Vanilla, chocolate and strawberry

My son Doug and I were having desert one evening. I’d sliced half a banana on top of a dish of vanilla ice cream, dripped a few splashes of chocolate sauce over that, and finished with a squish of whipped cream from one of those containers that made the whole thing look especially delicious. It was.

Doug had one of those looks on his face that said, “I’m about to ask a question,” and he did. He wanted to know if I remembered the first time I’d ever eaten ice cream. I thought for a minute and smiled. Some of my favorite memories are the early ones when I still lived in the house were I was born, a little, tiny row house on Beechwood Street in South Philadelphia.

At the end of the street was one of those “corner stores” so prevalent in any eastern city. Looking back, I don’t remember exactly what those folks sold. But I do remember going to the counter to buy a vanilla ice cream cone and holding onto my older sister Jeanne’s hand. Below the counter were containers with slanted isinglass windows that contained cookies.

My favorite kind was called Mary Jane’s, if memory serves me after all of these years; it cost two for a penny. All of this trying to remember the first time I had either eaten or done something brought back a lot of where, what, how and with whom. It was fun to look back and delve into the memory of times past. At 89 I’ve had a lot of “times past.”

When we’re children, our taste buds are not as refined as they are in later years. I can clearly remember my mother trying to get me to eat a cooked carrot. I hated those things. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I’d even try eating one of those ugly orange things again. Now, here I sat for the first time at what was to be my mother-in-law’s dining room table.

When that bowl of carrots was passed to me I could do nothing but take a few and put them on my plate. I ate a little of the meat, a few mashed potatoes, a few peas, and then I had to push my fork into one slice of those horrible looking things. I put it in my mouth. It was delicious. I was surprised. I ate them all, every single one.

In the days before that happened, when I was still in junior high school, one of my friends was a sweet girl named Mary who lived in an orphanage. She always carried her lunch in a paper bag. I either brought or bought mine, depending on the day of the week, and the menu. If I was lucky, and money a little looser than usual, I had an extra dime to buy a brick of ice cream, but my friend never did.

One afternoon Mary and I were heading for town. She was going directly home while I had to go to town to buy something my mother had asked me to purchase at a local store. On the way we passed an ice cream store named “Dolly Madison.” As we went pass the window Mary mentioned that she’d never eaten any kind of fancy ice cream, that she had only tasted ice cream in a dish once or twice in her life.

I couldn’t believe it. That night when I told my mother she looked astonished. Now things were rough, it was just after the awful part of the Depression. However, mother said a few dimes wouldn’t be the end of the world if we spent a few. She gave me enough money to buy Mary and me a soda, or sundae, or something nice at the Dolly Madison ice cream parlor when I had a chance to treat my friend.

I waited a few days. Then one afternoon I told Mary I’d be going downtown in her direction. I asked if she’d go with me to that special ice cream parlor? She explained she didn’t have the money, but I told her my mother wanted to treat her. That sweet girl couldn’t believe her ears, but she said yes and Mary and I had sundaes; what kind I don’t remember — it doesn’t really matter — but, I don’t think I ever ate any ice cream again that tasted that good.

Edna Van Leuven is a Churchill County writer.


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