One summer Abby and I paid a visit to Mother and Husband Number Three, Tom. At least we were pretty sure he was Husband Number Three. Mother was so secretive about so many things, including Tom. We never learned how they met in their over two decades together, for example. We also had some suspicions about whether her second “marriage” to our Uncle/Stepdad was legitimate. So, we couldn’t be completely certain. And by this point, we really didn’t care.
Either way, our time on this lovely visit coincided with her birthday. We had taken the two of them out for dinner to celebrate and wanted to have birthday cake with ice cream after dinner. We already had the cake but needed to stop to pick up the frozen delight.
We pulled in at the little neighborhood store and politely asked Mary what kind of ice cream she wanted. She said the dreaded words,
I don’t care.
This meant that she really did care and it was up to Abby and me to read her mind and figure it out. We begged her to name a flavor but she refused, thus setting us up for failure.
We entered the store and went over to the freezer section to study the selections. Abby read off the choices and we began trying to think what flavor our mother would want. We finally decided on Neapolitan because it had three flavors and she surely couldn’t hate all three. Abby’s hand was trembling as she picked it up and we paid quickly.
When we got into the car and told her the flavor, you could hear Tom in the back seat snickering and saying in his low-talking, mumbly way:
That is the only flavor she hates.
Mary then began with her meltdown, the volume of her voice rising as she began her tirade:
You know I hate Neapolitan! Of all the ice cream in the world, that’s the worst!
And on and on she went about her utter hatred for Neapolitan ice cream.
The sad truth was we really didn’t know our own mother all that well. It was not the first of her birthdays that she would act out during, nor was it the last. Memories of my first trip to visit her in California (which also coincided with her birthday) came washing back over me during her performance on this evening.
And the ice cream was not the only meltdown of this particular evening. More about that later.