Ice Cream Month

Marcy O’Brien

Yikes! It’s over next week and I almost missed it.

National Ice Cream Month arrived on the first of July and never crossed my radar until the 21st day of the month. Shameful. Particularly for me.

For decades, we native New Englanders have eaten more ice cream per capita than any other region of the country. Even though California has now skewed the numbers a bit, four of the top ten states for ice cream consumption are Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Connecticut. For us Yankees ice cream isn’t just a sometime thing.

Dear Richard manages about three butter pecan cones a summer whereas I have been known to partake before breakfast. A pre-breakfast dish of coffee ice cream goes a long way towards a morning infusion of both caffeine and happiness, a great way to begin the day.

I became an ice cream connoisseur early on. My first real job was in an old fashioned homemade ice cream parlor. Mr. Sullivan made his own ice cream, his own syrups and roasted his walnuts and pecans personally. He whipped his own heavy cream for sundaes and prided himself on the visual perfection of his banana splits in their long glass dishes. To my way of thinking he was in the happiness business. People came from miles around for his specialties like ginger ice cream and frozen pudding.

But Mr. Sullivan was not a warm and fuzzy guy. Silly me, I assumed that anyone who was that involved with ice cream would automatically be a happy person, but he never smiled, laughed or made any conversation other than “Only give them one napkin with each cone. I’m not made of money” or “Before you put the chairs up wipe down all the tables tonight.”

We closed at 9 P.M. and I always had a ten or fifteen-minute stint of sidework to complete before I left. And then, incongruously, I was granted a nightly treat.

The cantankerous old goat always asked, “Well, what’ll be tonight?” He allowed me a sugar cone with one scoop just before I left each night. It was always a major decision. Every night I wrestled between his yummy rum raisin or luscious fresh peach. Or do I finally try his famous pistachio, or go back to my old standbys, coffee or grapenut?

“C’mon, c’mon, I haven’t got all night. Make up your mind.” When I’d finally blurt out the decision he would carefully scoop out one smooth, small orb onto the cone, making sure there was no extra fringe of ice cream around the bottom. Then he’d hold it out, with one napkin, as if he were presenting me with the crown jewels. I learned early on the necessity of effusive thanks for his grudging gift.

“Now get on with ya’, I don’t want to be here all night.” He’d lock the door immediately after I passed through and began washing the terrazzo floor as he did every night. If cleanliness were next to godliness, old Sullivan had a chance to make it to heaven. But St. Peter would never have let him in if admission was based on kindness. My mother used to call him Nasty Neat.

I think, perhaps, that Sullivan wanted to be liked but couldn’t figure out how to go about it. Maybe that was his reason behind the nightly chintzy cone. I know I worked at making his customers happy although I doubt he noticed. Yet even at age 14, I felt sorry for him, for his lack of warmth and people savvy. He was standing behind the door the day they passed out our local Irish humor.

He did however leave a small legacy. He began in me an appreciation for wonderful ice cream and the joy of anticipating new tastes and new food flavors that has carried me through a delicious lifetime.

My biggest challenge ice cream-wise is that I still love the New England staple – coffee ice cream. I thought once Starbucks began cranking out Coffee Everything that it would bubble up to the top. But alas, no, and it’s a shame. Coffee ice cream, especially substituted for vanilla under a thick slather of hot fudge or nestled beside a wedge of blueberry pie – is divine. Coffee is a difficult find in these here parts, but worth the pursuit. Addictions are usually challenging.

I have only four more days to appropriately pursue my July allocation of ice cream. I’m not going to be able to make up for all the lost time in National Ice Cream Month, but I’m going to sacrifice and give it my best shot.

I have it on good authority that most of the dairy stands will still be open August first. Stock up on coffee ice cream, guys, I’m circling your neighborhood.

Marcy O’Brien is a member of the National Society of Newspaper Columnists. She can be reached at Moby.32@hotmail.com.