Mama used to read Country Mouse, City Mouse to me and my brother when we were kids. That’s the fable about the country mouse who visits the city mouse and becomes so scared by the threats in the city that the country mouse returns home, never to explore anything outside of its house again.
While I didn’t (and don’t) fear city situations, as a child I easily identified as the country mouse. Unabashedly prideful, I claimed my frog-in-the-pocket, earthworm-digging-up country mouse position. In contrast, when Uncle, Aunt, and Cousin visited from their far-away, cosmopolitan life, they represented my city mice family. Their rare visits promised all things new and exciting.
On one of their visits, I spent the afternoon with them at the local Dairy Queen restaurant, which was about 10 miles from my home. The local Dairy Queen was a very special place for me. It was only about twice a school year that my mother would surprise me and my brother when she picked us up after school by saying, “I think today we’ll get burgers from Dairy Queen for dinner.” After burgers, I would further be treated to a vanilla ice cream cone.
What afternoon, sitting with Uncle, Aunt, and Cousin on the red Dairy Queen bench, I didn’t eat a vanilla ice cream cone. Instead, Uncle and Aunt ordered me and Cousin a banana split.
Did you read that correctly, Reader?
Let me restate it in case you missed it.
That afternoon, sitting with Uncle, Aunt, and Cousin on the red Dairy Queen bench, I didn’t eat a vanilla ice cream cone. Instead, Uncle and Aunt ordered me and Cousin a BANANA! SPLIT!
“Whipped cream and nuts?” the Diary Queen attendant asked.
And Cousin, totally familiar with what, to me, felt like a city mouse option answered, “Yes! And extra cherries,” she added, “because we’re sharing!”
I, like a country mouse, was still thinking: BANANA! SPLIT!
When the dessert was placed in front of us, I realized I had never seen bananas split so lovely, the halves separated into opposite ends of the boat-shaped, plastic dish with three scoops of ice cream between them and a total of three different toppings—strawberry, chocolate, pineapple—on the ice cream scoops. I followed Cousin’s lead, digging in with my red plastic spoon, watching as the flavored toppings slowly swirled one into the other to create an ice cream palette.
At some point during that dessert-eating, Aunt or Uncle magically produced a wrapped box, a birthday gift containing my first introduction to designer clothing. Aunt and Uncle had gifted me my very own pair of Jordache jeans.
Even though I knew all about expensive Jordache jeans, I also knew my parents would not—could not—spend the money to buy the designer jeans. As I looked at those Jordache, Aunt offered, “Your mother told me you wanted a pair, so we asked her if we could get them for you.”
I sat smug and content in the Dairy Queen that afternoon, having tasted a piece of city mouse life. But being a country mouse, I knew I didn’t really need the jeans, and I also knew that Mama could probably make my own banana splits at home. My warm memory of that afternoon doesn’t stem directly from the material things I gained. My memory is sweet knowing that a family bond between city mice and country mice is strong enough to bridge the two diverse worlds, and it only took a visit to Dairy Queen to prove it.