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One broken freezer, two spoons and a pint of Chunky Monkey

Columnist Dan Conradt says when you're told to ignore the purple elephant in the room, all you see is purple elephants.

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It was a cozy little apartment.

Granted, we didn’t use the word “cozy” at the time; to borrow a line from an old comedian, “My apartment was so small I had to step outside to change my mind.”

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But time tends to sweeten your memories, and today I remember it as cozy.

“I should tell you,” the landlord explained when our tour brought us to the kitchen, “that the freezer doesn’t work right, and you won’t be able to keep ice cream.”

The rent was reasonable, there was off-street parking and we had our own patio; the ice cream thing didn’t seem like a deal-breaker.

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We signed a lease and the landlord gave us a discount on the first month’s rent as a wedding present.

It took creativity, but we managed to fit our two households into one apartment, and from the patio we could see the college theater; we joked with friends that we’d moved into Austin’s Theater District.

But if you tell someone not to think about purple elephants they’ll find it impossible to think of anything else, and the landlord’s disclaimer about the ice cream became our purple elephant. And it surfaced the day after we moved in: “I’m going to the grocery store,” Carla said. “Is there anything you want?”

“Ice cream.”

“The freezer won’t keep it frozen,” she reminded me.

“That’s okay,” I said. “Just get a little one.”

An hour later we were sitting in the living room with two spoons, sharing a pint of Chunky Monkey. Ice cream never tasted so good, and we vowed that a temperamental freezer wasn’t going to keep us from our ice cream.

“You know what I’m hungry for?” I asked one night as we sat on the patio and watched patrons arrive at the theater.

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“Ice cream,” Carla said. “I was thinking the same thing.”

We walked to the ice cream shop and sat at a plastic picnic table with our double-scoop cones and watched carhops shuttle mugs of root beer to the cars that filled the parking lot.

We became experts on Austin’s ice cream scene; we knew every place that served ice cream … which places were generous with their scoops and which were chintzy. We knew where you could get “Dollar Scoops” on Mondays. Which places had the best selections. And the one place in town that served Chocolate Fudge Torte.

Best. Ice cream. Ever.

We learned that a pint of supermarket ice cream wasn’t enough for the two of us, but a half gallon was too much unless you considered it supper.

We discovered that there was something very Minnesotan about walking through a snowstorm to get an ice cream cone.

And every spring we anxiously watched the shop that closed for the winter to see when they changed the message on the marquee from “Closed” to “We’re Open!” We visited the shop often enough that the girl behind the counter started to ask, “The usual?” whenever we came in.

The apartment was a temporary stop that lasted five years.

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We eventually moved into our first home, trading the Theater District patio for a new Frigidaire with a working freezer; it has continuously held ice cream for 23 years.

But sometimes I miss sitting on the couch with two spoons, sharing a pint of Chunky Monkey.

Dan Conradt, a lifelong Mower County resident, lives in Austin with his wife, Carla Johnson.

Related Topics: PEOPLEDAN CONRADTAUSTIN
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