At Thelma's, a Double Dip of Nostalgia

David Evers, 8, at left, his brother Eric, 4, and sister Lauren, 6, slurp up the goods at Thelma's Ice Cream in Great Falls.
David Evers, 8, at left, his brother Eric, 4, and sister Lauren, 6, slurp up the goods at Thelma's Ice Cream in Great Falls. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
By Bravetta Hassell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 8, 2006

The plain plastic foam cups that hold Thelma's ice cream can detract from just how good it is -- the way the lemon sits on your tongue light and minty, and the vanilla glides down smooth.

Those cups hold the ice cream the way the brown, white-trimmed shop where it's sold holds the story of one of those forever friendships. Already it sounds almost too sugary, too nostalgic, but Doris Carpenter knows the power of a promise and memory. She knows the way they can churn days into months and months into years.

A couple of times a week you can find Carpenter, who's in her seventies now, at Thelma's Ice Cream and Deli in Great Falls, serving up the special ice cream her friend used to make, the ice cream that she now churns herself. In five-gallon batches.

"We spent a lifetime in this store," Carpenter says of herself and Thelma Feighery.

Feighery -- everyone called her Thelma -- owned the store for 51 years, becoming the "Ice Cream Queen." She lived right next door, close enough to keep an eye on her family and an eye on the mom-and-pop gas station she and husband Frank bought in 1950.

They worked the store together until Frank died in 1988. Then it was Thelma's place to run. And she did until five summers ago, when she died at the age of 86.

"I guess I'm hoping that by helping out, it will stay open," Carpenter says of the store. "Thelma would always say she never saw a day when she didn't want to go to work."

The one-story frame building with peeling brick-patterned siding is tucked behind a grassy, rolling stretch of Route 7 and sits a quarter-mile past the historic Colvin Run Mill, a late-19th-century general store that distributed supplies to the farm community.

For years, Carpenter says, her friend stared a transforming region dead in its face, determined not to become too commercialized, too modernized. She wanted to keep everything as it had always been. She'd had a time reckoning with the new electric cash register, Carpenter recalls.

What would she think now of the cappuccino machine and hot dog roaster that have replaced her once popular candy case full of bonbons and jumbo lollipops?

Or this: Next door, where the cow pasture used to be, sits a business park filled with doctors' offices, and a parking lot of sparkly sedans and SUVs. Not far down Colvin Run Road, young children play in the front yards of the million-dollar homes arranged snugly around freshly paved cul-de-sacs.

Time churning.

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