Just the Other Day: An Ice Cream Social

“What’s an ice cream social?” I asked my mom, who was busy getting all the kids ready to go. She explained that people just get together for ice cream. They talk and sometimes play games and such; it’s a social event.  Ice cream? That was all I needed to hear.


I attended my first ice cream social a long time ago. Mom took us to a fundraiser sponsored by the St. Joseph’s Hospital Ladies Auxiliary Club. It was held on the lawn by the circle driveway at the front entrance of the building in Ottumwa, Iowa.


The ladies brought their own ice cream machines. A few had old fashioned hand churns. Most had electric motors that turned paddles in stainless steel tubs. All of the tubs were immersed in wooden buckets of ice. The homemade vanilla ice cream was still soft and creamy, being served right out of the ice cream makers. They had Hershey’s chocolate syrup in a can, if you wanted it. There were games for the kids to play while adults sat at little round tables on the front lawn, socializing. I remember it was a lot of fun and I’ve been to many such events since then – I even helped plan one.


Myself and a few colleagues from the local media met with Connie, a friend who worked at Evans Middle School. Her students were looking for ideas for a community service project. They wanted to raise money for the local fire department to purchase batteries and smoke detectors. The firemen provided and installed detectors for elderly people and anyone who needed them. They also went out annually to change batteries for people who needed assistance doing so.


I suggested holding an ice cream social in the garage at the central fire station.  Surely people would come; they’re always curious about firetrucks and what’s inside the fire house. A second meeting was held with the fire chief who loved the idea. Another person from the media suggested a name for the event, and just like that, the first annual “Fire and Ice,” was underway.


The kids worked with Hy-Vee, a local grocery store, and several sponsors who provided the product. They took in donations from people who came for the ice cream and played games. Everyone was offered a tour of the fire station and a lot of kids (adult kids too) had their photos taken sitting in the driver’s seat of a shiny red firetruck. I couldn’t even guess how many people came sliding down the brass fire pole. It was a real fun time and the students raised a good amount of money for their cause.


Fire and Ice was a successful event for several years to follow, but coming back to the day at hand, ice cream was the furthest thing from mind.


We now live along the north shore of Lake Superior in Minnesota. It was cold with temperatures in the single digits and wind chill values well below zero. There was five inches of fresh snow on the driveway and no matter which way I turned the chute on the snow thrower, the wind blew the white stuff right back in my face. Snow stuck to my coat, hat and gloves as well as my goatee and eyebrows. My cold, wet cheeks were bright red. It felt like someone was poking my face with needles and my fingers were going numb.


I wasn’t just clearing the driveway, I was on a mission that involved digging through banks of previously piled snow. I called it quits for the day and put the snow blower in the garage. I would come back to this project tomorrow.


It took me several hours to cut through the three-foot-deep banks, then clear a path down the left and the right sides to free our little snowbound Scamp trailer. It was time well invested.


As we prepare for road trips, more and more we are finding “pet friendly” lodging, means dogs only – no cats. Even after telling them up front that we travel with a dog and a cat. Melissa had booked a few accommodations, only to be called the next day and told, “Sorry. We don’t allow cats.”  We decided to take the camper where our dog, June, and our cat, Edgar Allen, are always welcome – with no additional pet fees or deposits required.


We made our way south to Gulf Shores, Alabama. The milder temperatures were a nice break from Minnesota’s March climate. We set up camp for a few days at the Fort Morgan RV Park. Our days were spent leisurely walking sand beaches along the Gulf of Mexico, looking for seashells and treasures. Our favorite restaurant had changed hands, so, we were also searching for a new place serving the best grilled shrimp and handmade hushpuppies. At night we relaxed around the campsite.


Each night I went for a brisk, two-mile walk. On our final evening, at dusk, Melissa and June wanted to go for a walk with me. We strolled down the lane toward the road. That’s when I spotted it; a yellow Schwann’s truck was pulled over at the end of the drive. It was like hearing the bells and music, faintly making their way through the neighborhood on a hot summer’s day – and then spotting the ice cream truck. We had to rush before it pulled away. I grabbed Melissa’s arm, “Come on, we have to hurry!”


“We don’t need ice cream!” She protested, dragging her heels in the rock. I had an idea and insisted we had to hurry.


I compromised, “If we get there before the truck leaves, it was meant to be. If not, then we weren’t supposed to have ice cream tonight.”  June pulled hard on the leash in my left hand, I latched onto Melissa’s hand with my right. I leaned toward June; with the two of us pulling together– Melissa was coming along, like it or not.


We reached the truck and met Vicki – the driver. “How much is a box of ice cream sandwiches?” I inquired.


“Thirteen dollars,” Vicki replied, “plus tax…it’ll be fourteen-twenty-nine all together.”


“How many are in a box?” I asked.


“Twenty-four.” She said.


I quickly did the math. “That’s a little less than sixty-cents each.” Melissa asked about other options; drumsticks, fudge bars or cones with sprinkles, but I quickly decided, “I’ll take one box of ice cream sandwiches.”  After some brief paperwork, we were on our way back to the campground.


“What are you going to do with all this ice cream?” Melissa wanted to know.


“I’m going to hand them out to people at the campground.” I said with excitement. Melissa was skeptical about my idea. It was now after dark and we were going to walk up to people, offering them ice cream from a stranger. “It will be fun; like reverse trick-or-treating.” I assured her.


At the first camper, I announced myself plenty early from the road. “Hello,” the people were friendly in greeting us. “We just scored a box of ice cream sandwiches from a Schwann’s truck at the end of the road.” I explained, “and we’re sharing them with all our neighbors.” The people seemed leery at first, until the first man spoke up in a thick southern accent.


“Ice cream sandwiches? Heck yeah, I’ll have one, thanks y’all!” The other three people each took one, too, and they were all peeling off wrappers before we left.”


At the second trailer, the people were very receptive, welcoming our unexpected treat. “I’ve got a big freezer in my RV,” the man offered, “If you need a place to keep the extras, I’d be happy to help.”  We shared a good laugh about that, then moved on to the next couple. Melissa was adamant that I was not to knock on any camper doors. I could only give ice cream to people who were outside. We finished making our way around the campground and headed back to our campsite.


Another trailer had just pulled in and I was looking their way. “Leave them alone.” My wife advised, “You’ve had your fun for the night, let’s just go home.” We took the last six treats back to our Scamp and put them in the freezer. While Melissa went up to check on our clothes in the laundry room, I snuck over to the newcomers with my box of treats.


“Ice cream? Really?” The dad said, while unplugging his trailer from the truck. “This has been such a crappy day – I’d love some ice cream.” His wife quickly snatched up the four bars, thanked me and said she would put them in the freezer for their kids, until after they finished setting up camp.


It really was a lot of fun and I have to say, fourteen bucks and some change sure bought a lot of smiles. We shared treats, good conversation and plenty of laughs with people whom we’d never met before.


When Melissa came back from the laundry room, she ate her ice cream, leaving just one in the freezer. Guess who it’s for?  Not me. I gave up desserts for lent. I just bought the ice cream for its social value. So, if you’d like to stop by the Scamp, I’ll give you my last Schwann’s ice cream sandwich. You can pull up a camp chair and we’ll chat for a while – it will be just like an old-fashioned ice cream social.