banana pudding, cruise ships, and cookies

Yesterday, for the first time in my life, I made banana pudding.

I’ve eaten it many, many times – but never made it.

It happened like this: I went to Harris Teeter for some lunch supplies. I got gefilte fish and matza (it’s Passover). Then I went to Bucky’s Produce in Spencer and got a jar of honey and three small heads of green cabbage (one for coleslaw; two for steaming).

On the way out, I looked at the bananas. They only had a few. Some were too green to eat and some were getting black. I got the ones that were getting black.

Bucky, the owner – an elderly man who sits in a chair in the middle of his store and talks with customers, said, “You can have those.”

“I don’t mind paying,” I said.

“If you had a million dollars, I’m sure you’d give me ten,” he said.

“Yes, I would,” I said.

“So you can have ‘em. If you don’t take ‘em, she’ll make banana pudding tomorrow,” he said, pointing at his wife, who stood behind the cash register.

“I don’t want to stop you from getting banana pudding,” I said.

Bucky’s wife spoke up and settled the matter.

“Take all you want,” she said. “I’ve decided not to make it.”

I grabbed four large bananas.

“Here’s what you do,” Bucky said. “Stop at the store on your way home and get some pudding and vanilla wafers. It won’t take you ten minutes.”

And then he said it again.

“It won’t take ten minutes.”

So I went by the grocery store – again.

I got a container of organic vanilla yogurt, some reduced calorie Cool Whip, and a box of Nilla Wafers.

It took less than five minutes to make, and it was delicious.

Today, I got a little over-confident – and thought I’d make cookies.

Lately, I’ve been buying lots of cookies at a bakery – big cookies with lots of good stuff inside – and taking them to my customers as little gifts of appreciation. Sometimes I get donuts. Sometimes fudge. I probably spent about $80 last week on goodies.

It’s well worth it. This is the best money I spend on my business, I’m sure. But I thought perhaps I could make my own and save some money. I could also have the pleasure of knowing I made them myself. A gift less from the wallet and more from the heart.

And, my wife told me that cookies are easy and fast – which is why so many people make them.

I got a recipe for cookies that contain all the stuff I like: chocolate chips, walnuts, oatmeal, and raisins. I went shopping.

Suffice it to say, I’ve spent a lot more than ten minutes on the cookies.

Next time, I’ll leave the butter out for a few hours so that it’s really, really soft. And, I won’t have to make a late night trip to Walmart in order to buy a mixer.

How did they taste? I don’t know. Still haven’t gotten that far yet. The dough is in the refrigerator now. In a few minutes, I’ll put them in the oven and find out.

So why the sweet tooth all of a sudden? I have no idea. I’ve never been a big consumer of sugar. Not a big eater of dessert. And here I am, hopping from one bakery to another. Mostly I’m getting gifts, but I also have a few tastes of my own.

Am I older than I think I am? I learned years ago that elderly folks seem to enjoy sweets.

The summer I turned 18, just before starting college, I worked on the Cunard Adventurer, a cruise ship, as a bus boy.

This was the hardest job I’ve ever had in my life. We served two sittings at breakfast, two sittings at lunch, two sittings ad dinner, and a midnight buffet.

In the few free hours I had, in the afternoon, instead of touring the beautiful Caribbean Islands, I got on my bed and slept.

We were allowed to eat whatever we wanted, including dessert – as many as we wanted. And the food was fantastic. I gained fifteen pounds that summer.

I realized, that summer of 1974, that we Americans can be a little soft (even though we consider this to be a country of hard work and long hours). There were three of us from Salisbury working in the dining room on that ship. We were the only Americans.

The guy who hired us said that Americans never stay long, which is why he would not buy us our plane ticket home unless we stayed the entire summer. That was the deal.

About two weeks into it, I wrote my dad and asked if he could send me the money for a plane ticket home. He told me to stick it out.

We did get to go home a few weeks early. There was an engine fire on the Cunard Ambassador, the Adventurer’s sister ship, and all the passengers merged onto our ship. A week later, there was an engine fire on the Adventurer. We were pulled to shore by a tug boat and dry docked. The company paid for our ticket home.

Passengers got first priority for flights off the island of Curacao, so we waited there for a week. During that week, I met a guy from New York who stole baby parrots out of nests and raised them in a shoebox in his house. I bought one for fifteen dollars and smuggled it through customs in the pocket of my sports coat. I named it Poppy.

Poppy liked to sit on my head.

One night, in the middle of the night, the family cat pushed Poppy’s cage off the kitchen counter and onto the floor. The cat got the bird out and killed it. I found out about this in when my father woke me in the night and told me what had happened.

I remember getting home and playing in a tennis tournament almost immediately. I still had sea legs. I lost a first round match to a guy who I had never lost to. He was so excited that he hugged me after the match. I remember not being in the mood for that hug.

I remember the breakfast shift. I went from table to table with the coffee pot and Danish tray. It was there that I noticed that elderly folks were keen for the sweet stuff.

I also saw this in my parents. My father always enjoyed a piece of cake after dinner or a bit of ice cream later on in the evening. But as he grew older, he had these and also kept a supply of chocolate in the house (for himself and visitors).

When he was near the end of life and not eating much, I used to get him cheesecake. He always loved cheesecake. It had a lot of calories and he would eat it. It was when he started to refuse the cheesecake that I knew my father was in the last days of his life.

And although I don’t see myself as elderly – could this be happening to me? Or have I just been being hard on myself in the past and am finally giving in to a bit of self-indulgence that’s been there all along?

Oh well. Time to pre-heat the oven.