"The Heart of Home is Hot Chocolate"
By: Mary Romero
To the outside world we were the ‘All American Family’; mom, dad, five well behaved children who went to church every Sunday, well groomed and dressed to perfection.We even had the array of pets. But, for my family the saying, "No one knows what goes on behind closed doors" rang all too true .
Sunday mornings seemed to be the favored time for my parents to have disagreements.These were not typical arguments that couples have about things like being late or who forgot to pay which bill, these 'arguments' usually turned into out and out physical altercations. During one in particular I recall being more afraid than usual after seeing my mother being held up by her throat. My father came to me and asked what was wrong. I asked through tears, "Are you and mommy getting a divorce?" He pulled me close, and looked me straight in the eyes telling me they would never get divorced. I believed my dad. I needed to believe him.
I have very few positive memories of my childhood but one that has touched my life in different ways still stands out so vividly in my mind that I can still smell and feel the cold crisp air and how it burns your lungs as you take in that first deep breath as I reminisce about one of those cold winter weekends.
My father loved the outdoors and in the winter, he would take us ice-skating. This was not the ice-skating where kids go to an indoor rink and skate around in circles to music. This was real ice-skating! You had to wait until it was well into the winter months so that the ice in any given large body of water had a chance to freeze all the way through. Not only did you have to dress like you were going to climb Mount Everest but, when you talked you weren't sure your lips were moving because your face was so numb from the biting cold and ice would actually form on your eyelashes!
Once in a great while my father would spring the question, "Anyone want to go ice-skating?" It didn't matter how excited you were, you just answered "Yes". He didn't like overt expressions of any kind unless they were his own. My father was a very short fused man. A man of his stature would suffice alone to five small children but he also chose to be overly physical in his discipline methods.
You could feel the excitement as all five of us would race up to our rooms to start layering on the clothing. My mom didn't say much since the outings were my dad’s idea. She would simply make sure all of us were dressed appropriately and pack any snacks she planned to take. My dad would go into the kitchen to make a huge thermos of homemade hot chocolate. In looking back, I think that was my favorite part. There was something about that rich hot chocolate in the bitter cold next to the frozen pond. The kind that was so rich you didn't care of you burnt your tongue as you sipped it. I would spy, peering around the corner, and watch him make it sometimes to see if there was some magic ingredient that made it so heavenly but I could never figure it out. All I could ever see was those large hands stirring a pot with steam rising and dissipating into the air.
We're here now, ice on our eyelashes, our voices echoing in that huge, empty, ice-covered park. We'd race to see who could lace their skates the fastest and get on the ice first. We'd all end up standing at the edge of the pond. My sister slid her foot out on the ice....no sound. One of the boys walked up from behind and gave her a shove, "DOOON'T!", and then it started. Yelling, laughing and giggling in five different pitched voices, all echoing in the crisp cold air, like the snapping of twigs in a quiet forest.
Fresh skate tracks on the frozen pond. Branches sticking out of the ice where the water had frozen around them. The smell of winter. When we would breathe, we could see our breath go at least six inches in front of us. My insides felt as though they were burning while my hands and feet were so cold I couldn't feel them. "Anyone for some hot chocolate?" And there it was...the call, like moths to a flame. My dad would call us back and start pouring out the piping hot chocolate from a big orange thermos.
I would patiently wait my turn because I wanted this time to last forever. I didn't care how much my feet ached from the cold or even how badly I had to go to the bathroom. My brothers would suck that hot chocolate down like it was water and ask for more. Gigi would warm her hands and slurp. Me, I'd warm my face in the steam a while and sip slowly. As I sat watching all seven of us huddled there at the picnic table, somehow we were transformed into that all American family
I'd stare at that big orange thermos that held my happiness inside. Maybe it wasn't the hot chocolate but the ambiance of the time and place. The cold outdoors, my father's good mood, all of us kids laughing and having fun, my parents not fighting.
My grandparents and I were very close, and as I grew older I would sit and talk for hours with them over a cup of tea or hot chocolate. When my grandmother would make hot chocolate for me, she would add a spoonful of whipped cream on top.
My parents had a bitter divorce shortly after one of those long winters. It was then that I knew the importance of not making promises you can't keep. I realized the effect those times had on me when I had children of my own. I now know there never really was a magic ingredient. And people can do the same thing but for different reasons. One can do things out of selfishness while another can do it out of love. Talk is cheap and actions do speak louder than words. The choices we make in life affect a great many more than just ourselves. Being a responsible, loving parent matters.
I still share my stories with my children and I think they noticed my hot chocolate ritual before I did. Whenever they come in from the cold or it is a rainy, quiet night, I'll make them hot chocolate. It's not in the recipe but in the heart that stirs it all together...with a big dollop of whipped cream on top.
I would not change all those childhood experiences because if I did what would I have to share with my children as we drink...or would we even talk over a cup of anything? Funny how a really good cup of hot chocolate can teach some of life's greatest lessons...if we just slow down long enough to savor the taste.
All Copyrights Reserved to Mary Romero