Shoulder to shoulder, the church ladies stood scooping homemade ice cream, the recipes as old as the ties among them.
They were in the meeting hall of Mount Olivet United Methodist Church in Lovettsville on Wednesday evening, presiding over the ice cream social.
Barbara Gletner, 64, and Georgia Ridgeway, 72--sisters, fellow ice cream servers, lifelong residents of Lovettsville--helped lug heavy tubs from freezers and coolers to table top.
"Oh, Lord, how long we had ice cream socials?" Ridgeway asked of no one in particular. "We used to have them outside before we had this building, and it's at least 35 years old."
Gletner was busy admiring the assortment of flavors, in frosty vats on a table in the kitchen. "Oh my, we got pineapple, we got strawberry, peach, cookies-and-cream," she said. "We won't come close to running out."
By 6:20 p.m.--10 minutes before the event was to begin--about 120 polite but eager people had formed a line. Some were parishioners, others came in car pools from New Jerusalem Lutheran Church nearby and the Methodist church over the mountain in Neersville, and still others were neighbors who just happened to hear about it. Wednesday's social was the last one of the summer, and nobody wanted to miss the chance to try a couple of dozen flavors with a slice of homemade cake.
The twice-yearly socials double as fund-raisers and gatherings for friends. Last week's event raised money for new carpet in the meeting hall, with about 10 percent set aside for missions and sending local children to summer camps.
The Rev. Lynn Wilbur, who arrived a year ago from a hamlet of 30 people in Madison County, Va., said he has enjoyed the socials in his brief tenure at Mount Olivet, a church with 120 members that he said is growing "slowly." They suit a man who likes the rural life and finds the pace--and the traffic--in Loudoun a little more hectic than he's used to.
"As the evening goes on and more people arrive, it's like the Titanic," said Wilbur, 57. "There's pushing, there's milling around. The ones who come here early get the best cakes."
The pace picked up as the orders streamed in. But the ladies--old pros--were unruffled, calmly heaping black walnut and lazy daisy into bowls. "We had complaints we didn't fill them up high enough," Ridgeway said.
As they worked, Lillie Kelley and the others recalled the old days, when they blended sugar, milk, cream and eggs, then stoked the hand-cranked mixers with ice and rock salt. Now they have electric mixers.
"No more cranking," said Kelley, 63, who raised five children in Lovettsville, her hometown.
But the real work is in the serving, and the women--dressed in smart pantsuits and rubber-sole shoes--had prepared for a rugged evening. They shared tips on scooping techniques. To heck with arthritis.
"You kind of scoop around the sides" of the containers, Gletner advised. "It's softer."
Their customers walked away looking satisfied. Seated at a dozen tables in the hall were neighbors, cousins and old friends.
Althea Orrison, 81, regal in a purple dress and five or six strands of freshwater pearls, indulged in a scoop each of banana and peach ice cream and a slice of coconut cake. She was happy to have some fresh news to share.
"Did you hear?" she said to Walter Fleming, 69, a cousin who grew up on a farm next to the church and shares her passion for genealogy. She told him about some folks named Orrison who had paid her a visit from Columbia, Md. She had never heard about them, and they were in Lovettsville researching their ancestors.
Orrison said she was thrilled to meet them--"kin or no kin." It'll be a while before it's sorted out.
Soon enough Amelia George pulled up a chair. She brought along her deserts--a scoop each of peanut butter and raspberry ice cream accompanied by black walnut cake--and leaned in for the conversation.
George, 69, and Orrison have known each other "quite a few years," beginning when George married James S. George, a native of Lovettsville, and moved across the river from her hometown of Brunswick to her husband's village. She was 18.
Both women are widows now, taking care of themselves at home with help from their children. After all these years, Orrison is still ribbing George about being "a Marylander."
"I've been here 50 years," said George, mother of two and grandmother of five. "I think I'm a Virginian now."