(Portrait by Jolie Leeds)

Author Rick D. Niece

A young trick-or-treater brings
the Side-Yard Superhero to life.

Summertime Memories
Jun 22, 2013

Cerebral Palsy Awareness Month
Mar 4, 2013

A Teacher's Creed
Oct 3, 2012

Music: An Essential In My Life
Jun 1, 2012

Righteousness Has Roots
May 4, 2012

The Essence of My Writing
Feb 15, 2012

Side-Yard Superhero and Why I Wrote It
Jan 27, 2012

Summertime Memories
An Excerpt from Book 3 in the Fanfare for a Hometown Series
Posted Jun 22, 2013 20:14

The following is an excerpt from Book 3, And We Gathered Around Her, in my “Fanfare for a Hometown” series. I have spent the first weeks of retirement outlining and drafting sections of the third book. I still have much more to write. Let me know what you think.

My favorite summertime memories float back to me each Fourth of July. When I was a young boy, and even into my early adult years, we’d spend every Fourth of July with my mother’s family. The celebrations inevitably turned into multi-day marathons. All of us cherished the family reunions and planned months in advance, through postcards and telephone conversations, for our gathering. The assignments for what to buy, bring, and bake were as strategically planned as any armistice. Without a doubt, my mother’s homemade ice cream was the pièce de résistance.

On the morning before my relatives’ arrival, I’d hang a large “WELCOME LOCUSTS” banner above the driveway to greet them. Our house became the annual holiday resort because we had a swimming pool, lawn croquet, horseshoe pit, front yard for football, whiffle ball, and badminton, and a basketball court in the old barn on our property. We even cemented the driveway for singles and doubles tennis matches. During the day we’d play games to exhaustion; at night we’d play cards until early morning. For every event, indoor or out, the competition was intense, and to this day I am ashamed by what a poor loser and arrogant winner I was. Good sportsmanship and playing games simply for the sake of playing them did not arrive until later in my life. Family and friends welcomed my newly-found maturity.

My cousins—Pam, Mike, Debbie, and Betsy Geyer—also enjoyed their holiday in DeGraff because there were several beyond-repair abandoned houses in town and on the outskirts. We convinced one another that each house was haunted, and to validate our belief, we’d cautiously explore them at twilight. Creaks, moans, thuds, rattles, and eerie, inhuman sounds shadowed us room to musty room, and we could barely wait to scream, squeal, and scamper to safety from the haunted premises. We’d spread uncomfortably on the ground a safe distance away, lying close together and replaying what we had seen, heard, and felt. We’d scare ourselves all over again. To this day, so many decades later, we continue to retell our ghost stories and swear they are true. I wish they were.

My mother was in charge of preparing the pudding-like custard for the indescribably delicious homemade ice cream, and like a clandestine laboratory chemist, she kept the ingredients a secret. She’d arise early in the morning to gather, measure, mix, and cook the sweet smelling, thickly textured, elixir-like richness of golden-colored goodness. Anytime one of us would venture too close to the stove, she’d spread herself wide to conceal the bubbling pot like the witches in Macbeth hovering over their boiling caldron. However, in my mother’s case, I am fairly certain that eye of newt, toe of frog, or a lizard’s leg were not among her unspoken ingredients.

There was no secret recipe, however, for cranking the ice cream maker that magically transformed the custard into ice cream. It was hard work, especially the last 100 cranks, and as we neared the end, we’d count down the final ten in unison. We were all required, regardless of age, to take a churning turn, but only the adults were allowed to sprinkle rock salt on the crushed ice inside the wooden bucket. The salt quickened the ice’s melting as we windmilled my mother’s recipe into obscenely rich mounds of butter-yellow deliciousness. If any salt squirmed through the cap of the rotating custard-containing cylinder, the mixture was ruined and our work was in vain. Plus, my mother’s wrath would reign upon us, and no one welcomed that. After finishing the churning and uncapping the cylinder to expose the frozen delight, the youngest among us were rewarded with the first spoonfuls. As I watched their eager mouths and satisfied faces, I regretted growing older.

Years later as our holiday tradition slowly died within a wave of new marriages, new commitments, and understandable new traditions, Mom quietly shared her treasured secret for homemade ice cream with cousin Pam. Growing older, sicker, and weaker, Mom did not want the recipe to go to the grave with her. Pam, the family loyalist and always my mother’s favorite, refuses to divulge a single ingredient.

I cherish the memory of my mother preparing the family Fourth of July delicacy and would give almost anything to have all of us gather again. For one last time, I would savor the feast of a heaping bowl.