There didn’t need to be a special occasion for us to go for ice cream when I was a kid. The very act of going was a special occasion. Two shops stand out in my memory, one in Valleyfield, Québec where we lived, the other in Glen Tay, Ontario where Dad was born, near Perth where Mom came from and where two grandmothers and a grand-dad still lived.
In Valleyfield the place to go was Stewart’s store up on ‘the Boulevard’. Stewart’s was a store at the end of a row of nearly identical homes, factory houses, and the store filled much of the ground floor space. At the rear of the store was a small kitchen and a bathroom and bedroom where Margaret slept. Margaret was one of the Stewart’s daughters. She lived in a wheelchair because she got really sick when she was a kid. Mom says we don’t have to worry so much about polio anymore.
Margaret was often in the store because she lived so close. Her Mom and Dad were old, like my grandma and grandpa, and they lived upstairs. Mr. Stewart liked to help out in the store once in awhile, even though Margaret thought he counted change too slow. I think it was mainly so he could eat humbugs without Grandma Stewart catching him.
The store always seemed dark up high because the walls were dark brown wood. But down where people were there were all sorts of colours to see. There was a blue rack just inside the door with the Montreal Star, The Gazette and some French papers on it. The counter where the cash register sat went all the way to the back – well almost, to the freezer anyway. Inside the counter were cigars and cigarettes and pipes and tobacco and Swiss army knives and pipe cleaners and lighters and golf balls and other stuff I can’t remember.
On the other wall were narrow racks where chips and cheezies and fresh bread was stashed.
As I hinted, the freezer was at the back and when Margaret found out that we were there for ice cream she would wheel herself backwards to the freezer. Sometimes she let me open the freezer which had sliding glass windows that went back all the way into the freezer again.
Margaret pretended she didn’t know what flavour I liked and she would ask me if I was going to have my usual butterscotch cone. I would laugh and say, “No, silly” and she would laugh and her belly would shake in her chair. “Oh, then it must chocolate then,” she’d say. “Noooo”, I would squeal.
I needed to take a deep breath for this long word for the flavour I wanted.
“Neopolitan, please”, I said.
“Oh, of course Neopolitan,” Margaret. (Sometimes she pretended it was too big a word for her.) “And remind me again why you like this flavour?”
“Because,” I’d reply, “there’s three flavours so even though Mom and Dad only let me have one scoop it’s almost like having three!”
Daddy grew up on a small farm outside Perth on Christie Lake Road, also known as the Third Line. The place was called Glen Tay. Dad’s house was wood with pretend brick over it but it was big. There was a staircase near the front door that went up to the bedrooms. I always thought it was spooky up there if I went alone because it was dark even in the daytime. Downstairs there were two living-rooms and two kitchens because when my Uncle Ken died his wife and two girls lived there. Grandma had the bigger kitchen and we ate a lot there. I remember at Christmas there would be so many people we had to eat in both kitchens and the dining room. I always had to sit with the other kids which bugged me.
Outside the little kitchen there were very tall trees and when the wind blew they whistled. One of my favourite pictures of me was taken by my aunt. I was wearing a red, white and blue striped shirt and white pants that didn’t quite touch my ankles. Around the front, past the whistling trees, was the front yard and it had a fence with green posts and wire that was in the shape of horseshoes along the top.
Straight across the road was the only store. (Glen Tay’s so small they don’t even call it a village.)
Daddy likes to tell me stories about the store from when he was little. In those days people who lived in the house attached to the store had to connect anybody who wanted to phone someone. So you’d call Nick’s mother (he’s my Dad’s cousin and he lives in the house with the store and the phones. It was the Perth and Christie’s Lake Telephone Company, he said.)
Nick was usually working out the side door. He had a Super-test gas pump on the lawn and he stayed there and pumped gas and talked about boring stuff while his mother was inside helping people talk on the phone. People say that’s why she knows so much.
One or the other of them would sell stuff in the store near the phone machinery. They didn’t have as many flavours of ice cream as Stewart’s but the ice cream was in great big barrels from Chaplin’s Dairy. Yes Chaplin’s Dairy. Past Grandpa’s garage and past the big white house close to the road there’s a road that goes up a hill towards the Tay River. That’s where Chaplin’s Dairy is. They have big vans that go out every morning to deliver milk to houses (both my grandmothers buy from them). They also sell chocolate milk which Aunt Iris likes a lot but Mom says it will rot my teeth.
I don’t need three-flavoured ice cream when I’m at Grandma’s. You know why? When I order a vanilla ice cream cone and Daddy buys a big tub of vanilla ice cream for Grandma it’s so we can help her eat the raspberries growing outside the back kitchen door. She says she can’t eat them all and Grandpa doesn’t want the crows to have them.
No problem Grandma. I’ll handle the berries with this ice cream.
Details are subject to the weaknesses of memory and are subject to change by family members.