They are in Corpus Christi to visit, and upon their arrival, Mom declared that she had done no shopping because she didn’t know what they would want since they had a baby now so they would need to go to the store. Fine, no problem. They are now at HEB with Grant in his car seat riding in the grocery cart. Dad has come with them, but he has wandered off.
HEB has changed a lot since the man’s childhood–they have a fresh-tortilla-making station where workers put hand-made dough on the turn tables, then take finished tortillas off to stuff them into bags. Each bag is labeled with its date and time to show its freshness. There are also new fresh food stations and a widely expanded deli. In Texas, HEB is unafraid of Walmart and competes on every metric from price to selection to quality of fresh items and even to toys.
They are near the refrigerator section, and their basket is about half full. “Let’s see. The HEB briskets should be right around here.”
“Brisket, huh,” says the man.
Mom looks at Lauren. “Has anyone fed you brisket yet?”
Lauren smiles. “I had some the first time I came down. We went to a barbecue place.”
“Oh that’s right,” Mom says. Mom opens a refrigerator door and fishes out a small brisket. “Well, listen, we don’t have a big smoker like your hubby’s brother does. We don’t have a smoker at all. But these briskets that HEB makes are pretty darn good anyway.”
“Yeah?” says Lauren.
“You just put them in a pan, add about a cup of water to the pan, cover it all in aluminum foil, and then heat it up at two seventy-five for about an hour and a half. And some of them, anyway, come out as good as stuff as you’ll get at the fast food barbecue places. And then you have meat for days, too.”
“Sounds good,” says Lauren. She pushes the door shut as Mom steps away from it.
“In fact, it wouldn’t surprise me if some of those places are just supplied by HEB,” Mom says.
Grant throws his arms in the air and spits out his binky. Lauren motions with her head to the man. “Can you put that back in?”
The man grabs the binky and leans over to Grant, but Grant isn’t having it.
“Does he need to eat?” Mom says.
“Probably,” says Lauren. “And it’s close to bedtime, so he’s probably gonna get fussy.”
Mom turns the cart back toward the front of the store and avoids several people and carts moving toward them. “Well, I’m done. Do you mind finding your father? I’ll meet you at the checkout line.”
“Sure,” says the man. “Any idea where he is?”
Mom shrugs. “He didn’t tell me, but knowing him, he’s either found a bookstand or he’s looking at the ice cream. Gotta have his ice cream.”
“Oh right,” says the man. He turns to Lauren. “Let’s go check the freezer aisle.” Then he turns back to Mom. “See you in a few.”
Sure enough, Dad is in the freezer section staring into the ice cream displays. He wears a button down shirt, blue jeans, suspenders, and black slip-one dress shoes.
“Hey, Dad. We’re all ready, and Grant is hungry.”
“Oh, is he?” Dad says. “Where is the little bugger?”
“With Mom,” the man says. “She’s meeting us at the checkout. I didn’t want to haul his car seat over here. Are you ready?”
Dad turns back to the ice cream freezer. “I think so. Just about.”
They stand there for several long moments while Dad stares. Finally, he opens the freezer and pulls out a large carton of vanilla ice cream.
“What do you think of this?” he says.
“It’s vanilla ice cream,” says the man. “Let’s go.” He turns to head out, but Dad does not–Dad turns back to the freezer, puts the ice cream back in, and says, “I don’t know.”
“You don’t know what?” the man says. “Vanilla’s your favorite.”
Dad turns toward them and says, “Well, that’s the thing. It used to be that vanilla was just vanilla. But look at all these.” He turns back to the freezer. “We have homemade vanilla. Classic vanilla. French villa. Vanilla royale. Vanilla bean. Light vanilla. Slow-churned vanilla. Premium vanilla.”
“Uh, ok,” says the man.
“Well, what if I pick the wrong one?” Dad says with a smile.
“How could you possibly pick the wrong one?” the man says. “Just pick one and let’s go.”
“Do you know anything about vanilla bean, Lauren?” Dad says. “You used to work at an ice cream parlor, right?”
Lauren smiles back at him. “I like vanilla bean better than vanilla.”
“So okay. I don’t think I’ve had vanilla bean. What makes it different?” Dad says.
“Oh for crying out loud,” the man says.
“Now hold on there, Son,” Dad says. “I’m the only one who eats the vanilla. So once I pick this, I’m gonna have to live with it for a month or so. And if I don’t like it, it’s gonna get dumped out in the sink and your mother will be really mad about me leaving yet another ice cream container until it was freezer-burned.”
The man looks down and rubs his temples. “This can’t be real.”
“Vanilla bean has tiny flecks of the actual vanilla bean,” says Lauren. “I think it has a bit more of a natural flavor.”
Dad nods and nudges his glasses a bit further back on his nose. “Okay, now that’s interesting. Because of course, I grew up on just plain old vanilla. There was only one. I suspect it wasn’t ‘natural,’ and since I like it so much, I’m a little concerned I might not like something that is more natural.”
“Well, then you should definitely get homemade vanilla,” says Lauren.
“But I could be missing out,” Dad says. “Maybe vanilla bean is the crown jewel of all vanillas.”
Just then, Dad’s cell phone rings. It’s a flip phone. He whips it open. “Hello, Barbie doll,” he says.
The man can hear his mom’s voice from the phone all the way from where he’s standing.
“Where in the world are you?”
“In the freezer section trying to decide on ice cream.”
“Is your son there?”
“Who, Gordon? Yes, he’s here.”
“And you still haven’t decided?”
Dad rocks back and forth, a smile on his face. “Well, there are about eight flavors of vanilla. There’s a lot to think about.”
“We are nearly done checking out, and there’s a hungry baby fussing here. So tell your son and daughter-in-law to come meet me, and then we’ll take the groceries home and come back and get you.”
“Well, I don’t think that’s necessary,” Dad says. “I can make up my mind.”
“Like hell you can,” says Mom. She hangs up.
Dad turns to them. “Well, we really have to make a decision. What do you think, Gordon?”
The man sighs. “I couldn’t care less.”
“I think you should pray about it, Dad,” Lauren says.
Dad smiles again. “Well, now, that’s real helpful. We’re under pressure to leave. Gordon has no ideas, and Lauren wants to fast and pray.” He throws his hands out. “‘No, no, dear. You go on home. Come back tomorrow after I’ve fasted twenty-four hours and God has told me what ice cream to get.'”
Finally, Dad turns. He opens the freezer. He grabs the Blue Bell Homemade Vanilla–the same carton the man saw in his freezer his entire young life.
“Let’s go,” says Dad.
“After you,” says the man.