My first ice cream cone lesson was the most important: lick the sides as well as the top. If you don’t, the consequences can be dire. They include:
1. Sticky fingers, a frozen hand, as well as a stream of melting vanilla dribbling down to your elbows.
2. An infuriated mother who, believe me, does not have enough Kleenex on her person to wipe up the mess and rescue Sunday school clothing from sure ruin.
3. The loss of the entire clump of half-eaten strawberry when it drops off the cone and falls into a pile of leaves. So, take care.
Early on, the best ice cream for me was a birthday party Dixie cup. In a few short minutes, it was possible to pry off the lid and gobble every sumptuous bite, before scraping the cup clean, and sucking the last bit of joy from a damp, wooden spoon. As they say in “menu speak,” it pairs well with cake and a pink icing rose.
Next came an incredible discovery – the ice cream case at Belhaven’s Shady Nook. It stood right next to the drink box by the front door, so a battalion of little hands could open the lid and reach the goodies easily. It’s entirely possible that Shady Nook sold more Nutty Buddies, pushups and dreamsicles than gas and motor oil. Eskimo pies too, with a crunchy chocolate coating and vanilla underneath. In August, we ate fast before licking the wrappers.
Seale-Lily arrived soon after. Egged on by Bob Neblett’s or Woodie’s nightly assurance that Seale Lilly was ummm, ummm good, I fell in love with their ice cream. You could purchase it at the Jitney, but the real fun was piling into the car after supper, rolling down the windows and heading to ice cream nirvana. The original location was downtown on Griffith Street (I think), but in the early 1950s, a new drive-in Seale-Lily opened on Triangle Drive, near Northside. It was a neon-lit, Happy Days-style wonder. There was a take-out window in front and parking spaces at the rear if you wanted to go inside, climb onto a stool, and watch beautiful concoctions form right in front of your eyes. It was all there, sodas, milkshakes and malts, sundaes and banana splits. They also had sherbet, orange and lime, but it wasn’t popular. I remember the whirr and buzz of the milkshake machine, while I waited for someone to place a tall, icy glass on the counter and fill it with a thick, fluffy stream of chocolate malt.
My favorite was a hot fudge sundae, two scoops of vanilla drowning in gooey hot fudge and topped with a spurt of whipped cream and a cherry. My second choice was Cupid’s Delight with scoops of strawberry and an abundance of cherries. For one brief summer, a Purple People Eater sundae was featured. (vanilla ice cream drowning in blueberry syrup). Sadly, my purple tongue only lasted for an hour or so, not long enough to alarm a school teacher.
In an ice cream emergency, a drug store soda fountain was perfectly capable of producing a delicious milkshake also, as well as a variety of sodas, sundaes and cones. When time was short or rainy-day boredom was closing in, Mama drove straight to Parkin’s on Fortification, only three convenient minutes away. I ordered hand-packed vanilla on a waffle cone and tried on rhinestone sunglasses while Mama purchased a card of bobby pins.
Soft serve arrived in Jackson too, at Dairy Queen and a small shop on the corner of Meadowbrook and North State called Freezer Fresh. (It closed to make way for Drive-in 51). My memory is foggy about Elsie and her Borden’s shop on Hwy 80; perhaps someone will fill me in.
Recently, ice cream has moved up town. Elite shops have popped up featuring Gelato, frozen yogurt, sorbet and hundreds of exotic flavors dreamed up by marketing experts in a conference room. There is also diet ice cream, a true tragedy. Most of them consist of ingredients only a skilled chemist would recognize. So, I’m a purist. If I want ice cream, I eat ice cream and enjoy every luxurious bite. Nothing beats a double scoop of velvety chocolate sinking into a crisp, sugary cone. Calories be damned!
Of course, I’ve left out the best of all. Homemade peach ice cream, produced in the backyard by pouring rock salt over chipped ice, and endless cranking, unless you were lucky enough to own a motorized machine. But, I posted a tale about my father and his ice cream freezer last May, and nobody wants to read the same story twice. Just remember, a life well lived includes licking the dasher at least once.
Averyell A. Kessler is a native Jacksonian living in Fondren.