Ice cream and grandpas go together like books and shelves or pancakes and syrup. At least it does for me. Every time I hear or see the word “ice cream,” flashes of the same memories pop into my mind’s eye. One is vague, possibly mixed with other memories like chunks of marshmallows and nuts churned with chocolate cream. The other memories are so clear I can still see, hear, taste, and smell peaches, cream, and rock salt – even after 50 years.
Despite having vastly different relationships with my grandfathers, I find it curious that I associate ice cream with them both. But who doesn’t love ice cream and grandpas?!
ROCKY ROAD GRANDPA
One grandfather, with a bloated belly and skinny hips which required him to wear suspenders – always over a plaid shirt – to hold up his polyester pants, had a kind soul and was always eager to snuggle and play with his granddaughters. The best summers ever were running around his mini backyard, no bigger than a half garage, while grandpa squirted us with the green garden hose or whistled Tennessee Waltz or Beer Barrel Polka while relaxing on the outdoor swing as he watched us roll and play barefoot in the soft, cool grass and pick raspberries from bushes at the far end of the yard.
Though small, you couldn’t find a yard with thicker, greener grass in spite of being located in the southwestern barren lands of Wyoming where nothing but jackrabbits and tumbleweed lived. Perhaps an occasional coyote as well. No trees. Just red and white dirt among the gullies and bluffs of a depressing land. Yet, every moment at grandpa’s house was bursting with the happiest memories. Occasionally, during our summer visits, we’d pack up his Lincoln Towncar or blue Chevy truck and take a drive up north; sometimes all the way to Jackson Hole. If we went that far, it included camping on the Snake River, which meant snuggles in grandma’s hand-sewn wool blankets, wine and beer (only Coors!) for the adults, campfires, and card games.
No matter how short or long the drive, we’d pass by an ice cream shop situated on the east side of the highway. I don’t remember the name, but I recall a giant ice cream cone-shaped sign and that I always ordered Rocky Road, my favorite (still is). It wasn’t an every summer experience, only a few times in my childhood, but nonetheless, it is permanently tied to my memory of my grandfather, even if a bit misty.
PEACH VANILLA GRANDPA
Still in Wyoming, but a few hours east, my other grandpa did not have a similarly intimate relationship with his grandkids as my suspender grandpa. Nor are there as many fond memories. This grandpa was much more stern and while we always loved to visit, he didn’t play or interact with us very often, except for firm inquisitions that were usually embarrassing, uncomfortable, or both. He was more interested in family meetings and tending to work or church-related activities. The grandkids stayed in the background so as not to be a bother in more “serious” conversations among adults…that is until it was time to make ice cream.
Making homemade ice cream was a favorite activity of my grandfather. It was mine as well because it was one of the few moments that grandpa felt “present”. There was no work to do and no serious conversation to have. Even though grandpa took his ice-cream-making process seriously, he included some of the grandkids. As the oldest of a slew of grandchildren, I had the honor of participating in nearly all ice-cream-making endeavors.
Grandpa’s favorite ice cream? Vanilla cream mixed with peaches!
In my opinion, there’s only one way to make homemade ice cream…in the garage with a bag of ice, rock salt, and either a hand-crank ice cream maker or one that has a motor attachment that fits on top of the metal canister which sat in a larger wooden bowl. This wooden bowl looked more like a mini bourbon barrel. In my younger years, we used the hand crank and I only was able to do a few turns.
Soon enough came the robin egg-colored motor which gave out a steady but recognizable hum. My job was to make sure I was adding the rock salt in proper portions at the right time. I loved the smell of the rock salt mixed with the ice and lusted for a lick of the ice and salt together. There were many stolen swipes with my finger over the ice cubes embedded with salt crystals and then promptly lifted to my tongue as I savored the wet saltiness of summer.
I cherish those moments in the garage. Our position religiously in the same spot year after year: right-side of the garage, half in, half out. Grandpa usually wore a light blue, short-sleeved button-up shirt and the same type of polyester pants my other grandfather wore. Other family members stood around the garage chatting and enjoying the mild, but windy, Wyoming summers. My focus was on the ice cream. Not so much because I was eager to eat it, but mostly because it was something I enjoyed doing with grandpa.
I knew exactly how he liked it: thin and more of an icy consistency. I was more of a Rocky Road girl and preferred a firmer texture, but I’d take a soupy peach vanilla bowl of ice cream any day as long as it was ice cream I made with grandpa. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever eaten peach ice cream except for grandpa’s vanilla-peach ice cream.
My grandfather passed away this year at the age of 97. As stern and hard as he was, he was the one that was still around long into my adulthood and the fondest memories were made in his final years. As far as my childhood, making ice cream is the only real endearing memory I have of him. I was able to see grandpa in his last hours. I kissed his cheek, said “see you soon”, and as I exited his room, prayed and asked God to have some peach ice cream waiting for him. Perhaps, when I meet grandpa in heaven, we’ll make some peach ice cream again, together.