I just finished a book called Sugar Blues. It’s a very informative, entertaining, and well-written book. But, it’s not the sort of book you should read if you want to continue eating your desserts in good conscience. I turned the last page of that book and had no choice but to cut refined sugar from my diet. And I did, too, for several weeks.
And then my mother-in-law came to town.
My mother-in-law loves ice cream. And my kids love ice cream too. So, not wanting to be remiss as a hostess, I planned a trip to a nearby farm stand that sells homemade ice cream. Randall’s, it’s called. I thought everyone would like that, and anyway, I’d always wanted to stop at Randall’s – just to see what it was like. My mother-in-law’s visit gave me the perfect excuse.
But it was too late for me. I wouldn’t be eating any ice cream. I’d just read Sugar Blues and ice cream was now on the “no eat” list. That didn’t mean everyone else had to forego the treat, though. I’d just drive Grandma and the kids there, and watch stoicly as everyone licked their cones. They would thank me profusely, and I would just smile and say it was nothing. And then maybe I’d suck on a mint or something. Except mints have sugar, so I wouldn’t even have one of those. Maybe I could suck on a napkin.
I explained all of this to my mother-in-law over lunch that day. (Not the bit about the napkin, though). I described the farm stand in glowing terms, then went on to warn her that I wouldn’t be eating any ice cream myself.
“I don’t really care for ice cream that much anyway,” I said with careful nonchalance. Which is somewhat true. As desserts go, I rank it beneath cheesecake, pie and cookies, but above cake.
Anyway, my mother-in-law said something like, “Oh,” and left it at that.
Fast forward a few hours to Randall’s where I stood, reading the menu board for the first time, realizing what amazing flavors they offered and wishing I’d never seen that blasted “sugar” book in the first place. The menu board was full of the sort of ice cream flavors I like best – ice cream with candy bar pieces and brownie chunks and marshmallows and nuts and flecks of chocolate and swirls of caramel!
Even so, I believed I could resist that ice cream. I believed I could resist it even though the day was hot and the sun was shining. Nothing in the world sounded better at that moment than ice cream, but still – I would resist.
Except I didn’t. It took all of two seconds for me to get off my high, sugar-free horse and saunter up to the window to order a cone for myself right alongside everyone else. Actually, I think I ran. I may have even cut in front of my mother-in-law. I can’t remember. All I know is I couldn’t get to that walk-up window fast enough. And then I somehow finished my ice cream faster than everyone else too. I was done and quietly licking my fingers before anyone else had reached their cone.
“That was really good,” my mother-in-law said cheerfully, popping the rest of her cone in her mouth. And that was all she said. She didn’t raise her eyebrows at me and say, “What happened to ‘no ice cream’?” She didn’t say, “Couldn’t quite resist, could you?” Or even, “I didn’t want to say anything at the time, but….” She didn’t gloat a bit, that mother-in-law of mine.
I thought that was very tactful of her, don’t you agree?
By the way, I think we’re going to go get some more ice cream tomorrow.
Can you spot the thing that’s the same in the two photos above – other than Pepper, I mean.
It’s the shirt – I mean, dress. The picture on the left was taken in Salt Lake City, when Pepper was three. The other picture was taken yesterday in our back yard. Pepper is now eleven…and is still wearing the same shirt. I mean, dress.
Now, I had a grandmother who, in her advanced years, could still fit into things she’d worn in her twenties. She kept them in her closet and sometimes showed them to me when I visited. I remember, in particular, a lovely green strapless sundress with plastic daisies sewn across the neckline.
Grandma also had an old wool bathing suit – black – from the 1930’s. I know because I wore it one year while visiting her. (I had forgotten to pack my own.) I think I was eleven. Anyway, it was much too large for me. It sagged and billowed when I swam and itched when I was drying off. Lycra is a wonderful thing.
Maybe the reason my grandmother kept those clothes, though – besides pride and thrift – was that she was attached to them. That’s certainly the case with Pepper. Pepper loves her clothes, no matter how ragged they get. And when it’s time to pass them down to Ginger, Pepper is never pleased. She sulks and scowls until she can develop new bonds with the clothes that remain. And then, all is well until she outgrows those.
But some things she refuses to outgrow – like this sundress. I bought it off the clearance rack at Burlington Coat Factory one summer, back in the era when Pepper wore brands like Carters and OshKosh. The dress would have been passed down to Ginger, but, at three, Ginger refused to wear anything “fancy.” So the little sundress went into a box in the basement and was forgotten until this spring when, in a fit of clutter clearing, I dredged it up again. Pepper spotted the dress and made off with it, working it back into her wardrobe as soon as the weather warmed. And there it is … as cute as ever.
I used to be impressed that my eighty-year-old grandmother could still wear things she’d bought in her twenties. That sort of thing generally requires a lifetime of good eating habits and regular exercise. But now I have a new standard with which to judge figure maintenance. Pepper. After all, how many of us can say we fit into the clothes we wore as a toddler?
Today, my father’s voice came out of my mouth. I wasn’t surprised. These days I seem to channel him more and more. But the words I spoke did surprise me, mainly because I used a phrase that I never expected to hear myself say.
I have a clear memory of sitting at a picnic table with my father on the patio at our house in California, which meant I was younger than 9.
My father had a paper sack of plums, and he was eating from it euphorically. I remember the “I’m in heaven” look on his face. I couldn’t understand it because for much of my childhood, I detested fruit. I know. Who hates fruit, right? I think it had something to do with the texture. I still don’t enjoy anything that’s too mushy or overripe.
But back to my father and his happy slurping.
“Want one?” he asked, offering me my pick of the sack.
I must have made a face.
“Ah, come on!” He said. “It’s nature’s candy!”
Which I thought was absurd. I’d tasted candy. I loved candy. Candy in no way resembled what was in that sack.
Flash forward to present day, and there I stood in the kitchen with my little plastic container of dates in hand. Chilled dates, in fact, which are even better than regular dates. Dates are in no way mushy. They are wonderful.
Pepper and Ginger were in the kitchen with me, watching me eat the dates right out of the container. It is my mid-morning snack. I offered some to them. They backed away.
“Ah, come on,” I said to Ginger in a coaxing voice. (She’s the more adventurous with foods). I was counting on her to try one, see how wonderful it was, and take my side. Then maybe Pepper would give them a try. “Try one!” I urged.
Ginger looked into the container suspiciously. She hesitated a moment, considered, then shook her head.
I was irritated. Annoyed. They were missing out on so much – closing themselves off to fabulous foods! Dates are exotic. They make me think of King Solomon and Ancient Rome and Bible Times. They are like a candy bar without the guilt – and seizing on that idea, I said to my two suspicious children…you guessed it,
“Just try one. It’s nature’s candy!”
And this time that phrase didn’t sound at all absurd to me. But the kids were looking at me like I’d lost my senses, and I was thinking about my dad and his sack of plums, and I suddenly understood what he’d meant all those years ago.
But, even so, I think if I was back at that picnic table facing that paper bag of plums again, I’d still refuse to take one. I know. It’s sad. But plums fall into the category of “mushy fruit” and I’m just not there yet.