I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream
Did you know that the term “I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for Ice Cream” comes from a song written in 1920 by Howard Johnson, Billy Moll, and Robert A. K. King? No, it’s not the same Howard Johnson who famously started Howard Johnson’s restaurants and trademarked the saying “28 flavors of ice cream.”
In my opinion, neither Howard Johnson nor Baskin Robbins, with their 31 flavors of ice cream, could hold a candle to the numerous corner stores of Philadelphia from 1940 to the 1970s.
We had two candy stores in my childhood neighborhood, one at each end of the 100 block of West Wishart Street. They sold Breyers or Sealtest ice cream, as I remember, for 10 cents a cone. Siket’s was located at Wishart and Howard Streets and sold Breyers. They offered two types of cones, a regular one and a sugar cone that was harder and sweeter. Nan’s was located on the northwest corner of Front and Wishart; she sold Sealtest and was more generous with her dips.
Corner stores couldn’t afford to have 28 flavors, so customers were limited to a special few. Vanilla, chocolate, butter pecan, strawberry, vanilla fudge, and mint chocolate chip come to mind. This is interesting; with all the crazy flavors available today, which would you think is the most popular? According to the Food Channel, vanilla is preferred by 29% and chocolate by 8.9% of people. Do you have a favorite now, and was it different when you were a kid?
When we vacationed in Wildwood, there was a corner store back toward the bay, maybe on Wildwood Avenue. They sold Hershey’s vanilla fudge ice cream. I couldn’t believe my favorite chocolate made an ice cream flavor. From the first time I tasted it, vanilla fudge was my favorite—not that I would refuse any flavor back then. Well, except for rum raisin.
Ice cream is one of those foods that fill your head with childhood memories and help create a certain sense of calm. You know, memories like when you got a cone on a hot summer day, and you had to eat it before it melted down to your fingers. Or that time you tripped and dropped a cone you had bought with your last dime. Then there were the times the whole gang got cones, and you shared licks of different flavors. Or maybe it was the time you ate the ice cream so fast you got brain freeze, and you did the same thing the next time because a bit of brain freeze was worth the taste of a good vanilla cone.
Ice cream is so popular that enterprising business folks figured out how to bring ice cream to customers instead of having customers visit a store. When I was a kid hanging out on the beaches of Wildwood, NJ, there was nothing better than seeing the guy walking on the hot sand with his ice cream box around his neck.
I don’t remember seeing many ice cream trucks as a small child, maybe because the market was saturated, with two corner stores selling ice cream. The most famous ice cream trucks were Good Humor. Do you remember those vanilla popsicles covered in chocolate? After 1956, I do remember Mr. Softee trucks coming around. Imagine that! Soft-service ice cream was so silky it slid down your throat with no brain freeze, and the taste warmed your mind. By the way, Mr. Softee started in 1956 in Philadelphia.
I have written about the soft-serve ice cream store on the corner of Mascher Street and Allegheny Avenue. That made three stores selling ice cream cones within one block of my house; no wonder I was a husky kid. I’m not sure I should mention this, but I will in the interest of real history (sorry, big brother Bill). The soft-serve ice cream store had a vintage fire truck parked on its lot. I guess it was a tool to attract attention. It worked well, because my brother and several of his “gang” took it one night. It was eventually returned, and all was well.
I don’t remember any restaurants like the one in Happy Days, but I do remember that some drug stores and five and dimes had ice cream counters or fountains. The banana split was my favorite at these places.
Okay, I saved the best for last: the Greenwood Dairy in Langhorne, Pa. When I was a small child, we may have visited Greenwood once or twice, but it became a more popular place for my friends and me when I started to drive. I remember that a lady in the neighborhood asked me to teach her son how to drive, for which she would give me a buck or two. I was seventeen and had only been driving for a year or so; I don’t know what she was thinking. 😊
Anyway, every time I took her son out for a lesson, I, of course, invited guys from my “gang.” We always ended up on Roosevelt Boulevard, heading to Langhorne and the Greenwood Dairy. I never bought a pig’s dinner there, but the ice cream was incredibly good.
Ice cream, for me, is much more than a cold delight. It ignites my memories. Every time I see a box of Breyer’s buttered almond at the local store, it reminds me of my mom and grandmom. Breyers was my mom’s favorite. As a teenager, I would sneak into the house after a night of drinking and see my mom and grandmother asleep on the sofa and chair with an empty ice cream bowl for each on the table. It was their habit to have a bowl of ice cream every night. I guess it gave me some peace of mind to know they would try to stay awake until my brother and I got home from our Kensington adventures.
When I grew up and had kids of my own, my wife was not big on having sodas, ice cream, or candy hanging around the house. The kids, Billy and Nancy, got those things in moderation. When they stayed at my mother and sister’s house, it was ice cream and chocolate whenever they wanted it. To this day, they remember those days fondly, and that makes me happy.
My grandmother, grandfather, mother, father, and sister are all gone now, and I miss them. Every birthday and holiday, I set the table for them and fill their bowls with ice cream—butter almond for Mom and peach for Grandmom. My sister liked both. On my dad’s birthday, I provide cake, his favorite, and I pour a glass of whiskey for my grandfather’s birthday.
I learned this from my Asian wife. Giving food to departed family members is a way to honor them. I think it goes well beyond just that; it makes you remember them, and it makes you feel better. It’s not so different from the Irish tradition of pouring a bit of Jameson on the ground to honor a lost friend or family member.
After reading this, I wonder how many of you will go to the refrigerator to get some delicious vanilla ice cream?
From a post first posted on Kensington Neighborhood Alumni https://www.facebook.com/groups/KensingtonAlumnae