Making the transition to the South was hard enough. Leaving behind my mom’s historical southern flavor was enough to make me long day in and day out for home. Upstate New York, sure there was a lot of cultural diversity…that is, museums, music festivals, but true conversation was never lacking. As long as you definitely had something worthwhile to share, you were somewhat accepted. Atlanta, Georgia had it all. There, you wouldn’t have to look too hard to find an open cross-dresser, an open audition for a nondescript Tyler Perry film, a shopping mall that insisted on the valet of a Lamborghini, dog grooming salons that truly pampered your pooch in Hollywood glamour, and grocery stores with parking lots so clean you would think you had self-parked at a hotel resort. ‘Nuff said, Atlanta was culture shock for the Northern Boy.
I managed to keep in shape. Walking and a stellar gym membership became my pastimes. That’s really how I kept up with the corporate Joneses. Appearances meant everything in the new L.A. Your reputation meant everything when it came to networking. But, with keeping up appearances came the corporate dinners, albeit lunch or dinner. For some, it was both. I began to miss real flavor. Just the first bar of my mom’s voice ached to ask her to FedEx a dinner my way. There were a couple of places that came close to easing my homesick pain: Mary Mac’s Team Room in Midtown and the Horseradish Grill. Everything I ever devoured in the North was not all Southern. It was just about the flavor. That’s all. And the only one who seemed qualified to satisfy me was my Mom.
Maintaining my demeanor, I needed to relax, unwind. It didn’t help any that Atlanta’s weather promoted even the chilliest of deserts – any time of the day or night. I had always been a fan of Breyer’s ice cream in the North. It was probably because it is the most widely distributed brand in the world. While grocery shopping at Publix, the cleanest grocery store in all the South, one night after work (managing called for late hours), I found myself loathing the site of the salt-infested Breyer’s Butter Pecan ice cream that I had come to adore. No other brands or tastes peaked my interest. That is, until I noticed a yellow tub-container with a gold-rimmed lid. It was Blue Bell. It was Blue Bell Banana Pudding! Had I found the flavor I was looking for? Had I found that homesick replacement? I couldn’t get home fast enough to tear open that sheer potential for goodness. With the correct coloring, the moist but fresh vanilla wafers brought excruciating, yet delightful, joy to my palate. I was hooked from the very first dip. I found that I could eat this ice cream for breakfast. Thank goodness my body didn’t welcome lactose intolerance. But the late night night-cap in a Pier1 Import cereal bowl eased the discomfort of another busy day ahead.
I became so enthralled with Blue Bell’s Banana Pudding Ice Cream until I let all my northern friends and family members know what they were missing. Some even asked if I could FedEx them a carton. It wasn’t at all possible. Soon, the thoughts of home subsided. I would still frequent the popular restaurants in Atlanta…just as long as I could imagine what was waiting at home for me. For six years, I continued the same routine: working, dining out, Banana Pudding. Notice I didn’t say, “working out?” I did try to stay in shape by doing a few reps with free weights here and there, a few push-ups to keep the chest hefty, or even a few squat thrusts to…keep my pants up. Once word spread about my newfound joy, I became delusional when I had to search different stores when Publix was out of my Banana Pudding. The girls at the Customer Service Desk must have thought me neurotic the way I would nearly bang my head on the counter when they informed me of the next shipment of my fix. Then, I was told that the drugstore CVS carried Blue Bell. With gas prices not as high then as they are now, I didn’t mind going store-hopping. CVS did charge a little more, but my CVS Advantage Card saved me considerably…at times. It just didn’t save my waistline though. My body seemed to had grown in the most obvious places. I carried the weight of my world above and below my Coach belt. I even began to seem more managerial to my guests. All that weight was mistaken for solid muscle. Okay, it still was muscle, but it savored a little something extra – like high-cholesterol, high-blood pressure, borderline diabetes. I had suddenly contracted in the South what I should have contracted in the North because of Mom’s purity and sweetness. Just when I thought the South would be my savior, it became my demise with the diagnosis of Blue Bell Banana Pudding Ice Cream. Need I really say how much weight I bore? Good. Because it doesn’t matter. All those wonderful years in the South found me now fleeing upward.
With age, you are not really expected to keep up the same look or physique from high school. But I did exactly that while I was in the North. One would think that as salty as any Breyer’s ice cream was I could have just been a catastrophe in the making. Always on the go, always trying to be up on everything, maybe it was my mobility that kept me from falling earlier. Once I became comfortable, I never really thought about the Joneses anymore. My happiness was found in a bottomless tub with a gold-rim.
Back in the North, the absence of Blue Bell Ice Cream was both a blessing and a curse. After so many years away, and the ceasing of praise towards such a culprit, Blue Bell could not be found. I even wrote the President of Blue Bell, Corp. to ask as to when their brand could be purchased. All I was told was that there weren’t any immediate plans to distribute it to the northeastern part of the country. What a shame! Even after my physical ailments cleared, I still found myself longing for the taste of Blue Bell’s Banana Pudding Ice Cream. Because of all the work that is involved in the making of Mom’s own banana pudding, she couldn’t make it as often as I would like. But she knows better. Now, with the weight off and me back to my sociable self, I still crave my ‘Nana Puddin.’ I can’t even look at another kind or brand of ice cream as I did Blue Bell. Its classy but deceptive packaging made me see just how much I have in common with the crack-head or recovering alcoholic. I admit I am still a ‘Nana Puddin’ Junkie. I really do hope there are no plans for Blue Bell in the Northeast. If there are, I hope there’s a rehab facility that won’t laugh at my insurance plan.