Friday, August 5, 2016

The Dairy King of Kindness

Soon, we will be returning to the place that fills the hole in my soul-   Mid-coast Maine.

Every year, we make our pilgrimage Down East; for me, it is more than eating my fill of lobsters  (I’m more of a steamed-clams-kind-of-girl, anyway), it is more than hiking on soft blankets of pine needles, and it’s even more than the stinging but strangely refreshing blue-black, icy water into which we jump (that’s the only way to “get in,” by the way,  there’s no wading slowly into Maine water.)   Going to Maine, for me, is about going home.

Now, you know that I come from CT.  Some of you may even know that I was born in New York, but that moving to CT when I was four and living my whole recollectable life there, I consider CT to be my real home.

But Maine is my soul home.

My ancestors lived in Maine.  Great Aunt Emma whom, legend has it, threw hogs over her shoulder and moved them around the Bowdoinham barnyard; Francis, the stern Baptist preacher in our family tree, whose tiny vest-pocket-bibles I now possess; and Doris, the small-town Brunswick socialite who lived in a three-story brick house right in the middle of the action on the corner of Lincoln and Maine streets. Edna St. Vincent Millay, one of our family's more famous relatives, wrote many of her poems in and about her native home of Maine.

When my mother and step-father retired to Maine, my mother wept; she discovered with a map in one hand and the family genealogy in another, that the house that they had bought on Great Island was a dozen yards from the homestead of James Millay, our Irish ancestor who first settled in Maine, generations and generations before.

When we go to Maine, it is either to the island of Monhegan, where my mother spent many summers growing up, or to visit family-  my sister and her brood in Brunswick, or our son in Portland. One of my best friends from CT moved to Eliot, Maine some years ago, so we add a stop there, too, connecting the dots of decades of friendship and family ties in our Maine Coast visits like pearls on a string.

Today’s story is about some thing that happened in Maine- 52 years ago:

My mom, aunt and grandmother had taken us for our annual sojourn north, and we were staying, together, in a cottage in the Thorburn Colony on Harpswell.  My mom and grandmother were widowed; my aunt’s husband was in Boston studying in graduate school that summer, and I remember that he had a part-time job delivering phone books.   This favorite uncle of ours, Uncle Pete, made his trips to see us in  Maine on the weekends in a VW camper, loaded to the gill with the afore-mentioned phone books.  We kids were delighted to see him and, suddenly, the tone of the whole house changed when Uncle Pete arrived.  Bedtimes went out the window, the water play down at the beach shifted from building sand castles to wild, splashing adventures in the water and on the slippery, treacherous seaweed-covered rocks; and we kids, (my cousins, brothers and I) lay in bed at night and could hear the grown ups in spasms of laughter as they sat at the dining room table late into the night playing bridge and drinking wine.  My Uncle Pete had a special gift for reading the wine labels out loud in a variety of hilarious accents that put  my mother, aunt and grandmother into hysterics.  They were happy days.

One evening, we went out to the Dairy Queen for ice cream. This was an unusual treat for us.  Even at the early age of five I was beginning to fill out my one-piece swim suit in ways that leaned more towards chubby than svelte, and so ice cream was not usually on the meal plan for me.  I approached this cone with no small amount of excitement, delight and a little bit of shame.  (I know…at 5 years old.)     We waited in line at the window.  My three cousins, my two brothers and me.  I remember being last in line.  I got a twist cone (chocolate and vanilla) with a chocolate dip that hardened like a thin shell on the soft serve peak of ice cream.   My brothers and cousins were already all across the parking lot at the picnic table when I got my cone.  My mom was fussing with her wallet, preparing to pay for the ice cream; my aunt was with the kids; my uncle leaned against our Ford Falcon smoking a cigar. The ice cream attendant handed me my cone.

I took one lick.
I nibbled at the edge of the chocolate shell.
I turned, pivoting on the toe of my blue, round toed Keds and… I dropped the cone.

The cone landed right on the hot, sandy blacktop.

I don’t think anyone noticed.  Except for me… and my uncle.

I remember standing in the parking lot, looking down at the cone and realizing that I’d lost my chance for this special treat.

My uncle quietly walked across the lot, passed right by me, went up to the window and, in a matter of moments, replaced my cone.

Today, 52 years later, this story sounds silly.  Sure: Kid gets cone.  Kid drops cone.  Uncle buys a new one.  Great story.

            But, like all stories that hang around in the folds of our memories for more than five decades, it’s much more than that.  It is about caring, inclusion, generosity, quiet noticing, compassion, feelings of worthiness, shame, family, and love.

And, it’s about ice cream.

We’ll be passing by that same Dairy Queen when we go on vacation this summer.
Since that trip in 1964, my mother, grandmother, aunt and two of my cousins have all joined the saints in light.  Of  my  family's senior relatives, in fact, my uncle is the last one standing.

Maybe I’d better stop and have a cone, in thanks for him.

Note:  this blog will be on hiatus until after Labor Day as I enjoy some vacation- and ice cream. See you in September.


  1. You're related to Charlie Plankenhorn and a Pulitzer Prize winner! I can't handle it.

    1. lol! Sadly, I did not inherit Edna’s way with words.

  2. One of the only poems I ever memorized for school was by Edna St. Vincent Millay. Wish I'd known she lived in Maine. Was just there and would have made a pilgrimage :)

    1. Edna was born in Rockland but moved to NY

  3. Those are wondeful memories.My summervacations were spent in the mountains of Western Maryland.Cumberland to be exact.Memories filled with Granny's cooking, fresh mountain air and nightly trips to B%O railroad station to watch trains.The day ended by going to Queen City Dairy for hand dipped ice cream

  4. the B&O railroad as we know it from Monopoly?!?!?

    What is your favorite flavor of ice cream?

    1. Yes the good old Baltimore and Ohio.It's premier train "Capitol Limited"arrived every night at 7.Chocolate was always the flavor of choice

  5. My late husband and I vacationed on the Schoodic Peninsula in Maine for many years. Every morning we would have coffee and donuts at Schoodic Point. I referred to that time as the restoration of my soul.

  6. Amen! I know the feeling. Where is the Schoodic Peninsula?

  7. It is the mainland part of Acadia just a bit north of Ellsworth. Schoodic Point is on open ocean with a view towards Bar Harbor.