The Ice Cream Man Cometh

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


4 Responses to “The Ice Cream Man Cometh”

Read below or add a comment...

  1. Bob Caldwell says:

    Right after my 1969 graduation from Wareham High School,
    I drove an all-Wareham Dainty Maid route.
    If a driver worked through Labor Day, which I did, our boss,
    Jim Makrys, added a bonus of the order of 2 weeks’ pay.
    The routes went as far as Chatham.

    We worked from late morning till evening.
    The last day found us thoroughly cleaning the trucks we drove,
    even though each morning we’d hose down the vehicles.

    Dainty Maid also supplied chocolate covered for school lunches.

    Several subsequent summers found me working Production.
    Because things were hard enough to find inside the huge Freezer
    (negative-15-degrees Fahreneit), on my own I slowly but surely
    attained the ability to inventory everything to the piece,
    thus surprising Jim and his brothers, Nick and Pete.

    Pete’s son, George, is a 1969 Classmate, who taught History for years.

    BTW…HELLO, Marilou! She’s also from WHS 1969
    and penned this accompanying article.

  2. Michael Riley says:

    Brought a tear to my eye’s Marilou. Taste and scent reminding us of our past, is a unique and wonderful thing that is enjoyed by only that one individual. So many of them for me. The scent of honeysuckle brings me to the age of 5 to my Grandfathers house in Marion, and there are so many more. The twisting of the wrapper and sitting on the curb. All of this, most of us probibly world wide and, who’d a thunk! My cousin Bobby Caldwell was one of those Young Men that you spoke of, and posted your writing on Facebook. If you don’t mind, I’m going to share it with my FB friends. I’m sure a few of them will draw a tear or a smile being reminded of pleasant days as a kid. Marilou, Thanks for the memories! Mike.

  3. Dean Wight says:

    I worked in the Dainty Maid production plant the summer 1964, while my older brother drive the Hyannisport route ( I was too young to drive). Then I drove that route the summer of 1965, followed by driving multiple routes as a Supervisor in 1967. Good spots were the Chatham Light (where a hitch-hiking couple offered me a cigar tube of MJ for two bars one day), the beaches of course, and golf course caddy camps where ravenous teenagers with pockets full of tips bought boxes of bars and pints of ice cream.

  4. Tom Carey says:

    This brings back fond memories. I worked Dainty Maid production from summer 1965 thru summer 1971, the year after I graduated WHS. Bobby Caldwell and George Makrys were in the class ahead of me and I remember Bobby as a driver and George working the restaurant grille out front. Nick was in charge of production, but a whirlwind by the name of Pete Bousquet from Fairhaven was our real boss and the master ice cream chef. Pete, his son Pete, his sons friend Ron Lagasse, me and a classmate of mind named Alex Szarwinski worked 12hrs a day Mon-Sat during summers making the products, keeping the walk-in freezer stocked, and pushing orders to the drivers as they filled their trucks in the mornings. And we worked weekends during school years filling contracts with local elementary and middle schools for lunch room ice cream bars which Pete delivered during the week with a big freezer truck. Favorite time was year end holidays, when we made special flavors and Christmas ice cream logs boosted with brandys. It was hard work – we could turn out 600 dozen fudge sickles in a 4 hr morning run, and then 500 dozen chocolate coated vanilla bars that afternoon – paid the princely sum of $1.60/hr, but was a blast, kept me out of trouble, and put me thru 4 years at Lowell Tech. And to this day I cannot resist a bowl of ice cream or a chocolate coated block of good vanilla, but I don’t think I’ll ever find tubs as rich as what we made with its 16% butter fat during holidays. Sad they went out of business but will never lose the memories of samples I can still taste.

Leave A Comment...