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For this family, ‘putting the car away’ was a family tradition

My mother, MaryEvelyn Panttaja, loved ice cream.

It was her favorite treat.

When I was a child, she started a little ritual that involved ice cream. We called it “putting the car away.”

Every day, when Mom came home from school, where she taught sixth grade, in Rohnert Park, she would park the car on the street in front of our house. Most nights, after dinner, while my sister and I did our homework, she would drive the car from the front of the house around the corner and into the garage.

But some nights, when everyone was way too serious, Mom would say, “Who wants to help me put the car away?”

My sister and I would shout, “I do!” and dash out to jump into the back seat. On those nights, Mom didn’t go straight to the garage.

Instead, we drove to the ice cream parlor.

We’d order cones with our favorite flavors – mint chocolate chip, butter brickle, rocky road. Rocky Road was Mom’s favorite. When we had eaten enough of our cones so the ice cream wouldn’t drip, Mom would drive us back home, and right into the garage.

We’d put the car away!

“Putting the car away” became a favorite favorite ritual.

Eventually, when my sister, our older brothers and I all grew up, we started our own families. We would bring our children to visit their grandmother. A highlight of most visits was hearing Mom say, “Who wants to put the car away?”

The grand-kids all knew what that meant. Just like my sister and I had done, they would race to the car for the trip to the ice cream parlor.

Our family grew and some of us moved to different cities, but Mom still kept the tradition alive. For Christmas each year, she would send all of us gift certificates for – you guessed it – ice cream!

We parents made a big deal of using those certificates.

We always sent Mom pictures of our families “putting the car away.” It was a little ritual we shared, a way of saying, “I love you” when we could not all be together.

My mom died last spring, after a long and happy life.

She enjoyed ice cream right to the end.

On her birthday this summer, our family wanted to gather to remember her. Of course, because of the pandemic it wasn’t possible to get all 40 of her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren together in one place.

So we held an ice cream social ... on zoom!

While everyone ate their favorite frozen flavors at home, we shared our memories of our mother, grandmother, and great grandmother. We knew it was exactly what Mom would have wanted: her family enjoying each other’s company, as we put the car away ... one more time.

(Susan Panttaja is a 30-year resident of Petaluma. A retired professional geologist, she is currently pursuing a Masters of Divinity degree from Starr King School for the Ministry in Berkeley)

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