If there is one guilty pleasure I will readily share in this public forum, it is that I love ice cream. Not all flavors or all types, however. Not the avant-garde green tea sorbet or bacon chip coffee mocha latte. No, I like the flavors of my youth when choices were few and the rarity of eating ice cream – generally done only in the summer months – made doing so memorable.
It’s funny how memory works.
Sounds, smells, and even tastes can linger in our brains and be revisited upon request, returning us to a place in time. A time when knees were perpetually covered in band-aides, summer people flocked into town like migratory birds as soon as schools closed for the season, and the ice cream man returned from his winter hibernation.
One of my strongest childhood memories, one that comes to me now as summer approaches, is the ice cream man who drove for Dainty Maid ice cream. My love affair with ice cream surely began way back then and surely is, in part, because of the ice cream men themselves.
Dainty Maid was a family-owned ice cream factory and shop on Cranberry Highway in Wareham. Their small fleet of white ice cream trucks became a fixture along the streets of Onset village after Memorial Day when I was a child.
These were not the panel vans that now roam beaches or public recreational venues with blaring brash loud recorded ear-splitting tuneless loops of noise. Oh no, Dainty Maid trucks were small pick-ups with custom-built refrigerator units tucked behind the cabs. Bright chrome handles on small doors, one on each side of the refrigerator unit, allowed the driver to reach inside and extract the yummy frozen treats.
Of course, we heard the ice cream truck long before we saw it advancing towards our corner where a group of giggling squirmy kids fresh from the beach anxiously waited for its arrival. The drivers controlled that sweet gentle tinkling bell, a real bell jingled back and forth via a string attached to the interior of the cab. So delightful was that sound, chime like, and so welcoming to our ears.
Everything was white. The trucks were white, the ice cream man’s uniform was white, even his hat and shoes were white. Those young men whose summer job it was to drive a route selling ice cream novelties had to actually park the truck, get out, and walk to the freezer door. It took time, but then everything was slower and anticipation appreciated in the last century.
The ice cream man was someone you came to know and someone who knew what you wanted before you could ask. You developed a relationship with the ice cream man because he was part of your neighborhood life.
He was polite and expected the children to act like decent little citizens – no pushing, no fighting, no screaming, just line up one-at-a-time so he could then focus his attention on the tiny customer standing before him. From my little kid vantage point, he was tall and elegant standing there with the power to fulfill my deepest desire: ice cream!
You felt grown-up handing the ice cream man a fifty-cent piece and he, in turn, would click the coin machine levers that hung from his belt. He’d press the coins in your hand with a friendly reminder, “Now don’t lose that.”
Children would scamper to the sidewalk curb under a shady tree to eat their treats. I can feel the warm summer breezes now as they floated up the street from Sunset Island and I, sitting on the curbstone, tried to make my chocolate-covered bar last as long as possible.
Removing the paper wrapper from the ice cream, we’d twist it around the stick to help catch the drips we knew would come. Then, placing the wonderfully smooth, thickly-coated chocolate-covered bar in our mouths, voices disappeared into a chorus of “M-mmm.”
Everyone had their own style, their own technique for eating a chocolate-covered bar. Some licked and sucked the top off exposing the creamy homemade vanilla ice cream inside, while others ate the hard chocolate coating off first and then devoured the vanilla. Regardless of one’s mastery for eating what can only be described as a bit of frozen heaven, you’d end up with melted chocolate and ice cream on your fingers. It was gooey and glorious.
Dainty Maid Ice Cream has long since ceased to exist, except in memory. But on summer evenings when the wind chimes in the garden catch a warm breeze that send the tiny pipes to tinkling softly, I remember the Dainty Maid ice cream man, taste the chocolate-covered ice cream bars of my youth, and see his friendly smile.
By Marilou Newell