Wednesday, March 11, 2009


We never had dessert. My father and stepmother, religious fanatics, lumped sweets with Michael Jackson, low cut blouses and cocktails; sinful frippery that must be avoided. Temptation to eat sugary treats would just lead to other, unthinkable forms of temptation best avoided. The devil hid in pink frosted cupcakes, it seemed. For a long time I actually believed that the Dairy Queen in town, which sat across the street from the high school and was only open between Memorial Day and Labor Day, was the Devil's actual house.

Still, I longed desperately for a Peanut Buster Parfait, which my friend had told me was the best thing she'd ever eaten in her life, though I would have been equally as thrilled with plain vanilla soft serve, it's top swirled into a Q, nestled into a paper wrapped cake cone. Sometimes we drove past the Dairy Queen where pick-up trucks loaded with sticky kids packed the parking lot on summer nights and I'd gaze through the car windows at the long lines of people waiting at the window under tall fluorescent lights where bats and swallows darted after moths drawn by the glow. I'd watch large women tented in house coats and long haired boys in cut off shorts carrying armfuls of dipped cones and sundaes back to their friends and families waiting in hot cars and I would want ice cream so desperately that often I would imagine rolling down the windows of my father's Ford Escort and jumping out of the moving car into traffic to steal someone's banana split. Id' have to steal it, since I didn't have any money to buy one.

As we drove past the Dairy Queen, probably on our way back from some tedious errand or Bible Study I would concentrate hard, trying to telepathically will my father to stop, to make him suddenly crave ice cream with an intensity impossible to deny.

"You want ice cream. Stop at the Dairy Queen. You can taste the ice cream. You want it. You must have it. You will stop at the Dairy Queen," I'd think at him.

It never worked. I blamed it on my stepmother who always watched her figure so she wouldn't get fat like my real mother had. I imagined her sending thought interference to block my messages.

"Never stop at Dairy Queen. Do not give in to temptation," I imagined her thinking.

Sometimes I got lucky. On the rare occasions we'd visit relatives, I could get away with a sliver of dry cake spackled with canned frosting. We didn't see my father's parents often. They didn't like my stepmother and thought she and my father were too harsh and strict with me, so I hardly got to see them after Daddy married Louise at the end of my fourth grade year. When I did get to go to my grandparents' house the first thing I'd do was run to their avocado green refrigerator and open the freezer door to see what kind of ice cream they had. My grandfather and I both had the same favorite: Breyer's Butter Almond.

"Hold on and I'll fix you a dish," my grandfather would say to me.

Then he'd dig it out of the carton with a soup spoon.

My father didn't enjoy restaurants, but on very special occasions he'd consent to dining out. He'd comb his dark hair sharply over to one side, tack a wide tie to his short sleeved dress shirt while Louise threw on the same, kelly green dress she bought for their honeymoon and which she always wore. Then we'd go to a colonial themed inn where the T-bones came with lipstick colored, spiced apple rings and unlimited trips to the salad bar. All through dinner I'd roll chickpeas across my plate and peek at other tables shoveling seven layer anvils of chocolate cake into their mouths and I would pray that this would be the time my father might make an exception. Then the waiter would come.

"Coffee or dessert?"

And the answer would always be the same.

"No, thank you. We'll just take the check."

There' still Thanksgiving, I'd tell myself. No matter where we went on Thanksgiving, I could always get away with an isosceles of Mrs. Smith's pumpkin pie, rabidly foaming at the crust with Cool Whip, which I scraped away. I didn't much like pumpkin pie, especially not ready made and straight from the grocer's freezer. The factory crimped crust never failed to burn and the filling always cracked in a fault line of pumpkin custard that wept syrup and condensation. It wasn't the most appetizing dessert, but it had sugar. It was, at least, a little sweetness amid the bitter.

"I want to come live with you," I whispered to my real mother over the telephone, "Let me come live with you in New York."

"Don't you worry," she told me,"I'm working on it. I'm working on getting you away from them."

To be continued...


MtnMama said...

That last line broke my heart. I dreamed all my life of someone I could at least whisper those words to, even if they couldn't come get me.

We did have dessert, though.

Anonymous said...

"An isosceles of Mrs. Smith's pumpkin pie"

You never fail to supply us with the most flowing, imaginative prose on the planet. If there is any justice on earth, you will one day be offered a very tempting, high dollar contract for one or more of your books. I can't wait for the day that I can buy those books from my local Barnes & Noble.


Wide Lawns said...

Thank you Melanie. I can't wait for that day either!!

Joy said...

What sweet grandparents. Shit, I grew up the preacher's daughter and even we got dessert. That's just wrong. It makes me sad for little girl wide lawns.

I love your writing. I know I've said it before, but I have to repeat myself. Just amazing descriptions.

Hug that little girl wide lawns for me. And give her some dairy queen.

JoeinVegas said...

And, what varieties of ice cream do you have in your freezer right now?
We have several B&Js (yes, Cherry Garcia is one) and a big tub of Dryers French Vanilla, but all are going stale from the not eating very often. I did make some lemon pies on Sunday, which we are inhaling.

Jennie said...

No desserts?!?! How completely awful! You poor thing...if you ever come to Ohio, you look me up. We'll go to the DQ (as long as it's open) and I'll buy you all the peanut buster parfaits, blizzards and dilly bars that you could ever eat!

crazy_one said...

Your mom's story reminds me of my own and your version tears at my heart wondering what my son is going through. I'm glad your mom got through her obstacles and gives me hope that I can get through mine.

Twinx said...

No desserts...ever? That's a terrible thing to do to a child, but as usual, your writing outshines

Modern Philodoxos said...

that's so sad. :( i had too much dessert growing up, which is why i ended up a 200 lb teenager for a few years. but i cant imagine not being allowed any! i had a friend whose parents were super fanatical and wouldn't let her watch movies so when she was 14 she got arrested for stealing them from the library. don't ask hy she would try stealing them from the library when they were free to check out anyway... but parents sometimes dont realize how much it effects kids to deny them things completely.

Green said...

I recently discovered the strawberry parfait. Heaven. My mother's thing was to bring home a dessert (like an entire Hershey bar) and tell everyone they couldn't have it. Or buy a box of six muffins on a Saturday morning and then yell at us Sunday evening when the four of us had finished them, as if that was unreasonable.

Jean_Phx said...

I love to read your work - sometimes it makes me sad. But I always smile at the wonderful visuals that you give us. I could see the 'lipstick' apple ring, boy that was some fancy eatin' then! Thank you.

Morganna said...

I had a similar childhood, and reading your posts just brings it all back. I kind of wish we could have been near each other back then-I would definitly been your friend and smuggled you candy and cookies.
I hope that doesn't sound to creepy...

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