When I was a little girl, before my father died, he would take me every other weekend. Several memories stand out.
- We would go to the Wise Penny in the University District and look for thrifty finds.
- He would let me “shop” in his basement where I “bought” (er, stole!) artifacts from the landlady’s boxes, reminding me to mind the rats.
- We went places in his old car, and classical music always serenaded us.
- He’d allow me to make a complete train wreck of a mess with all my leftovers at the local Chinese restaurant as a “thank you” to the server. (Somehow we knew the waiter, and he found my concoctions funny.)
- He would buy me exactly what I wanted at the local corner store, which usually consisted of juice and gum.
He was tall, with lanky legs, and he was nearly fully bald with a fringe of dark curls framing his ears.
Museums, trails, drives … all these memories are as clear as a Pacific Northwest lake in summer.
But the thing I remember most was a weekend ritual: ice cream at Baskin Robbins. (The picture at the top of this post is of me eating just that.)
Every single time we were together, he would let me pick out anything I ever wanted. But every single time, I chose the exact same thing. Strawberry ice cream in a sugar cone. I never deviated.
When I was ten years old as my father’s life was memorialized in a large stained-glass church, I stopped eating that ice cream. Strawberry ceased to be my favorite. Maybe because I missed him and the memory of taste and touch and smell were too much for me. Maybe I felt I didn’t deserve the happiness of such a confection.
I maintained my father’s hero status most of my growing up years. He grew larger than the treasures we found, more eccentric than my food concoctions at the Chinese restaurant, more intelligent than the sonatas played on a scratchy radio.
I don’t know exactly when he was dethroned in my mind, but it happened sometime in college when other memories surfaced. Ones I would rather not write here. Ones I wish weren’t true. But in that recollection, strawberry ice cream moved from something I wouldn’t do to something I couldn’t do. If you found me in a local ice cream shop (I could barely go into the 31 Flavors), my stomach would knot when I saw the pink ice cream with chunks of strawberries.
Sometimes I would push the pain down or try to reason with myself that it didn’t matter, and go ahead and eat the stuff already. Even with that internal stern rebuke, I couldn’t eat the stuff.
I am forty eight years old now. Hardly a revelation. But a revolution has taken hold of my heart (and stomach). For the past few months, I have craved strawberry ice cream. And, finally, I started eating it again. I can’t seem to stop.
The people in our lives are not all evil. Nor are they all heroes.
We’re all a mix of both, churned together. My father loved me. He also hurt me. And now I see my ability to eat strawberry ice cream as a signpost of my healing. An indication that God is not only restoring me, but re-story-ing me. I can move forward with settled peace, knowing I am forgiven and I can offer forgiveness to an eccentric genius who fit no one’s mold.
Perhaps strawberry is the flavor of a brand new life.