(Originally published November 4, 2010)
Surely the gift of memory is one of the most precious we are given from God. In an instant a unexpected sound, a smell, a taste can produce an avalanche of memories from our past. Heart warming, heart wrenching, bittersweet or oh so tender, events and happenings not recalled in years, now as fresh in our mind as if it had just occurred. Take this evening for example…
Earlier today I was headed off on a walk to a meeting. The weather was just too crisp and wonderful to hop on a bus, so walking shoes were the preferred traveling option. Stopping off for a drink to take with me, I happened to notice a new addition in the cooler just inside the store. A Strawberry Shortcake ice cream bar was now among the high-cal frozen treats! YUM-E!!!!! My favorite! So off I went on my walk, drink in one hand, frozen shortcake in the other. By the time I reached the next block, only the shortcake stick remained.
Tonight, yearning for a bit of sweet before bed, my thoughts wistfully turned to the new frozen treat beckoning from next door. (Yes, I know I had one just this afternoon, but hey, I’m 21…I can have another!) On went the sweater and a quick, non-stop elevator ride put me on street level and on my way to strawberry sweetness! A cool breeze outside made for such a pleasant walk, and before you knew it, I was in and out of the store and taking the first bite of my second Strawberry Shortcake ice cream bar of the day. Life was good!!
Beginning the walk back to my high-rise home, I savored each bite of my frozen shortcake. I wondered: when was the first time I had a shortcake bar? Before I could finish that thought, another crevice of my brain produced the answer, and with it came the avalanche of memory surrounding my first strawberry shortcake ice cream bar…
Growing up in Hanceville, Alabama, a wonderful little Southern hamlet, the “big-city” was a slow to arrive, especially as seen in the early 1970’s by a young boy. Going to the “city” brought wondrous opportunities for tasting what the outside world had to offer. Traveling north to Decatur, a trip there would not be complete without a meal at Shoney’s Big Boy. A Big Boy burger with their own special sauce, a side of onion rings and a piece of that miracle on a plate: Strawberry pie in that oooey, gooey strawberry sauce, covered with three inches of whipped topping. You might well imagine I looked much like that well-fed symbol of the restaurant, rotund young boy clad in red and white check overalls, licking his lips and holding high a Big Boy sandwich. We could have been twins!
Whenever we were lucky enough to go south to Birmingham (“the big, bad city” so said my mother), there is no way we would be coming home hungry. To me, Birmingham was nothing short of a culinary Disneyland! On Highway 31 just as we arrived in the big bad city, was the very first golden arches I had ever seen: McDonalds! I still remember my first taste of two all beef patties, special sauce, lettuce, cheese, pickles, onions on a sesame seed bun…and the fries?!? Mmmmm, mmmm!! Surely we watched the sign change from “millions served” to “billions served” over the course of time…I certainly did my part.
If good fortune was truly on our side, a trip to Birmingham brought us to the door of a place I fell in love with while watching its commercials during Romper Room: Britling’s Cafeteria! Talk about EXOTIC! There was NOTHING like Britling’s in Hanceville or even Cullman county back then! Getting my own tray and walking down that Cafeteria line was a true walk of wonder! I would stare in amazement as I watched steam rise from the vegetables, squash croquettes and green beans almondine ready to be dished up by sweet smiling ladies in cat-eye glasses. I remember also making special note of the hairnets worn by those smiling servers, keeping each high teased bouffant from interacting with the whipped potatoes. Moving on down the cafeteria line, I encountered the mesmerizing red lights over the roast beef carving station. There, the same African-American gentleman would always be standing in a red glow, his white apron and cap appearing pink. Knife in hand, he would carve slices of roast beef and slowly drizzle the juices that became the first French words I ever learned: Au jus. I felt SO upper crust asking for the Roast Beef “au jus!”
However, the best was yet to come: God love my sweet Mother, for she never said no to me and my sister allowing us to get what HAD to be the best dessert available on planet Earth: Jello, cut in little cubes with a swirl of Cool Whip on top! There was nothing better than Jello cut in little cubes! Nothing!! Well, until it was time to go and we got to pick a sucker from the bowl next to cashier on the way out. Ah, Britling’s Cafeteria and Shoney’s! Such nice memories!
Would you look at that? Here I was on the way to tell you about my first taste of a Strawberry Shortcake ice cream bar, and off we went to Shoney’s and Britling’s…who would have thought? Tomorrow, I will again pick up this train of thought, for with the recount of Strawberry shortcake ice cream comes the most precious memories of time spent with my Daddy…being his “helper” on his egg delivery truck. Just typing those words have my eyes already a bit damp. A good nights sleep will have my typing fingers all rested to share with you the story of Daddy, me, eggs and Strawberry Shortcake ice cream.
Thank you God for the gift of memory…and for not letting me go through life looking like the Shoney’s Big Boy! AMEN!