A True Sign of Spring

Last week’s post about trains generated more response than I expected and it was fun reading everyone’s comments. A common thread through many of them was the connection to ‘home’ – memories of train rides with family, with listening to trains near childhood homes, or spending time with dads. I wonder if this week’s post will have the same sense.

Spring is definitely unfurling. There’s a green haze around my trees where leaf buds are testing the warmer weather. The scent of daffodils, crocus, and hyacinths from my flower beds has found its way into my house. I’ve seen the first, second . . . and flocks of robins. But the one sure sign of spring that I grew up with is missing.

In the Midwest, the opening of the neighborhood ice cream stands herald ‘Spring has Arrived!!’ It seems the smaller the town, the better chance there’s a family-owned little dairy bar or ice cream place. They’re usually small buildings with little or no indoor seating, but a picnic table or two under big trees. You order at one walk-up window and pick up at the next. You’re waited on by high school students because these are the best places for first jobs. Or you’re waited on by the older owners of the establishment because they spend all their time there. Either way, there’s the feeling of home because chances are you know those high school students because you went to school with their parents, and the owners have been there for as long as you remember and they’re always excited to see you. They’ve looked forward to reopening as much as you have.

Last week my sister Trudy texted, ‘DK’s is open!’ Which was immediately followed by texts from our other sister Lynda and me – ‘What’s the flavor this week?!’

DK’s is a fixture in the east-end. It was probably there, no doubt under a different name, when our dad grew up within a bicycle ride away. Even though most of these places now carry hand-dipped hard ice cream, when I was growing up they had only soft-serve, but you could get vanilla, chocolate or twist – so there was a variety. Now DK’s does have an added twist – literally.

Each week there’s a special sherbet that can be twisted with the vanilla. The owners print the list ahead of time because we all have our favorites and we anticipate when ours will show up. This week it was Black raspberry – a family favorite – but the list also includes orange, pineapple, red raspberry, lemon and others. Whenever I went home for a visit, there was a cup of twist in Dad’s freezer waiting for us. It was usually the previous week’s flavor . . . so we had to go get a fresh cup for the current week’s flavor.

Of course these mom-n-pop shops also offer chocolate, butterscotch or cherry dip, and sprinkles, a selection of sundae and milkshake flavors, the ever-popular banana split, and a menu that includes sandwiches and salads.

DK’s is right down the block from the softball field so whenever I’d go home, Dad and I would stop for shredded chicken sandwiches on the way to the game, and ice cream on the way back home.

But DK’s isn’t the only game in town and my sister Trudy and I worked at two of the others. And a thank you to Trudy for snagging the pics of our hometown favorites.

She worked at Fulton’s, now Caleb’s Brookside Dari, (the bright red building above) and I worked at Taylor’s, now Michael’s Casual Dining ( the other building above). They remain Fulton’s and Taylor’s to many, and will until our generation dies out and no one remembers the previous owners. Taylor’s was originally a drive-up place, but by the time I worked there they’d added a dining area to the front.

Working at Taylor’s was a great second job, (my first was helping my Grandpa clean the bank where he was the custodian and general handy-man), though I wasn’t sure I’d ever get the hang of it. The cones and sundaes had to weigh precisely 3, 5 or 7 ounces and Wanda – the owner – scraped off more of my attempts than praised them those first days of training. I lost a cone or two . . . or maybe more, in the dip canisters and sprinkle spinner during that time too. Eventually I learned to eyeball and feel the weight, flick my wrist just right, and for the most part was a decent employee during high school. The only real mistake I made after those initial training days was the evening a heavy glass, top-heavy sundae dish toppled on the tray and the contents flew out, hitting a woman at the back of her head – ice cream, hot caramel syrup and whip cream sliding down her hair. It’s funny now.

It’s not just the ice cream that marks the changing of the seasons at these places. It’s the sounds that fill them. The sizzle of hot grease when you drop in a basket of curly fries, the pop and whir of the air hoses that run the soft serve machines. The bigger pop when the hoses get too much air in them and the confection comes out more like Redi Whip than ice cream. Best of all are the people who come in.

We all emerge from hibernation in the spring and the regulars we’ve not seen since the previous fall are eager for that first cone or grilled cheese – which always tastes different and better than the ones we make at home – and hearing how the winter treated all of us. At Taylor’s, Ralph arrived in his red and white vintage Chevy, smoking a cigar, and took up residence in a corner booth nursing a cup of coffee for an hour, shooting the breeze and catching up. The twins, elderly sisters in matching outfits, always bought the same thing and paid for their orders with not only the exact change, but using the exact same coinage. Another rite of season passage was Little League and after every victory Taylor’s would fill with teams of Little Leaguers shouting their choices of milkshakes the coaches had promised for a win.

Yes, Spring had arrived!

Down here in the Carolinas there are fewer places and they don’t pull down wooden shutters in late October. They stay open all year long.

Five Grands is our new local spot, perfect after a walk on the Greenway. It’s nice being able to get a scoop or two whenever the taste buds are hungry for moose tracks, or butter pecan, or simply vanilla.

Yet, it’s not always about the ice cream.

One of Dad’s favorite sayings was, “It’s a special day!” which was his reasoning for having ice cream. A special day was always when one of us girls came to visit. But a special day could also be a sunny day after a week of rain, a rainy day after a week of intense heat, his favorite golfer won the Memorial Tournament at Muirfield . . . Dad was the kind of guy who saw pretty much every day as a special day and a good day for ice cream.

So why not declare today a special day and enjoy a cup or a cone. What’s your favorite flavor?

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s