I came across a lovely painting today. It is of four kids — I’m guessing the older three are easily under 12 years old — sitting on a ledge, enjoying their youth and the sun. I look at it for the very first time, I look away to peruse the others beside it, and then I find myself staring right back at it again, drawn to the details: little children taking care of a toddler, their mothers perhaps busy with household chores and preparing lunch. I like how the artist has made the image look sun-kissed. And I like how the subjects are connecting to each other, not exactly in a huddle, but it is obvious they are present in the moment. It makes me wonder what they are talking about. What did my playmates and I talk about at that age? The image makes me go inside myself as I remember my own childhood, the many happy summers I had as a child.
On the drive back home I tell Richard that maybe, the reason why we were so drawn to the painting is that it seemed to easily capture every other child’s summer — the sun, the sweat, the fun, the friends and playmates. Nowadays, in this age of technology, children often casually say that they are bored. When you are under 10 years old the only time you get bored is when the rains have come and you can’t go out of the house and play.
I grew up in a little city where we made our own kites and tiradors, where we ate fruit like rambutan and santol freshly picked from the trees that grew in the backyard, and where my first taste of hot chocolate was not Swiss Miss or Hershey’s that came in fancy boxes and canisters but the grainy, native kind made by the housewives of our farmhands, from hand-picked cacao that they ground and made into chubby little discs. The Twin Popsies (orange was my absolute favorite) and Pinipig Crunch and Drumstick were peddled from carts attached to bicycles, a bell announcing their arrival. Right alongside these treats was dirty ice cream, so-called not because they are dirty but because they are homemade in small batches, are devoid of any fancy packaging and presentation, and the manong sells it on the street. His ice cream was called Batangueno, and to this day when there are children’s parties in Ormoc his cart is a hit with both adults and kids. Then there was mango ice candy that we bought from Noy Pantang’s little store down the street, milky with real mango bits and just the right level of sweetness.
One day, when I am 85 and I have enough time on my hands to once again be familiar with what boredom feels like, I would love for Richard and I to have a little ice cream shop. Nothing fancy, but it will have big windows and walls made out of panels of whitewashed wood. I would like the floor to have black and white tiles, like Lola Carmen’s house in Cebu, that or maybe wooden planks. I would like one window to look out to a stretch of land where there should be at least two or three big trees, magnificent in age and strength and quiet, raw beauty. Under the shade of that tree will be a history of stories and secrets and wishes and dreams — all those things that make up both heart and life. There will be some marble-topped tables here and there, but most others will be made from recovered wood, preferably those circa post-Yolanda, matched with sturdy wooden chairs made by skilled locals. I would want these tables to be covered in light blue and white checkered fabric embroidered with little red roses. There will always be happy music playing, and it will be a bright happy place that can make anyone having the worst of days leave feeling so much better.
Our little ice cream house will be really that — a little ice cream house, not an ice cream house that will serve a host of many other things just because. I will not scrimp on nice plates and goblets, cups and bowls. I want the experience to feel special; I want people to linger and not want to immediately leave the place and when they absolutely have to, it will be with a slight wistfulness, with plans already to come back. The treats will be served on the right tableware — a big, tall and fat glass for the rich milkshakes (wouldn’t it be nice if the milk came from a local dairy farm!), footed bowls for most other ice cream concoctions. One more thing I will be sure to do — ask a bunch of children to help us come up with the menu. It will not have more than a dozen cold treats, as I am pretty sure I shall not need more than that for as long as each of the 12 are stellar and can hold its own beside the next, like 12 equally beautiful princesses, each one picked over the rest only as a matter of preference and not because the others paled in comparison. All will be served nicely, grand in both size and taste, with nice spoons and straws. Off one corner will be a little glass cake counter with maybe eight cakes to choose from, all homemade. A butter or pound cake, one in chocolate, a strawberry shortcake, a mango cake, a lovely lemon torte, apple pie. I like how very good apple pie grounds a place, giving it a patina and heritage that can otherwise only come to be as time goes by. Maybe the rest can be cookies and brownies — not too many kinds, just one of each, but again, really very good ones.
Outside the cold treats will just be a few other things — a few sandwiches and two or three pasta dishes, specifically party spaghetti with hotdog slices (yes, that one we all grew up with, with the sloppy and wet sauce and lots of Quickmelt Cheese!), baked macaroni prepared in little cast iron bowls that can go straight from oven to table, a carbonara that does not scrimp on bacon. And then there will be a few sandwiches — a simple grilled cheese, a delicious egg, and a ham and cheese. Should I include a burger? Maybe not. I can hear my Juliana and Richard already protesting, burger lovers that they are. Maybe there should be a club sandwich, a really good one that towers over all the others.
There will be many children’s parties, lots of happy memories made there. It will be open every day, but especially on Saturdays and Sundays when the family is together.
I wonder what I will look like when I am 85. Oh, my. I will be but a faded version of myself now, my hair still probably long enough to knot at the back but not so long that I will look like a prophet from olden times. I, of course, do not want to scare away the many children that will come. Richard will still look good, the way old men always do as compared to women of the same age. Clint Eastwood is ancient, yet he still looks dapper. Men really do age better; women have to work very hard at it.
The little ice cream shop will always smell good, the waitresses will always smell nice, look clean and be smiling and pleasant. And in that little ice cream shop, maybe the painting that I saw today can be hung on one of the walls. Each time I see it I shall remember, ever so thankfully, how wonderful it was to have all those happy summers as a carefree child; as an adult, to have to go through all those summers also that did not feel so great only because life became so busy; and then to have, when life has slowed down again and we are in our twilight years, the chance to enjoy the kind of summer we all once knew.
Really, how beautiful life can be.