(Must be said with a heavy Brooklyn accent)
By Kim Winslow
A couple of years ago, I was at lunch with my husband and his coworker when my husband casually remarked that maybe we should go to Baskin-Robbins and get some ice cream. A seemingly innocent request, but the way my spouse said it raised my curiosity. I asked, “How often do you get ice cream?” Both of them assured me that they rarely ate ice cream, which is why it would be great to go today.
As soon as we walked into the ice cream shop, the employees said to my husband and his co-worker, “We saw y’all in the parking lot and went ahead and made you your order.” The workers held out two cones each with their regular order of double scoops of chocolate ice cream.
I burst out laughing. My husband and his co-worker then attempted to explain away the situation by telling me that they didn’t get ice cream very often, but the employees were just that good. To which I replied, “ Then, why didn’t they have my order of vanilla ready as well?”
The episode reminded me of a saying -- “That’s why they make chocolate and vanilla,” was something frequently said by Louise Stewart. Of course, ice cream is just a metaphor for the need for people to accept differences and has very little connection to the story above, except that Louise is my husband’s grandmother, his Nana. Nana was a funny, independent thinker who often peppered her conversation with little homilies and quotes, some of them quite deep and meaningful, and others just quirky, but all said in a heavy Brooklyn accent. My favorites revolved around food, and I thought I would entertain you with the flavor of some.
When she was in her late 80s, Nana was asked to give the toast around my dining room table. She raised a wine glass and said,
I am not a big drinker,
Just one or two at the most.
One, I am under the table,
Two, I am under the host.
Not exactly what we expected, but definitely an ice breaker.
Another thing that both Nana and succeeding generations said whenever feeding small children was, “Chew it well, Kenny.” After hearing my own mother-in-law and Nana say it many times, since there were fifteen grandchildren, it wasn’t until she was spoon-feeding my first child that I finally said, “What does that mean? Who is Kenny?”
Apparently, Kenny was Nana’s somewhat sickly nephew, and Kenny’s overly anxious mom would say the words, “Chew it well, Kenny,” whenever she fed him. Perhaps Nana’s words were meant to poke fun at Kenny and his mom, but the joke was on the rest of us because Kenny is in his early 90s and still chewing well. (forgive the pun.)
The most perplexing of all of her statements turned out to be her way of leaving us all with a laugh. For years, whenever my husband saw his Nana, he said, “You look great, Nana.” She always responded with the words, “I would look better stuffed.” I remember asking my husband what that meant. He looked at me and said, “ I have no idea, I think it is a reference to food, but she has been saying it for years.”
She didn’t just reserve this statement for my husband, but said it religiously when anyone remarked about her looks. Nana lived a long, lovely life; after she died, her open coffin was surrounded by many of the grandchildren and their spouses. As we looked at her for the very last time, one of my husband’s many brothers said, “You know, she really does look better stuffed.” We all inappropriately roared with laughter. It took Nana 30 years to set up that joke, but she definitely got the last laugh!