Do you recall what it felt like growing up to want something…anything…so badly it consumed your thoughts? You undoubtedly did not have a word for it, but it could be painful, this burning to have this thing you could not begin to define. If someone said this thing you desired was your passion, you did not know what that meant. At a young age, you could not have known that passion is derived from a Greek verb meaning "to suffer." On some level, you sensed discomfort, perhaps some distress in not knowing how to obtain what you desired. There was also frustration in not being able to articulate what that thing was. It was especially hurtful when adults, those to whom you looked to for advice, dashed your hopes or belittled your expectations. Those first few times you were told you were not going to get everything you wanted in life were surprising and disappointing-they may have even planted seeds within you. Some seeds grew into excuses to stop trying; others bloomed into an inner resolve to push on and fight for your passions.
My first day on Tita Street was filled with anticipation and curiosities. This was the first move of my life, having spent my first four years sharing a house with my paternal grandparents. In my former neighborhood, everyone was family-I had a whole gang of cousins as playmates. I also had my own private view of the world sitting behind Grandpa's big green Adirondack chair on our front porch. Would I ever again be able to sneak over to visit him at night for our shared bowl of ice cream? Grandpa wore an eye patch and had a parakeet named Mickey who sat on his shoulder. He said he was a pirate. And at four-years-old, why wouldn't I believe pirates loved chocolate ice cream as much as I did? I was passionate about parakeets, porches, and ice cream.
Mostly what I recall from moving day was having to stay out of the way, which was hard to do because I was so excited. I was finally to have my own bedroom. I'm sure they must've let me carry in some light boxes, but those details are forgotten now. One detail remains clear however: the tin-panny sound of musical chimes coming from a distance. The sound got louder as it drew closer, but I had no idea what it could be.
"That's the ice cream truck," said a voice by my side. "It passes by almost every day during the summer, but since this is February, he doesn't come as often. It's going to go all the way down Murl Street first and then the ice cream man will stop here, on our corner. Whaddya gettin? I 'm getting a Dreamsicle. You should get one too."
The lanky girl by my side had magically appeared. She'd flooded me with so much information so quickly, all I could do was stammer and shrug my shoulders.
I had never heard of an ice cream man before. In my old neighborhood, we had a Stanley the milkman. He delivered milk, butter and cheese, plus he took photographs of me and my brothers as his sideline job. We had a grocery delivery man. Since my folks didn't own a car, Mr. Carroll came over twice a week with boxes of food that my mother had ordered over the phone. And we had a garbage man, or rather, garbage men. One was always shooing us away from the street, warning us about speeding cars. The other never talked at all, but he could lift garbage cans over his head. We called him Super Trash and were terrified he'd throw us in his truck.
"No," I finally answered. "I think I'd like an ice cream sandwich. Are ice cream sandwiches any good?"
Angela Kay jumped on my answer. Obviously, I would benefit greatly from her ice-cream know-how.
"No, they're not. Trust me, you don't want an ice cream sandwich. What you want is a Dreamsicle. And here's why. Because that's what I'm having and we're about to be best friends. Best friends do everything together. I live right across the street. Since you're new here, and I've lived here longer than you, I get to say what we do first. So, I say we're gonna get Dreamsicles, okay?"
Wow! Only an hour into my first moving adventure and a best friend had simply crossed the street and walked right into my life. I couldn't listen fast enough or say anything because it was obvious this Angela Kay person knew everything there was to know about being four-years old, the new kid on the block, and ice cream. It was settled — I was going to have a Dreamsicle. (Secretly, I still wanted that ice cream sandwich, but I didn't want to get off on the wrong foot with my new best friend.)
Whenever the notes from "Little Red Wing" would sound in the air, we would wait on the sidewalk together. Angela Kay always placed our order. No matter how much I begged, she never ordered ice cream sandwiches…EVER! We had Fudgsicles, Nutty Buddies, Drumsticks and Popsicles in every flavor imaginable. Angela Kay was intimidating. Without my crew of cousins to play with though, I was too terrified to defy her. Best friends probably didn't come along every day.
When Angela Kay left to visit relatives for the last week of summer vacation, I tried playing alone. It was miserable. I kicked a ball by myself. Boring. I played with my baby dolls by myself. No fun at all. Dressing up by myself was the absolute worst!
Late one afternoon, I heard the music. The ice cream truck was turning the corner and I smiled to myself because I had concocted a secret plan. Today was the day I would order that ice cream sandwich I had coveted all summer. My birthday was coming; five was the perfect age to declare my independence. When the ice cream man handed over that forbidden ice cream sandwich, I cringed, waited for lightening to strike me dead. Pulling back the sticky paper wrapping, I made my way to our side yard anticipating every cold and gooey bite. I was not disappointed; my first bite tasted like frozen sin.
Then I saw him-the huge red dog coming toward me. Rocky was usually a friendly mutt, but today he was greedily eyeing my ice cream sandwich. For some reason, he thought we were going to share.
"Oh, no you don't, Rocky. This is all mine-all mine. Go away, shoo! Stupid dog!"
Rocky didn't understand. He wanted what I was eating and he was prepared to take it from me. First, I began to run slowly around the yard, hoping that he would give up. Rocky was on the scent. I ran faster, past my daddy's camellia bushes and around his holly tree. Rocky chased after me even faster. I passed the Mary statue — every good Catholic family had one in their yard. Her glazed eyes warned me (defiance and gluttony were sins) and there was no use expecting intercession or pity from her. Southern August sun was beating down on my sandwich; sticky vanilla ice cream ran down to my elbows. I dared not stop running as I struggled to lick it off my hands. Vanilla mixed with sweat and tears, wrapped in a mushy chocolate cookie. I had tasted desire; I was passionate for more!
Miserably, I watched what was left of my ice cream sandwich fall to the ground. It disappeared between Rocky's massive jaws, grass, dirt and regret included. He looked up at me sweetly, as if to say, "thanks for sharing, is there any more?" Heartsick, I ran to our backyard where my mother was hanging clothes on the clothesline. My flip-flops pounded a "poor-me-poor-me-poor-me-poor-me" rhythm as I ran through the side gate.
Clothespins in her mouth, my mother said through clenched teeth: "What on earth possessed you to get an ice cream sandwich? I thought you only liked Dreamsicles."
Argh! No consolation for those who reach out their hands for the things they cannot have.
The lesson was clear: do not stretch for more than you deserve. My parents were lower middle-class folks who considered it just fine to rise with your class, but verboten to rise above it. For the longest time, I internalized the message that going after anything "with passion" was just asking for trouble. If you don't dream, you won't be thwarted.
As we age, life has many lessons to teach us. Culture, gender and personality are influences on who we become, but we all learn to adapt to survive. Rocky and the Ice Cream sandwich toughened me though. No one was going to tell me I could not experience passion in my life. When I became a mother, I resolved never to tell my children their dreams were foolish or unattainable. If I did nothing else right, they would learn that life is about more than surviving.
Strive for passion like a dog on a hot summer day craving an ice cream sandwich. If your dreams falter, fall or fail, there's comfort in knowing you never stopped trying to outrun those who would steal your dreams from you. Compassion, humor and persistence-those were the Trifecta I wished for my children. As an adult, I'd come to learn that, despite the odds, we do best when we stretch for more than we think we deserve. The world owes us nothing, but stretching for our passions instills empathy, resilience and wisdom within us. I scream, you scream, we should all scream for our ice cream sandwiches.
Madelaine Landry is a freelance writer, adjunct Interpersonal Communications professor and small business owner, as well as a beekeeper who lives on 170 acres in southwest Louisiana. Along with her husband Tom, she also raises cows, chickens, ducks, donkeys and pigs. She is most passionate about writing and teaching. Her company, Listen Hear, offers customized communication skills training to businesses and organizations.
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