At last, Congress is getting serious. Just before going home for the Independence Day holiday, the lawmakers passed resolutions designating July 15 as National Ice Cream Day. How appropriate.
Ice cream is as American as apple pie, on which it rests as easy as the dome on the Capitol. And looks as pretty.
"Ice cream is a nutritious and wholesome food that is the favorite dessert of many Americans," Sen. Walter (Dee) Huddleston (D-Ky.) said, in introducing the commemorative resolution, in which he was joined by 45 senators of both parties.
"Ice cream has been enjoyed by Americans throughout our nation's history," Huddleston said. "It is said that George Washington enjoyed ice cream so much that he had ice-cream-making equipment installed at Mount Vernon. . . . In 1904, at the St. Louis World's Fair, the ice cream cone was introduced. Ice cream continues to be a favorite dessert of many Americans. Last year alone, we consumed more than 3 billion quarts of it."
I don't like to brag, but as a patriot on this patriotic holiday, I want to say, "I helped." I've been helping for a long time.
According to the consumer demographics in the informative reference book published by the International Association of Ice Cream Manufacturers--the title, naturally, is "The Latest Scoop"-- "per capita eating of ice cream and related products is highest among children ages 2-17 and adults 45 years and over."
That about describes my pattern, except that I did not take time out in the middle years, when others got diverted by booze, women or the false temptress, success. So strong was my youthful infatuation with ice cream that it never waned.
When I ask myself how this passion developed, it is clear that early in life, ice cream became associated with the most treasured moments. After a Sunday doubleheader at Wrigley Field, while transferring from the "El" to the I.C. (the Elevated and the Illinois Central, for you non-Chicagoans), my pack of grade-school pals would stop off at Wimpy's on the corner of Randolph and Wabash. For 24 cents, you could get a hamburger and a milk shake. A top-notch finish to the usual Cubs' victory; a consoling feast on the rare occasions when they lost.
Later, in junior high, I would occasionally be invited downtown in Chicago Heights for lunch with my father. His favorite restaurant was the Steak 'n' Shake. The steak wasn't much, but, oh that shake.
High school was a three-mile bike ride from the house, but a couple times a week, if one was prudent with the spending money, the ride home could be broken up at Bonick's, the drugstore at the corner of 15th and Campbell. It was the real thing, with a marble-top counter, three or four round tables with wire-back chairs that would sell for $200 each in Georgetown today, and gleaming fountain equipment. The sundaes and shakes there, at the end of the school day, were out of this world.
The ice cream business, from what I gather, is pretty good. Frozen desserts--a category that includes, in addition to genuine ice cream, such questionable concoctions as ice milk, sherbet, water ices and some abomination called mellorine, "in which the milkfat is replaced, in whole or in part, with vegetable fat"--is a $3 billion industry.
Production of ice cream holds steady at just over 14.5 quarts per capita, come recession, inflation, supply-side or eternal Volckerism. "The Latest Scoop" reports that "the eating of ice cream increases with income and education." There is also a positive correlation with the weight of the individual, but they do not dwell on that.
Nor will I. Cynics may suggest that the designation of National Ice Cream Day is a payoff for the $22,278 the ice-cream makers' political action committee put into 1982 congressional races or the ice cream party the trade association threw for members of Congress last week. I prefer to think it is a deserved recognition of one of the things that makes life worth living. How many of the pleasures of one's youth can one look forward to indulging in old age? Name another. When I am ancient and toothless, I will still sip my milk shakes, and recall those afternoons at Bonicks.
Or conceivably, if Terry Dolan of the National Conservative Political Action Committee or Caspar Weinberger of the Department of Defense-- both of whom have taken umbrage at recent columns--come to power, I will have a chance to live out my fantasy sooner than expected.
When I have been convicted of crimes against the Dolan-Weinberger regime and am facing the firing squad, there will be no last drag on a cigarette. If I am granted a final request, it will be one more slurp on a chocolate shake.
And then, if time allows, I will quote Thornton Wilder's line from "The Skin of Our Teeth": "My advice to you is not to inquire why or whether, but just to enjoy your ice cream while it is on your plate; that's my philosophy."