Published on July 21st, 2017 | by Nancy Méndez-Booth0
Every Last Drop
Little woman. Big choice.
Mami stands in front of the menu board at Torico Ice Cream Parlor. Fifty-four flavors of homemade ice cream. I worry the choices will overwhelm her.
Mami is an anxious woman. Whether asked how she likes her tea or if she’ll be paying cash or credit, her response is to reach for my arm and wait for me to respond. It’s been this way since the days when I could barely see over the counters at stores, banks, or medical offices. The askers behind those partitions were always startled when their questions were answered not by Mami but by a voice that rose from below eye level. Social anxiety and self-consciousness about her English have made Mami reliant upon me throughout my life. In the past few years, it’s also her failing memory. As her forgetfulness increases, so do my worries and the heaviness of the questions we face. Standing in front of the counter at Torico, though, Mami knows what she wants.
She doesn’t want almond cream. She reminds me that’s what she chose on our last visit to the ice cream shop.
Maybe piña colada? I ask.
The young woman behind the counter suggests a scoop of chocolate chunk. Mami dismisses the suggestion with a wave of her hand, looks at the woman, and states she doesn’t like chocolate ice cream.
Before I can recite any of the listed flavors I think she might like, Mami speaks.
Chunky cherry. One scoop in a wafer cone.
Decision made, she walks to a table by the window, sits, and waits for me to pay and deliver her cone.
The scoop is bigger than my fist and chunky with cherries indeed. I know better than to take a lick. The women in Mami’s family, we can be generous, but we don’t share our sweet treats. Mami watches as I walk toward the table. Mmmm is all she says when she takes her cone. She waves off the offer to taste my scoop of pound cake ice cream. I’m cool with that.
I have napkins, but we are ice cream professionals. We don’t waste a drop. We have a system. First, lick around the edge of the scoop, then continue toward the top to eliminate any overhang. Nudge the scoop with your tongue into the cone opening, not too hard or the cone will crack. The goal is to ease the ice cream into the stem of the cone as you lick and nibble your way down. The reward is the ice cream-stuffed cone bottom, a mini cup to be popped into your mouth and chewed slowly to savor the last bits of crisp and cream.
Mami notices the sign that indicates Torico has been in business since 1968. She reminds me it is the year my husband was born. She mentions that she’ll ask him the next time they speak how old he had been on his first visit to Torico. We approve of the shop’s recent facelift, extended hours, and expanded menu selection: all reassurances that Torico will be around for more years of Sunday afternoon strolls. Mami wonders aloud how long they’ve been in business.
“I don’t know,” I say.
Mami is aware that she forgets more often. She has mentioned it to me, but never at the moments when she repeats herself. I don’t know that she’s aware of it at those times. I am, but I don’t point them out to her. Those moments are like drips from an ice cream cone. Mami and I are professionals; our ice-cream-eating system is never supposed to fail. A lost drop is a reminder that there are circumstances that are beyond our control. A too-warm air temperature can cause the scoop to melt too fast: for every drip I lick, another two slither down the other side of the cone onto my fingers until my hand and chin are sticky with lost sweetness. Lately, life feels like a too-warm day: I can’t lick fast enough to save every, or any, drip. They all escape me, and I’m a drippy, sticky mess.
Mami doesn’t waste a drop as she licks and nibbles her cone to its final stub.
Torico makes the best ice cream, she says, then wonders how long they’ve been in business.
I tell her it’s been a long time, and Torico will be in business for as long as we can walk here on Sunday afternoons to deliberate over the flavors: mamey? Avocado? Skip dinner for two scoops of rum raisin? (Never to share though.)
As a little girl, a wasted drop of ice cream on my shirtfront or on the pavement used to make me cry, and the remaining scoop was less sweet because of the one drop lost. I’m a big girl now, well into my forties. I tell myself that things change, and there is sweetness even in the changes. Big girls know the pleasure of the whole cone isn’t lost with one drip.
I still want to cry though. I repeat to myself over and over that the sweetness is not lost, so I won’t forget to savor what I have this moment.
Feature photo by Jennifer Pallian / Unsplash
Other ice cream photos are via Torico’s