Swisher, 1985

firefly on mailbox

Flatbush Avenue, July 11, 2015

We are evening walkers now, traveling well-worn paths between familiar waypoints. Wilder usually loses his cool after dinner, so we wrap him in the Moby and walk around the neighborhood until he falls asleep. It usually happens within a block or two, which frees us to walk down to Ample Hills where we can satisfy our (suddenly ravenous) hunger for ice cream.

So it went Thursday night. Wilder passed out quickly and the four of us made a beeline for Ample Hills. We arrived and took our place in the infamous line. We ate outside, chatting and trying to keep drips off Wilder’s head while streetlights and fireflies blinked on around us.

ample hills creamery

Eventually, tired of waiting for Charlotte to finish, we started walking home. By now, it was almost totally dark. We took a left on Park Place and, near our front door, we passed a younger couple headed the opposite direction. They were smartly dressed, all red lipstick and anticipation. I recognized them from the last life; they sent me tumbling back even farther through time.

• • • •

Thirty years ago, another four of us ventured out on a summer evening in Swisher, Iowa. Maybe I was on my Big Wheel, maybe not. We took a right coming out of our dead end street, past the spot where I caught the bus to kindergarten, where milkweed grew in the ditch. Then another right, toward the train tracks that cut through the center of town.

Fred’s Grocery is the only place I remember from the center of town. Fred’s was a basic small town grocery store, milk and Wonder bread and beer, a step above convenience stores at the time. Stuff to fill the gaps between trips to Econofoods in Cedar Rapids. There was live bait in back, maybe.

And there was the freezer case. There were orange push pops, rainbow popsicles, ice cream sandwiches, those fudgey cones with nuts on top. Even more, I’m sure. I remember longing over that freezer, bargaining to get just one thing.

The ice cream in the freezer case is essential to the geography of my first small world. It stretched the boundary of home and connected disparate sensations in indelible ways. The feeling of a Big Wheel thumping over railroad crossing will always conjure senses of adventure, anticipation, and desire. Likewise, the summer environment around me—the crunch of gravel, the cicadas, dusk—my earliest sense of security. All of it breezed past Thursday night with the younger couple going out to into their night. To my right, Charlotte nursed the last bites of her waffle cone.

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