Hard lessons from soft ice cream

By Don Rush

Holy turn down the heat, Batman! We have already entered the Dog Days of Summer and I’m already over it. Soon high school kids will start practice for fall sports – like two-days (though it felt like three-a-days) football practice.

Gosh darn it, fall is right around the corner, but first we need to get through those dog days (aka August) of heat and humidity. Back in the 1970s and 1980s, reporters for small town community newspapers like this one used to go downtown and take pictures of eggs frying on sidewalks or car hoods. That made for a good illustration that, by gummy, it’s hot out! We, of the small town community newspaper stripes, still look for pictures to tell the summer story – like kids swimming or, even better, kids eating ice cream cones and the cream is all over their faces.

Man, that’s great stuff.

Not so much when it comes to soft ice cream. Soft ice cream has taught me some of life’s hard lessons. The first lesson was the dreaded Soft Ice Cream Cone Tragedy of 1969. It was August of that year and in Detroit it was hot, but folks were still of good cheer. Americans had landed on the moon the month before and there was a lot to look forward to. Grandma McDonald had given one of her daughters (either Jo or Janice, both my aunts) money she saved up to take them, Uncle Jerry, me and my two sisters Barbie and Patty to an ice cream shop around the corner from Bentler on Five Mile Road (what some call Fenkle Ave.)

Grandma worked hard for her money, sewing at some upholstery or textile factory and this was her special treat to us young folk. Everybody got their ice cream cones. I got vanilla in a cone because I’m not a vanilla, chocolate swirl man. Soon we walked back, everybody licking their cream. The thin cones, were getting all squishy and icky because it was hot and the soft ice cream was melting and for no reason other than bad karma, my ice cream fell from the cone onto the hot cement of the sidewalk.

Everybody kept walking back to Grandma’s house, except me. I just stared at the mess at my feet and the at backs of my family walking away with their intact, deliciously cold desserts. Money was tight. I didn’t get any more to replenish what I had lost. Dang it.

Soft Ice Cream Hard Lesson #1: always get your soft ice cream in a dish or tub.

Flash forward to Clarkston in the summer of 1974. In the ghettos of Clarkston us kids who grew up on the mean streets of Independence Township played baseball on a recreation league. There were no travel leagues, you played rec ball and then if you were good enough you played on the school team. In the Summer of ‘74, I donned the red and white uniforms of the Statewide Construction team. Nice red shirt, white pants, red stirrup socks and red ball cap. We were a sharp looking team. Mr. Richard Lamphere was our head coach.

Can’t remember if we were Midgets or Widgets that year, I just know I was an idget. We actually won the championship and got our team photo in the Clarkston News with our trophies. After the big game, the coaches loaded up all us kids into the backs of their pickup trucks and drove us to the Dairy Queen, owned by the late L. Brooks Patterson and his wife. Moms and dads followed in their station wagons with everybody beeping their horns in jubilation.

When we got to the DQ, Coach gloriously proclaimed, “Order what you want!”

Kids got double swirl cones, banana splits, milk shakes and then there was your favorite idget, Young Master Donald Rush. When I got up to the window to place my order said I, “I will have a half gallon of vanilla ice cream with chocolate and nuts on top in a tub.” (Because I never ordered ice cream in a cone after 1969.)

It was a bold, if not boss move for one so young as I. Teammates looked at me with awe and not a little bit of admiration.

After a few bites, Mom corralled me into the family car with my sisters and took us to tell my dad of our team’s good fortune. That meant going to a little bar in Drayton Plains which no longer exists, Club Tahoe. I jumped out of the car with both my trophy and a little less than a half gallon of soft vanilla ice cream in a tub and burst into the back door of the bar to find my father. He was there, with his buddies, sitting at a table. With a smile on my face, I ran up to him and before I could say anything he looked at me then the tub of ice cream and asked, “What is that?”

And, I told him the truth (because that’s what sons are ’sposed to do when speaking with their dads). “We won the championship and they said we could order whatever we wanted,” I said, wanting to push out the trophy further than the ice cream to make the focus the game versus the cream.
He just shook his head. Was it shame or disappointment I saw on his face and in his eyes?

Soft Ice Cream Hard Lesson #2: Just because you can, don’t take advantage of a good situation. Be respectful, be humble. Don’t be an idget.

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