ice cream cone

It seems strange to begin a column about ice cream by writing about sounds. But it’s the sound of tires wooshing by on new black asphalt that marks for me the first trip of the season to the ice cream stand. It’s the nature of ice cream stands that they be located close to streets and roads; near enough for parking our cars, bicycles and skateboards. And it’s in the nature of mild weather that we roll down the car windows to let the sounds of soft evenings float to our ears.

Unmistakeable sounds all across America. I think I could sit blindfolded listening to the happy murmur of families standing near the take-out window and know exactly where I was before even getting out of the car.

They are the little gathering places at the heart of our civilization; perhaps of all civilizations, these small patches of happy folks lapping up their cherry-vanilla cones or spooning up that rum-raisin treat or deciding between peanut-butter brickle or chocolate-chip mint. There are no heavy politics, no religious preaching, no hustlers selling stuff nor blaring televisions drowning out the small talk. It’s a place where only the young worry about cutting a good figure. The rest of us can just be ourselves. Elsewhere there are such things as formal dress, informal dress, business dress and business casual. Here there is ice cream stand patio dress, which ranges from shorts and tee shirts to jeans and sweats to Geezer casual.

It is an unwritten law of the land that the scoopers-out of ice cream be pretty young girls, someplace between the end of their freshman year at the local high school and graduation three years later, drawing shy admiration from the older little-leaguers at one end and somewhat less shyness from the senior year footballers trying out their approaches after graduation. It’s part of that unwritten law that the girls play it straight; no overt flirting or encouragement but maybe a bigger scoop for the cone going to the luckiest guy. Girls have their own ways of communicating their decisions.

That, at least, is my guess. In truth, the signals and wave-lengths of communication between such youngsters are so plentiful and fast nobody over 21 has much hope of tracking them. All we can gather is that something positive is in the air, as powerful as the smell of new-cut grass after a rain and just as invisible.

These are places of youth coming-of-age, where the young girls hunch over tables inside, eating their ice cream while exchanging the deepest secrets of their hearts. Outside, the baseball players stand in separate male clusters celebrating hits, catches and wins of the afternoon practice, pumped with excitement at new-tested athletic abilities.

There’s a discernible age gap between the high-schoolers and the young parents a few feet away who take turns minding the baby-stroller while the other gets to lick their cone before it melts. Somewhere in that gap the growing teeny-boppers and adolescents go off on their own explorations of life. Maybe they see ice cream cones as too juvenile for their new adulthood. Or maybe they prefer to be alone with each other rather than hanging out with the younger set. It doesn’t last too long, as you can see by the baby strollers.

It all looks innocent and in truth it is. But it’s also important, this coming-of-age stuff that you see at the ice cream stand. I know too little science to be sure the analogy is apt, but comparisons to a petrie dish come to mind. It would take a Margaret Mead to do it justice. We don’t know who we are as kids, and the future is some distant place we can’t imagine. But growing up means changing every day in one way or another. Sometimes we awaken to a new idea or a new way of understanding. Sometimes we develop muscles or looks we didn’t expect. All of us feel emotions and urges we didn’t feel a year or so earlier.

Serious business, this coming of age stuff. But mostly happy when seen at the ice cream stand.

Copyright 2016 Joseph T. Wilkins

Joe Wilkins, N.J. Press Association award-winning columnist, is a semi-retired lawyer and former municipal judge who lives in Smithville, N.J. His most recent book is “Kennedy’s Recruit”. He is also author of “The Speaker Who Locked up the House,” an acclaimed historical novel about Congress set in the Washington of 1890, and “The Skin Game”, a richly comic account of the stick-up of an illegal card game as Atlantic City’s casino era began. All 3 are available on Amazon’s Kindle. To send Joe your comments or invite him to address your group, email him at or visit his website at

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