
"Doin' the best I can".
I can so relate to that now. I truly can.