A Call to Vanilla

Do they still give kids ice cream after a tonsillectomy? I had my tonsils removed when I was five. Back then, the doctors promised you all the ice cream you wanted.

I remember sitting in my hospital room—tonsillectomies required a two night stay back then—and the nurse asking me whether I wanted chocolate or vanilla. I answered in a split second, “Vanilla!”

The nurse blinked at me in surprise and said, “No one's ever chosen vanilla before.”

Her reaction stuck with me. Was vanilla really that odd a choice? We have the saying, “plain old vanilla,” but I don’t find it boring at all.

Over the years, my food choices have reinforced my preference for vanilla. I love vanilla ice cream and milk shakes. I’ll eat, but not happily, a chocolate cake with chocolate icing, but I gravitate toward vanilla or yellow cake with vanilla icing. I like cookies that have chocolate chips or chunks in them, but I’d rather have a non-chocolate cookie. When Nabisco started making Golden Oreos®, I nearly danced in the grocery aisle. I can’t tolerate milk products anymore—I’m not lactose-intolerant, so don’t bother with suggestions there—but I still prefer the taste of vanilla. In fact, one advantage of my inability to digest dairy products is that I can choose vanilla-flavored milk substitutes. And yes, they have chocolate-flavored substitutes, too.

Now don’t get me wrong. I like chocolate, especially dark chocolate, but I love vanilla more. Even when I drink hot chocolate, I prefer the French Vanilla-flavored mixes. Vanilla adds a smooth, creamy texture that enhances all of the combined flavors in any food. Chocolate, in my estimation, overpowers all other ingredients.

This week I’m attending a seminar on the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI®). If you’re unfamiliar with the MBTI®, it’s a personality instrument that reports preferences in four areas of behavior. Your preference doesn’t mean that you never choose the other option, you just naturally lean toward one choice over the other. I prefer vanilla, but sometimes I choose chocolate. The seminar is not about food, but it got me thinking about this preference and how society implies that I’m unusual because of it.

Those of you who know me, know I don’t mind being different, but often we project our preferences on to other people. The message we send is: “If I do it this way, then it must be the right way.”

I don’t know whether the nurse made me feel wrong back then, but the memory has stuck with me. That tells me something. What do you prefer that makes you step out of the norms of other people? How do you feel about it? For my writing friends, have you given your characters any preferences that set them apart, that define them?

Does my ice cream story resonate with you or your characters?  Vanilla lovers, I challenge you to step up and join me!


Henry said…
You must have gone to a different hospital than I did, sister mine. I only had to stay one night, though, and I also asked for vanilla. Of course, I cannot stand the taste of chocolate so the choice was simple. I'd eat chocolate if it was put in front of me because we were raised to be polite, but it tasted horrible.
Henry, I probably went to the same hospital, but I remember checking in the night before and staying to the day after. Of course, that may have something to do with staying under the anesthesia a little longer than expected. ;)
RLP said…
I spent only one night in the hospital, too, but I was given no choice of ice cream flavors. I got vanilla, period -- and I'm a chocoholic. Maybe I was housed in the Henry Ford wing; it was he who years ago said that a Ford buyer could have any car color they wanted, as long as it was black.
Heidi Cox said…
as you know, because you took care of me, I had my tonsils out when I was 23ish...very painful as an adult I can say. Now, it's almost always an out patient procedure. You got me some ice cream but it felt yucky and sticky in my throat. And Icee's were too intense as well...just too cold. The only thing that felt good was Jello.
Anyway, I tend to choose vanilla more than chocolate as well, though not as much as you, and I have not felt like a weirdo at all.
Tisha-lisha said…
I tell ya, ma, you know what I prefer most of the time steps me out of the norm of other people! How does it make me feel? It makes me feel more defined as a person, as an individual. Let's face it, you know you more than any body. So, embrace who you are. If everyone really did that, then the tendencies to gravitate toward a collective action, thought, behavior, or ice cream flavor would be non-existent. And then the world would be much more interesting, i think. :o)
Valerie said…
I like a little chocolate, along with a something else. Chocolate alone doesn't thrill me. So my preference is: both! Does that surprise anyone?

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