- The Summer of Ice Cream
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About a year before the summer of ice cream began, my father called Tayo and me into the living room and told us that he would be leaving his job at the Kodak plant in Salt Lake City. He asked us to sit on the couch and he sat down next to us, and then he stood up and sat down again. With tears in his eyes, he told us that he had walked into his office, laughing with a coworker about something or other, and then he saw it: a crude drawing hanging by a red thread from the side of his cubicle. Someone had drawn a picture of my father with his facial features greatly exaggerated and blood dripping from the extra-wide nose. The drawing was meant to be a representation of my father, an effigy, but he said the thing actually resembled an evil monkey.
Tayo and I glanced at each other as Dad spoke, and then Tayo stared down at the yellowing carpet. I could not help but shake my head. Though we were both scared, and angry, we weren’t really surprised: We had heard different versions of this speech before. This was just the latest in a long series of job disappointments for him.
We knew that things had been easier for Dad once. At other times, in other settings, Dad had regaled Tayo and me with stories about happier moments in his life. He would tell us how, as a young student in Nigeria almost fifteen years before, he had applied to a college in Utah on a whim, a school no one in his family had heard of, and how he’d learned shortly afterward that he’d been awarded a full scholarship. How his new school, Davis State University, had sponsored his trip to Utah, and covered the airfare [End Page 137] for his new bride as well. How—unlike his siblings, his friends, and almost everyone he knew—he had received a visa to travel to the United States on his first visit to the American Embassy in Lagos. How he had arrived in America with the belief that his American dream was already coming true.
But my father often says that his life began to unravel the moment his feet touched American soil. In relatively quick succession, his wife became pregnant, and then she became ill. Mom began to see things that weren’t there, to speak with people who did not exist. Dad had to drop out of school to take care of her and his newborn son. Another son soon followed. At this point, Dad found work wherever he could: He worked as a janitor at an amusement park, and then as a street sweeper, and then as a security guard. At first, each job seemed to present him with a host of possibilities, a chance to move up and make his mark in America, but then, inevitably, disappointment would follow. Sometimes he was laid off without explanation, and other times he quit because he was tired of being bullied. A threatening note left on his desk. An ugly word flung at his face. My mother returned to Nigeria somewhere in the middle of this, to rest and recover, and she promised Tayo and me that when she returned she would be back to her old self. We never saw her again.
I still remember the day when Dad came home, so excited that it seemed like he was blushing, and told us that he had been hired by Kodak. Dad told us that the job didn’t pay very much, but that he would get to wear a suit and tie every day. I remember being in awe of the idea that my father would actually have to dress up to go to work, instead of wearing one of the gray, drab jumpsuits that lined his musty closet. I helped Dad iron his favorite brown suit the night before his first day, the one with the missing top button and the small tear in the middle of the right...