It was the 1970’s. Our kitchen table was Formica. The edges were silver metal with etched horizontal lines surrounding the laminate ivory and green surface. The floor was Linoleum. Maybe we’d get a new floor someday … but no time soon. With five of us in the house - my brother Gerard and my three sisters - there was always too much month left at the end of the money.
But somehow, Mom always found a way to buy Breyers ice cream. French vanilla was my favorite, little black speckles of heaven. Gerry always wanted chocolate. Bern wanted anything with Hershey’s syrup dumped all over it. Bean and Beth were babies … they weren’t having sundaes, but if they saw us with ours, their mouths would drop open like baby robins and without a word they would be asking for some.
Payday was Tuesday, which also meant we were having sundaes after dinner. The Hershey’s syrup would last all week, but the three oldest of us could knock off a half gallon of ice cream in nearly one sitting - leaving us to fight about who got it a second time on Thursday. The other two would move onto the Cheerios and the Rice Krispies for their nighttime desert. I am not sure why it surprised me when weight was a problem for me in my early twenties … being used to filling my belly with ice cream, cereal, or toast and peanut butter each night just before bed.
Those were my first sundaes. My best Sunday came much later in life, in a Carvel shop, 49 years old, in Westbury Long Island. Mackey and I had been dating for only a short time and he’s suggested we “hurt ourselves”. I loved everything about him so I wondered if I’d just signed up for something wild.
“OK. Let’s go!” he had said. We were in the car and at the Carvel around the corner within minutes. He had a glimmer in his smile that made me want whatever he wanted. This day, it was an ice cream sundae.
As the woman at the counter asked what I wanted, I said, just hot fudge … as similar to my childhood as possible. Then Mackey took his turn. Extra large, wet walnuts, hot fudge, dry nuts, whipped cream and a cherry … this was a real ice cream Sundae, and I wanted some.
I traded mine back in across the counter and said, “I’ll have what he is having!” Everyone laughed, even the woman who walked in behind us.
When I think about ice cream sundaes, I think about our kitchen and the linoleum table. I can feel the silver etched trim of the table’s edge, I can see the box the Breyers came in and when it was our turn to have “my” ice cream, I can see the vanilla beans on the label. I see Tom Mackey and a devilish smile, and I hear the laughter of a Carvel worker and a woman … out to satisfy a craving and finding a couple on an adventure. I taste wet walnuts and whipped cream, cherry juice and vanilla Carvel, and I know that some moments in life are captured, for all time, in the taste of a moment, of a ritual, of a sharing of something sweet, and the knowledge that something can be cold, and warm, at the same time.