Traverse City Record-Eagle

Generation Why

December 7, 2010

Imaginations create best fun

The warm summer sun beat down in our backyard, and my sisters and I ran out the door into the pressing heat. We agreed it was a perfect day for a cold ice cream cone, but we weren't headed to Frosty's or Ice Cream Peddlers; instead, we were headed to our own ice cream parlor. We even had our very own restaurant! No, neither one was real — but all it took was a little imagination and a few minutes to set up, and we had our own business.

In reality, the restaurant and ice cream parlor weren't anything special. In fact, the restaurant was located in our garage, and the ice cream parlor was assembled on the sidewalk in our yard. However, to us, the garage was an orderly restaurant with tables, booths and a drive-thru window. To us, the sidewalk was the sparkling-clean tile floor of a popular Dairy Queen. To us, our business was undoubtedly special.

One of my sisters created our restaurant's menu, which featured a selection of our favorite foods: tacos, cheeseburgers, chef salads, pizza, nachos, french fries. On the other half of the menu was a list of delicious drinks: Coke, lemonade, root beer floats, hot chocolate, grape juice, chocolate milk. Our favorite kinds of ice cream were not included on the menu, for we knew them off the top of our heads; Moose Tracks and Mint Chocolate Chip and Cookie Dough were the most frequently ordered. The menu hung on the side door of our garage — the door that served as the drive-thru area. In the bottom corner of the menu there was a note that reminded us, "Remember to say thanks!"

Taking turns being cooks, waitresses, cashiers and customers, my sisters and I would mimic the tasks involved with owning a real restaurant. We slopped moist dirt into frisbees to make pies; we jumbled green leaves and grass together to make salads. Acting as the customers, we would ride our bikes through the "drive-thru," hand our fake money to whichever sister was playing the cashier, then enjoy our meals at our picnic table.

When the four of us opened our ice cream parlor, we would simply tip our bikes so that they balanced upside-down on the handlebars and seat. These new contraptions served as our ice cream makers, modeled after our authentic ice cream churn. Cranking the bike pedals with our hands, we would watch the wheels spin and pretend that they were whipping our scrumptious ice cream. We were thrilled when new customers arrived and one of us could ask them what flavor they preferred and if they would like a small, medium or large.

Eventually, our parents would call us inside for dinner. With a sigh of disappointment we would clean up the restaurant and ice cream parlor, transforming them into a garage and sidewalk once again. Already we awaited the next day, when we would rush back outside to continue our routine of blissfully serving meals and dessert.

Though the makeshift restaurant and ice cream parlor appeared to be nothing special, they held a special place in the hearts of my sisters and me. Being clueless little kids, our prices may have been extremely generous or outrageously expensive, but what did it matter? And our ice cream machine and ingredients may have just been silly inventions, but did that matter either? We had each other and our imaginations, and we were content. We may have been intrigued by the commercials showing joyous kids playing with the latest and greatest new toy, or wished for the cool, fun game in the ads with bright colors and bold letters.

But when all was said and done, the four of us returned to our restaurant and ice cream parlor and shared more laughs and fun than any of the commercials exhibited.

Not only did this pastime amuse us day after day, it also taught us a valuable lesson: money can't buy happiness, and it's the simple things in life that matter the most.

Colleen Otte is a junior at Elk Rapids High School.

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