There were three things I was taught to love fiercely growing up: God, family, and homemade ice cream. About everything else I could form my own opinion; but there was this unwritten, unsaid expectation that I would hold these three particular things in unconditional favor.
I assume the reasons for the first two are understandable to most people. And anyone who needs me to explain why the third is held in such high esteem has obviously never tasted our family recipe for homemade ice cream, handed down through generations. The mere promise of it puts my father into survivalist mode as he begins hatching plans for how he can end up with the largest portion. (He usually succeeds by way of "volunteering" to dish out the ice cream. And wouldn't you know it? By the time he has served everyone else, all the sweet little silver ice cream dishes have been handed out, so he has no other choice than to use a giant cereal bowl. Shocker.)
But here's the thing...one can not have such a deep love for homemade ice cream without also loving she who makes it: my Grandma Monica. Now, knowing my Grandma, she would argue that she isn't doing anything more than simply following the recipe passed down from her mother. She would argue that it is so much easier to whip up a batch for her family with the aid of a microwave and electric ice cream maker, than it was for her mother to churn the treat by hand every Sunday after killing, cleaning and cooking up a hearty chicken dinner. She would argue that the homemade ice cream stands on its own. But I disagree.
When I think of homemade ice cream, the first thing that comes to mind is NOT how good it tastes.
I think about sitting around the dining room table on Dutch Mill, my stomach full with another perfect meal, while we all laugh at childhood stories about how my dad used to beat up on Uncle Don, or Uncle Alan getting sick in the car...or on a ride...or on a plane...or sitting still.
...Of the adults telling my cousin Greg he needs to take three more bites of peas before he can leave the table, while my cousins Steve and Tim bet on whether my brother can eat his own dinner AND the rest of theirs.
...Of feeling special with my sister because we get to sit at the "big table," with a glass for milk AND a glass for water (even though Grandma always makes sure the "kid table" gets the same fine dining treatment).
...Of being forever drawn to the laundry chute in the hallway, and how it never stayed closed all the way, always popping back out when you pushed it in...and being slightly not sure about the drawing of Abraham Lincoln in the corner bedroom, which looked just enough like Bizzaro World Abe to make you keep your eye on it while falling asleep.
...Of the most perfectly made beds I have ever seen...every hotel I have ever stayed at included.
...Of treasure hunting in Grandma's jewelry box, and being thankful that she never got her ears pierced so that I could try on all her earrings.
...Of grabbing peppermints out of the pantry before going on after-dinner walks around the neighborhood.
...Of how good 2% milk tastes when it comes from Grandma's refrigerator.
...Of the intoxicating smells that waft from her double ovens.
...Of lemonade out of a tan Tupperware pitcher and Honey Nut Cheerios for breakfast.
...Of Grandma eating the smallest portions of food I think a human could eat, and doing it with more grace than the Queen of England.
...Of playing Michigan Rummy and hearing Grandma laugh at my impressions of a classmate's father, which really weren't that funny at all.
...Of listening to her claim she doesn't really know how to sew, seeing as how she is self-taught, as she flawlessly reupholsters one of my chairs.
...Of being happy that after raising three boys, Grandma kept their green army men, and toy grenades, and Jarts, and that giant accordion, because no one ever gets little girls like me things like that, even though I secretly love playing with them.
...Of never being at a loss for conversation with Grandma, because "those Dolan women sure can talk."
...Of birthday shopping trips with Grandma, searching for a pair of socks that cost $3.46 because we've only spent $46.55 on the rest of my gift, and it's only fair that she spends EXACTLY $50 on every grandkid for his or her special day.
...Of hot, humid nights watching Peter Pan or South Pacific at The Muny.
...Of listening to Grandma read from Mother Goose in her soft, resonant voice, that always lingered a little longer on the "o" sounds..."how does your garden grooow"...just the way a grandma should sound.
...THEN I think of how good it tastes.
Those are all the reasons I love homemade ice cream. Because homemade ice cream means Grandma Monica. And how could I not love that woman?
A few days ago, we celebrated my Grandma's 90th birthday. And as important family gatherings dictate, we feasted on the infamous homemade ice cream. I, along with my husband and my children, had the privilege of helping her and Grandpa make this particular batch, the batch she declared would be the last she would make. She could make more, because, let's face it: if anyone can figure out how to live forever, it's Grandma. But when I consider the sheer number of batches she has made for her loved ones over the years, I think she deserves to finally have someone else make it for her. And while I have helped her make the ice cream many times before, this last time I was careful to pay close attention. To soak in the sight of my children playing their parts, learning the secrets to carry into new generations of ice cream lovers, making their own memories of Grandma that will flood back whenever they dive into a cold bowl of Heaven...if my dad will let them have any, that is. On this last day of making ice cream, I made sure I not only got a few taste tests, but also my own copy of the recipe.
Because as sure as I love God and family, someone will always need to make the homemade ice cream. Grandma's love, right there in a bowl.
(And Dad, stop mooching my Grandma love. There's plenty for everyone.)
Happy 90th Birthday, Grandma!
Originally published on www.areyoufinishedyet.com.
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