By Nested on March 26, 2013
When I was a little girl, we lived in a very small town in Illinois. (Picture me singing “Little Town” from Beauty and the Beast…. But without all of the dancing and bucket swinging and French.) Ice cream at home came from a plastic Prairie Farms gallon bucket in the freezer.
But ice cream with my grandparents was something special. Every year, when we made the pilgrimage to Virginia to visit my Grandparents, my sister and I would look forward to going to the Ben & Jerry’s, where there were flavors I couldn’t pronounce and it took me 10 minutes to pick one, even though we always knew I would land on Mint Chip in a cup.
I think, in some ways, we looked forward to the Ben and Jerry’s almost as much as we did to going to the zoo or the Smithsonian, which seems ridiculous to me now. But childhood is whimsical like that.
Kara and I would wait with great anticipation. We would hold my Grandparent’s hands and stare up at the big, cow-printed menu. And then, with the ice cream dripping sticky between out small fingers, we would sit outside in the muggy summer and enjoy.
We moved to Kentucky. They moved to Williamsburg. We were introduced to Greater’s Ice Cream and gelatos and frozen yogurts and a plethora of other frozen tasties. Ben & Jerry’s became something you could buy in your grocery store by the pint. It lost its specialness.
There was a Ben & Jerry’s at the Outlet Mall. My Grandpa would sit on a bench with my dad for hours as their ladies mosied in and out of stores. He would be patient enough. But a time would come, as it always did, when it would be his turn. And so we would go to the Ben & Jerry’s so that Grandpa could get an ice cream. I wavered some years, too worried about my body image to partake. Other years I had the excuse of running 4 miles every day and had a double scoop. But we always sat with him in the air conditioning, my grandma asking all the ladies to pull out their purchases to compare bargains.
One year ago yesterday, March 25, 2012, my Grandfather passed away.
I wasn’t able to write about it yesterday. I’m barely able to write about it now. But as a wise mentor once told me, “We must not avert our eyes.” And so this is me not averting them. This is me settling accounts.
I’ve always said things like “Oh, you were just in the right place at the right time, weren’t you?” or “It was meant to be!” without ever really believing the words I was saying.
But on that night, I was where I was meant to be, in the right place at the right time.
I was not with my father when he heard the news that he was now the patriarch of that branch of our family tree.
I was not with my grandmother when she walked in and saw him lying in his recliner, as peacefully as if he were merely napping during the evening news.
I was not with my sister. I was not in Virginia or Kentucky.
I was in Tennessee.
Purely by happenstance, I was in a Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream shop.
Ordering a single scoop of Mint Chip in a cup.
I got home, I’m sure, because Carter was propelling me forward. I put my ice cream in the freezer so that I could call my parents and sister and grandmother.
But the heart knows what it wants when the time comes to settle accounts.
As soon as I got off the phone with the final person for the night, as soon as I had cried all of the tears a body can hold, I went to the freezer for the ice cream.
It didn’t bring him back. There are no bones to lay on alabaster stones anymore, if there ever were. But even as my teeth chattered from cold and grief and I felt the cold ice cream slide down my throat, in my heart, I felt a little less alone in a world that suddenly seemed to have a gaping hole in its fabric. I suddenly felt a little less broken myself, because the memories of those hot summer nights came flooding back, rushing into all of the emptiness and filling it, even if just for a moment, with beautiful, lovely warmth.
For a while after, I described his death as a light going out in the world. I thought that the world seemed less bright for his absence.
But now, a year and a day later, I see that the world is a much, much brighter place. I feel like we are made better for the lives by which we have been touched, and his light was so great and so bright that we cannot have been made anything else but brighter by his presence.
And so, a year and a day later, I miss you, Grandpa, so much that some days I feel like there’s a hole in my heart that will never heal. But tonight, on my way home from work, I’m going to stop by that Ben & Jerry’s and have a scoop. I’m going to get Mint Chip in a cup. I’m going to remember that life is bittersweet, that the anniversary of your death was marked by the final marker of your son and my daddy’s triumph over cancer in the form of a final chemotherapy treatment. And I’m going to smile, knowing that you’ve left us with a charge – to carry your light into what I know will be a bright and beautiful future.
I loved you then, I love you now, and I’ll love you always.
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