On ice cream as a respite to a busy world

Our family is fond of telling a story of the time we ran into my grandfather at a supermarket car park when my siblings and I were much younger.

My grandfather – a man of high standing in the community, of amazing virtue, and of deep wisdom – was loitering near the indoor car park entrance, eating an ice cream, while waiting for my grandmother.

When he saw us, he looked slightly guilty and awkwardly asked us not to tell our grandmother that he was eating ice cream. By any stretch, it was a comical moment.

Predictably, once we got to the top of the stairs, we ran into my grandmother. Immediately, my brother, all of 5 or 6 at the time, told my grandmother that our grandfather was downstairs eating an ice cream.

For many years, the funny part of this story was that my brother ratted out my grandfather nearly immediately. That remains funny.

But as I’ve got older, and time has passed, the story has taken on other dimensions, at least to me.

The story now reminds me that my grandfather who was (and is), in many ways, super-human, was also human. And the human simply wanted a quiet moment with a simple pleasure.

The story now reminds me that, in lives devoted to finding meaning and giving it to others, sometimes we need these moments of banality.

The story now reminds me that sometimes we need to eat our ice cream as a quiet respite to a busy world.

And the story now reminds me that sometimes we need to be caught, to the delight of our grandchildren, doing something slightly naughty.

I wonder what else this story will remind me of in another 20 years.

Quirky experiments: be curious

In 2018, on my request, my grandfather wrote a letter to my wife to celebrate a milestone birthday.

It was a one-page handwritten letter filled with a goldmine-like numbered list of observations about life that he had gleaned along the way. In his typical understated way, he said “it is not a worked-out system but rather some random things that I approve”. After I read the letter, I thought about it a lot in the coming weeks and days.

One thing in particular still stands out to me: “give way to quirky experiments”.

The one and the same avocado!

I thought more about it and realised that Grandad is one of the most intellectually curious people I have known. He has always had some sort of experiment on the go – whether it was building something, planting or growing something, or simply reading about a new area.

Notably, I turned up at their house one day (well into his retirement) to discover a giant telescope sitting in his study. It turned out that he had picked up a book about stars, taken an interest in astronomy, and started stargazing from suburban Brisbane.

I’ve tried – to varying degrees of success – to adopt this advice.

Since the time of his letter to my wife, I have grown an avocado tree from seed (pictured above). I tried painting (this was not a success). I’ve enjoyed baking bread. I grew a sourdough starter. I brewed beer with a friend. I’ve tried to grow various seeds or try new food combinations.

Many of these experiments failed; a number barely lasted a week. But I can recall many of these quirky experiments – especially the ones shared with friends – because they added welcome trivia my life in a way that the ‘eat / work / eat / sleep / repeat’ cycle cannot.

If all you are is the sum total of your work (and, dare I say, religious) life, then you are probably – frankly – a bit boring. If nothing else, your quirky experiments make for good pub conversation-fodder… “Did I tell you guys I’m growing an avocado tree?”