259 Grisha Zeitlin



In the beginning of 1975, on the last, wet and frosty January night, my family had a privilege to land in JFK airport after six month of travel from Soviet Russia to North America. We had to make few pit stops – one month in Vienna, Austria and five months in Rome, Italy, and we were finally at our last traveling juncture on Alitalia from Rome to New York. My family, with the rest of our fellow immigrants and travelers, slowly got off the plain after fourteen time-consuming hours. We were full of restless anticipation to see US of A.

After a couple of hours waiting by the exit gate, we were taken to a waiting room where we were informed that there was no connecting flight to Philadelphia as promised, and we’d need to wait for a bus that would take us to our final destination.

Eastern Standard Time was approaching midnight and we were all growing tired, impatient and hungry. Our parents asked my brothers not to take adventurous walks, since no one knew when it would be time to go. Around the corner from our waiting area we came across real American vending machines; one was soda, the other was ice cream. My brothers and I and all the kids who joined us ran back to our parents, begging for change. No one had much, and when we gathered what we could, we were strictly instructed not to waste money on soda since we already discovered a water fountain, and to use our limited mixed-up American-Italian currency on provisions that could fulfill our appetite.

The ice-cream machine had four choices: 1. A small cup of half vanilla/half chocolate that came with small wooden spoon-like utensil, 2. a red, white & blue Sno-Cone, 3. chocolate covered vanilla ice-cream on the stick, and 4. an ice-cream Sandwich. We all kept on looking at our choices as if they were TV cartoons on Sunday morning. After extensive consideration, someone bravely made a decision not to get the tri-color Sno-Cone, since it’s clearly was not ice-cream. The ice-cream sandwich was a complete mystery – yes, by looking at the picture there was ice cream somewhere in the middle but what was that black, roof tar like, fudgy walls, and the unfamiliar word “sandwich” was not helpful. The majority decision was made to get either a cup, or ice-cream on a stick, both delicious but pretty safe choices since all our respective cities had those kinds of treats in local ice-cream stands.

My older brother made a bold choice by choosing the ice-cream sandwich. In all the excitement of the moment, everyone was eating their treats but still eyeing my brother in disbelief of his choice. Everyone were frozen and silent except for their smacking lips in anticipation of his verdict. After taking his sweet time, he pronounced that this American Ice-Cream Sandwich was the best thing he’d ever had in his whole life. He was few years older than everyone else, so everyone had no reason to doubt his wisdom. My brother also added that the sandwich’s wrapper was a perfect rectangular shape to make paper airplane. Everyone gasped, and began to search for more change to get their ice-cream sandwich and a paper airplane.

These paper airplanes entertained us until our bus was ready, and continued to sustain our existence on the trip that took us to our journey’s end where everything was about to begin.

Some forty years later, on occasion I have an ice-cream sandwich for dessert, and I try my best not to miss the opportunity to construct one more ice-cream sandwich paper airplane, and to take a brief flight into the past, not so far away.