Our family's ice-cream legacy

From my parents to my children, ice cream has always provided us an excuse to bond.

Ice cream, for me, has always been an essential part of life. I still can taste my grandmother's apple and peach pies, warm from the oven and topped with a huge scoop of vanilla. I still remember the tinkle of the bells on the door of the local ice-cream shop, where my older sister first introduced me to a tin-roof sundae, served in a shiny silver parfait glass, its tall spoon nearly too long for my grasp. Sitting on the orange stools in the shop, we bonded over hot fudge and peanuts. Early on, I learned that ice cream was something truly special – a sweet gift to be shared with those we love.

Tall chocolate shakes always remind me of Martin's, a frozen-custard stand that was my childhood reward for successful piano and violin lessons. "Let's just stop by the Tastee-Freez," Mom would say. "I think we deserve a shake."

It was Dad who upped the ante a bit, developing my discerning taste for chocolate malts. "You should try a malt," he advised. "When I was a kid they cost five cents extra." That summer, Dad and I frequented a local diner where thick, homemade malts complemented our cheeseburgers and fries. After lunch, I always felt full of good food and family.

Ice cream, such a cool confection, has always left me feeling strangely warm inside.

As a teenager, ice cream meant date nights when I shocked more than one boyfriend by ordering a peanut-butter-cup-supreme sundae and then eating every last decadent spoonful.

My cousin and I toured New England colleges, discovering that Ben & Jerry's made an excellent dinner choice. Why eat meat and vegetables when we could have Rocky Road? Dubbing our trip "The Dairy Tour," we ate ice-cream dinners for a week, scooping up Cherry Garcia and Chunky Monkey between Ivy League visits.

Proudly, I now watch as my children are becoming ice-cream connoisseurs in their own right. Our annual Florida vacation comprises two important elements: swimming and ice-cream eating.

"Let's go get dirt-cup sundaes tonight," my girls plead, planning their next dessert conquest during an afternoon dip in the pool. After dinner, we sit on a wooden bench outside the local ice-cream shop, giggling at the chewy, green gummy-worm candies peeking out of the girls' Oreo "dirt" cups.

"Let's try the coffee shop tomorrow night," I suggest. "I hear their ice cream is homemade." By week's end, we sample every flavor of this lazy beach town. Our photos reveal sticky chocolate grins.

Back at home, the ice-cream indulgence continues. We live in a city that hosts an old-fashioned ice-cream social each summer. It seems so perfect – taking my children to the town green on a warm June evening where neighbors meet under the gazebo to chat, listen to the community band, and enjoy a scoop of summertime refreshment.

I cherish the photos of my eldest daughter's first social, creamy vanilla dripping down her toothless grin onto the stroller tray.

Chocolate chip cookies, lemonade, and iced tea always round out the menu, but for me, the heart of the social lies in the ice cream – vanilla and chocolate soft serve, with rainbow sprinkles and gooey chocolate and caramel sauces.

My children, enticed by the ringtoss and cakewalk, hastily eat their desserts. I prefer to linger, savoring summer's sweetness before it melts away.

Thornton Wilder said it best: "My advice to you is not to inquire why or whither, but just enjoy the ice cream while it's on your plate."

I will continue this delicious journey, from chocolate chip to Heath-bar crunch. A scoop of happiness shared with family: Could anything be sweeter?

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