Going to Baskin-Robbins ice cream shop in the Eastland Mall in Flint, Michigan with my family was an event when I was growing up. It was a whole thing. It wasn’t like we didn’t regularly have ice cream in the freezer, or that we didn’t have a little convenience store on our own block that had a decent selection, both of which was the case. What made it such a big deal was that my normally thrifty parents were taking my brothers and me out somewhere to a place that wasn’t “free”, like to a public park or for a drive.
Money, for pleasure, was about to be spent on us kids on a day that was neither Christmas or any of our birthdays. In recent years, emphasis has been brought to the importance of self-care and the ritual of doing special things for oneself, no matter how small they may seem. The seeds of this idea may well have been sown in my mind during those early trips to Baskin-Robbins with the act of a dollar and change being spent on a delicious, quickly consumed, frozen treat.
At some point, my preference had shifted from ice cream to sherbet, though not exclusively. I like all things tart and tangy, with Sweet Tarts being one of my favorite candies, so for a while, lime sherbet was my default order. The great thing about Baskin-Robbins was that they would let you sample flavors on a little, flat, rounded, wooden stick before making your final selection. Even if I knew what I wanted, I would often ask, “Can I try…?” some other flavor, just because I could. And yes, I would ask “can” and not “may” before that got fixed.
Speaking of which, correct pronunciation of a few words ended up being a little bit of an issue for me once I left the family nest. My west African father had a thick accent that was actually not like other Africans I’ve ever heard, with his speech having been filtered through Germany and England before he landed in the United States in his twenties. There was pretty much zero chance I was going to grow up emulating the way he spoke. My mom, a white Midwesterner raised in Ohio, grew up on a farm.
My grandparents had pretty flat dialects to my ears (though they did refer to the Show-Me State as “Missourah”), and I don’t remember anything questionable about the grammar I heard them use. Of course, I’d be kidding myself to think I don’t also have an accent (an unsubtle Michigan one), and while I don’t pretend to be a strict disciple of American linguist Noam Chomsky, I recognize that there’s a difference between dialect and mispronunciation. I’m talking about the latter.
It is beyond me how an extra “r” sound ended up in my family’s pronunciation of the word “sherbet”. To the Dennises, it wasn’t sherbet. It was “sher-bert”. For years. In fact, in my head, it still is. It’s one of those words in my vocabulary that actually takes effort for me to pronounce correctly when I use it in conversation with other people. It’s frustrating. How can I nail sorbet (“sor-BAY”) with no problems, whatsoever, but it often takes every fiber of my being not to ask for a scoop of lime sher-bert for dessert at a restaurant? It’s okay, as I realize I must “per-ser-vere”… there I go again, mispronouncing yet another word I grew up saying incorrectly.
The proper name of the color of this ’79 Bonneville is “Willow Mist Green” (“Lime Sherbet”, though fitting and accurate, might have seemed a bit lowbrow for Pontiac), and it is a lovely shade that seems very much of its time. It also reminds me of the color of a lime chiffon dress that would be worn by one of the beautiful ladies on Soul Train when this car was new, as she would twirl in rhythm to the latest hit by Carrie Lucas on that strobe-lit dance floor. It is often discussed how the palette of modern automotive paint colors is drab compared to the peacock-like spectrum that used to be available on many cars, but I’m trying to imagine a new, 2021 vehicle that would wear this color as nicely as this 1979 Pontiac. I’m honestly at a loss.
As referenced in an earlier essay I had written about a different 1979 Bonneville, the big Pontiacs were in the middle among the production numbers of the full-sized GM B-Body cars from the various divisions that year. To expand on the frozen treat metaphor, if the very popular Chevrolets were a scoop of vanilla or chocolate ice cream, and the Pontiacs were sherbet, maybe the Buicks were frozen custard – just a little fancier and with a few more calories. Runner-up Oldsmobile might also have been ice cream, but perhaps in a combination of flavors, like mint chocolate chip, since with Olds, you always got just a little something extra.
The pictures of our featured car are almost ten years old, so here’s hoping it hasn’t since melted into a puddle of pastel green rust flakes since I took these photographs. As for the words I choose for these compositions, I realize that I sometimes take a few liberties. Often, this is by design, though I’m sure there have been occasions when a verb tense didn’t “agree” or when I pluralized something I shouldn’t have. I try, and if anything, openness to correction of one’s course should be viewed as a blessing and not a sign of deficiency. Unfortunately, the Dunkin Donuts store in the background of the second shot of this car is not also a Baskin-Robbins franchise, as many stores combine the two, but I’m fairly certain the local discount supermarket carries my favorite, citrus-flavored frozen treat. So help me if I need to ask a clerk at the local Aldi where to find the lime sherbet.
Edgewater, Chicago, Illinois.
Saturday, April 2, 2011.