Becoming Judie Kay

Every daughter realizes at some point in her life that, “Dear God, I’ve become my mother.” Sometimes it’s said with a bowed head, shaking slowly side to side and other times with a smile and pride knowing your mother would be proud of the woman you’ve become. I’ve had many moments like these in recent years, though none quite as strong as one I had last week.

The kids and I love to walk at Fort Lowell Park, with its pond, giant old trees, and assorted ball fields. As we often do, we start our walk down what was once the grand entrance to the fort, lined with cottonwood trees, some of the original trees still standing tall. An outpost well outside of the original Tucson settlement, the fort had a post office, extensive kitchens and barracks, parts of each which still remain, albeit protected behind chain link. It’s a beautiful late afternoon, probably one of the last we’ll see until early November. The air is warm but not hot, as the sun is on its downward arc now. The kids explore each tree well with the intensity of a CSI unit, checking trunks closely for clues about previous visitors. We make our way across an open field toward the water.

The pond reminds me of playing at Old Reid Park back home as a kid. Ducks and geese noisily carrying on conversations while turtles pile on the rocks vying for the best sunning spot. Parents and kids joyfully disregard the “Do Not Feed the Ducks” signs, tossing old white bread to the paddling ducks.

Harley and Helen wiggle their noses vigorously as we near the water’s edge — but not too close as each likes to launch into bodies of water in pursuit of water fowl and foul water.

We stroll around the next ballfields and toward the stream. It’s not really a stream, it’s more of a water filtration system constructed to look as natural as possible, with long narrow gullies flowing toward a smaller holding pond. Both kids jump into the shallow water for a drink and quick splash to cool off. Harley enjoys nibbling on the lush grass growing at the edge of a small waterfall. Helen does her best to pluck a few tender blades, turning her head sideways, trying to grasp the grass in the small area at the back of her mouth where her teeth actually come together. It’s tough to eat grass with a bite as bad as Helen’s. No luck this time, either. We finish our walk across two open baseball fields, well watered and thick. They look like a freshly made bed, the grass a vibrant hi-loft comforter laid out across the top of the earth.

We return to the car for refreshments and one of Harley’s favorite parts of the walk. He loves moving water. Pouring the cool water into the bowl is almost impossible as he drinks from the wide stream, splashing water in the car, on me and on his sister. He smiles, and so do I. As they share the rest of the bowl, I’m reminded again of how lucky I am. The joy and pride I feel presses against my chest, swelling inside my rib cage. I wonder if my own mother felt this. I shouldn’t doubt it, though. She told my brothers and me many, many times how proud she was of us and how much she loved us.

Thinking of her, I decide at that moment that we’re going to Dairy Queen. When I was a kid playing Little League, mom took me to my mid-week morning practices. I have no memories of those practices, but the trips to DQ afterward have stayed with me all these years. After practice, she’d ask me if I wanted a milkshake (like I was ever going to say “no”) and we’d cruise toward our favorite shop in the massive light blue Ford station wagon. There was never a question about getting a chocolate shake, always made with vanilla ice cream, chocolate syrup and white milk. The question was always what went with it. I remember two options: the safety-orange Keebler crackers with peanut butter in the middle or a foot-long hotdog with yellow mustard. To me, those will always remind me of mom and those trips to DQ, sitting at a picnic table in the shade behind the shop.

Remembering those special times, I load the kids up and tell them we’re heading to Dairy Queen. We drive the few miles up the road to our closest shop and I pull up to the drive-thru window. I tell the enthusiastic teenager that I’d like a chocolate shake and a small cone in a cup. I motion to the backseat where both dogs now have their heads out the window, knowing that good things come from drive-up windows. The ladies at the bank, Walgreens and occasional McDonald’s have reinforced their theory. Today, they’re right again. The teenaged ice cream wizard tells me that for just $0.89 I can get a dog sundae. Fascinated, I say of course. I’ve never heard of such a thing at DQ. “One or two?” she asks. I have 140lbs of dog in the car. “Better make it two,” I say.

We pull around to the other side and we all watch with huge smiles on our faces as she carefully prepares the sundaes. She fills the medium cups with vanilla ice cream and brings them over to the counter by the window. The kids watch in amazement as she breaks six-inch dog cookies into smaller pieces and artfully arranges them in the cup. I wonder if my eyes were ever that big when I was watching the women make my shake so many years ago. As she sprinkles the last of the crumbs onto the top, the whistling begins. Helen is so excited at this point, I think she’s going to explode. Harley cranes his long neck into the front seat, hoping for a lick as I bring each sundae through the open front window.

Thankfully, there’s a parking space close by, so I pull in and plot my enjoyment strategy. The kids are quite good about sharing food, but this is DQ. I decide to work with one sundae at a time. While one gobbles the ice cream in the cup, I scoop some ice cream onto a broken cookie and hand-fed the other. Incidentally, dogs don’t calmly lick ice cream from a bowl. They try to take as much as possible with one bite, alligator style. Snap! Trying to avoid a brain freeze for both, I convince them to slow down a bit (OK, I hold the ice cream back for a few seconds). Watching them lick ice cream from their jowls and whiskers, tongues smacking and lapping the sweet vanilla liquid, I feel like my mom. We shared so many great moments like this and I loved sharing this with my own kids.

I can only hope that I was a bit neater with my ice cream but I know myself well enough to know that I was probably covered in dirt from practice and spotted with chocolate and/or mustard by the time we finished our time at that shaded picnic table out back. I’m pretty sure mom just smiled, as I’m doing now.


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