OK, most everybody with any reading experience has at least heard of the start of Marcel Proust’s Remembrance Of Things Past (A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu), wherein the protagonist bites into a madeleine and the taste of the little cake brings back a flood of memories. Well last night I bought a carton of ice cream at Publix and had a similar experience. The flavor was maple walnut. It was full fat ice cream. (These days admitting you like full fat ice cream is like admitting you enjoy unprotected sex with total strangers. You have self- identified as a risk taker.)
I remember from my childhood, where the family, all six of us, would pile into the car on a hot summer night, drive with the windows down, go get ice cream cones, and then cruise around, looking at stuff. One particular night, Daddy took us to the Curles Neck Dairy Bar, a lunch counter/ ice cream shop that sold their own ice cream It was a local dairy, that had their own farm in Eastern Henrico County (Charles City County, maybe?). Curles Neck denotes one of several bends in the James River. Local dairies were in business then. I ordered a maple walnut cone one night. Then we rode in the 1953 Nash Ambassador Super to Byrd Park, where colored lights shone on the fountain in the Fountain Lake. Quite lovely. I remember the orange colored light on the fountain most distinctly.
This was the great era of neon. Cities, like Richmond, were filled with fantastic signs. One Chinese restaurant, Joy Garden, had a neon sign evocative of an oriental lantern. Gorgeous. The sign was more memorable than the food. The cookie maker, FFV, had its letters illuminated on a water tank, on the roof of its now defunct factory, re-purposed to loft apartments. There was a billiard parlor,the Triple Triangle, that had neon billiard balls racked-up in the triangle Every burger joint had neon tubing outlining their roof, or part of it, at least, in red or blue or green. It was an illuminated night, reflective of an optimism and pride in the businesses of the community.
There are vestiges still. The flavorings and spice maker here in Richmond, The C.F. Sauer Company, has an animated sign featuring a mustachioed chef in a chef’s hat sampling something, as a string of bulbs light up. The night was a show. When I think of illumination these days, I think sodium vapor lights, making the community a little safer from thieves and predators lurking in the dark.
Today, I have a milk bottle from Curles Neck Dairy. I use it to fill the reservoir of my coffee maker. It holds a quart of water. and I can use eight tablespoons of ground coffee to make four eight-ounce cups of coffee with the water poured from the milk bottle. Kinda cool, I think. It’s a memory, or a bite of a madeleine, every day.