LONSBERRY: TROUBLE AT THE ICE CREAM STAND


   Holly used to be our babysitter and Ryan is a cop in town. They’ve been married 20 or 25 years by now and she works up at the school and they have three children. One is in the Air Force and another led the boys to a Sectional basketball title a couple of years back and the third just hired on as a 9-1-1 dispatcher.

               They are about as American as apple pie.

               Or soft-serve ice cream.

               Which might be more to the point.

               Because the Regals are at the center of controversy and upset these days. At least they are at my house. And it has to do with ice cream.

               Kind of.

               Some few years ago, they bought the ice cream stand down by the park. Soft serve and hard pack and a grill and a fryer and a little cooler for Gatorades. Shakes and malts and Mexican sundaes, banana splits and fried mushrooms and Blue Devil burgers.

               And no conception of the meaning of the word “small.”

               If you got an ice cream cone at Regal Hots, you better get after it, especially on a hot day, because they don’t scrimp and if you don’t have proper ice cream cone management skills, it’s going to get away from you and you’re going to have chocolate running down your hand. Low prices and big servings. A place you can afford to take the family. No frills or old-timey, boutique nonsense, with the high prices and the small servings. This is a blue-collar ice cream stand. Good value and good taste and good company.

               Really good company.

               Holly and Ryan know everybody, especially the kids. And scooping out of the big tubs in the freezer along the counter, Holly talks to each of them about their teachers and their school work and asks by name about their siblings and their cousins. Outside, under the canopy near the picnic tables, Ryan quizzes the kids, most of whom play sports, about how their team is doing. Seventh-graders, fresh off a win or a loss on a patchy soccer field across the county, will report on the game and on their efforts, Ryan earnestly listening, making them in that moment the center of his universe.

               Under that canopy at the picnic tables on a summer’s evening is where the town meets, passing and visiting and reuniting, many of them friends for decades, a good percentage related by blood or marriage. It’s a fleeting reunion, with a cone in your hand, catching up on what’s happening at the fire hall or at the school or at the county campus up on the hill. Business is done and play dates are scheduled and plans get made. Moms and dads and kids. Sometimes a van of Amish folk driven in off the farms, and folks on country drives down from the city.

               If our town has a place, a meeting place, a hub, on a summer’s day, it’s Regal Hots.

               Where they remember that you like maple walnut and grasshopper pie, and that this kid likes extra pickles, and that most people come for the friendship as much as the food.

               Good ice cream, good prices, and good people. Every year, with a season starting about April or May and stretching until September or October. The calendar kind of revolves around whether Regal Hots is open or not.

               But this is about controversy and upset.

               Last week it said on Facebook that Holly and Ryan had put the ice cream stand up for sale.

               Now, in one way, that’s pretty understandable. The stand is a lot of work, and their kids are grown and gone, and scooping hundreds of cones a day will put the wear on you. And while it’s a joy to go to Regal Hots a couple of times of week for a treat, it might be a different matter every day from open to close, and our escape might be their bondage.

               But it’s Regal Hots.

               And it can’t go away. There wouldn’t be much left without it.

               There wouldn’t be much left without them.

               Without poor Holly running ragged behind the counter and Ryan making sure everybody had just what they wanted. It’s a sweet piece of life it would be hard to turn loose of. We’ve grown accustomed to too much ice cream, and rock-bottom prices, and the ad hoc gathering of a community that fills your heart as much as it fills your belly.

               But that’s up in the air now, and I don’t know what the future holds.

               But I do know how I will see summer in the paradise of memory.

               I’ll be at one of those picnic tables under the awning, my family around me, ice cream in our hands and on our faces, joy in our hearts, Holly and Ryan tending to their friends and customers.

               At Regal Hots.