Monday, October 12, 2009

Family Traditions, or, Whatever Happened to the TripleNickleStickleDoublePopper?

About this time every year, my blood starts to rise. Like a dog shredding a newspaper and turning in circles, I nest. Maybe it’s the haunting of my ancient Celtic roots, stocking the cellar with cabbages and filling the beds with fresh hay. Or maybe it’s the knowledge that I’m going to be rained into this nest for the next few months so I’d better make it comfortable. Or perhaps it’s just the quality of the autumn light that stirs my spirit.

Whatever it is, the most important things in my life seem to happen in autumn. We just celebrated (another) wedding anniversary – of course we knew two such stubborn people would stick that one. And, as I write, I’m messing around with my husband’s birthday dinner (we like to cram as much celebration into a single week as possible).

So once again, here we are. It’s October and I’m thinking about long-standing traditions, the kind families polish with sentimentality and pass down across generations. Where do we always take the first day of school picture? (On the front steps because I forgot the camera on the first first day and he had to wait there until I rushed back to get it. Thus are traditions born.) When can we play the first game of Hide in the Dark? (Third week of September, after the solstice, before the time change.) When will we come home and smell the first pumpkin pie? (Mid-October, around Dad’s birthday. Today, in fact.) When do we finally turn the heat on? (October 15th, come hell or high water. Even if I’m wrapped in a blanket on the 10th.)

This year, as I hunt down the furniture polish and change the bag in the vacuum cleaner, I realize that some of my own family’s traditions – the ones I grew up with, not the ones my husband and I created together – are now endangered species. My sisters and I buried our mother in 2007 and, with her departure, we became the keepers of memories. Because we live far apart, I’m afraid we haven’t stewarded the memories as well as we could have.

That’s why I’m worried about the TripleNickelStickleDoublePopper.

If my sister is reading this, she’ll know what I’m talking about . Nobody else will have a clue. I know this is true because I Google’d it.

The TripleNickelStickleDoublePopper (aka the TNSDP) was an autumn classic in our north Georgia bungalow. All my father had to do was say the word and the three of us would line up like well-tuned robots, ready to go.

The TNSDP was a special kind of ice cream bar, found only in amusement parks and county fairs. It was a cross between a square and an oblong, creamy vanilla ice cream coated in thick chocolate and rolled in salty chopped peanuts. The whole thing was skewered on a wooden popsicle stick. If you go to a fair or carnival today (see my September 25 post), you’ll find something that’s a little bit like it, but it’s only a ghost of the real thing, a teasing whisper of what once was.

An honest-to-goodness TNSDP is made on the spot – they don’t come out of a box, frozen so hard you could demolish a brick wall with them. They emerged from a little ice cream parlor on wheels that graced the Hamilton County Fair in Chattanooga every autumn.

And, no, that wasn’t their real name. That was their name only in our family. I have no idea what the real name of these heavenly concoctions was. Anything I’ve seen since childhood has been a weak imitation. There are things at the grocery store now, ice cream in a cone with chocolate and peanuts ( -- don’t go there if you’re hungry) – Drumsticks I think they’re called, but they’re not the real thing. And they still sell something called a Nutty Buddy at the fair, but it, too, is a weak second.

Why my family knew them as TripleNickelStickleDoublePoppers, I can’t tell you. The name probably came from some wry encounter my dad had at some time in his life, but it’s lost to us now.

That’s what I mean about being stewards of the traditions.

I’d give anything on earth for another hour with my father so I could ask him where he got that name, along with a million other questions . . . How did he come up with our nicknames: Rabbit, Skiels, and The Calf. Why were summer trousers known as ice cream britches. And why was it that we never lived in a house that didn’t have a basement or wasn’t on a bus line. I might need more than an hour.

I would definitely want enough time to hear a few more of his Spoonerisms ( The man was a master at worning a turd.

No matter how much time I could bargain with my father, it wouldn’t be enough. There never is. And no matter how many of those lost family traditions I tried to recapture, I’d leave some out. So maybe that’s why, every fall, I start reliving them – the ones I brought with me, and the ones I’ve helped build.

Family traditions may be silly, limiting, short-sighted, and, quite often, embarrassing. But I believe they’re precious. After all, if I don’t tell you about the TripleNickelStickleDoublePopper, who will?

And, now, in honor of the late (and much loved) Herman Wilson, I will get back to my nesting, dig out the pumpkin pie recipe, and wish you a fond farewell as I say, “Yie Ball.”*

* If you’re from the South, you’ve figured it out. If you’re “not from around here,” it’s Spoonerism for “Bye, y’all.” Rest in peace, Daddy. Or, if you must, pest in reach.

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