When I was 17 years old, I took my high school girlfriend, Laura, out for ice cream at Newport Creamery.
We sat on stools at the counter, and when the server asked us for our order, Laura ordered a hot fudge sundae with vanilla ice cream.
“Why did you order vanilla?” I asked her after the server left.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
I can’t recall the conversation exactly, but this crux was this:
I thought that vanilla ice cream was chocolate ice cream minus the chocolate. I didn’t know that vanilla was an actual flavor. I thought vanilla ice cream was simply ice milk.
“So you’ve never had vanilla ice cream?” Laura asked.
I hadn’t. Never in my life. I was a 17 year-old human being, on the cusp of graduating high school, and I didn’t understand that vanilla was an actual flavor.
This story came to mind this week because my students were talking about the card game Uno, and it occurred to me, for the first time, that when you have one card left in your hand while playing the game and are required to shout “Uno!” you’re actually shouting the Spanish word for one.
I know that the Spanish word for the number one is “uno,” but for all of my life, I had not made the connection between the Spanish language and the game. I thought that when I was shouting “Uno!” I was shouting the name of the game.
My students did not treat me as kindly as Laura upon learning about my misunderstanding. They couldn’t stop laughing at my stupidity. Heads shook. Eyes rolled. One of them wondered aloud if I should be teaching children.
Laura, on the other hand, ordered a small bowl of vanilla ice cream in addition to our sundaes. Sitting there at the counter in Newport Creamery, I took my very first bite of vanilla ice cream.
It was good. Still not as tasty as chocolate, but not bad.
Vanilla ice cream and Uno.
In case you were wondering if I’m the sharpest tool in the shed, now you know.