Mike and I were always the very last customers to order at the Dairy Dream before it closed for the winter. It wouldn’t get us into any record books, but it was a personal challenge we took seriously.
This year the Dairy Dream closed November 2. Around the middle of October, the local paper carried a story about the Dream’s reduced hours and its last day, so Mike and I had time to arrange our schedules to be free on November 2. It was a Saturday, brisk and on the damp side, a day only die-hard ice cream fans would come to the red and white shack on Route 176. We were sure our record would be upheld.
To time it just right, I called the Dream that afternoon.
“This is Kevin. What time are you closing?”
“Seven o’clock,” said Mac Stanley, the owner – who, with his wife — made delicious ice cream creations eight months of the year. They served fathers, mothers, grandparents, bosses, secretaries, summer schoolers, baseball teams, coaches, swim teams, campers, bikers, hikers, babies and even a few dogs. From the beginning of March to the beginning of November they, and the local high school kids who worked for them, dished out ice cream and pop and hamburgers and fries and other goodies. Several of my friends had worked for the Stanleys before getting more serious summer jobs.
“I was just checking,” I told Mr. Stanley on the phone. “We want to have one last binge before you close for good.”
“Do you want to order ahead?”
“Nah, we’ll be there.”
I rang off from Mr. Stanley and called Mike. Normally, two strong guys like us could walk to the Dairy Dream, but I sprained my ankle the week before and was on crutches. So Mike had already asked his Dad to borrow the car. Now Mike’s Dad is probably the only guy in the world who hasn’t eaten at the Dream. He’s pretty no-nonsense in a lot of other ways too, but he agreed as long as we promised we’d go and come right back with no cruising around town. Mike can do a great sell job when he is psyched for it.
Mike lives directly across the street from me. We’ve been friends since grade school. He graduated from high school last year, a year ahead of me, and goes to the local community college. Some people say he goes there because he can’t afford the tuition for any other school, but I think he goes there so that we can get to the Dairy Dream together during ice cream season. From the beginning of March, I bet we’ve eaten there at least five times a week. Believe me, for what we’ve spent on ice cream, Mike could go to Harvard.
This was an especially important closing for me because I won’t be here next year. My parents want me to go away to college when I graduate from high school. They won’t hear of the local community college, so it’s possible this was the last time Mike and I could vie for the record. Next year, it will probably go to some pimply eighth grader who doesn’t even like ice cream.
Anyway, Mike arrived at my house around six-thirty. For fifteen minutes we sat around, listening to tapes of our favorite bands and deciding what we’d order. Then we grabbed a couple CDs for the road, climbed into the car, and drove west on Route 176 to the Dream. The sun had already taken its final bow.
There were no cars in the asphalted parking lot that circles the shack. And there were no people at the window from where the Stanleys dispense their cones and shakes and sundaes and fizzes and you-name-it creations.
I looked at Mike. Mike looked at me. We smiled.
Mike pulled right in front of the main window so I wouldn’t have far to hop. When it’s a short distance, I rely on my good foot and leave the crutches behind. I could prop myself against the wall of the Dream when I got there.
As we got out of the car, Mr. Stanley saw us coming. “Well, boys, looks like you made it in time. What’ll you have?”
Mike ordered a Neapolitan Supreme — that’s three scoops of ice cream (vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry) three toppings, whipped cream, nuts and a cherry — and I ordered a Pumpkin Boston. I really got hooked on Bostons about a month ago; they’re a thick kind of shake with candy blended in. How Mr. Stanley makes it taste like Mom’s pumpkin pie is beyond me, but he does.
We stood at the window while Mr. Stanley fixed our order. Then we paid and went back to the car to eat. Between mouthfuls we congratulated each other on our perfect record. Soon we lapsed into communal contentment, staring admiringly at the Dream and recalling all the times we’d been here. It didn’t matter the occasion, this was where we came to celebrate or commiserate.
Like the time I took second place to Mike’s first place at the track meet. Or the time Mike and Ellen broke up. He was pretty miserable about it, but I was secretly glad. Not for Mike, but for myself. I’d had to eat ice cream alone for a montI was on the way to becoming overly sentimental, when Mike sai“It was too easy this year; there was hardly any challenge to it.”
He crushed the plastic container that had held his Supreme, and was about to put the keys in the ignition, when a car pulled into the lot and parked right next to ours. A man and two children got out and headed for the window. I looked at Mike. Mike looked at his watch.
“It’s almost seven,” he said. “We’ll wait until they pay and then go up and order one more thing.” I nodded.
The man and kids each got a basic vanilla cone — do you believe it! — and headed back to their car. They didn’t seem to realize that what they held in their hands stood between us and our perfect record. They didn’t care that the Dream was closing and I wouldn’t be here next year.
We went to the window again. This time, Mrs. Stanley took our order — a Turtle for Mike and another Pumpkin Boston for me. In a few minutes, Mrs. Stanley came back. She smiled as she handed us our order. We paid, thanked her, and returned to the car.
Now a Turtle on top of a Neapolitan Supreme is no small feat. A Turtle also has three scoops of ice cream with caramel sauce, hot fudge sauce, pecans and whipped cream. I could tell Mike was getting full. We ate the second round more slowly, but agreed that there had been some challenge in maintaining our record after all.
Just as we were finishing, two guys pulled up in a beater car which sounded like it was going to blow at any minute. The driver of this junk heap turned off the ignition, and the rumbling noise began to fade, then stop completely. It was seven-ten.
By rights, the Dream should have been closed, but Mr. Stanley had returned to the window and saw the guys. I recognized them as regulars from the summer, and Mr. Stanley must have too. Maybe he thought he owed it to them. He removed the pencil from behind his ear and took his note pad from his back pocket. That was all the two guys needed. They bolted from the car and made it to the window in three giant steps.
“You know what we’ve gotta do!” said Mike. I nodded and watched.
It was the same routine. Just as the guys left the window, Mike jumped out of the car and ran up to make sure Mr. Stanley didn’t walk away. I hopped on one leg and got there as Mike finished ordering fried mushrooms.
“And you, Kevin? What will it be this time?” smiled Mr. Stanley.
“What do you have to get rid of?” I asked. I wasn’t feeling very choosy.
“We have some Creme de Menthe Grabbers. I’ll sell them to you at half price.”
I ordered two, but asked to have them bagged. Even if it was cheating to take them home, it didn’t matter. The record was still intact. We were the last customers.
We exchanged our money for the food, went back to the car, and waited for the lights to go out inside the Dream. That would be a sure sign summer was over and we had done it again.
Mike nibbled his mushrooms, offered me a couple, and we waited. Seven-twenty showed clearly on the dashboard clock. Surely, the Stanleys wanted to go home and count their money, and soon they would flick off the lights for the last time this year.
And then . . . it couldn’t be . . . but it was!
Another car, this time with only one passenger, slid up beside us. It was a Mercedes and was practically noiseless, which is probably why we didn’t notice it pulling in until it parked next to us.
“Jeez,” said Mike in an unbelieving tone. “Why don’t they turn off the lights?”
We stared at the Dream as if our concentration could make the lights go off. Meanwhile, a woman in a fur coat got out of the car and went to the window. I mean, c’mon, a fur coat at the Dairy Dream is like classical music at a rock concert. She waited but nobody came. Both Mr. and Mrs. Stanley had gone into the back room and didn’t see her.
I raised silent, crossed fingers to Mike and we held our breath.
But the woman was persistent. She called through the screen that covered the window, “Hello? Anybody there?” Mrs. Stanley came from the back, while Mike and I silently groaned in dismay.
“Maybe she’ll say the Dream’s closed,” whispered Mike.
“Maybe,” I repeated without conviction.
Mrs. Stanley went away from the window, but the woman stayed. That could only mean she had ordered and was waiting for the food. I didn’t wait for her to leave the window with her purchase. I opened the car door, hoisted myself out, and hopped into line behind her.
Balancing on my good foot was tricky, like trying to master the tree position in yoga, but I was determined. I thought of the years ahead when I would be away at college and think of this night.
Mrs. Stanley returned to the window with a milk shake, and as she was taking the woman’s money she saw me. I couldn’t tell if she was amused or annoyed, but it didn’t matter. I was prepared to battle with anyone who stood in the way of being the last person at the Dairy Dream. If she could serve the lady in front of me, she could serve me again.
The fur lady turned away. I looked Mrs. Stanley straight in the eye, as if it was the first time we’d met that evening. “One small ice cream cone,” I said. “Vanilla. Please.”
She got the cone, handed it to me without speaking, and took my dollar. I waited for the change. Instead of going back to the car this time, I stood there in front of the window and slowly licked the ice cream. When it was pushed down into the cone, I bit the pointed tip of the cone, like little kids do, and began to suck the rest of the ice cream through it. Slowly, casually, without a care in the world. Anyone else who came would have to wait in line behind me. If I stalled long enough, the Stanleys would have to close.
Mrs. Stanley watched me eat the cone and shook her head. She busied herself wiping down the inside of the Dream and turning the ice cream machines off. Mr. Stanley came from the back room wiping his hands with his apron. When whatever was on them had been rubbed invisible, he went to the west wall, lifted his right hand and flipped the light switch. Darkness imploded inside the small building and the Dairy Dream was officially closed. The last bit of cone had just passed my lips.
I turned to join Mike and he gave me “thumbs up” as my one good leg carried my overstuffed body to the car. “Home,” I commanded collapsing on the front seat, almost on top of the Creme de Menthe Grabbers. He put the car in gear, backed up about twenty feet, and then drove a full circle around the Dairy Dream. It was dark on all sides, and it was beautiful.
Minutes later we pulled into my driveway and I climbed out. “Hey, don’t you want the Grabbers?” Mike asked, handing the bag to me.
“Stick ’em in your freezer,” I replied.
With the crutches to steady me, I hobbled inside, limped through the kitchen and crawled up the stairs to the bathroom. Right then and there, one half of the world record-holding team that closed the Dairy Dream for six years straight leaned over and was sick to his stomach.