The Great Sidewalk Sundae Caper
Memories reign supreme...
When one nears the three-quarter century mark there’s lots of memories stored away that at some point demand an audience. In my case this is particularly true of my childhood memories in little Kopperl, Bosque County, Texas. I lived there with my Granny until I was eight years old (the first time) and if there is such a thing as an idyllic childhood I think I had one. Granny came from a large family so there was always great aunts, uncles and kids around. Our little town had 250 hardy souls and everyone knew everyone else. Although we were mostly a rural community we lived “in town” as we said back then, so kids were able to take advantage – and I do mean take advantage – of all the merchants and trades people in the tiny town of Kopperl.
One of my favorite places to go – and trust me one could walk all over town – was Mr. Boggs’ Drug Store. My best friend was a little girl named “Merle” and to say we made a few miles together would be an understatement. Mr. Boggs Drug Store was definitely one of our favorite haunts and that drug store was just about as interesting a place as any Kopperl kid could fathom back then. There were gifts for sale in the glass cases at the front of the store including magazines, small toys, a bit of costume jewelry and greeting cards. The case also included tiny, blue bottles of Evening In Paris Perfume and that was about as impressive as it could get. In the center part of the store were three, little metal tables with chairs (which I’ve since discovered were called little bistro sets or tables with ice cream chairs). However, the part of the store that delighted Merle and me the most was the old fashioned soda fountain at the front of the store.
The plot is instigated...
Around the walls were cabinets which had wood doors on the bottom and glass doors that went to the ceiling on top of them -- and the ceilings were very high and made out of old, punched tin squares.. Inside those glass doors was every over-the-counter medication known to modern man at that time. They were chock full of cough medicines, vitamin remedies, laxatives and the most dreaded of all – Baby Percy and Vicks. My Granny was confident that Baby Percy would cure anything going amiss inside the human body. The fact that it tasted worse than anything one could imagine had no bearing on her faith in the product and she administered it to me most generously. She absolutely had no doubt Vicks would cure anything Baby Percy wouldn’t – things on the outside of the human body including broken bones – and she applied it most liberally.
Mr. Boggs, the druggist who owned the store, was the tallest man I’d ever seen except for my Great Grandpa Greer. Mr. Boggs was at least 6’4” tall, skinny and bony looking and when you’re a very little girl that’s way on up there. He always wore a black suit, white shirt, bow tie and a snow white apron and his entire personage always looked starched and squeaky clean. He was usually busy mixing something in the back but one could see his head and shoulders through the little window where you picked up prescriptions and he was an imposing figure. I don’t recall him ever speaking to Merle and me but he’d nod amicably and keep doing whatever he was doing.
Mr. Boggs daughter, Alene, who waited on customers in the front of the store and ran the old fashion soda fountain, was absolutely beautiful and always treated us like bonafide, important customers. She had long, dark hair, intense blue eyes and always wore the prettiest sweaters we’d ever seen. To us, Alene was a mature lady but in fact she probably wasn’t over 25 years old. Alene had married my daddy’s brother so she was actually my aunt-in-law? She had also divorced him just as my mother had divorced my daddy so whether she was really – or still -- my aunt-in-law or not really didn’t matter as Merle and I loved her dearly.
It was a huge treat to take our “Saturday nickel” and go to the drug store for our fountain Coke with real shaved ice. We had to climb up on the foot rail while holding on to the soda fountain’s marble counter top and from there scramble up on the old, round, black, leather-topped stools. We watched everything Alene did as she shaved the ice, put it in the glass, added Coke syrup and then the fizzy water. She always gave us a straw and we’d sip our Cokes as slowly as we could while we visited with Alene. Saturday was the big day of our week.
One Saturday, as we slowly sipped our drinks; a boy came in and asked for a “Sidewalk Sundae.” We watched with great interest as Alene lifted one of the black doors on the top of the freezer where the block of ice and ice cream stayed and handed the boy what looked like ice cream on a stick. As soon as he left with his treat we asked Alene what a Sidewalk Sundae was. She reached down in the freezer and came up with one, slipped off the paper wrapper and showed it to us. It was vanilla ice cream frozen on a stick which had been dipped in chocolate. We were fascinated – and drooling – as she replaced the wrapper and put the Sidewalk Sundae back in the freezer.
“How much do those cost?” Merle shyly asked. She was shy – I wasn’t.
“They’re a new product so still a bit expensive,” answered Alene, “they’re ten cents each!” I’m sure she saw the disappointed expression on both our faces as we got a nickel every Saturday – no more/no less – and the amount wasn’t open for discussion with either Merle’s parents or my Granny. We finished our Cokes and left.
It’s somewhat amazing what six-year-old girls can come up with when exceptional treats are involved but on the way home we made a plan to taste a Sidewalk Sundae. The next Saturday, each of us (nickel in hand) once again climbed up on the soda fountain stools and ordered our Coke with shaved ice. Alene visited with us a bit until she was interrupted by a customer. We listened carefully until we were sure Alene was going to be engaged with the woman looking for a special gift and at that point put “Operation Sidewalk Sundae” in motion.
Right wins over evil...
I got down off my stool, went behind the soda fountain and opened one of the lift-up doors to the freezer where we knew the Sidewalk Sundaes lived. The freezer was about a foot below counter height so I was well hidden from view. I scrambled up on the freezer enough to get my shoulders, head and arms down into the freezer, took the paper wrapper off a Sidewalk Sundae and gobbled away. My feet were off the floor and it wasn’t easy to get my top half back out of the freezer and my feet back on the floor but managed to do so after about four good bites.
Merle gave me the high sign that Alene was still busy so I dove back in and continued to munch – about three Sidewalk Sundaes worth as fast as I could – complete with “brain freeze” from eating so fast while nearly standing on my head. In fact, I couldn’t finish the third one so put the wrapper back on and dropped it back in the freezer. I was beginning to feel very full so changed places with Merle and she followed my lead. She’d only had a few bites out of one Sidewalk Sundae when Alene walked over to the cash register to ring up the lady’s purchase and take her money. I whispered to Merle that Alene was coming, she popped out of the freezer and was again on her stool by the time Alene joined us. Then, miracle of miracles, Alene told us she needed to go to Sleepy Hill’s Store – which was about three shops down the street – so to go ahead and enjoy our Cokes and she’d return shortly.
She was no sooner out of sight than Merle was back on her head in the freezer eating Sidewalk Sundaes and I even had time to take another turn – although again, didn’t finish the whole thing – when Merle saw Alene returning down the street. When she came in the front door we were again two nice little girls enjoying our Cokes – which we finished, told Alene goodbye and thank you, left and went to Merle’s house to play jacks.
We played jacks on Merle’s front porch maybe an hour before my tummy began to feel extremely queasy. I decided I’d best go home and headed in that direction. My Granny was very sympathetic and I appreciated that but had no doubt at all that she’d break out the dreaded Baby Percy within minutes. To my surprise she didn’t even mention it.
“Precious,” (Granny always called me that) “Granny’s found a really good way to cure little girls’ stomach aches – something entirely new,” and with that she went to our ice box and came back with a Sidewalk Sundae. “You must eat all of it for it to do any good – ice cream’s very soothing to the stomach, you know!” By then I was truly experiencing terrible stomach trauma and when she took the paper wrapper off that Sidewalk Sundae I nearly tossed my cookies right there. BUT…I had no choice but to try to eat it so I did. Granny and I sat on the old bench on the front porch and she intently watched me eat every bite.
To say I was dreadfully ill that night would definitely be an understatement. I would have had to get well to die. Granny patiently stayed up with me and it was after midnight when I finally got past the great Sidewalk Sundae escapade and went to sleep. When morning came and I went into the kitchen Granny had laid another Sidewalk Sundae on my plate and I got sick all over again.
It was then we had the in depth conversation about stealing and “telling fibs.” To say I was cured of stealing and telling fibs was definitely true. I was also permanently cured of ever wanting to lay eyes on another Sidewalk Sundae as long as I lived. The backstory on this little childhood drama was Alene knew what we were doing all the time. When she found partially eaten Sidewalk Sundaes in the freezer she knew exactly who’d done what and when and instead of saying a word she chose to teach us a lesson. She paid a visit to my Granny while I was at Merle’s playing jacks, left the gift of Sidewalk Sundaes as she figured I’d be feeling a bit poorly after that much ice cream and chocolate and never said a word to me or Merle.
Funny how such an “epic” learning experience is now a fond memory but it is. Both my Granny and Alene are now long passed on but I’ve never forgotten that life lesson and probably never will. I loved them both dearly and they were so very important to my life.
However, to this day (just short of 70 years later) I’ve never (even once) wanted to lay eyes on another damned Sidewalk Sundae (or whatever they’re now called). I can state with great assurance that attitude will sustain as long as I live and I couldn’t recommend one to someone else under any circumstances.
For a fact, some of life’s lessons are just too heinous to forget!