“What’s the difference between ice-cream and gelato?”, asked my sister.
The waitress took a furtive look around, and whispered, “Do you want to know what the owner says?”
My sister and I quickly nodded.
The waitress continued, “The difference is gelato has less ice and is over-priced!”
My 91-year-old mom, my sister and I had popped by an Italian café on Erie Street for my birthday. It was my idea. I had ventured there a few years back in favour of gelato over birthday cake. Yet, when we entered the café, it looked different from my recollection. I wondered if we were even in the right place. A soccer game blared on a big screen TV. And, the rectangular metal display case for gelato was…empty!
The waitress, upon seeing my disappointment, explained that the case was being cleaned. There was still gelato, but it was in the deep freeze cooler and too cold to be served. Except that one flavour was available. Nutella!
We were unsure if we wanted it, so the waitress offered to bring us a free sample of the hazelnut chocolate Nutella flavour. It was my birthday and I was determined that nothing would ruin my day. I would have Nutella gelato and be happy!
I thought back to earlier in the day. It had been raining and I can’t stand rain. It stopped raining and I decided to take photos of the still-wet flowers.
Make lemonade out of lemons. When the sun broke through the cloudy sky later, I was even happier! Can’t let the rain ruin a birthday!
Now, at the café, I expected the waitress to bring three spoonfuls of the gelato. To my surprise, she brought out a regular-sized dish with three spoons! We all dug in. Mom liked it, but it wasn’t what she was hoping for. She didn’t want chocolate today. My sister liked it and it was fine by me, but I secretly preferred coconut.
We got up to leave when the owner, in a long white apron, rushed up to us. “There’s gelato for you in the back. Any flavour you want. I can get it for you!”
Mom chose roasted almond, I was delighted there was coconut and my sister remained pleased with the Nutella.
We moved seats to a window table where the sunlight was streaming in, as far away from the TV as possible.
I ordered a latte. “Do you have vanilla lattes?”
I would have a regular latte and be happy. “It’s not a problem, I’ll still have a latte.”
My sister just wanted a coffee. The waitress asked, “Expresso or Americano?”
“What? What’s Americano?”
“You know, like Tim Horton’s!”
“Yes, I’ll take that. With cream.”
“We don’t have cream. Only milk.”
“What!! No cream?”
The waitress said, “Well, guys, I’m really striking out with everything for you today. So sorry about that!”
We told her it was okay.
The waitress served me my latte. My plain latte.
When my sister received her Americano coffee, she spooned some of Mom’s almond gelato—she couldn’t finish her portion—into her coffee. To whiten it.
I copied suit, but with my own coconut gelato. When in Rome…
I then took a big gulp of my latte. I inhaled the coconut into my windpipe and started choking. I grabbed Mom’s glass of water and drank from it, hoping to clear the passage. My voice sounded high and squeaky, like no air was passing through. I made the universal sign of distress: clutching at my throat with both hands. All three of us women are nurses. But, we just laughed. I hoped I wouldn’t have to count on them for the Heimlich maneuver. And, I hoped my voice wouldn’t stay like this forever.
I excused myself to visit the washroom. I had learned in CPR class to follow a choking victim if they get up and go to the washroom. But, my voice had returned. I just needed to use the facilities. A large hand-written sign on the Gentlemen’s door read “Out of Service”. I wasn’t surprised.
I entered the Women’s to find the toilet seat raised. I used the last paper towel to touch the seat to lower it. Apparently, men were using the women’s washroom! I wasn’t going to let it ruin my day. My birthday.
I exited to learn Mom had paid the bill. I gave her a big hug. By now, the tiny place was crammed full of older Italian men. It was extremely loud. My sister said it reminded her of The Sopranos. I told Mom if we stayed much longer, she would’ve found herself a boyfriend, for sure.
I was happy. I was with Mom and my sister and it was my birthday. Nothing would ruin my day. There was coconut gelato and lots of laughs and I could breathe once more, and my voice was no longer just a squeak.
It didn’t matter if there had been no gelato. The point was to get together and share laughs …and that we did. My plan this year is to keep that birthday mentality—that nothing will ruin my day—for the other 364 days of the year!