It's 9:45 p.m. on a balmy August night, the air sweet with flowering weeds, and tangy from Lake Michigan breezes. I'm craving gelato or ice cream, something cool, refreshing, and quintessentially summer.
Last week I lingered over a dish of Palazzolo's cafe mocha gelato at the Coral Gables Annex in Saugatuck, but that's too far of a drive tonight.
Visions of creamy, smooth, flavor-laden gelato dissipate and now I'm thinking of a Tommy Turtle sundae from Captain Sundae, just a ten minute drive from my parents' house. I look at the clock. I call. They're open until 11:00 p.m. Hooray!
Mom, Dad, and I climb into my G6, and drive under a golden moon to an assortment of tunes on my road trip mix CD, starting with Kid Rock's blend of Alabama and Michigan in "All Summer Long," followed by Brad Paisley's flirtatious banter in "Ticks."
The parking lot is full, and entire families crowd together on faded wooden benches next to the new Captain statue (chained down, since the old one was stolen). Cars whizz by on Douglas Avenue, the road that eventually becomes Ottawa Beach Road and leads to Holland State Park, home of Big Red Lighthouse and Mt. Pisky.
Big Red, Holland Harbor Lighthouse, photo by Bill Konrad, wikipedia commons, licensed by creative commons
Mom orders a chocolate cone, Dad holds out for the last piece of blueberry pie at home, and I order the aforementioned Tommy Turtle: vanilla soft serve draped with achingly sweet caramel, thick hot fudge, toasted buttered salted pecans, whipped topping, and a plump stemless maraschino cherry.
One bite and I'm back in High School, sitting on the bench closest to the road, hoping a car will honk, hoping someone will see me sitting here and be smitten.
The artificial sweetness is jolting me awake, and I wonder just how much high fructose corn syrup is in this plastic cup. I'm fairly certain I don't want to know.
"I can't believe you're eating that whipped cream," my Mom says, knowing all too well that this is no cream but topping, of sketchy moral turpitude. One time I argued the virtue--or lack thereof-of whipped topping with a friend. I rightfully asserted that there was no dairy to be found in a tub of whipped topping, and he believed there was. We reached an impasse. I avoided whipped topping, and I still do.
But tonight, the past pulls stronger than my desire for fresh, pure, whole foods, and I revel in the momentary bite of the past, the tug of the caramel on my teeth pulling me into memory, the brights illuminating the corn and blueberry fields keeping me grounded in the place where memory and present meet. Sugarland and friends sing "Life in a Northern Town," and my heart swells.