Posts tagged with: small towns

He Threw Up His Hand

 My friend Rene moved here from Michigan.  We met for lunch one day and I drove us both to a little diner a few miles down the road.  As we rode along on the country lane, I met a car coming from the opposite direction.  I slowed down, easewave hands 1d over to the edge of the too-narrow strip of asphalt, and as we passed, I waved.  The driver waved back. 

Rene looked over at me. “Who was that?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.  Rene’s face scrunched up into a confused frown.  A few minutes later, I met another car.  The driver waved.  I waved back. 

“Who was that?”  Rene asked.

“I have no idea,” I said. 

Rene raised her left eyebrow.  “If you don’t know who it is, why do you wave?”

I raised my own eyebrow.  “Because this is rural Kentucky.  That’s what you do.”

When I was a little girl, everybody waved at everybody.  I remember my grandfather, DaddyMike, coming back from an outing to the store in town.  He climbed out of his battleship-size blue Impala, came into the kitchen and set the box of soap powders (this was laundry soap) on the kitchen counter.  MotherGrant (my grandmother) said, “Did ya see anybody out?”

DaddyMike:  John C. Coomer was in the garden, hoein’ out sweet corn.

MotherGrant:  Did he speak?waving country road

DaddyMike:  He threw up his hand.

I mentioned this exchange to Bandita Jeanne, and she immediately burst out laughing.  She said, “Hahah! I could quote that exactly about dozens of times from my childhood!”

I could too.  This conversation happened over and over—each time about a different person–when I was a kid. 

Now let me explain something so you get a feel for the place. John C. Coomer was known as John C. Coomer, (or perhaps the shortened version, John C, or the ever popular “Little John Coomer”) most likely because his dad, or his cousin, or his uncle, was John W. Coomer, and there was every possibility that these two—or three–John Coomers lived less than a half mile apart on the same country road.  

Now then. For you who don’t understand the exchange between DaddyMike and Mothergrant, what this meant was that as DaddyMike drove past, John C. Coomer was outside in plain view, and he was busy digging weeds out of his corn patch.

waving dogJohn C. may—or may not—have actually looked up from his destruction of the vile corn-infesting weeds.  But whether he did or not, he heard the car driving by on the road and he made the effort to take one of his hands off of the hoe handle, and lift it into the air. 

Quite likely he did not actually wave—as in move his hand back and forth in a waving motion.  Almost certainly he just lifted his hand into the air.  How high he lifted his hand would be determined by how far he was from the road and his energy level. 

If he was right by the road, his hand might not even clear his shoulder.  If he was “a ways off” he might even lift his arm all the way up so it could be seen.  If he was in a good mood, he might add a jaunty little flick of the hand.  Then he would’ve dropped his hand back to the hoe handle and proceeded to rid the corn patch of another weed.

I didn’t do anything fancy when I met that car on the way to lunch with Rene.  There was no actual waving motion.

I just threw up my hand.  

And that was enough.

It was one human noticing the presence of another human.  One soul acknowledging another in passing, and waving hadn shirthonoring that meeting.  I have no idea where or when the tradition began, but where I grew up, it was important. It was expected. No matter who you were, if your path crossed another’s, that meeting was worthy of acknowledgement. 

Now let me digress.  Had John C. been unable to actually remove one hand from the hoe—perhaps because DaddyMike was moving along at a good clip, and John C. was caught in mid stroke, attacking a particularly noxious weed–John C. could have simply thrown his head back a little.  It’s kind of the opposite of a nod.  This motion would have been greatly exaggerated by the wide straw brim of his hat, and this would have been clearly visible from the road if you knew what to look for.

If that had happened, instead of “he threw up his hand,”  DaddyMike would have reported that “he threw his head back.”

And that, too, would be proper acknowledgement.

A lot of people do not understand this advanced waving repertoire, but it’s a required skillset for anyone living long in the rural American South.

My friend Sandra moved here from another state.  She accepted that waving was necessary, but still, she said, “all these people keep lifting one or two fingers at me as we meet on the road.  I feel slighted. I want the whole hand.”

Sandra is from a southern state, but she grew up in the city.  What she didn’t get was that this is a farming community.  That means farm vehicles on the road.  These are not compact cars with power steering and automatic transmissions.  They’re pickup trucks. Trucks with trailers.  Tractors. Combines.   Or in the case of the Amish, a particularly ornery horse.

I have a hunch that maybe, all this “hands occupied” stuff–including ornery horses– is how we ended up with so many acceptable variations on the wave.

waving Four on the floorWhen I was a little girl, almost everybody drove a stick shift.  The gear shift lever might have been on the floor or on the steering column, but either way, it required both hands to operate. 

But none of this was an excuse not to wave.

What do you do when you need to wave and your hands are full of steering wheel and gearshift lever?  You adapt.

You keep your hand on the steering wheel, with your thumb firmly wrapped around it, and you lift one, two, three, or (if you’re very confident in your driving skills and the road is straight) four fingers.

If all else fails, even while driving, you throw your head back. It’s fortunate that so many people in the south wear baseball caps, since the bills of those caps do an exceptional job of exaggerating the “throw-your-head-back” motion.  But even without a cap, if the other driver is paying close enough attention to know whether you wave or not, that person will almost certainly see you throw your head back.

It’s subtle, but once you know what to watch for, it’s obvious, and one waving style is as good as another.    

When I tried to explain this, Sandra frowned at me, just as Rene frowned at me over the whole waving-in-general thing. 

It’s the same way in Tennessee, best I can tell, and I’ve seen this happen in North Carolina, at least in some parts, so I know that the “must-wave” rule applies in rural areas there..

If you pass somebody on the road, you wave.waving kitten

Duchesse Jeanne’s mother instilled this into her children.  Jeanne said, “It was a point of fact that you never passed anyone on the street or sidewalk without nodding and waving or saying hello.  Mama always told me that it was only polite to acknowledge the other person’s existence on the planet.”

She went further to say, “My auntie used to say that it was allowing that everyone was a child of God, and you acknowledged that when you spoke or waved.”

Exactly.

The first time I visited New York City, I understood why folks up there don’t wave at everyone.  It would be logistically impossible.  Most people didn’t make eye contact or nod.  That would be considered rude in my country town. 

But in big cities, if they waved at me–or even made eye contact much– I would be a little freaked out.  There are too many people all around you, all at once, all the time.  I simply could not connect with all those people I didn’t know. 

wave hands 2And I can imagine the correlation.  If I grew up in New York, Los Angeles or Chicago and came to live in the South, when everyone started waving at me, I’d be like, “what are they doing?”  I’m guessing it would make me nervous.

But around here, once you get off the four-lane road, people still wave.

Perhaps the best lessons I got from MotherGrant and DaddyMike were about the times when somebody did NOT wave.  Those were the lessons about not taking things too personally.  And about always giving another person the benefit of the doubt. 

 

MotherGrant:  Who’d you see on the way to town?

DaddyMike:  Big John Coomer was on the corner, comin’ out of the feed mill.

MotherGrant:  Did he speak?

DaddyMike:  Nah.  I think he didn’t see me.

 

waving queen 1What about you, Bandits and Buddies?

Do you live in a place where people always wave?

Queen Elizabeth, there on the right, has spent a good part of her life waving at people, and has become famous for her certain particular, stately and understated wave. 

Are there various forms of “waves” for different circumstances where you live?

I’ve been in some cities—mostly outside the US—where friendliness or eye contact would mark you as a target for crime.  Have you ever been to a place like that?

If you live in a big—or a medium-size–city, is it okay to smile or nod when you pass on the street?  Or is that a reason to look over your shoulder and watch your back? 

What’s the etiquette for connecting with someone on the train, the escalator, or the elevator?  Is it a quick glance and a nod, then move on? 

If you’ve lived in more than one place, did you have trouble adjusting to the culture and rules for “friendliness”  and connecting there?

Have a Piggly Wiggly Holiday

Y’all know, by now, that I am a country girl.

Okay, yes, I am a coffin-sleeping, full-moon-worshiping, black-wardrobe-wearing, goth-Bandita country girl. But  still, y’all know that I love the country.

When Steve and I got married, we moved to the country as soon as we could. But I find myself a little spoiled by the present day, when even out here in the country, I’m not too far from what I want or need. I usually end up going to town once a day to pick up something.

When I was a little girl, that was not so. We lived on a farm, and my mom shopped at the Houchens grocery story in “town.”

“Town” was eight miles to the north. Eight miles was a significant drive back then. Even though my mom worked at a factory on the edge of that same town, she drove to work, and she drove home after work. No stops at a store on the weekdays. It just wasn’t done. 

“Town” was  a special trip.

We made the drive to town once a week, on Saturday, to wash clothes at the Wishy Washy, and to shop for groceries at Houchens. Sometimes we’d stop on the square at the Ben Franklin, and just every now and then, we’d go to the diner for a burger. But that was a rare treat.  The only other reason we went to town, was church on Sunday, or prayer meetin’ on Wednesday night.

Things have changed.

These days, the farmers around here drive into town every day for one thing or another, even just for breakfast or coffee. Families have more than one car. If someone decides she wants to fix spaghetti that night, and she’s out of pasta, she drives the ten or fifteen miles to the store and back, and doesn’t think twice about it. That’s what I do, but when I was a little girl, that would NOT have happened. If you forgot something, you usually did without it for a few days, until the next trip to town.

So although I  live further out now than I did then, the miles that separate me and the “town” seem far shorter now than they did when I was growing up.

When you live in Southern Kentucky, small towns punctuate the rural landscape the way ground black pepper spots good homemade mashed potatoes.

Just enough for what you need.

I’m happy to live in the country between two towns. One, to the north, is a big town. It has a university, two WalMarts, three Kroger locations (that’s the big grocery chain around here) and a mall. It also has a few liquor stores, which also sell wine, for which I am MOST grateful.

The other, to the south, is a small town. More like the one where I grew up. It has a town square. But it also has a WalMart, and just recently, a Lowe’s. It’s a dry county. No stores that sell alcohol.

But still, it has my favorite grocery store ever.

It has a Piggly Wiggly.

It’s small. The produce section is about the size of my kitchen table. It never has, and never will, stock fresh cilantro, fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley, exotic mushrooms, or a spice like saffron, that costs a stupid amount of money per ounce. Because they don’t have room, and the people who shop there, generally, don’t buy that stuff. If they need that stuff, they shop at the WalMart, which has a huge (though not high quality) produce section, or if they want a higher quality ingredient, they drive to the big town 20 miles north, to shop at the Kroger.

I love Piggly Wiggly because it is everything a small town grocery should be.

It has all the stuff you absolutely need, and almost none of the stuff to fix a recipe from Food & Wine magazine. And for some reason I can’t entirely explain, I’m glad about that.

I subscribe to Food & Wine, for the record. But I know that if hard times came around again, I’d go back to my raisin’, and I’d eat just fine without those hoity toity ingredients. When I fix a Food & Wine recipe, the only thing I expect to get at the Piggly Wiggly, is the meat.

Because here on the upper edge of the buckle of the Bible Belt, nobody cuts meat nowadays.   I asked, last summer, for the Kroger meat department to grind some sirloin for a new meatloaf recipe I wanted to make. They laughed at me.

“If corporate caught us grinding meat here, my ass would be grass,” the meat man said. I looked through the window behind him. There was an industrial-size meat grinder bolted to the stainless steel table back there.

“What’s that for?” I asked. He looked behind him, then back at me. “We don’t grind no meat here,” he said, and walked away.

At that point, I realized that as far as Kroger was concerned, I could eat what they packaged, or I could starve. And they didn’t care which option I chose.

At the small town Piggly Wiggly, they have a real, honest-to-goodness meat man. Okay, it might be a meat woman, but although I am a feminist at heart, “meat woman” just doesn’t have the same ring, does it? Ahem…

The meat man understands meat. He’s worked as a butcher of some sort for years. He knows the cuts. He knows their challenges. He can discuss my recipes and what I’m after, and can make suggestions on how to cook the different cuts if I have trouble. And if I want a two-inch steak, if he has the sirloin in the back, he’ll mess up his clean equipment to cut the steaks I want for the company I’ve invited that night.  I am impressed that he is willing to do this for me.

At the Piggly Wiggly, young high school boys sack the groceries for me just as they did for my mom when I was a little girl. And they carry these groceries out to my car for me. I don’t know any grocery store anywhere that still does that. Those days are gone, same as having somebody around to pump your gas at the gas station. When I was a little girl, and my mom shopped at Houchens, they carried her groceries to her car.  Now, only at the Piggly Wiggly.

The aisles are narrow at “The Pig”, and the entire store is smaller than the homes of some of my friends. The lights are fluorescent. The computer system at the checkout counter is…well..we’ll just call it retro.

But I go back there, week after week.

In part, I return for the people who work there. They say hello to me and I know they actually recognize me. I’m not just the next customer in line. If I’m absent for a few days, they say, “haven’t seen you in a while. ”

At Kroger, they know I’m there only because there is some computer entry, somewhere, in some corporate office, that says my Kroger Plus Card has been scanned. I can call the Piggly Wiggly, mid-afternoon, and ask them to cut  four sirloin steaks, two-inches thick, so I can pick them up later, and they’ll do it. I don’t have to leave a credit card number. They cut the steaks, leave them in the fridge in the back, with my name on them, and I pick them up when I can get there that evening.

  

Once, many years ago, Piggly Wiggly was the “big” grocery in that small town. As big-box stores took over, and small-town squares turned into shells of their former communities, not many small grocery chains–or small anything else–survived.

There is a rumbling around here, that Kroger will put a store in that small town to the south. It would be a lot easier to shop there than driving to the big town to the north. But do you suppose they will actually be any different than the Kroger in the big town? The one where “you can eat what we prepackage or you can starve” is the bottom line?

I’m thinkin’ not.

I hope, even if the small town does get a Kroger, that the Piggly Wiggly survives.

I’m working on a series that is set partly in a huge city, and partly in small towns like the one where I shop. One of the things I’m using in the story is that contrast. The way a character deals with moving from the city to the small town, and how it changes her.

I love reading series that are set in small towns. It seems like the settings and characters stick with me, long-term, more powerfully than do most big city adventures.  I think it’s easier to get attached to small town characters because those “character communities” that authors set up seem to fit in small towns more easily, and I love those communities.

 I think some of what I get at the Piggly Wiggly is also what I get when I read a series set in a small town.  Of all book series, those are the ones that I tend to finish–I get every book–and when the author moves on to another series, I still want more.  I think it’s a connection to the people and the places in the books.

I was browsing the aisles of the Piggly Wiggly a few weeks ago, and came across a display of those thin children’s books like ones they used to sell in the Houchens when I was growing up. In the Houchens, I’d spend the whole time my mom was shopping, standing beside that circular, spinning rack, checking out those little books.

I was sad to see that Piggly Wiggly’s book rack was way up at the top of the magazine rack. Maybe to keep little fingers from tearing up the books when Mom isn’t looking. And maybe, because times have changed, it’s not safe for mom to leave the little reader alone to do her shopping. Bad people hang out in small towns too, after all.

Outside the Piggly Wiggly, there are boxes full of real estate magazines and the local “swap and trade” weekly. Beside those are some drink machines, a kiosk where you can trade your empty propane tank for a full one, and off to the side, there’s Thunder.

Thunder is a plastic horse, and if you pay your money, he’ll take you on the ride of your life. He’s a little faded from years of sitting there, waiting for the next rider, but even in 2012, you can still get a ride for a quarter.

 

 

Okay, confession time.

I didn’t know that this is Thanksgiving week.

I thought it was next week. I think of Thanksgiving as the 25th or 26th of November, usually. Which should be, according to my internal clock, NEXT week. Not this week.

I got home from West Virginia on Friday and I started cleaning up the house and yard. Then somebody reminded me, last night,that this Thursday is Thanksgiving. I panicked a little.

And I got in the car and went straight to the Piggly Wiggly. They had three fresh turkeys left.

So tell me Bandits and Buddies…

Do you live in a big town, or a small town?

What grocery stores do you have?

What is your favorite place to shop for groceries? Do they know you at “your” store?

Have the big box stores taken over where you are? Or do you still have small community groceries?

Do you live where there’s a butcher and a green grocer? I admit that I turn a little green, myself, with envy, when I think of food sold by a specialist, and the wider choices that might mean.

Or do you live in a place like I do, where you have to depend on whatever they have at the big grocery?

Does your grocery still have a little rack of those thin children’s picture books?

Small Town Summer

by Cassondra Murray

I grew up in a small town.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. I grew up way out in the country, on a farm, but the town closest to us was the one we considered “our town.” It’s where we went to shop at the Houchen’s Grocery store, and do laundry at the Wishy Washy on Saturdays. When people ask me where I’m from—you know, when the conversation is not the kind where you say, “I grew up on a farm about 8 miles out of town, in a community called Glens Fork, in Adair County…”—when the conversation is brief and you’re just making nice, that town is what I say.

It had a big red brick courthouse in the middle of the town square. The kind with double doors on opposite sides of the building, so you could enter from either direction. The courthouse had a tower with a clock at the top. That clock never was right.

When I was a little girl, there were benches outside the courthouse doors, and old men would sit on those benches and tell lies and whittle.

There was a pool room down a side street. Y’all know about that pool room because I’ve blogged about it before, in the blog about ice cream. The town also had a little café tucked into a corner of the square, and a Ben Franklin store.

Ben Franklin was every kid’s dream before Toys R Us came along. There was also a Western Auto, with gardening tools, wheelbarrows, rocking horses, and a little red wagon in the front window. That’s where my dad bought some of my best Christmas presents ever. My Play Family garage. My electric train. That’s where he bought my first guitar. And that changed who I was forever.

I know I talk about my town a lot. I guess it’s because it’s such a part of who I am, and it’s a part of who I am not.
Nowadays I live half way between two towns. It’s ten miles north to the bigger city, which has a university, gobs and gobs of restaurants, and is building a new performing arts center. If you turn right out of my driveway, you go to that big town.

But if you turn left out of my driveway, ten miles the other direction is…..a small town. One with a courthouse and a square a lot like “mine.” If I have a choice, I always turn left.

And last night I did turn left, and drove to the small town to get something I needed. I noticed as I drove through, that there was a big crowd at the Frosty Freeze. My husband, Steve, wasn’t feeling well, so I decided to pick up something to eat.

Frosty Freeze is a little glass and concrete box in the middle of a parking lot. There are two big trees out front, and several picnic tables arranged under the orange-ish street lights. I angled into a space at the side and got out. I walked up to the window and got in line. When it was my turn, the girl took my order. Two barbecue sandwiches, a small vanilla malt with extra malt, and a small pineapple shake with extra pineapple. Oh, and a funnel cake.

I paid, then I sat down on the curb to wait. All the tables were full. School is out here, and high school kids moved back and forth, hovering between parked cars and around the beds of pickup trucks. A couple of farm boys climbed out of one truck and came around the front to place orders. But more high school kids hung out at the tables and around by the bug zapper, and they weren’t ordering anything. They were just hanging out.

I watched the dance of awkward wanting, and was swept away—back to my teenage years, cruising through the streets of the place where I grew up. I was swept back to the essence of all that is small town.

My town—the one where I grew up– had the carcass of an old movie theater on one corner of the square,with a neon marquis out front that read Columbian theater in big vertical letters that reached almost three stories high.

But that marquis never lit up when I lived there. I got to see one movie in that theater when I was a small child. It closed down later that fall. The drive-in, further out on the edge of the city, was closed long before I was born. There was no roller rink, no professional or semi-pro sports team, no wave pool or museum.

There was absolutely. Nothing. To. Do.

So on Friday and Saturday nights, the kids from the farms and the suburbs, such as they were, drove into town and cruised. They circled the square, went down the big hill on Jamestown street, out toward the parkway, made a big circle around Sonic, then went back toward the courthouse, where they’d circle the square and repeat. All at about 15 miles per hour, so they could stick their heads out the windows and talk to the cars they were meeting. Sometimes they’d take breaks and hang at Sonic or Dairy Queen, or in the Pizza Hut parking lot.

This town where I sat at the Frosty Freeze is a little better off. They have an actual working drive in (refurbished) that shows first run movies. And they’re only 20 miles from the bigger city, so they can get to the mall, the arcade, and the minor league baseball games the larger town offers.

And yet it was the same. The smell of barbecue and deep fried yummy goodness. The sound of the shake mixer. The ziiiiip-pop of the bug zapper in the back, and the low rumble of big pipes on a farm boy’s pickup truck.

Parents murmuring to their children as they helped little fingers with ice cream cones, just the way they did at Sonic and Dairy Queen when I was a young girl. Bright colored bows in pony tails. Softball uniforms. Bare feet, brown with dirt from playing outside in the yard all day. Swimsuits under t-shirts. High school rings wrapped with rubber bands. A pretty girl’s long hair blowing in the warm evening breeze. Tan skin and young love. The banker’s daughter and the poor farm boy. It’s the stuff romance is made of, for me.

I determined, last night, that some things time cannot change because the reasons for them don’t change. My evidence was standing right there at that window, ordering barbecue and a small chocolate shake. Even though there is more to do in this small town, there they are, just the same as we were, cruising up and down Main Street on a perfect summer night. Hanging at the Frosty Freeze.

The girl came to the window with my order, and I walked away with my white sacks of un-politically-correct food. But I also walked away reminded of who I was, to a degree. Reminded that although I love certain things about big cities, I will always be a small-town girl at heart. An artsy girl who still gets a thrill from the growl of a diesel pickup truck engine, broad shoulders and a farmer tan. All just three blocks down from a big red brick courthouse with a tower and a clock on the front.

The only real differences are that I’m a lot older, on the outside looking in now, and those farm boys stroll right by without a sideways glance.

Oh, and their courthouse clock is right.

So, Bandits and Buddies, tell me about the place where you grew up, and what said “summer” to you when you were young.

Were your summers in a small town, or a big city?

Where did the kids hang out on those long, hot evenings? Was there a movie theater? Any chance there was a drive in?

Did you ever cruise main street on Friday and Saturday nights?

Have you ever ridden in the back of a pickup truck?

Do any of y’all remember Ben Franklin or Western Auto stores?

And do you like to read small town love stories?

Name Your Poison

by Cassondra Murray

Is it Rocky Road? Pralines & Cream? Or perchance..Strawberry Cheesecake?
Double Chocolate Chunk or Gold Medal Ribbon?
Sidle up to the bar in the lair and order one. Make it a double (scoop, that is).

Hey, we never said alcohol was the only scandal served at the Bandit Bar.

Ice cream and me, we go way back.

My mom went to church three times a week. Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night prayer meetin’. Most of the time I was forced to attend these three (*cough* boring *cough*) services along with her. But every now and then I’d get a reprieve.

My dad, you see….well…he had no use for church. Never saw him in one. Didn’t mean he didn’t have faith. Just meant he didn’t like church. My mom didn’t drive at that time, and my dad would drive her in to the services. So when I was about three, I figured out that on Wednesday nights when we’d head out to prayer meetin’, if I begged hard enough, I’d get to stay with my dad instead of going with my mom.

This was a good thing.

What did my dad DO while my mom was in prayer meetin’?

He went to the pool room to shoot pool. And he took me.

First we’d go in, and the regular fellas would all ask me how I was doin’. I’d tell ‘em I was doin’ fine. Then we’d go up to the counter and I could have a hot dog or a hamburger and a small coke. Then I sat in one of the armchairs on the side of the room right beside the table where my dad would play pool. Now that I’m older, I realize that he put me there so that I was never out of his sight, but I didn’t know that then. Then, at age four, this part of my world was good.
I watched while my dad chose a pool stick and proceeded to play. I don’t remember whether he won or lost. I was too busy getting an education in male behavior. Now as I look back, I also realize that all those guys straightened up their acts and cleaned up their language just for me. And it was quite a gift, getting to spend prayer meetin’ night in the small-town equivalent of the men’s club. As I ate my burger and drank my coke, I’d plan what I’d get for dessert. Once my dad hung up his pool stick and we said our goodbyes, we climbed in his truck and drove around the square and down the hill to see his best friend and hunting buddy, Merle.
Merle owned the Dairy Queen.

The Dairy Queen in our town was about the size of a Dixie cup. No lie. It was tiny. About three employees could fit inside and then it was crowded. The DQ was basically a box made of windows, and it set at the bottom of the big hill a block from the town square on Jamestown Street. Yes, the square with the courthouse in the center and the clock on top. It’s true. I lived in a cliche.

You had to walk up to the DQ window to order. The thing I remember most clearly was the giant plastic ice cream cone (complete with the fancy little twirl on top) in the window. It was enormous. But it had a seam going up the side. Even at age four, I saw that seam as a dead giveaway. That cone was not real. But what it represented? THAT was real. The perfect cone.
I also recognized the immense skill level necessary to make the “poofs” on the real ice cream cones just above the wafer cups, and then to put that little twisty-twirl right on the top? Not everyone had the gift of the twirl.

You could always tell when they hired new people. The poof was never right. It was lopsided. And new people never added the twirl. Obviously, the twirl was the hardest part of making an ice cream cone. There’s one bad thing about working in a box made of windows. Everybody in town gets to see you try–and fail–at making the “ice cream cone twirl”.

As I grew older, they stopped adding the twirl. It was a sign, to me, of the lack of ambition and onset of good-for-nothing-ness in the population of teenagers in our town. I mean, really, if you’re getting ice cream from DQ, it bloody well ought to have a twirl on top.

I always got a strawberry sundae. I was a tiny little thing at age four. Short for my age, and blonde. (Yes, I was once blonde. Go figure.) And I ate the whole thing. I think that was the beginning of my true love affair with ice cream. By the time I was six, I’d moved on to the banana split. By that point I was an afficianado of soft-serve ice cream.

I have no idea when some angel from God first shoved a bit of ice cream into my mouth, but it had to be a cataclysmic moment. A life was changed. I saw the LIGHT, BABY.

I moved on from that first, unremembered bite, to the developmental stage (sundaes and the banana splits), and finally to the pinnacle of DQ delights….the parfait.

To this day, I still see the light. I’ve broadened my horizons and I’ve tried all kinds. But I’m true to my own north star…it guides me back, regularly, to the Baskin Robbins or the DQ.

I love Baskin Robbins many choices of flavors, and their seasonal specialties like eggnog ice cream. Yummmm.
But if it’s a banana split I want, nothing will do but Dairy Queen. Nobody does soft-serve like DQ.

I’ve tried soft-serve at all kinds of places. There’s a little “box of windows” in a town near me. It’s called the Frosty Freeze. It lures me sometimes, but the ice cream is sort of…well…mealy. It’s like you can taste the sugary grit in the ice cream. I’m sorry if I seem judgemental, but…well…it’s sub-standard.
Still, I like walking up to the window and ordering from teenagers, just the way the generation before me, and the generation before them, walked up to that same window and ordered from the people who were teenagers then. Maybe that’s why I like those places so much. Getting ice cream there makes me a bit of that town’s history.

Yes, I’ve dawdled with the newfangled shops with the marble slabs–the ones that let you watch while they smoosh all kinds of goodies into the scoop of whatever you want and serve it up to you deliciously unfinished and raw….for $5 per scoop.
And yes, I dropped my money on the table and took their ice cream and LOVED IT. But I looked squinty eyed at them as I slurped. Okay it was good. Okay. It was ungodly good. But since it was double the price, when the temptors went the way of all stupidly overpriced places in our town, I was happy to go back to the thirty-onederful flavors at Baskin Robbins, and to my old standby, Dairy Queen.

My banana splits are made in the traditional way. Strawberry, chocolate, and pineapple syrups, no whipped cream, no nuts. Just like the ones I got from Merle’s DQ at the bottom of the hill. Nuts are nice and all, but on a banana split? For me, they’re just wrong.

I’ve shot a few games of pool since I sat in that armchair and watched my dad. I suppose it didn’t affect me. I suppose it was fate that made me the pool champ at my first two-year college. (Fate and a guy named Glen, who taught me how to slice a ball into the corner and how to cuss like a sailor.)
Ice cream is still a perfect ending to an evening of such debauchery.
Tonight it was a scoop of Nutty Coconut, plus a quart of Strawberry Cheesecake, and one of plain vanilla, so that later, I can make a sundae with fresh strawberries (a gift from some Amish friends–it’s strawberry season in Kentucky).
What about you, Bandits and Buddies?
Do you like ice cream? How much?
What would you choose? Let’s tally the score.
What kind–hard ice cream (scooped, like Baskin Robbins) or soft-serve?

And what about those hoity toity marble slab places? Do you like those?
But now for the real questions:
What flavor?
What do you like on your banana splits?
Oh, and ….ahem….nuts, or no nuts?
Name your poison.