Every time I receive a wedding invitation, I envision the unique personalities of the two people about to wed. I think of what they love, what they share, what makes them laugh. Then I go to the store and buy them all the same thing: an old-fashioned ice-cream maker.
Every couple's response is the same. First, they look puzzled, then they recover to utter a quick pair of "thank yous." Then they set the thing aside like a book opened at Christmas amid a mountain of toys.
The newlyweds will head off on their honeymoon, then return to settle into the day-to-day business of being husband and wife. They'll unpack the ice-cream maker and set it on a closet shelf or in the garage and forget about it. Time will pass, and soon the wedding silver will need polishing, the toaster will fill with crumbs, and somehow life will seem all too ordinary. Then one of them will think of ice cream!
My husband and I were just such a couple. We opened an ice-cream machine at our wedding reception. The giver was a purist, selecting a model with a genuine oaken bucket, a large-capacity tin, and a hand crank. She grinned knowingly as we labored to disguise our surprise and managed a pair of hesitant smiles. We never took the machine out of its box to appreciate the bucket's polished-oak staves or the perfect fit of the wide paddle in the tin. Instead, it was quickly crated with the other gifts and shipped to our new home.
After a carefree honeymoon, we settled into the predictable lifestyle of two newly-married, working professionals. We negotiated day-to-day duties, deciding who did the laundry, bought the groceries, cooked the dinner, cut the grass. Within months, the structure and routine of married life were in place. We purchased two rooms of furniture, six potted plants, a lawn mower, and a dog. Life was good.
Then it happened. We had our first fight. In the long-established form of my youth, I slammed the bedroom door, threw myself on the bed, and cried. My husband went out to play basketball. Hours slipped by, and without the attention that I'd expected to elicit from my rookie spouse, I quickly grew tired of crying and being alone. Finally, he returned, carrying a paper bag. I hoped it held flowers. Instead, he pulled out a bulky, rectangular sack, which he laid with a disappointing thud on the counter.
"What's that?" I asked, keeping an angry edge to my voice.
"Salt," he answered. "Don't we have an ice-cream maker someplace?"
"In the garage," I said, stingy with my words. He brought the box into the living room and sat it on the floor, obviously as an invitation for me to come and help. But I didn't. I shifted plates and pots, pretending to cook dinner. All the while, I was watching to see if this city boy I'd married could figure out how to assemble a machine he'd never used in his life.
He got as far as screwing the wooden handle onto the iron rod. After that he sat back and scratched his head, a scene that forced a smile across my face.
"You ever use one of these things?" he yelled toward the kitchen.
"Yeah," was all I said.
It turned out that ours was a model almost identical to the one I grew up with, so it took only minutes for me to assemble the pieces and punctuate the task with a satisfying glare of superiority.
"Do we have all the stuff we need to make some?" he wondered.
"Yeah. Take this outside. Hammer some ice. I'll make the cream," I said, loving the chance to direct this technically-awkward, though handsome man, whom I was mad at for something.
With everything assembled, I began to turn the crank, relieved by the rattle and slush of churning ice and salt. "I'll take it from here," my husband said, kneeling beside me and placing his hand on the crank next to mine. I let him take over. He smiled as his arm flew. The look on his face reminded me of my childhood days.
Often, amid the chaotic summers that vibrated with the energy of five school-free children, my mother would say, "Let's make ice cream!" Taking turns at the crank united us as a team with a mission. The process of turning a few basic ingredients into ice cream was a magic that never lost its power to delight.
An hour later, his smile was a sweat-glazed grimace and the hasty strokes had turned laborious and slow.
"It's getting hard - it must be done," he gasped.
And I suspect it was. However, something made me pretend to give it a test turn then say, "Another 10 minutes."
The ice cream was the best I'd ever eaten. Our anger, cooled by time, task, and a frosty dessert, retreated. Along with it went the energy needed to sustain the dispute. Suddenly, our diverse opinions seemed nothing more than a natural variation in personal tastes, as unworthy of battle as different flavors of ice cream.
Unfortunately, we didn't always make ice cream when we had a disagreement. Like many couples, getting angry, arguing our positions, and reaching a series of small settlements became something of a routine. There's a lot of waste in such a way of life. But until we experienced a major emotional jolt, we didn't see that.
Months after our first fight, my husband was in a plane crash. Although all the people on board survived, the day marked a turning point. We didn't disagree for a long time after that. Instead, we moved into a new level of maturity in our marriage. We decided that life needed fewer routines and less strife, and some unspoken logic dictated that it wouldn't hurt to have a little more ice cream.
In the spirit of our new philosophy, we threw a party, announcing to our guests that they had to make the dessert - homemade ice cream. Some of our friends were novices, believing that the whole thing started with a carton. Others couldn't wait to start cranking. Everyone agreed that it was a delicious way to have fun.
The making of ice cream bonded us as a group, and soon everyone who came that night, even the bachelors, bought ice-cream makers. Every get-together became a new theme in ice cream. We tried peach, peppermint, chocolate, blueberry, and even an experimental cinnamon-honey.
After a decade of making ice cream, our machine broke. But with a young child and a new baby, our hands were too busy to crank out desserts. I felt like a deserter when I bought an electric model. But our family had doubled and it didn't seem an unreasonable to make use of a modem appliance and a power source.
It's been 22 years and three machines since we opened that oddest of wedding gifts. I'm heading out to buy another one - for a wedding present, of course. I know the couple will be surprised and puzzled, but I'm used to that reaction. Eventually, they will discover, as we did, that there are few things in day-to-day life that can't be improved with ice cream.