Storytelling: Ice cream, the childhood taste that never fails to delight

Among our relatives in Johnstown, we were the first to get a television. Of course it was terrifically exciting -- Howdy Doody, Hopalong Cassidy, The Lone Ranger, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar. On Saturday nights, many of the relatives came to our house to watch this new invention. My mother was invariably finishing baking a batch of bread -- extra large amounts because a good deal of it was going to be consumed.

She would poke her head into the living room, spatula in hand, to peek at the TV, then back to the kitchen, manning the oven and broiler for the bread. A goddess with eight arms, she always simultaneously washed dishes, swept the floor and cooked something else for my aunts and uncles and cousins -- perhaps fried chicken, or breaded pork chops. French fries.

These Saturday nights were a chance for me to show off. I used words like simultaneously, which my large, shy, smart cousin Eileen corrected the pronunciation of.

Once, I declared to the assembled relatives that I loved ice cream but could never ever get enough of it. They said, "Oh, dear, we'll take you for ice cream." "We'll bring some next time."

My mother must have felt she was being judged in the court of the aunts and uncles. We always had ice cream in the freezer and we often "went for a ride," ending up at Alwine's for cones.

So that everyone would know she was not depriving me of something I loved, my mother announced before the court that for supper one night, I would be allowed to have only ice cream -- as much of it as I could eat -- and my father, righting himself in the recliner chair, agreed to this.

Then, my parents said, I would finally be cured of the feeling that I could never get enough.

I couldn't wait. One night in the next week, I ate my ice cream dinner. It was exactly what I wanted.

The only problem was, I wasn't cured. The next night I wanted to do the same.

I could safely say this desire has continued to the present day. I don't indulge it.

Except once.

I flew from Dallas to Cape May in New Jersey with a sinus infection and a case of vertigo. The trip included two puddle jumpers from Philadelphia.

By the time I got to my rented room in Cape May, the vertigo was so bad I could hardly walk. I went to a local doctor who put me on antibiotics and meclizine. For days, I slept around the clock, unable to keep anything down. When I could move again, I slept on the beach. It took almost a week for my balance to right itself.

And finally, when it was time to eat something, I wandered to the mall. The restaurant that called my name was the Gazebo. It served, basically, ice cream. I ordered a giant banana split and ate the whole thing.

Sugar zinged through my system. I walked back to my room, knowing my appetite would fully return the next day. That night, for a couple of hours, I felt I'd had enough.

Recently, eating a sizable cup of Moose Tracks at PNC Park, I got an image of myself at an old age home one day, being pacified with ice cream. Because ice cream does pacify.

When my mother lost her balance with dementia, I would visit her at Country Meadows and many of those times we would "go for a ride" and end up at an ice cream shop. She was delighted every time, even though the old folks had just eaten ice cream and, in fact, could get it any time they wanted in the dining room, which was left open for that purpose.

Some years ago, traveling in France, I admitted to a group of friends that my favorite dessert continued to be ice cream. One person in the group, a writer with sophisticated tastes, looked at me with pity. "You could have tarts, tortes, custards burnt and otherwise," she said, offering a quick survey of French glories, "and you would choose ice cream? Such a childish taste."

It is childish. Mother's milk and all that. At least I know -- even when I remember her benevolent scorn -- that I share this longing with most people.

My mother didn't hug us or soothe us when were in distress. She thought of children as creatures to be fixed and tamed. She scrubbed everything in the house to within an inch of its life, she made us clothing, she daily put three meals on the table, she attended every school function she was invited to. She just didn't hug or kiss.

Ah, well. But we can dig and dig at the past. Excuses aside, let's face it, ice cream -- like wine, like thick bread -- is delicious.

Kathleen George, a novelist and a theater professor at the University of Pittsburgh, lives on the North Side. Her newest book is "The Odds," featuring Homicide Commander Richard Christie ( ) . Contact Portfolio at 412-263-1915 or .


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