BY: JAMES F. O’NEIL
“The Emperor of Ice-Cream” by Wallace Stevens: “The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream.”
“Why the emperor of ice cream? It’s an odd combination: an absolute, imperial power and a benign, sweet treat. Ice cream is a sensuous delight, eagerly anticipated and gleefully consumed. If you wait too long to eat it, it’ll melt. So much for the ice cream–now what about the emperor?
“Ice cream is like life: sweet, or at least hungrily indulged in, while it lasts. It’s also like the dead: cold and destined to be consumed or to dissipate away. Perhaps, then, the line that closes each stanza is a wake-up call to readers. If the “only emperor” or dominant principle of the world is the one we’re reminded of when we see ice cream melting–(or, in a different way, when we attend a funeral [shown in the poem])–we’d be well advised to heed it and make each moment count.” –Austin Allen, Poetry [magazine] Foundation
Once upon a time: Rainbow cones on the South Side: 93rd and Western in Chicago.
There see the giant cone, with five or six colors in slices–not scoops–of ice cream piled on top of one another.
We screamed with excitement for ice cream as our family made its special way farther south of our Marshfield home. It was a drive from Marquette Boulevard. No quick 45-mph trip like today. Probably in the green ’52 Chevy, 25-30 mph, with plenty of stoplights interrupting the special occasion.
Now when it comes to memories in time about flavors, I don’t recall any special Rainbow offerings, but the colors were vibrant. This is embedded in me. And in days before Rainbow–and after–ice cream has been a special weakness of mine. Not as an addiction, like anything-chocolate, but as that special “Good Nutrition My Plate” (nestled within the perfect food container that not only holds but is eaten) with its various food groups which include NUTS (coco-nut and chocolate peanut butter, pistachio and black walnut); FRUITS (like White House Cherry and rum raisin); DAIRY (lemon gelato and butter pecan); PROTEIN (egg nog and phish food, and chunky monkey and chocolate Moose-tracks); VEGETABLES (carrot-cake and chocolate malted and mint chocolate chip); GRAINS (chocolate cookie dough, and Grape-nuts).
However, Rainbow was but one special source of providing me with melting gustatory delights. No doubt about it, Good Humor was like no other.
The bells of the truck signaled the Coming of the Man in White. He enticed us kids to come outside our homes or from our apartments, or made us stop dead in our playing-tracks. If we had the twenty or twenty-five cents, our saved nickels and dimes, we made our purchases.
And? “Coconut for me, please.” The delicious-tasting ice cream bar on a stick, covered completely with a thin coat of white-something loaded with coconuts pieces. Heaven as I ate it. Heavenly. If my favorite was not available, I had to settle for something like chocolate cake or perhaps succumb to savoring an orange creamsickle:
Good Humor exists today, in supermarkets, in 7-11, in other places, and even with a few trucks in certain neighborhood locations. “But it’s not the same.” Yet I would never turn down a chocolate eclair, a toasted almond, or even a strawberry shortcake bar.
Howard Johnson’s at some time was a place I remember first seeing coconut milk on the menu. I thought that it would provide me with a special ice cream treat: a coconut milk milkshake. O YES! YES! YES! And then, later, I asked, “A coconut malted milkshake, please.” The nectar of the gods for sure!
Gus Pappas died in 1987. He was 83–and that was a long-ago moment. In 1953, “Mr. Pappas” (“Gus”) bought a corner confectionery in the Byrne Building, at Garfield (55th) and Halsted: Pappas Sweet Shop. We just knew it as the ice cream shop. It was a hangout for me and my friend Bill Manion, or with Joe Balint. My sister and her friends found time to have their ice cream and their teen-age talk-sessions there.
BYRNE BUILDING WITH PAPPAS CORNER
No matter how warm outside, I remember the store was always cool inside, with its white tile floors and marble counter-tops. Cool was needed to keep the dipped, rolled, and wrapped delicacies fresh and tasty (Oh, those chocolate-covered cherries!): Who needed Fannie May candies when we had Pappas on the corner?
Gus had a son, James (“Jimmy” to us), who worked in the store. In my time, Jimmy began singing with the Chicago Metropolitan Opera. Though his first role was in the chorus (My mother and I saw him in La Boheme.), he was a star to me. He brought music and fun-with-music into my life, and an appreciation of opera that I do cherish. And there is nothing today that compares to my savoring a Green River Malted Milkshake, with homemade ice cream, that Jimmy Pappas made for me. Yum!
GREEN RIVER MALTED MILKSHAKE
© James F. O’Neil 2016
Major Ingredient of a Homemade Coconut Milkshake