Friday, December 29, 2017

"Sundeas On Sunday" By Barbara Anne Kirshner - 2017 Brooklyn Non-Fiction Prize Semi-Finalist




            Family, fun and feasts, those are my childhood memories of Brooklyn. Most Sundays, Dad, Mom, my sister, Judy, and I piled into our Oldsmobile and left the green meadows of Long Island for the brick buildings and well trafficked streets of Brooklyn. These Brooklyn Sundays meant happy family times with Grandma, Grandpa, Dad’s sister, Aunt Rosie, and her family.

            Just getting to Brooklyn was an adventure. From the moment we merged onto hilly Pennsylvania Avenue our stomachs tickled as Dad drove at a good speed over the bumps; it was better than a roller coaster!

            Judy and I always urged Dad to “Go faster!”

            Dad smiled mischievously and pressed the gas pedal. The car bounced sending Judy and me into high-pitched squeals as we bobbed up and down in the back seat.  Mom always intervened with, “Now honey, slow down.  You could lose the whole bottom of the car.”

            Dad complied, though Judy and I pleaded, “Just one more bump…please Dad…one more bump.”
            Sometimes Dad pressed his foot on the gas to give us just one more bump.

            A few turns off Pennsylvania Avenue brought us to Grandma and Grandpa’s walk-up apartment on Montgomery Street. Aunt Rosie and her family lived a few buildings away.  On the corner of Montgomery Street and East New York Avenue was the candy store that Aunt Rosie owned.

            That candy store was a real-life Candyland with its sugary aroma that greeted all who entered. It brimmed with delectable treasures that Aunt Rosie conjured up just for “her nieces” as she told anyone who came into the establishment and gawked as my sister and I gobbled down yet another of Aunt Rosie’s sundaes as we perched on stools at the long counter pretending to be real customers.

Aunt Rosie bubbled in her jolly way, “I have a super-duper sundae just for you two.  No one else can have one of these because I would surely lose money if I made them for customers.”

            Judy and I reveled in our good fortune that only we could have the super-duper sundaes Aunt Rosie created.

            First it started with her roll call of ice creams.

            “Pick any flavors; five scoops a piece.  I have chocolate, vanilla, chocolate chip, strawberry, vanilla fudge, maple walnut, butter pecan, pistachio…”

            The list was mouth-watering, so many to choose from and FIVE scoops a piece!  This was a monumental decision for two little girls and we deliberated intently. 

            Once the decisions were made, Aunt Rosie performed her magic.

First, two big ice cream soda size glasses were placed on the counter, then she filled each glass with our choices of assorted ice creams.  Next, she drizzled syrups.  We would get combinations of chocolate, hot fudge, blueberry or strawberry. A heaping tablespoon of wet walnuts were poured on and topping it off were mounds of fluffy whipped cream, colorful sprinkles and a red maraschino cherry.

            “Here you are…a nice frappe for each of you,” Aunt Rosie chirped as she placed these confections before us and handed over long-stemmed spoons to assist as we mined our way down to the last morsel.
            FRAPPE was the word she used for these gigantic sundaes.

            They were masterpieces.  More beautiful than any picture hanging in a museum.  Judy and I sat mesmerized at the delectable sight.  Aunt Rosie sure had a knack for making a super-duper sundae.

            Occasionally, as we excavated our way through one of these colossal ‘frappes’, customers came in, did a double take and asked for one.

            Aunt Rosie always responded in a kind, yet firm manner, “Oh, no, they’re not for sale.  They’re specially made for my two nieces.”  And she winked at us.  Times like these made us feel extra special.  The customers settled for an ice cream cone, dish of ice cream, or regular-size sundae.

            I watched Aunt Rosie as she crafted the sundaes, secretly wishing I could stand behind the counter with her and assist.

            My wish came true one Sunday when Aunt Rosie turned to me, grinned broadly and asked, “How would you like me to teach you how to make one of those sundaes you like so well?”

            I couldn’t believe it!  She read my mind! I was going to get the chance to stand behind the candy counter with my Aunt Rosie, scoop ice cream and work the syrup pumps.

            I scrambled to her side.  Things certainly looked different from behind the candy counter.  I felt so grown up working side by side with her.

            A gray-haired lady customer lugged shopping bags entered the store. She sat at the counter and said, “Hi Rose, I was on my way home with my groceries when I thought, oh, why not cheat a little.  It’s the weekend and I deserve one of Rosie’s ice cream sundaes.  How about some of that chocolate chip ice cream with hot fudge.  I know I shouldn’t, but I’ll go back on my diet Monday.”  She shook her head and gave a little laugh that made her stomach jiggle.

            “Coming right up, Marge,” Aunt Rosie replied.

She turned to me and said, “Now you’re going to see how it’s done, then when the next customer comes in wanting a sundae, you’ll make it.”

            “Sure thing,” I blurted out.

            Aunt Rosie got right to work.  She showed me how to measure scoops of ice cream into a sundae glass. 
“Now you do this and this.  Make it a good scoop.  We want our customers happy.”

            Marge smiled with delight at Aunt Rosie’s remark and added, “That’s why people come here.  They know that your aunt isn’t chintzy with the ice cream.”
            “Now for the hot fudge.”

            Aunt Rosie pumped luscious streams of hot fudge over and around the chocolate chip ice cream.

            “Give a good amount, but make sure the syrup doesn’t overflow.  There…that’s about right,” she instructed.

            “How about some walnuts, Marge?” Aunt Rosie asked.

            Marge motioned to the big glass jar packed with wet walnuts and said, “Sure, why not.”

            Aunt Rosie spooned a good helping over the sundae. 

“And now for the piece-de-resistance…”

She took a silver canister, shook it and pressing the nozzle sending a swirl of fluffy whipped cream over the hot fudge saying, “You must press lightly, or you’ll make a mess.”

Then she uncovered a jar of maraschino cherries and instructed, “Don’t forget to top off your sundae with a nice red cherry.  It adds a pretty festive color and tastes great too!”

            She turned to Marge and asked, “Any sprinkles?”

            Marge laughed and said, “Oh, no, no, I think that’s quite enough.”

            “Well then, here you are,” Aunt Rosie announced as she placed the masterpiece in front of Marge.

            Marge smiled and said, “This looks beautiful, Rosie. If I had a camera I would take a picture.”

            Aunt Rosie chuckled as she handed a spoon to Marge who dug in and exclaimed, “Ah, tastes great too!”

            “Enjoy,” Aunt Rosie said as she wiped the counter.  She added, “One big part of this job is keeping the counter clean; both the front and back part.  Where there is food there must be cleanliness.”

            I picked up a cloth and helped wipe up.  Aunt Rosie hadn’t spilled, not even a drop while preparing that sundae, but I helped clean all the same.

            A few people purchased newspapers, candy and magazines.  Aunt Rosie showed me how to work the big, ebony cash register and how to count change.

            Marge gobbled up the sundae, then dug into her wallet.  She clinked some quarters onto the counter as a tip and departed with the final comment, “That was great!  Now I must run around the block a few times, but I’ll be back for another real soon.  Bye Rosie.” Then she turned to me and added, “Learn well from your aunt, sweetie.  Maybe next time you’ll make a sundae for me.”  And with that she hoisted her shopping bags under each arm and tottered out.

            Aunt Rosie turned to me with a twinkle in her eyes and asked, “So, you want to try the next time someone comes in and orders a sundae?”

            “You mean it?  I can make the next one?” I exclaimed.

            “Sure, you’re a quick learner.  You concentrated on everything I showed you.  I’m sure you’re ready.” 

            The jingling bells on the doorknob announced the entrance of more customers. A lady with two little girls in tow came into the candy store.  One girl was big enough to climb onto the stool by herself though the mother had to lift the younger girl.  She sat on the stool between the girls as she asked, “What would you like girls?”

            The older one didn’t hesitate.  “A chocolate malted.”

            The younger one beamed with delight and declared, “A sundae!”

            “What kind of ice cream, Rachel?” the mother asked.

            This was a big decision for such a little girl. Her eyebrows squiggled into a frown as she thought, then they arched when she announced, “A chocolate sundae!”

            “OK, a chocolate sundae. Do you want chocolate sauce or hot fudge?”

            Little Rachel’s eyebrows squiggled again at having to make yet another decision.

            “How about chocolate sauce and whipped cream?” the mom suggested.

            Little Rachel grinned at the prospect and shouted, “Chocolate sauce and whipped cream!”

            The mother looked at Aunt Rosie and me, then said, “I guess we’ll have one chocolate malted and one sundae with chocolate sauce and chocolate ice cream.  Boy, my kids sure love chocolate!  Oh, and I guess I’ll have a vanilla ice cream cone.”

            Aunt Rosie smiled and said, “Coming right up.”

            She turned to me and in a business-like voice said, “Annie, please make the sundae while I take care of the malted and cone.”

            Excitement mixed with nervousness rushed over me. This was my first big chance to work beside my Aunt Rosie.  I whispered, “Thank you” adding in my best adult voice, “Coming right up.”

            I went to work on the sundae, just like Aunt Rosie taught me.  I set a sundae glass on the counter, measured two scoops of chocolate ice cream into the glass, then pressed the lever that read chocolate allowing the sauce to pour around and over the ice cream like Aunt Rosie had done with the hot fudge. 

 After that, I shook the whipped cream canister and lightly pressed the nozzle sending a billowing cloud covering the rim of the glass.  A big, red maraschino cherry added decorative color and I was about to place the sundae before little Rachel when Aunt Rosie asked, “Some sprinkles?”

            The mother turned to her little girl who grinned and bellowed, “Yeah! Yeah!”

            Aunt Rosie nodded a silent signal that said, “Go ahead.”

            I spooned rainbow sprinkles over the white puffs.  My masterpiece was complete. Secretly, I was proud of myself for measuring just right and not making a mess.  I placed the sundae before little Rachael, handed her one of those long-handled spoons and said, “Here you are.”

            The child’s eyes beamed as she jabbed at the mounds of whipped cream.

The mother warned, “Now honey, take your time; don’t gobble up the whole sundae in one swallow.” 

Then she turned to me and said, “You made such a pretty sundae.”

“Thank you,” I said and glanced at Aunt Rosie who winked her approval.  I felt like a real adult working side by side with my aunt.

            The mother and little girls oohed and aahed their way through the treats. When they licked the last drop, the mother paid the tab. Little Rachael shouted, “Mmm…Yummy…Can we come back tomorrow, Mommy?  More sundaes!”

            The mother smiled and said, “My girls really liked their Sunday treats.  Thank you…” and with that she placed a tip on the counter then led the two little girls out the door amongst exclamations of joy.

            “Annie, you did a great job.  I knew you were a quick study!” 

Aunt Rosie gave me a great big bear hug, handed me the tip left on the counter and said, “Here…you take it…your first tip.”

            I felt that I couldn’t take the whole amount; after all, Aunt Rosie made two out of the three desserts.  But she insisted, “No.  How about you take the whole tip just this once to celebrate your first customer.  But for any other time that you help me make more sundaes on Sunday we’ll split the tips.  O.K.?”

            “Thanks, Auntie,” was all I could say, but followed up with a grateful hug for having faith in me.

            In time, I learned to whip up not only sundaes, but malts and ice cream sodas.

            I continued helping whenever we visited on Sundays, until one day when Aunt Rosie confided that she was selling the candy store and moving to Maryland where my uncle landed a new job.

            Shock and disappointment took hold. No more candy store!  That meant no more special “frappes” for Judy and me and no more working behind the candy counter with Aunt Rosie…no more making sundaes on Sunday!

            Aunt Rosie must have read my mind, because she hugged me and said, “Even though we can’t work together here at the candy store anymore, I expect you and Judy to come visit me.  There’s lots to do in Maryland and we’re only half an hour from Washington D.C.  When you visit, we’ll take you to the White House, the Capitol and to the Smithsonian.  Don’t be sad, Annie, we’ll make a point of being together even if there’s no more candy store.”  Somehow, I mustered up a smile, though I was fighting back big, bulging tears. 

            We did visit Aunt Rosie and her family in Maryland.  She kept her promise and took us to Washington D. C.  We got to see the White House, the Capitol, the Smithsonian and much more, but Sundays were never quite the same without the Brooklyn candy store.

            Now that I am an adult with a niece of my own, I regale her with stories of the roller coaster ride that was Pennsylvania Avenue, of Aunt Rosie, the Montgomery Street corner candy store and the super-duper sundaes called ‘frappes’ that Auntie made just for me and her mom.

Sometimes my niece, Kim, and I reenact my childhood Sundays by lining the kitchen counter with assorted ice creams, syrups, wet walnuts, whipped cream and of course red maraschino cherries and maybe even rainbow sprinkles.  We take big soda glasses and make personal sundaes.

I promised my niece one day we will visit Brooklyn and the special place that filled my childhood with joyful memories.