By Suzy Beal
Full of excitement, we pile into the station wagon and head the six miles into town. We seven kids do everything together. There are no neighbors close by so we depend on each other for everything; entertainment, adventures in the forest, chores, and even picking out the switch with which Mom is going to spank us. It is impossible to do anything private or independent from the others. We never get to choose anything for ourselves. I know that getting a choice means a kind of freedom that my parents, with seven children, can’t afford to let us have, but on Sunday afternoons this all changes.
It’s crowded, the car is warm and the windows foggy. Mom and Dad seem at peace with each other. All my brothers and sister are laughing and making jokes. The anticipation of an ice cream cone at Richmaid’s fills me with excitement. Will I choose the same flavor as last time or will I try something different? We each get to choose our own favorite flavor or try something new. It is the best experience, because we get what we want without sharing.
I stare at the list of flavors beside the little window where the ice cream cones come out: chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, rock road, pistachio, licorice. The pressure mounts as everyone calls out their order. Dad always orders pistachio and Mom chocolate. Tom orders licorice, Hank, chocolate, Carl, chocolate – my turn is next. Oh, what do I want… too many choices! Once I ordered licorice because my older brother did and I hated it, but it was too late to change and I had to wait until next time. Dad doesn’t let us change our minds once we call out what we want, so I need to get it right the first time. Strawberry is my favorite, but sometimes in a moment of madness I call out another flavor.
I holler out, Strawberry!
Mom orders strawberry for Jan and vanilla for Conrad, but little Frankie just gets licks from her cone. I lick mine round and round in circles. The thick, sweet ice cream fills my tongue in scoops. The rich strawberry flavor delights and when I come across a partially frozen strawberry, I chew it slowly so the pleasure will last.
Dad drives leisurely through town, ending up at the Nye Beach turnaround where we park and watch the Pacific Ocean and the surf coming up on the beach. Mom loves this sight, so this is where we come.
This is the same spot where Mom brings us sometimes during the summer when it’s so hot at our home up the river. The northwest wind blows hard in the summer and it sends the sand scudding across the beach. It stings our legs as we run to the ocean. We are only allowed to go out in the surf up to our knees, but that’s enough. It only takes a few minutes for the ocean to turn us blue. It’s so cold. If we are very brave, we lie down in the surf.
On these Sunday evenings everything seems right with the world, everyone quietly eating their ice cream. The only sounds we hear are the ocean rolling onto the shore and the sea gulls crying out for bites as Mom throws to them pieces of her cone. She throws the pieces onto the front of the station wagon, so the sea gulls will come close and we can all see them fight over the tidbits.
On the way back home Dad stops at the gas station to fill up the station wagon, so Mom will have gas all week. Mr. Peters comes out of his little office to fill the tank. Mom told us that Mr. and Mrs. Peters don’t have any children, but wanted some, so we are always to be nice to them. Mr. Peters leans in Dad’s window to say hi to us. A thought rushes through my mind. I could go live with them and be an only child and all the choices would be mine!
The six miles back home up the river road is dark with no street lights. Mom starts a game in the dark: “I’m thinking of a number between….” or “How do you spell…?”
There isn’t much room in our lives for special wants. We share all our toys. We all eat the same food, play the same games, but on Sunday afternoon we get to select our own special flavor of ice cream. For me the freedom of choosing for myself is more glorious than that special flavor.
© 2018 Suzy Beal
Suzy Beal, an occasional contributor to True Stories Well Told, has been writing her life story and personal essays for years. In 2016 started studying with Sheila Bender at writingitreal.com. “She has given me the courage to begin to submit pieces for publication,” says Suzy. “I’m 72 years old and live in Bend, Oregon. I was born on the Oregon Coast in Newport. In 1961 when I was a teenager my parents took all seven of us siblings to live in Spain on the island of Mallorca. There my dad and brothers built a sailing boat onto which we moved and sailed the Mediterranean. We later moved to the Caribbean and lived and sailed from St. Croix.”