That’s what I learned recently when I took my 4-year-old granddaughter, Chloe, to McNulty’s Ice Cream Parlor in Miller Place, New York, for a lesson in how to eat an ice cream cone.
Chloe and I have eaten ice cream together many times, whether it has been at a store like McNulty’s or at the ice cream truck that makes my house a regular stop on its appointed rounds through the neighborhood.
(God, now I can’t get that annoying jingle out of my head!)
But the two of us had always eaten our ice cream out of cups, which is nice and relatively neat but not very challenging for those hardy souls who like to risk a spectacular cleaning bill while licking, slurping or otherwise inhaling a cone before the ice cream drips all over your hands, your clothes, your shoes, your seat, the table, the floor or, if you are not careful, everything and everyone within a radius of approximately a hundred yards.
“I want a cone, Poppie,” Chloe said as we entered McNulty’s and perused the display case, which was stocked with so many varieties that it was a veritable explosion of colors.
“What flavor, Chloe?” I asked.
“Strawberry, please, Poppie,” Chloe answered politely.
I passed her order to server Kelsey Reynolds, 18, who inquired, “One scoop or two?”
I looked down at Chloe, who was holding my hand. She looked up at me and beamed. It melted my heart faster than a bowl of sherbet during a heat wave.
“Two,” I said.
Kelsey handed me the ice cream cone equivalent of the Empire State Building. I conjured a mess of immense proportions. That likely possibility doubled when I ordered a similarly lofty cone of vanilla soft serve for myself.
“May I have some napkins?” I asked Kelsey, who gave me four. “We’re going to need a lot more than that,” I said.
Kelsey nodded knowingly and gave me another dozen.
“Enjoy!” she said as Chloe and I headed to a table, where we sat down and commenced cone consumption.
I tried to impress upon Chloe the importance of eating her ice cream around the edges before it began its slow descent onto the cone and, immediately thereafter, her fingers.
Unfortunately, she didn’t heed this brilliant advice. Also unfortunately, neither did I. My soft serve, temporarily neglected as I was giving a lecture in the fine if somewhat sticky art of eating an ice cream cone, began to seep under my fingernails.
“Do you need more napkins?” asked Kelsey, who saw that the lesson was not going well and came over to offer assistance.
And not a moment too soon. That’s because Chloe took a bite out of the bottom of her cone, causing a virtual Niagara of strawberry ice cream to pour onto the table, as well as the sleeve of her pink sweater. At least the colors blended.
Then she placed her cone on the saturated blanket of napkins that covered the table and asked to try my cone, with strikingly similar results.
I knew I had failed completely when Chloe looked at my cream-covered digits and declared, “Poppie is sloppy!”
Kelsey must have agreed because she brought over even more napkins.
“Don’t worry,” she said sympathetically as I mopped up the tabletop, “I’ve seen worse.”
But the lesson was ultimately successful because Chloe and I had a sweet time. It took a while, but we both finished our cones.
After we washed our hands in the bathroom, it was time to go.
“Thank you,” I said to Kelsey on the way out.
“You’re very welcome,” she replied with a bright smile. “Next time you and Chloe come in, call ahead. I want to make sure we have enough napkins.”
— Jerry Zezima
Jerry Zezima, who served on the faculty at the 2010 EBWW, writes a humor column for the Stamford Advocate that is nationally syndicated through the Tribune News Service and regularly appears in the Huffington Post. He’s written three books, Grandfather Knows Best, Leave it to Boomer and The Empty Nest Chronicles. He has won six humor-writing awards from the National Society of Newspaper Columnists and was named EBWW’s Humor Writer of the Month twice. He is the past president of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.