Ordering ice cream almost a meltdown experienceSeptember 2, 2020
By SCOTT SAALMAN
“The secret to life is enjoying the passing of time.” — James Taylor.
I spent the afternoon with Mom. Six weeks had passed since July 7, the date she learned she had only eight weeks to live due to stage four colon cancer.
Word of her two-month death sentence spread, and Mom, a loner by nature, suddenly became a social butterfly. People visited. She met friends and relatives, usually one-on-one, at a diner, sometimes spending two or three hours together. Her appetite nearly nil, it wasn’t the meal that mattered; it was her companions that provided sustenance. The marathon gab sessions that showcased her aliveness often zapped her strength.
Mom enjoyed breakfasts with her sister, Charlotte. People always commented how they looked alike. Mom claimed to not notice their resemblance. Still, there had been times she’d spot Charlotte in a clothing store and wave at her, and Charlotte waved back. Mom would say something to her, and Charlotte’s lips moved too. Only on closer inspection did Mom realize she had actually been talking to her own reflection in a mirror.
She received cards and gifts. Our friend Trina picked wildflowers for her.
One woman, assuming Mom would earn her angel wings, told her to “Hug _____ once you get to heaven. Let him know we miss him.” Mom cheekily said to me, “What makes her think he will be in heaven?” Classic Mom.
In the afternoon, we drove to Trina’s prairie, an area planted with native wildflowers and grasses. Walking, we noticed how the flowers were already going to seed, their colorlessness a stark contrast to the vibrancy of the ones picked for Mom a month ago. Mom was pleased to see honeysuckle. “When you were a little boy and our house was being built out on Brushy Fork Road, I’d drive you from town to see the progress. The whole trip with the windows down smelled like honey suckles,” she said. My eyes burned hearing her recall a time with me in the 1960s. “I remember,” I said, transported then to my single-digit years, our blond locks tussled and teased by rural route breeze.
Ideally, I wanted to share new experiences with Mom, like walking among wildflowers. When diagnosed four Septembers ago, many people inquired about her “bucket list,” a cautionary phrase causing one to expect buzzards overhead. Mom had no bucket. My parents have stayed true to their birth-given geographical comfort zone. Their “heaven on earth” remains within a 90-mile radius of Tell City, where you’ll likely find them in a casino, that dastardly inheritance drainer. I cannot help but stare back blankly anytime Dad says, “The secret to life is being at break-even when you die.”
A funny story: My parents once took a day cruise on the Gulf of Mexico. Three miles out, Mom was seasick. From the top deck, she puked over the railing twice, both times soiling the same guy with an upturned face one deck below. For the rest of the cruise, they avoided the man with the messy shirt.
Struggling to find new things to do with Mom in Tell City — after all, she has lived there 76 years — I took her to Dairy Queen after the prairie walk.
“I’m getting a Blizzard,” I said.
“Wow. I’ve never ever had a Blizzard.”
“Are you kidding me?” This summer, the Blizzard turned 35 years old, yet Mom had never sampled one. “I’m buying you a Blizzard,” I said, excited to expose her to something new.
She was hesitant, like always when faced with something new — EVEN IF THAT SOMETHING NEW IS NOW 35 YEARS OLD!
“I’d like a small vanilla cone,” she said.
“You always get that,” I complained. What I thought was: “Six weeks ago you were given eight weeks to live! And you’re going to go out on a SMALL vanilla ice cream cone.”
“Start living it up,” I pleaded.
“Sometimes I get chocolate sundaes.”
“You’re getting a Blizzard.”
My Corolla inched toward the speaker box. I was ready to order Blizzards so as to not hold up the car line. I dread a restaurant drive-thru, fearing silent indecision when making an order, worried about impatient customers honking their horns behind me. I’m the same at toll booths and bank windows.
“Welcome to Dairy Queen,” said the speaker box.
“One Cookie Dough Blizzard,” I said quickly, happy to be ahead of the game. “Mom, have you decided? Mom?”
I looked into the rearview mirror at the menacing truck grill behind us. Please don’t honk at us, I silently pleaded.
“Mom’s not ready,” I said to the speaker, throwing Mom under the bus.
“I’ll take the rest of your order when you’re ready,” said the speaker box.
Two other cars were behind the truck now. I started sweating. Once one honks, the others will honk. Impatiently, I said, “What flavor Blizzard, Mom?”
“Vanilla ice cream cone,” she said. “Small.”
“Try something different.”
I swore I heard the truck rev, as if on the verge of mounting my Corolla. I hate revving.
“OK. A chocolate sundae.”
“That’s not different.”
I was having a meltdown waiting for mom to order ice cream. Worried about the impatient people behind us, I almost warned, “We’re running out of time, Mom.” I stopped myself, though, remembering she — supposedly — had only two weeks to live.
“Take your time,” I said to her, but more so a reminder to me.
Contact Scott Saalman at email@example.com.
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