After a moment of frozen horror, Shara rushed to her baby’s side. Her eyes, still heavily inked and fringed with false lashes, now startled wide as she blinked at the child.
Napoleona recovered her senses, then lunged again for the spoon. But, just before it met her lips, she stopped short and thrust out her chin, opened her mouth, then slowly, deliberately stuck out her tongue to catch a drop of ice cream just before it plumetted to the tablecloth. Napoleona reared up in a shiver of ecstatic surprise and glared at the spoon suspiciously.
"She’s a baby," Shara’s mother croaked, "she can’t glare suspiciously.” Roberta waggled the spoon beneath Napoleona’s nose.
But Napoleona, spine straightened, peered down at the treat as she turned its sweetness over on her tongue. Shara and Roberta watched as suspicion turned to wonderment which became a shade of benign contempt never seen on a child below the age of 4 before. The women gasped and Napoleona smiled up at her grandmother.
Shara hefted a sigh of relief as she lifted Napoleona from her high chair and remarked, “Parenting with Love & Logic!” with an air of self-congratulation.
"I don’t know why you think everything is about that book," Roberta rustled dryly as she replaced the cover on the ice cream and made way for the kitchen.
She encountered J.V. on the threshold, looking relaxed and handsome in his casual blacks. She cast about for a catty remark, but before anything came to mind, he gallantly scooped the ice cream carton from her arms, held it aloft and read the label, and let loose an intrepid guffaw, “But Roberta, doll, you did only just give her vanilla.”
Roberta blushed and gasped helplessly before she fled. “You should really come with us next year, babe” J.V. called after her.
"You know that’s not very nice," Shara admonished between babbling and bouncing. Napoleona smiled, nodding patiently along.
"She could use a good stretch of the legs," J.V. retorted -
"Yes but, you know that she won’t and it only embarrasses her. She hasn’t left this land besides to go to the corner store and the post office in a lifetime."
"How’s my girl?" J.V. planted a hairy kiss on Napoleona’s cheek and offered her his index finger, which she accepted and crushed into her fist as she bobbed on Shara’s rocking waist. Pulled into the rhythm by the baby’s iron grip, J.V swayed with them, and gathered his wife into his arms. Shara nuzzled the baby and started to sing,
Now summertime’s here babe, need somethin’ to keep you cool
The Empress of Ice Cream
After digesting the imminence of the move and the upheaval of life as she knew it, it occurred to Napoleona that she didn’t know exactly what it was that had caused this change of fortune.
So, one day, she relinquished her heretofore uncontested domination of the jump rope squad at recess and spent the afternoon in the cool of the library, surreptitiously searching the creaking internet for J.V. and Shara’s talk show. Surprisingly, it wasn’t difficult to find.
She covered her ears in large, padded headphones and listened to the brief, 5 minute spot, only to surface on uncertainty: what was it all about? What did ice cream have to do with any of this stuff?
Napoleona’s first taste of ice cream was a family tale frequently retold by Shara’s mother, an amphibious Nevadan. Just before Napoleona turned 2, Shara and J.V entrusted her into the care of Shara’s sly, old hermit-of-a-mother before they set off for Leatherfest in San Diego.
At the time, Shara’s strategy for motherhood was deeply informed by a particularly popular book entitled: Parenting with Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility.
When Shara first became pregnant, she bought a number of books, but this was the one she opened first. Right away, she set to learning the first two paragraphs by heart and whenever the baby cried for too long and J.V. lost his patience, she would begin to recite:
All loving parents face essentially the same challenge: raising children who have their heads on straight and will have a good chance to make it in the big world. Every sincere mom and dad strives to attain this goal. We must equip our darling offspring to make the move from total dependence on us to independence, from being controlled by us to controlling themselves.
At this point, she looked meaningfully at J.V. and then continued, dutifully:
Let’s face it: In this incredibly complex, fast-changing age, responsible kids are the only ones who will be able to handle the real world that awaits them. Life-and-death decisions confront teenagers – and even younger children - at every turn. Many of the temptations of adult life – drugs, internet pornography, premarital sex, alcohol – are thrown at kids every day. The statistics on teen depression and suicide bear out the seriousness of the parental task.
Here, J.V. invariably interrupted: “For god’s sake, Shara, she’s barely 2 years old!”
But Shara, who was as meek as a kitten the day J.V. met her, only gathered volume and seemed to rise in height and bearing with mysterious and newfound glamour:
HOW will our children handle such intense pressure? WHAT choices will they make when faced with these life-and-death decisions? WHAT will they do when WE are no longer pouring wise words into their ears? Will merely telling them to be responsible GET THE JOB DONE? THESE are the QUESTIONS that should GUIDE the DEVELOPMENT of OUR Parenting Philosophy!
It was a performance at which J.V. could do nothing but sigh and relent while Napoleona, bleary eyed, blinked up at the both of them, smiled and reached for her mother’s coarse, bleach blonde hair.
Naturally, Foster Cline and Jim Fay, the renowned authors of Parenting with Love and Logic, never said anything explicitly about ice cream.
“It’s a work of philosophy,” Shara explained as she set out jars of baby food and neatly labeled baby snacks at her mother’s house, “They don’t actually tell you what’s right or wrong for your family. You construct your own moral values and lead based on a framework of Love and Logic.”
“I still don’t see what that has to do with a little vanilla ice cream,” Shara’s mother replied crisply.
“Ice cream is a temptation and Napoleona isn’t equipped to handle it yet.” Shara retorted.
While J.V. and Shara lectured and performed demonstrations on safe, sane and consensual BDSM activities, Shara’s mother dutifully fed Napoleona the temptation-free diet her mother had prepared. But, the moment she heard the Shara’s old Toyota rattle up the long, dusty driveway, she fetched a tub of Bryers Classic Vanilla Bean ice cream and by the time J.V. and Shara were kicking dust onto the welcome mat, she was lifting a little silver sugar spoon from the container. And when Shara, peaked and breezy, bounced into the dining room, the spoon met Napoleona’s tiny pink lips and her baby’s eyes lit up with a knowledge that could be defined as none other than divine.
“And she turned out just fine,” Napoleona’s grandmother gloated.
Georgia (state, United States)
Georgia? Napoleona choked on the state’s soft syllables like she was swallowing a mouthful of Wonderbread.
"We’re famous honey," J.V. clapped her on the back, "We finally made it to the big time."
"Well, now, I wouldn’t say famous, not famous really, but your father and I did make some news recently - a clip from one of our shows was played all over the T.V!" Shara exclaimed in bright bewilderment.
"Aw, you shoulda seen those buttoned-up conservatives go apoplectic! Man, I’d love to burst a couple buttons on Ed Schultz’ ego."
"Oh, honey, we don’t have to worry about him anymore! We’re going to be southerners!"
"Yeehaw!" J.V. slapped his knee and danced Shara down the steps. Napoleona sat down & hugged her knees. She wished for a piece of gum.
"When do we leave?"
J.V. dipped Shara dramatically on the lawn and her bleach blonde hair tickled the winter-worn grass, “Oh please stop, J.V., we’ve got to talk about this!” Shara cried charmingly. In response, J.V. froze and allowed his wife to dangle upside down while she explained to Napoleona that she would finish out the school year and then, the very next day, they would pack into the minivan and follow the Mississippi river straight down the middle of the country until they reached Little Rock where they would make a hard left and cross straight across Dixie to the state of Georgia.
When J.V. finally righted Shara her face was flushed and pink. She wound her arms around his neck, stood on her tip-toes, and planted a lip-level kiss on his jawline while Napoleona slipped inside.
Rather than climbing the stairs to her bedroom, Napoleona descended into the basement of the grey house on Scarborough Road. Not typically sentimental, she suddenly felt a surge of nostalgia as she ran her hands along the faux vintage wallpaper inexplicably lining the faux wood-paneled walls. Downstairs was the remanants of Shara’s whole-hearted attempt at a playroom, a project she started back when there was supposed to be a little brother coming along. He never arrived and Napoleona never played, so it stayed a musty homage to a 4-person family.
Napoleona made for the only space in the basement that she had claimed: the back bookshelf. It housed a well-thumbed collection of Encyclopedia Brittanicas. They were dignified Micropedia Ready Reference editions that J.V. had bought after peppering the young salesman at the door with so many questions that Shara insisted he make a purchase while she served the poor man lemonade. Napoleona loved the gravitas of the leather-bound volumes and had once even made her painstaking way through every entry in A-ak - Bayes.
Now she picked Freon - Holderlin from the shelf and cradled it in her lap as she flipped through the thin pages until she found it: Georgia (state, United States).
Georgia, constituent state of the United States of America. The largest of the U.S. states east of the Mississippi River and by many years the youngest of the 13 former English colonies, Georgia was founded in 1732, at which time its boundaries were even larger—including much of the present-day states of Alabama and Mississippi. Its landscape presents numerous contrasts, with more soil types than any other state as it sweeps from the Appalachian Mountains in the north (on the borders of Tennessee and North Carolina) to the marshes of the Atlantic coast on the southeast and the Okefenokee Swamp (which it shares with Florida) on the south. The Savannah and Chattahoochee rivers form much of Georgia’s eastern and western boundaries with South Carolina and Alabama, respectively. The capital is Atlanta.
Impressed, Napoleona read on until late into the night. By the time she finished, she had accumulated what she felt was a rather exhaustive knowledge of the territory. Still, as she navigated back up the stairs through the familiar space of the old, dark house, she sensed that she was missing some deeper knowledge of the place. It remained, she realized, unfamiliar.
Not one to be daunted, Napoleona mused over how she might develop a kinship with her new home as she brushed her teeth. She had been especially taken with the state’s central role in the Civil War and sensed that Sherman’s march across Atlanta was somehow at the crux of an undercurrent of culture that shaped it even in present day. As she wound a thread of floss around her left molar, it occurred to her, simply, obviously, that there was one solution to piecing this mystery place together - a book, a fictional book yes, but one so important that even the austerely factual Encyclopedia Brittanica couldn’t ignore it: Gone with the Wind.
Napoleona resolved to pick it up from her local library the very next day.