I believe in ice cream stands. Not the corporate confections in strip malls and “lifestyle centers” with their $6 cones. Or their distant cousins, the Dairy Queens, with Dennis the Menace as their official spokesperson, but the mom and pop variety that come out of hibernation before Memorial Day and close with the last scoop of pumpkin ice cream. The buildings are 50’s utilitarian. Beacons of fluorescent light, sweetness and neon that paint the roadsides of two lanes and small towns across America. Like moths around the back porch light, we’re drawn to them each summer to share in the great equalizer…ice cream.
Grandparents sit in Buicks and converse silently with each spoonful. Young boys stand over dropped bikes, count their pocket change and barter for the biggest scoop. Children who “finished their dinners” whine and plead their case to parents with expanding waistlines. A mother pulls change from her purse, a child on the hip and double scoop in the hand. Packs of young teens hover in the shadows. The boys in long shorts, a tinge of bad skin and sweaty hair, flirt with girls in tanks who text and talk, push and giggle with the intermittent burst of “Oh my God!!!”
In two rows we wait. Reading the lists of soft serve and hand scooped. The windows are a study in repetition, covered with multiple pictures of banana splits, fudge brownie parfaits, Eat-It-All cones, hot dogs, french fries and handwritten lists of toppings. The screen slides open. A bent and half tilted head takes our order. The screen slides closed. Within the hive bodies move side to side, back and forth, passing without touching. At the Soft Serve, an arm pulls, pauses and twists. We wait, our fingers fidgeting and fussing with the greedy napkin dispenser. We pull at one, then two, then a handful come out, leaving us with more than we need. The screen slides open. Take and distribute. Cones, cups and boats. The screen slides closed.
What has been a communal experience, for just a moment, becomes a singular event. The day fades, sounds dampen, our surroundings disappear. We are at one with our cone, our split, our sundae. Do we eat the vanilla twist with crispy chocolate first? Or maybe that perfect spoonful of rocky road/banana/wet nuts with just a touch of butterscotch. The first taste — the moment of moments. It’s this memory that brings us back. Night after night, summer after summer, year after year. It’s what we all believe in.
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