Custard’s Last Stand

I rode through the countryside on the school bus for an hour, mesmerized by the other students who got off the and walked to their houses. At eleven years of age, this was my first experience riding a bus. I lived only three miles from school and this morning I was the last person picked up. That bus ride lasted ten minutes. This afternoon was a different story. Following the morning route, It appeared that I would be the last to get off.

Finally, it was my turn. The bus driver pulled to a stop and opened the door. I plodded down the steps into the fall sunshine. Tree leaves were just beginning to change. Crickets and other bugs were singing a September chorus in stands of tall grass. Summer wasn’t finished with the countryside, but my sixth-grade school year had started anyway.

Stepping into my family’s farmhouse, I gasped in surprise. My brother-in-law was crouched on the living room floor behind a television. We didn’t own a television! My neighborhood cousin’s family did, but I didn’t think my family ever would. As I watched, Bozo the clown flipped across the screen. Jim turned knobs to adjust the picture. After alternately buzzing and more rolling, the image finally settled down and stayed in place.

Seeing my surprise, Jim pointed out, “I can’t take the television with me to where I’ll be stationed in Germany, so I thought I’d give it to your family.”

I wanted to sing and dance. Finally, I could watch television more than just on Saturday mornings when I visited my cousins. The only thing that would stop me from watching constantly, was my mother.

Westerns dominated television program schedules in the early 1960’s. I quickly developed crushes on the men who starred in Wagon train, The Rifleman, Rawhide and Gun Smoke. I daydreamed about cowboy and Indian shows. Roy Rodgers and the Lone Ranger were never far from my mind.

One Sunday afternoon when Mom invited me to join her and Daddy for a car ride. She explained, “We want to stop at a custard stand. It’s closing and we want to get one last treat.”

I frowned and thought for a minute before asking, “Wasn’t there a General Custard who fought Indians?” Catching myself, I snickered and corrected,” No, that was Custer!”

Mom laughed, “Custard is something to eat!”

Nodding, I dubiously added, “Yah, it’s pudding. Why are you going somewhere for pudding?”

“We’re going to get frozen custard.” Mom corrected, accenting the word frozen.

Even more perplexed, I asked, “Frozen custard? I’ve never had that!”

Mom shot back, “Of course you have! You’ve had it in ice cream cones.”

Ice cream was something I understood. Jumping to my feet I said, “I’m coming! Why didn’t you just say ice cream?”

Picking up her purse and following me out of the house, Mom replied, “Frozen custard has eggs in it, ice cream doesn’t. It’s usually softer, too.”

I just shook my head. She was giving me details I wasn’t interested in. In my mind we were going for ice cream and that was the end of the topic.

Frozen custard first showed up on Coney Island in 1919 and was an instant hit, but wasn’t truly introduced to the greater world until the 1933 World Fair in Chicago. In the 1950’s Wisconsin had many stand-alone custard stands that also featured chili dogs and root beer. One by one they closed and were replaced by businesses like McDonalds, Burger King and Hardees where hamburgers, French fries and malts were sold. Custard hasn’t gone out of style, though. Think Culver’s.

I have to chuckle when I remember how confused I felt at age eleven when Mom talked about “custard”. Tell the truth, what do you call the deliciousness of frozen custard? I’m guessing most people call it ice cream, too!




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