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I haven’t had an orange Creamsicle in ages. Hard orange-flavoured ice on the outside and a bar of vanilla ice cream on the inside. In my mind, the taste is magical. But I can’t tell you if it’s true. I’ve gone searching for them but every time I’ve ducked into a corner store, they’re not there. Creamsicle conspiracy? Perhaps. Or maybe it’s a sign to leave that childhood memory intact so that I can continue to think of it as the Best Thing Ever. And that might mean I never taste one again.
Remember the Jos Louis cakes? Those full moon pastries were like crack in grade school. If you had one in your lunch, you definitely had parents who loved you more. (The cheaper substitute was Wagon Wheels, but they weren’t nearly as good.) If you were up for trading that Jos Louis, you were simultaneously the coolest person in the room and a step closer to sainthood. Wrapped in clear crinkly plastic, the Jos Louis has a thick layer of lush chocolate cake with a creamy sweet vanilla middle – like a giant Oreo without the crunch.
I picked up a pack of Jos Louis cakes recently. When I took one of out the box, it seemed so much smaller than I remembered, which could be because my hands have grown since I was 12 years old. I’m not sure what I was thinking might happen as I bit into it – bliss washing over me? Deep satisfaction? Time travel to the simplest of eras enjoying lunches in stuffy gymnasiums on fold-out picnic tables?
None of these things happened. I want to love all the commercial baked goods Vachon makes. The company began as a small family bakery in Quebec in 1923 and is now internationally owned. But I can’t lie. That Jos Louis was awful. Truly awful. The chocolate coating was waxy. The chocolate cake didn’t even taste remotely like chocolate. The filling was grainy and stuck to my teeth. How had I ever envied the kids who had them in their lunch bags every day? What other horrible things did I eat as a child, thinking that they tasted amazing?
Flakies. I have discovered they are even more disappointing and God awful than the Jos Louis. Ironically they’re officially called the Passion Flakie. But no passion for those pastries from me. It is certainly not as flaky as I remember, either. Flaky implies a buttery balance of crisp to chew. Instead, the exterior just breaks, like dried paper that leaves slivers of residue everywhere. On my tongue, the jam and cream filling feels like a congealed lump and that is only if you can get away from the crunchy granules of sugar in the cream.
How is it that something I remember as being so good then is so terrible now? Was I really in awe of Creamsicles as a child or was it just one of the many treats the Dickie Dee ice cream cart had in its cache? (Can anyone else hear those bells ringing?) Was it indeed terrible then? Am I misremembering or more elegantly revising history? But if I can’t count on my childhood memory, what can I count on? What else am I remembering that is just not true?
Maybe everything as it turns out.
Recently, I began reading a book on memory. It suggests our memories may not only be an inaccurate record of the past, they may actually be fabrications in some cases. What if the things you believe you remember clearly – both good and bad, the memories you cherish, those memories that shaped you and the memories you wish would go away – just aren’t true? Our brains are exceedingly vulnerable to suggestion. It’s fascinating, scary and also a bit creepy to contemplate. Our brains can lie to us.
There could be any number of explanations when it comes to my childhood-treat disappointments.
A child’s taste buds can evolve with age. It’s also possible the recipe changed in a generation. Let’s hope it did because the current list of ingredients for those boxed desserts isn’t exactly wholesome. And really, does it even matter? “To everything, there is a season,” and my Creamsicle season is long gone. Maybe, as the characters in Disney’s Frozen sing, I should just “let it go.”
But here’s the thing. I don’t want to. I want my childhood awe back. Somewhere along the way in this adulting thing, I packed it away. Now, like many other things in my life including my keys and my cellphone and my sanity, I seem to no longer be able to find it easily.
I want to believe orange Creamsicles are amazing. They are like my magic carpet ride to a time when things seemed simpler and more optimistic, when having a Creamsicle was just one of the incredibly exciting things I got to do every day (versus had to do every day), where any moment could hold something new and fun, where to be frank, maybe I didn’t think so much.
So I’m going to just keep believing in you, orange Creamsicle. You are my childhood truth – whether raw, ridiculously embellished, misremembered or revised.
If that adult taste test goes well, great.
If it all ends rather badly, well, there will always be Dairy Queen.
Beatrice Politi lives in Toronto.
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