Ice Cream in the Winter
(a story written to win a blue ribbon at the Polk Co Fair Yarns competition)
“You girls start milking if I am not back by six” Dad called to us as he and Mom left in the sleigh pulled by Fashion. Grandma had fallen and needed help from Mom. Dad was taking her the 20-mile trip. We didn’t have a car in those days, and the roads wouldn’t have been passable for one anyway.
Sis was 8 and I was 10. We knew how to milk cows. It had been a sad year with Billy, born in winter, getting sick in spring, and lingering into the late summer before the funeral in September. Dad took losing his first and only son hard. He rarely smiled anymore. Mom tried hard to be cheerful, but she often cried when she thought no one was around.
It was dark by five. “Lets get started milking. We can get done in case Dad is late,” I told Sis. We lit the lantern and took the milk pails to the barn. Sis started with Bess, an easy milker and I took Flo, a hard milker, but our best cow of the six. The small log barn was comfortable, filled with the smells of freshly pitched silage, hay and manure—all fragrant to farm kids.
“My hands hurt,” whined Sis.
“If you stick it out, we will make ice cream when we are done,” I replied. “We can mix canned strawberries in it.”
“Won’t Dad be mad if we use up the cream?” asked Sis.
“I won’t tell if you don’t.”
Soon the milking was done. I skimmed a quart of cream from the top of the morning milk can.
“How do we make ice cream?” asked Sis.
“Mom beats some eggs, cream and sugar in a bowl and then puts it in the ice cream freezer to get cold,” I replied pretending to know more than I did.
Four eggs, a quart of cream and a cup of sugar later, tasting it as we added the ingredients, with Sis cranking the egg beater, we were satisfied with the mixture. We put it in a deep coffee can.
I set it in a pail of broken icicles and snow mixed with salt—just like when we borrowed Neighbor Johnson’s ice cream maker. We took turns cranking the beater. Sure enough it thickened up. We stirred in a pint of canned strawberries without the juice and had just dished out two big dishes when Dad came in.
“The cows are all done,” said Sis worriedly. Looking around sternly, then breaking into a smile, Dad said “Is there some left for me?”
Two week later Mom came home. She was back to her old cheerful self again after her time away. “You don’t look skinny and wasted away without me,” she kidded us, “How did you get along?”
“It was hard, but we managed ,” said Dad smiling hugely as he gathered all of us into a big hug We never told Mom that for fourteen nights in a row we ate freshly made strawberry ice cream.
(It won a blue. I read the stories submitted at the fair for the last few years and decided a mixture of nostalgia, pathos and humor were needed in a simple story-- or else something to do with a wounded veteran!)