Guest blog by Lisa Swickard, Tiffin
When I was a kid growing up in the 1960s, the Dairy Isle in Tiffin was an oasis of frosty, creamy goodness on a blistering summer’s day. My folks didn’t have a lot of money back then, so fortunately the Swickard kids were easily entertained. My brother and I always knew the announcement of an evening trip into town meant soft-serve ice cream, followed by a drive past the fire station to catch a glimpse of the big red trucks.
Sometimes I wonder why my parents put themselves through such an ordeal. It started the minute my dad veered the ’49 Chrysler onto North Washington Street. As soon as Pat and I spotted the giant, wooden ice cream cone that stood sentry in front of the candy-striped edifice, we’d bounce around the backseat, jonesin’ like a couple of dirty hippies who knew they were about to float away on a sugar high.
The Dairy Isle opened the summer of 1959 – when Paul Anka was “A Lonely Boy,” the Lincoln Memorial replaced the “sheaves of wheat” on the penny and “Anatomy of a Murder” was tops at the box office. Managed by Clemens Schroer, the ice cream spot at 179 N. Washington St. (now the Shake Shak) was unique to that part of Tiffin. There were no carhops like there were at the Polar Bar, the drive-in eatery north of town.
I liked that just fine. No carhops meant I was the big cheese who got to accompany my dad to the ordering window and carry the ice cream cones in two-fisted fashion to the car. Unlike today, going to the Dairy Isle was only a May-September affair. There were two choices of flavors: chocolate or vanilla. No dip cones. No crunch cones. Sometimes I begged for a banana split or a hot fudge sundae, but those were just too rich for our blood.
When everyone had their ice cream cones and were settled in, the race was on. “Just keep licking around the sides so it doesn’t drip,” my mother instructed as she wrapped our cones in paper-thin, nonabsorbent napkins while holding a lit, Newport cigarette in her wrapping hand. By the time she was done, she’d bandaged each cone in more layers than Claude Rains wore in the entire production of “The Invisible Man.” She couldn’t stand messes.
Then, like clockwork, Mom would turn her head 180 degrees — I swear, fully halfway around — and glare at me.
“You’d better not do it this time,” she’d warn as a bead of perspiration dripped off her heavily sprayed beehive hairdo and landed on the curlicue next to her ear. I’d frantically continue to lick my cone, knowing full well what she meant, but gazing at her like I hadn’t a clue. Sometimes I’d glance out the window, as though her cautionary advice wasn’t meant for me at all, but for those rotten kids in the car next to ours.
Just what possessed me to do what I did next — not once, but every … single … time — remains a family mystery. In my memory, it happened in slow motion, at the moment when my mother uncoiled her neck and momentarily faced forward to enjoy her ice cream while she read the menu board that stretched across the side of the building.
That was my cue to quickly unwrap the soggy, gooey napkins and, without missing a beat, sink my teeth into the side of the cone and chomp off the biggest bite I could muster.
“OH, RANDY! SHE DID IT AGAIN!!” my mom would yell as a barrage of napkins rained down on me from the front seat. They adhered quite well, considering I was awash in a sea of stickiness. I looked like I’d been tarred and feathered. My indiscretion always led to a bad chain reaction. Not only was Mom totally distraught about stains and such, but Dad was instantly outraged that I’d disrupted his private time with his vanilla ice cream. Pat, of course, got all worked up because he was convinced my actions would scrap the evening’s fire-truck viewing.
Needless to say, the Dairy Isle was where I learned to eat quickly. Despite my parents’ threats that I would be banned from the establishment for life, the panic usually ebbed before we pulled out of the parking lot. And each time, I weaseled my way into a reprieve before the next go-around.
I’m a grown-up now — well, kind of. To this day, each time I drive past the old Dairy Isle, the memories of that family bonding time come flooding back. On the rare occasion that I partake, I still shun the drive thru in favor of walking up to the window to order my boring vanilla cone. And somehow — without years of intensive therapy — I’ve even managed to stop biting the side of it, although there are times when it’s still tempting.
The Shake Shak, today