The Light Touch / Getting your licks in
Published 5:35 am, Tuesday, May 15, 2012
Here's how it's done: with your whole heart. The ways kids do it: drippy, messy, melting without a care in the world about how it looks. Or, so I recently learned.
I'm referring to the ice cream cone and the proper way to eat one. It started with Francesca -- an authority on the subject.
I had the pleasure of meeting Francesca purely by accident as is often the case with serendipitous encounters. I was sitting on a bench in Central Park when she glided over, ice cream cone in hand. Several feet away, her father was busy instructing her older brother how to maneuver a sailboat. Francesca, disinterested in sailing, coerced her dad into buying her a cone from the concession stand.
"I'll wait here," she shouted down to him, walking over and joining me on the bench.
"Hi," I said. Introductions seemed appropriate.
"I'm Francesca," she said. "I'm eight." She caught a stream of ice cream as it slid down the side of her cone.
"Looks good," I said.
"It is. Wanna lick?"
I did but declined the offer.
The late morning sun was high in the sky on this particular Sunday. I was waiting for a friend, who was joining me for brunch at the Boat House restaurant.
"I usually don't eat ice cream until later," I said, realizing how ridiculous that sounded.
"Why?" Francesca asked. "Ice cream always tastes better in the morning when you're not supposed to have it. My dad lets me do it anyway."
I glanced over at the pond where Francesca's father and brother were busily engaged in sailboats. He, occasionally, turned around to check on his daughter, and feeling satisfied, went back to the business at hand.
"What's your favorite flavor?" I asked.
"Vanilla," she said. "It's the only one I ever eat. The other flavors taste fake."
I thought about that for a moment and had to agree. Vanilla seemed pure, unadulterated. Simple. "I'm a vanilla person too," I said, "although sometimes I eat strawberry."
"Not me," Francesca said assuredly. Only vanilla." She was working hard now. The ice cream was melting fast, and required a quick tongue to catch it from all sides.
"You're good at this," I acknowledged. "You work fast."
"Got to," Francesca said, "otherwise it will get away. I practice eating ice cream cones every day so I'm kind of an expert."
"So, there's a knack to it then?"
"First you have to be in an ice cream cone mood. If you're not in the right mood, it won't work," she informed me.
"Ice cream seems right for all occasions. When wouldn't you be in the mood?"
The sun washed over her freckled face. "On cold days, ice cream is all wrong. That's when I switch over to hot chocolate."
She took a large bite from the top of the vanilla mound producing a white streak above her top lip.
"Look, you have a mustache," I laughed.
"I do that on purpose," she said. It's all part of the experience."
"Do you eat the cone, too?" I inquired.
"The cone is the best part," she said, carefully biting a tiny hole in its triangular base with her two front teeth, creating a vessel from which a river of ice cream flowed into her mouth.
"You should only use sugar cones," she instructed. "You need a pointy bottom."
We sat there in silence as Francesca devoured it all in the tradition of an eight-year-old aficionado. When it was finished, she seemed mildly disappointed. "That's it," she said, shrugging her shoulders. "It's all over until tomorrow. My parents allow me only one ice cream cone a day. Otherwise it would be excessive."
She said "excessive" as though such words were a natural part of her vocabulary.
"You seem smart," I complimented.
"I am," she said, as though recognition was entirely acceptable.
Francesca's dad waved. She waved back. "I should go," she said. "I promised I'd watch my brother sail his boat."
"Thanks for the ice cream cone lesson," I said.
"That wasn't a lesson," she corrected. "It was just having fun. You need to have fun when you eat ice cream."
"I'll remember that," I promised.
Soon, my friend, Susan met up with me. We strolled through the park as I recalled my encounter with Francesca.
"Let's get ice cream cones," I suggested on a whim.
"But we haven't had lunch yet," Susan said. "It will spoil our appetites."
"That's the point," I told her. "You need to break the rules -- be impulsive -- enjoy yourself. Ice cream is supposed to be fun."
And so, we did. Francesca had taught me well.