Pop Tarts

I hate Pop Tarts. It didn’t used to always be that way. As a kid they were as close to heaven as my palate had ever imagined. Lacking in any nutrients, it was like candy for breakfast. Even as an adult I’d swipe one from the stash that Brooke bought for the girls the shopping trip before, always taking care to eat the second from the wrapper lest my robbery would be discovered. To this day I wonder if they always thought a box only came with four tarts instead of six. No my distaste for Pop Tarts started almost four years ago. I just never knew it until now.

Embarking on our first vacation in three years Brooke bought them for convenience. When cooking in a camper, easily prepared meals take a priority. Without electric, limited refrigeration and hours of driving between destinations they were the one breakfast choice that was instantly ready to eat and didn’t require a spoon. She choose a strawberry one. I took both a cinnamon and strawberry.

With one bite the memories came flooding back. I could tell it was the same for Brooke, just by the look on her face. And without saying a word, we each carefully wrapped the remaining tart in a napkin and threw it away, instead opting for hunger until lunch. You see, four years ago it was again a breakfast of convenience. Somewhere in between IV treatments, steroid mixing and catching the bus to St. Jude, both she and I would stop to grab something for breakfast. Something we could eat with one hand and something to energize us after two hours of sleep. Never would we do this together – balancing work and care for Elena in Memphis we’d never be together except on the weekends, when schedules were lighter and we’d go for waffles at Elena’s request. Still, at the hospital, it was life as we knew it – a life no doubt shared by most parents experiencing the same thing.

Gracie was too young to remember. Brooke and I weren’t about to destroy her sugary paradise either. But for us, it wasn’t about the taste – it was about the memories. Memories of a cancer that took our daughter.

It’s funny how a taste can bring you back. To this day I also hate the smell of isopropyl alcohol, the look of syringes and head pillows, the sound of a blender and the taste of turkey dinner (which makes Thanksgiving harder than it already is – it was also the day after that she was diagnosed). On the other hand I love ice cream. Nutrionally I even think this is an even swap for Pop Tarts. Specifically I like Elena’s Blueberry Pie ice cream from Graeter’s. Sure, it’s named after Elena, but it’s more than that. It’s about why it was created more than for whom it was created. And in the end, every spoonful benefits the research to give children with this deadly form of brain cancer a fighting chance.

Everyone asks if Elena liked blueberries. I try to avoid this question. She really didn’t. She was a vanilla kind of girl. Only after her diagnosis did she branch out and try chocolate and vanilla swirl. Actually the flavor has nothing to do with Elena beyond the name. Instead it was the invention of family friends who participated in The Cure Starts Now auction, intent on naming their creation after her. They liked blueberries, but most of all, they liked pie crust. Somehow I think Elena would have agreed, though, if she ever had the opportunity to taste it.

With ice cream month in full swing, I jokingly tell Brooke I’m going on an ice cream diet. She looks down at my stomach then back at me and shakes her head. I can’t tell if she disapproves or just thinks I’m a lost cause. Then again, she might be right on both. Still, it has to be better than Pop Tarts. Who knows – maybe I’ll even start taking a pint with me in the morning on the way to work. Then again, maybe a cone instead. After all, it would serve all the critical requirements: convenient an

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