When I was a little squirt, we sold the milk from our cows to the cheese factory east of town, and we would separate some of our cream and take it once a week to the Purity Dairy, south of the Square. One day, Mom delivered some cream and left me to eat a dish of ice cream in the dairy’s parlour.
“Are you too busy for me to leave Tom here while I run to the bank, Mr. Duckworth?” said Mom.
“I ain’t doing nothing but washing up this here dab o’ dishes and reading today’s paper, Hilda. You just go right ahead. If he gives me the dickens, I’ll just sit on ‘im and keep him quiet whilst I read the paper,” he said with a wink at me.
I sat at the black marble topped table with its twisted wire legs, spooning out the last streaks of ice cream from my glass bowl. Round, immense and flushed, dressed in white with a tall baker’s cap, Mr. Duckworth sat cross legged at the far end of the room, peering at me from time to time over the top of his paper. I fidgeted for a spell, studying the chairs with their twisted wire legs and backs which formed a heart within a heart. The ice cream freezer hummed out a rhythm, joined by the muffled din and clanking from the dairy in back. I rose after a spell and slowly meandered up to the freezer, scooting my sweater along the length of it as I peered through its glass windows.
“Did you ones get your favorite kind this morning, honey?” he said, lowering his paper, looking seriously over the top of his spectacles.
“Now, which kind was that?” he said with an impish grin above his great wattling jowls. “I gave ye a dip o’ lemon and a dip o’ vanilla.”
“Lemon,” I said, looking at an open can through the glass. “Lemon’s my favorite. What’s that orange stuff?”
“Why orange. And it ain’t sherbet, neither. Sherbet’s all watery. Ye got to have a proper lot o’ good heavy cream for any dessert, even if it’s a doggoned pie. I put as much cream in that as I do in my vanilla.”
“What’s your favorite, Mr. Duckworth?”
“They’s all my favorites,” he said, heaving himself around the freezer with short, heavy breaths. “But I’ve got one here I’ve tried for years to get just so, and I think I’ve finally done it. I first had it when I visited Mississippi. Now they wouldn’t give me the recipe, but the flavor stuck with me. I eat it every day, and now I believe to my soul that I’ve got ‘er just so. Fetch me your bowl up here.
“This is it,” he said, putting a dip into my dish. “Mint julep. Now it’s got to have a dip o’ orange right beside it to be just so, don’t it?” He gave me a wink, sticking out the tip of his tongue.
“Thanks. But Mom said that I wasn’t to have any more.”
“Fiddlesticks! That’s what she gets for having me look after ye. Proper ladies all tell ye no, if ye know what I mean. Besides, if she wants t’ skin me when she gets back, you can have a full tummy whilst ye watch the fur fly,” he said, mounding his own bowl with the same flavors which he had just dipped for me. I took my seat as he huffed and heaved, baker’s hat swaying from side to side like a great white mushroom, back to his place at the far end of the parlour. He rolled and closed his eyes, smiling and grunting with each mouth full.
“Well?” he said, startling me with a sudden beady eyed gaze.
“There, by George! That’s how I know I’ve finally got it. It tastes the best to me when theah ain’t nobody comes through that door that don’t like it.”
With all our progress, ice cream just doesn’t seem to be the sublime delight that it once was, does it?