There were more children than money in our large family, but every year our parents managed to make Christmas a celebration to be remembered. But one of my fondest Christmas memories is the secret shared only with my older sister, Barbara.
Our crime was committed while shopping for our siblings. Our father would give us a crisp $5 bill with stern instructions that it was to be spent only on presents for our sisters, then drop us at the nearest dime store, with instructions to shop and then wait by the door until he returned. Once our shopping was completed, Barbara and I would sneak to the soda counter, climb up on the tall round stools, plunk down our leftover change and count to see if we had enough. We always did. Grinning, we ordered hot fudge sundaes, then sat there, conspirators in crime, skinny legs dangling as we giggled and licked the thick, gooey chocolate from our spoons.
Fast-forward fifty years. Barbara was diagnosed with incurable cancer. We were told there was no cure, but "palliative therapy" would make her more comfortable. Every day for weeks, particles of energy were bombarded through her brain. Fatigue and nausea became daily companions. Next, chemotherapy, with all its unpleasant side effects. However, with the help of new medications, soon we were pleasantly surprised to find that Barbara no longer experienced nausea. Her appetite even returned. That is when we began our quest. We were determined to find the perfect match of our childhood memory.
The ice cream must be the hard kind, the harder the better, since the thick, hot fudge will cause it to melt right away. It had to have a cherry on top and it absolutely must be in a glass dish shaped like a tulip. That was the recipe.
We spent the entire time she was in treatment in search of the absolutely perfect concoction. We didn't tell anyone else what we were doing; once again it was our secret.
Treatment day was always Monday; by evening she could barely keep her eyes open. The week became a blur of growing fatigue, confusion and weakness, but by the weekend, Barbara would begin to rally and by Sunday she was ready.
"You think we will find it this time?" she'd ask. We'd laugh then climb into the car.
"We didn't find it, did we?" Barbara sighed one morning. I knew exactly what she meant.
"No, but we're not giving up!" I replied. "Are you up for a road trip?"
The next day we took a longer trip than any we had previously attempted. By the time we arrived at the ice cream parlor bedecked in 1950s décor, she was drained. She needed help just to get out of the car.
As the waitress held out menus, Barbara spoke softly. "We won't need those. We already know what we want - hot fudge sundaes. Do you use hard ice cream?" "Of course," the waitress replied.
Barbara beamed at me. "I think that we might have found it."
Soon the waitress returned carrying two tall tulip-shaped glasses filled with cold, hard, vanilla ice cream smothered in rich, thick hot fudge sauce, topped with a squirt of whipped cream and a cherry. "Is this what you wanted?" she asked as she plunked them down on the counter.
I turned toward my sister. Our eyes locked. The silent, secret question hung in the air between us. Was it? Slowly we picked up our spoons, plunged them into the sweet, cold confection and took them to our mouths. As I licked the thick, rich chocolate goo from my lips, I looked toward Barbara and saw she was doing the same. We began to first smile, and then giggle.
Mission accomplished. There we were - not two overweight, middle-aged women enjoying an afternoon dessert with more calories than either needed. We were two giggling little girls, perched on high stools, skinny legs dangling, sharing the precious bond of sisterhood, carried back to a time when life was simple and "palliative treatment," were just words that had no meaning.