Tuesday, December 28, 2010

French fries and frozen custard


Upon hearing that my husband and I were going to spend the following day in Ocean City, Maryland, my mother had just one piece of advice: “Hit the boardwalk. Walk all the way to the end. Get a box of Thrasher’s french fries and cover them in vinegar. They’ll be the best fries you’ve ever had.”

Those fries were part of her childhood. Her father’s military career took her family practically everywhere, but Maryland was where she spent the most time, where many of her relatives still lived, where so many of her childhood memories were made. In fact, my own very first fuzzy memories are of Maryland, where my mom took me to meet my extended family when I was three years old. When we planned the road trip, it was never a question of whether or not we’d stop in Maryland. Since it was summer, Ocean City was our logical destination of choice.

The next day, we walked down the boardwalk hand in hand and enjoyed the warm sunshine and cool breeze common for the East Coast in June. It had changed since my mother had been, obviously, and there were now several Thrasher’s booths. But we walked all the way to the end, like she suggested, and we got ourselves a Medium box of fries. I thought they were tasty, but nothing spectacular. My husband couldn’t quite get into the taste of the added vinegar, but I thought it was genius.

Anyway, it wasn’t the taste of the fries that mattered. It was the fact that I was enjoying a staple from my mother’s childhood. How many people could say they’d gotten to do that? As I sat on the boardwalk and munched the fries, I pictured my mom there as a cute young kid on summer vacation. I wondered what I might, one day, tell my kid about my childhood trips…or about this cross country road trip I was on.

We’d barely finished the fries when we spotted another booth in the corner.

“Frozen custard?” I read. “What’s that? Is it like ice cream? Or some kind of pudding?”

“I don’t know,” my husband said. “But we should get some.”

We debated on whether or not to split an order before remembering we’re not the couple who shares desserts. He ordered plain chocolate; I ordered a chocolate and peanut butter twist. I took one bite and almost burst into tears from sheer joy. It was that good. It was like ice cream’s much prettier older sister with the perfect body, shiny hair and the Prom Queen crown. We were instantly obsessed. We devoured it and walked away before we were tempted to order more.

I texted my mom about my findings, wondering why she hadn’t told me of this delicacy.

“Oh, Jessica,” was her reply. “I’d forgotten about it. My Uncle Lee bought me my first frozen custard when I was a little girl.”

Uncle Lee died of lung cancer before I was born. My middle name is Lee. So is hers. I’d unknowingly found another favorite childhood staple.

These days, the food I eat is more often than not consumed for its nutritional value and the energy it gives me, with thought given to calories and fat. But that day it was about eating for the sheer joy of the taste… eating through the eyes of a child who was now over 50 (sorry, Mom, but you are) without worry of what it would do to my waistline. Sometimes I think kids have the right mindset: food is meant to be enjoyed, not a punishment, and no matter what, there’s always room for ice cream (and frozen custard). 

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