In the late Sunday summer afternoons of Eastern North Dakota, the sun is already beating its way through our Ford Pinto windows and onto the black vinyl seats we are about to gingerly put our bare skin on. There are four of us who need to get into the car and, luckily, no car seats to manage. An eight-year-old girl, a four-year-old boy, and two parents: man and wife.
The man is a part-time assistant pastor, continuing his studies at the local state university (Masters in Business Administration), and the woman is his faithful wife: dream-supporter, hair stylist, and creative artist. The man is a staunch German, ruddy-faced with serious eyes. He is my father. The woman is a Mexican with wild hair and make-up, dressed in black. She is my mother.
The anticipation of the heat from the cracked, thin, and balding vinyl seats is only a small price to pay for hope.
We are the very last of the congregants to leave the multi-level church building. My dad leads the choir, prayer meetings, locks up the church building between meetings, and more. Our church is across a bridge. There is a choir rehearsal after the main service, which my dad leads, while my brother kicks and races up and down the rows of chairs and old ladies pretend to pitch fits at both of us. We just tag along summer Sunday afternoons through the religious rituals.
But now we have hope. As we enter the car, I exchange a look with my four-year-old brother. He and I both know we each have a dime hidden in the palms of our hands. He reluctantly shows me his dime, mostly because I ask. He is reassured that he is to complete his own purchase, and I return the favor, showing him my dime. In the front-center of our Ford Pinto, duct tape can’t quite hide the hole near the stick shift; it leaves enough gap to see the pavement beneath us once we are on our way. With the road racing under us and our hands holding sweating dimes, it is enough to forget the burning vinyl—as we anticipate our McDonald’s ice-cream cones.
We are ready. My dad shoots a quick glance over at my mother, who is already prophetically proclaiming the suffering of the hot apartment, the lack of lunch prepared (as it is already close to 2 p.m.), these hungry kids in the backseat looking about to explode, and on and on she goes.
The sleeves of her black dress mat to her arms. She wants ice cream too.
My father looks straight ahead at the road in silence. Finally, the Golden Arches appear, and a shot at purchasing the delicious cone is just three to four blocks from our apartment.
The dime slides out from my palm and rests between my fingers. I see my brother do the same.
Vanilla ice cream cone for a dime. Chocolate ice cream cone for a dime. A swirl cone of both vanilla and chocolate for a dime.
Its reality is almost spoken into existence.
I quickly do speak up, interjecting that we both have dimes. McDonald’s is just a few blocks away; I politely ask if we can stop and grab an ice cream cone. Rich. Articulate. I am a fighter of the hot sun.
My dad doesn’t alter his gaze but leaves his blinker switched on. We change lanes. I see Golden Arches. Mom continues to charge ahead. Beads of sweat collect on her brow.
“We didn’t need to make a time-suck of it and go inside. Did we realize that we hadn’t even had a decent meal yet? Did we realize that money didn’t grow on trees?”
Both of us quickly nod at her insistence. She barely notices. The silence tells her we will eat whatever canned vegetables are put out on the supper table at home. But first, we will ALL go through the drive-thru of our very own Golden Arches.
The line of cars in front of us are obviously thinking about the same slick deal and marketing phenomenon McDonald’s has created in the Bible belt of the Midwest: ten cent cones.
I squish my dime out for my father. He promptly pays. He passes a chocolate cone to my brother, a vanilla cone to me, and a swirl to my Mom. We have our cones.
The swirl of the vanilla ice cream looks endless. We lick the edges; the trickles of melting vanilla can’t be wasted. No one will accuse us of leaving a mess. My insides are almost instantaneously calmed by the coolness I feel in my mouth. My little brother isn’t as practiced, but he has the general idea. Make it last. Don’t let it drip. Enjoy every drop.
She looks calmer too.
Our family of four survives off of a small pastoral stipend, pizza delivery tips, and managing an apartment complex. Both parents work. Extra money is tight, almost non-existent.
But to us two savvy children, the dimes in our sweaty palms are hope, cool and calm balm, and acts of courage. The woman in the black dress needs us to remind her to hope too. And, so every Sunday we ask for 10-cent ice cream cones.
Danielle S. Castillejo grew up in the swirl of a mixed identify, with a German father and a Mexican mother. With her four children in school full time, she applied to graduate school at The Seattle School of Theology and Psychology. Before her second year of graduate school, she was invited to explore her story through a Story Workshop at The Allender Center. She went on to complete Level 1 and 2 of the Certificate in Narrative Focused Trauma Care, and she is enrolled in the Externship for the upcoming year. Since our culture has experienced such an intense ripping and cultural identity crisis, Danielle addresses internalized racism and its effects personally, in her family, and in her community. She encourages other healing practitioners to do the same. Danielle began this process with her MA in Counseling Psychology and studies at The Allender Center. Danielle loves the anticipation of spring and summer in the Pacific Northwest, with the return of long days and sunlight absent in the dark winters. You can easily find Danielle out on a trail or working in her yard. You can also find her online at www.daniellescastillejo.com.
Your story brought back wonderful memories of my own ice cream treats. The weather in the South is so hot in the summer ice cream is a necessity. Our ice cream was homemade in the backyard of relatives after church on Sunday evening. Besides the ice cream, our treat included cousins, fireflies, tall tales, and guitar playing. Precious memories how they linger. Thanks for sharing.
Danielle, I was holding my breath as I read, feeling the penny gripped in my sweaty palm. I was so afraid you would be punished for your hope—or that you might not ask for fear of what might happen. But you were a voice of hope then, even as you are now! What a blessing it is to call you friend. ❤️ Christine