From the Relief Society Magazine, July 1957 –
Ice Cream for the “Fourth”
By Maryhale Woolsey
From its first sunup moment, it seemed, that day – July 4, 1904 – was bright and hot. “She’s a blazer,” Papa said when he brought the morning milk in, frothing high in the shiny brass pail; and “She’s sure one blazer!” he said again when he came in from the beeyard to eat dinner. His face was rosy and perspiring, and his blue madras shirt had wide streaks of wetness down its back. He filled the washbasin with cool water and dipped his face in it, and doused it over his hair.
I went to the wide-open door and stared over the expanse of Oregon sagebrush stretching away to the top of a hill, past the curling line of green that was Willow Creek meandering its way. Over westward were our neighbors’ ranches, where lay the purple-bloomed fields of alfalfa where Papa’s bees flew to gather honey. I couldn’t see anything anywhere that looked like blazes. Puzzled, I came back and slid into my chair.
“Blazer or not, it doesn’t seem like the Fourth of July,” Mama was saying, as she set a big bowl of creamed peas and new potatoes on the table next to the platter of fried ham. Her blue-flowered calico dress looked wilted, her bangs were coming uncurled, and her face was dampy pink. “No parade to go to, no program with speeches and singing, no flags to wave.” Her voice sounded wobbly.
“Dickens of a note,” said Papa. “why didn’t we think? We could have sent to Sears and Roebuck and got a flag. We really ought to have one.”
“No picnic like back home,” Mama went on. (Home, to Mama, was a Utah farm near mountains, with a canyon always deep-green and cool and tangy with smells of pine trees and spruce. I almost knew what it was like, myself, from hearing her tell about it so much.) “Not even …” Here Mama’s voice had a break in it, and I looked up and saw her eyes blinking tears back. “Not even a dish of ice cream to eat!”
“We sure ought to have ice cream for the Fourth of July,” Papa said. “It’d sure taste good, too, a day like this.” He looked sad.
I felt sad, too. I remembered ice cream, from a day last summer in twenty-miles-away Vale, where Papa had taken us to an ice cream parlor. It was all pink and white, with tables that had round wood tops and queer – but pretty – twisted wire legs; one set was children’s size, special. I sat at that one with Benjie and Freddie, who ate their ice cream down real fast and howled for more – which Papa said they couldn’t have; but I ate mine slowly, savoring the cold delightful sweetness of long thin “licks” off each spoonful, so mine lasted longest of anybody’s.
I came back from remembering, to hear Mama say, “Oh, it isn’t really important, I guess. We’ve got so much to be happy about – the honey crop looking so good, and … everything …”
Benjie and Freddie, with bibs tied over their blue denim rompers, were eating peas and potatoes as fast as they could. I guessed they couldn’t remember ice cream yet; I guessed remembering didn’t start till you were about five and had napkins instead of bibs. I tucked mine carefully in at the neck of my favorite red and white checkered gingham everyday dress, feeling glad I didn’t have to have it all covered up with a big bib like Mama was tying around baby sister Linda; her dress, made of the same goods as mine, hardly could be seen.
All at once Papa spoke up so loud it made me jump. “Lib, why can’t we make some ice cream?” (“Lib” was Mama when Papa got excited or mad.) “I could get some ice from old man Gregory’s place; he’s got a cave full of it up there, he stored from the creek last winter. He’d let me have enough to freeze a gallon of ice cream.”
Mama’s eyes lighted up bright-blue for a minute and then faded. “It’s five miles, at least, to Gregory’s. Take half a day …”
“Well! What’s half a day when it’s the Fourth of July? We ought to have some ice cream, and I guess we can knock off for the afternoon – when it’s a holiday like this!”
“Besides, we haven’t any ice cream freezer,” Mama said.
“Oh, I had forgotten,” Papa said. “Why didn’t we bring along the Co-op store when we came to Oregon? The hardware department, anyway.” He began to rub his chin, his face thoughtful. “Maybe we can rig up something; there ought to be some way …”
“I don’t know … ice cream freezers are so different from anything else,” mama began. “But you’re good at rigging things up, dear; just maybe, you …”
“I’ve got it!” Papa jumped up and went to the corner where the wash tubs were, and set the smallest one on the ironing table. Then he got a ten-pound size lard pail from the high shelf, one of the extra strong pails that we were saving to put honey in, when the extracting was done, and set it inside the tub. Taking hold of the pail by the little round knobs at the sides, he began to turn the pail this way and that; a half-turn left and then a half-turn right.
“Now, see – we put the custard in the pail and put the cover on; then we put the ice and salt around it, in the tub, and I move it back and forth this way. Every so often we open it up and you can beat the custard with the eggbeater to make it fluffy. See?”
“Oh, darling!” Mama said, breathless. “If you aren’t the smartest man! Do you suppose it’ll really work?”
“I don’t see why not.” Papa came back to finish his eating. He looked mighty proud. “Anyway, we’re sure going to find out. Now, look, you’d better get the custard made right away, so it’ll have time to cool. I’ll raise you a tubful of water to set the kettle in; that’ll help, and you can save the water for washday or Saturday baths. And how about making a chocolate layer cake to go with the ice cream? Seeing as you have to have the stove hot anyway to cook the custard?”
“I’ll do it!” Mama promised. “Shall I make the ice cream with mixed vanilla and lemon flavors?” The bright-blue sparkle was in her eyes again, dancing with happiness.
“Mixed will be fine,” said Papa.
All four of us children trailed Papa excitedly while he drew up the buckets of water from the deep walled-up well, and chopped extra stovewood from the pile of sagebrush clearings, and hitched up the horses to the spring wagon. Then we stood by the gate watching him drive down the long lane between tall white-clover hedges, until he crossed the creek bridge and turned out of sight onto the hill road.
It was a long, long afternoon – in spite of the busyness in the kitchen. Mama and I wore our best white aprons and Mama let me help beat eggs and mix flour and milk thickening for the custard, and stir the cake batter while she was greasing the tins. I got a few good licks at the mixing spoons, too; but Benjie and Freddie, as a reward for carrying in wood and kindling chips (thereby keeping out from underfoot), got the bowls to scrape. Linda slept nearly all afternoon. “Thank goodness!” Mama said, telling Papa afterwards.
Long before we could expect him, we kept going to the gate and squinting our eyes down the lane to watch for Papa. Especially with a slow old team like our Tom and Jonah, ten miles of driving along the dusty, rutted wagon road up Willow Creek would take hours, Mama said. of course, Papa and Mr. Gregory would have to talk some, before ever they’d start to get the ice out and load it, and cover it all up with sawdust and lots of gunnysacks so the hot sun wouldn’t melt it away before Papa could get home with it.
Mama’s sigh of relief, when at last Papa’s wagon appeared turning into our lane, was no deeper nor longer than mine.
Then, such excitement – ice – and not wintertime! We drank ice water enough to float us away, Papa said. We fondled chunks of the cold, sparkling, miraculous stuff until our fingers were blue and stiff – and we loved it!
The rigged-up ice cream freezer wasn’t exactly perfect, Papa was finding. he got tired standing up by the table “agitating” the pail, so he had to stop and fix a low bench so he could sit down. His hands got cold, and he said it must have brought on his rheumatism, the way his fingers hurt. He stopped again while he hunted up a pair of wool gloves to put on. He would rest each time the pail was opened up for Mama to use the eggbeater. She took a few whacks too at the “agitating,” but she had to get our supper – we had the rest of the peas and potatoes and some canned salmon and lettuce leaves with vinegar, and because we were so hungry and the ice cream wasn’t frozen yet, we ate the chocolate layer cake! Then Papa went back to the freezing business again.
Mama and I did the dishes; the sun went down and the twilight deepened. After a while the midsummer full moon came sailing up above the east hill. Papa moved out to the back yard. “Too pretty a night to stay inside,” he said, “and besides it’s quite a lot cooler out.” We brought chairs out and sat around, waiting.
At last, opening the lard-pail for maybe the twentieth time, Papa said, “I’m fagged. it’s not like it ought to be, but I’m going to call it ice cream and we’re going to eat it. Now or never.”
“Poor darling; you’ve worked so hard!” Mama said.
She began to fill the glass dishes. Oh, but they looked festive, heaped with pale yellow mounds and with their rims sparkling in the moonlight like fairy rings! At the very last, Mama piled two extra spoonfuls into Papa’s dish.
He grinned tiredly. “Don’t know if I want it now that I’ve made it,” he said.
“Why, darling!” Mama told him, “of course you want it. Taste it!”
He did, and perked up at once. “Why, it’s not half bad!” he exclaimed. “Not bad at all. Not half bad!”
We all began joyously to eat. There were hard icy lumps that had escaped the eggbeater’s blades, and the texture was splintery with ice crystals; but it was cold and sweet and tasted wonderfully of mixed vanilla and lemon flavorings, and the moonlight added magic, I guess, to make it unforgettable.
“Next year,” Papa said, “I’m going to organize the ranch folks around here for a Fourth of July celebration that will make you sit up and take notice. we’ll have flags and ice cream freezers, and speeches and – everything. You’ll see …”
We did see, and it was wonderful and we never had another Fourth without its just due of celebration. But no ice cream that ever came after had quite the miraculous quality and flavor of that which was made in Papa’s rigged-up freezer and eaten, lumps and ice splinters and all, joyously in the midsummer moonlight of that first Fourth on Willow Creek.