This is a true story about an event that happened in the summer of 1969. At that time my family ws living in Albuquerque, NM. That year the folks decided to remodel the house that we had been living in and to re-landscape it too. We left my older brother Steve, who was 20, at home to supervise the work. He kept my dog Judy, a german shepard, there too. We took off with myself, my younger brother Curtis, and my cousin Celeste. We headed east, intent on having a real vacation.
The first night out, we actually took a motel room. That sealed it, this was a real vacation. Otherwise, we would have driven straight through the first night to Aunt Cay’s in Rolla Missouri. I think it was in honor of having cousin Celeste with us. She and I shared a bed. Mom and Dad had the other bed, and Curtis slept on a roll away. The next morning we got on the road early. My folks always did like that. They wanted to miss the morning rush hour if they could. Though I don’t know how much of a rush hour there really is in Shamrock Texas. We called Aunt Cay and let her know that we would be there the next evening for supper.
The next night dinner with Aunt Cay and her family was okay. The problem was neither of her two daughters were there. One was already married and the other was at some kind of summer camp. The boys were there though, so Curtis played with them and spent the night with them.
Dad had discovered that an old friend of his from college was now the owner of a restaurant outside of Springfield IL. So he made a long distance phone call from Aunt Cay’s to his friend. The gentleman’s name was Delbert Taft. Dad told his friend to expect us tomorrow, Sunday, for dinner. Mr. Taft gave Dad the name of the diner, directions, and the address.
The next day dawned hot. After all is was the first Sunday in July. We left Aunt Cay’s and drove for several hours. We crossed the Mississippi at our favorite spot, a route that was not much used. We drove into East St. Louis, and up the brick cobbled streets there. Then Dad took the highway he’d been told to take to Springfield.
In no time we were in front of Mr. Taft’s restaurant. Mom turned and said to us kids in the back. “Mr. Taft is going to feed us Sunday dinner for free. So don’t you ask for anything more.” But she figured without a few things.
Dad was out of the car and into the restaurant in a flash. I was right behind him. Mom and the kids took their time getting out of the car. Dad and Mr. Taft made a beeline for the back of the restaurant. I was racing to keep up. Mom was about to lose them completely. On the walls I notices several frames with 4 blue stripes and a pink stripe in each. I had no idea what they were, and I didn’t have the time to notice. I got mom’s attention and got the rest of the family back to the back of the restaurant.
We all sat around a big table in the back near the kitchen. This was the usual place for friends of the owner who would be, by definition, non-paying customers. We sat down and Mr. Taft had dinner brought out. It was pretty good, and Dad and his college friend soon got to talking. Since they went to college together and were both a part of what Dad called “Serico House,” the conver-sation soon turned to that. So I will explain.
In college the boys did not want to live in the dorm. They also could not afford to be part of a fraternity. So a bunch of like minded young men started their own “frat” that theycalled “Serico House”. They rented a house and hired a lady to be housekeeper and cook for them. They got together and elected a leader and someone to collect the dues they had to charge. They also elected my dad to procure supplies for the group, including food.
One day he saw an ad in the local paper. He thought it was as ad for 144 gross of Vanilla Wafers. It was not. But the price seemed good, so he ordered it. The price was even better then he thought. It was for 144 gross of boxes of Vanilla Wafers, each of which held a gross of vanilla wafers. There wasn’t enough room in the kitchen to store that many vanilla wafers, so they had to store them in the basement. Then they had to think of ways to get rid of the vanilla wafers. They had them for breakfast, for lunch, for an after-noon snack, for supper, even for a midnight snack. They had Okie pudding before the Okie’s invented it. They put vanilla wafers in the fruit salad. I think they drew the line though, at vanilla wafer soup. It was a tough job, but they finally succeeded in getting rid of all of those vanilla wafers. My Dad could not look a vanilla wafer in the face for 30 years after that.
Well, back to 1969. The conversation and the meal were grinding down when I said to Mr. Taft. “Mr. Taft, I’d like to thank you for the meal. It was delicious. And I hope that you don’t mind. But I have been sitting in a hot car all day today, and I am very hot. Could I please have a dish of ice cream?” He said, “Sure, what flavor would you like?” Well I was really trying not to be any trouble, so I said, “Plain vanilla will be fine.” He said, “Sure, I do pretty good with that one every year.” I said, “uh?”
He and my dad proceeded to point to the frames on the wall. That was the other thing my mom hadn’t figured on. In a state with a strong dairy industry like Illinois, this man was making; and entering in the State Fair; and winning prizes on; and then offering in his restaurant; his own, homemade, ICE CREAM. He had 4 blue ribbons and a pink 2nd place ribbon on 5 different flavors of ice cream. There were 5 of us, so we each ordered a different flavor of Ice Cream. We also make one rule. You had to keep your spoon.
The minute the waitress brought the ice creams I dipped my spoon into the vanilla. I took a bite and I knew this man understood vanilla. He got the lid closed on it the instant it was dished up. If you left it open any longer then that the flavor would dissipate into the room. If you smelled the vanilla in the room, you would never taste it in the food. Celeste got the chocolate. It was so smooth and creamy you could swear that Bossy was out back giving pure cream right now. Curtis got the strawberry because that was one of the few things he was not allergic to. There were real bits of strawberry in it long before anyone else thought of putting strawberries into the strawberry ice cream. Mom got the raspberry. The raspberries even smelled fresh. In fact you could almost smell the field they were grown in. Dad had the English Walnut. If there was anything wrong with the texture on the English Walnut, you couldn’t prove it by us. Each of us sampled each dish as it went around. It was without a doubt the best ice cream we’d ever had either before that day or since.
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