My mom gave us the gift of healthy eating--she was adamant about her two girls eating all-natural, wholesome food. She wasn't the hippie sort of 70s and 80s mom who experimented with tofu and required vegetarianism, but she wisely rejected all things artificial.
But, she had a sweet tooth.
Her sweet tooth was my childhood's saving grace, because enough ice cream and chocolate and marshmallows popped up here and there each year that I never felt deprived. Christmas involved plenty of cookies, including Polish chrusciki; Easter included chocolate covered coconut eggs and the most artificial of all sweets, Peeps; for our birthdays she would bake and decorate any cake our little girl heads could imagine. Our family all ate heartily at these events, knowing that healthy eating was the norm before and after we indulged.
But her weakness for ice cream was my favorite exception to the rule. As an Army family, we had the commissary instead of Giant Eagle or Piggly Wiggly or Harris Teeter. This was a huge grocery store for all the families on and nearby post; anyone with a military ID could go shop there. I remember our cart being ridiculously full each and every time we went, as if Mom had four teenage boys in addition to us two little girls.
When we got back from the grocery store, I helped Mom carry in the paper bagged groceries. We set them on the floor of the kitchen--and left them there. "In a minute," our actions told this battalion of bags, all lined up, standing at attention, waiting to be unloaded. Rather than putting away our purchases right away, she'd get two spoons. Then she'd rifle through the bags until she found the Breyers all-natural vanilla ice cream, the kind of ice cream with flecks of vanilla beans inside it. She'd open the lid and we'd take turns running our spoons around the edge of that creamy, cold gallon, along the edge where the ice cream was perfectly softened on the trip home. When we'd eaten all the soft stuff, we'd put the lid back on and tuck it away in the freezer, assuming no one would notice what we'd done, as if no one would notice the empty inch of space between the newly frozen block of ice cream and the actually carton.
Time stood as still as those bags on the floor. Everything in the universe seemed to pause and smile on us, granting us this time to savor this secret treat together.