It's around noon on a hot Sunday in July, and my sister Sally, my husband and I are--for the moment--the only customers getting cones at Thelma's Home Made Ice Cream in Great Falls. Sally tells Thelma that we used to come here all the time when we were kids. Thelma tells us she's glad we're back. Thelma Feighery is 84 now, though she looks the same as the last time I saw her, which was probably 20 years ago.
She and her husband, Frank, started running the store 49 years ago. There's still a lovely framed photograph of her (a 25-cent photo she had made at Glen Echo in 1942 that her husband enlarged) hanging in a corner of the store with a sign that says "Not for sale" and apparently means it, as each word is underlined a number of times.
The store looks the same, still untouched by any modernity. I get a cone made with black raspberry ice cream, which Thelma says she made the night before. My husband orders maple walnut, and Sally, vanilla fudge. Tutti-frutti is still one of the 23 flavors offered, though I've never known anyone to order it.
Thelma calls us "sweetheart" and "baby," and tells us she hopes we come back again soon. We thank her and pay $7: $3 for the three cones and $4 for two old Northwest Orient Airlines cocktail glasses my husband favors.
Years ago on summer Sunday afternoons, my six siblings, parents and I would pile into the family Ford station wagon ("Buy American," Dad always said) for a drive. My father was a real estate broker in Northern Virginia ("A good business here every four years," he'd often crack), and often we would drive by a new house or subdivision, or go with him to put up or take down "For Sale" signs. Sometimes we'd go with him to deliver a bottle of Virginia Gentleman whiskey ("Now that you are a Virginia Gentleman . . . ") to someone who had bought a house through him.
Sometimes, on a lark, my father would drive by the home of friends and startle them by announcing from the car that he hoped we weren't too late for dinner. (Another joke. Get it?) And often, if it wasn't too close to dinner time, we'd end up at what was then called Frank & Thelma's, about a 20-minute drive from our home in Arlington.
We'd go out Old Dominion Drive, a two-lane, tree-lined road, passing judgment on the houses as we passed by. At the entrance to Great Falls Park, we'd turn left onto Old Georgetown Road, then left on Walker Road, an undulating passage through fields, to a right on Colvin Run Road.
We'd park in front of a big garage with a sign that's still there that says "Frank & Thelma Feighery," and walk next door to the general store, a building covered with tar paper with a brown-brick design.
After Frank's death, the store, which sells groceries, collectibles and more, became Thelma's Home Made Ice Cream. To the right of the garage in the yard--where squealing pigs used to congregate--is an office complex that has been there for some time.
Dad always chatted up Thelma and bought two quarts of vanilla to bring home. He made malted milkshakes. (He knew how to pop corn, too.)
(Thelma's Home Made Ice Cream, 10200 Colvin Run Rd., Great Falls, is open from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily).
--Robin Groom, Arlington
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