DAVID L. BARBER: Turning the ice cream crank a rite of passage

It was a rite of passage – the first step a boy takes to becoming a man.

A half-century ago I was told I could stand in line with the rest of the men at our family reunion to take my turn at helping to make ice cream – a man-sized job, to be sure.

All I had to do was to sit on a small wooden stool and turn an over-sized crank that was located atop of metal canister, the latter which was filled with chipped ice and rock salt.

Despite my dirty knees, tattered T-shirt, bare feet, and whining, choir-boy voice, I had been told to “take my place in line with the men.” Not even my older brothers, nor my older cousins, had been anointed and knighted with such an honor.

I couldn’t have been much more than six years old, though I was wise enough to know I had become the chosen one – chosen to do a man-sized task.

Dad turned the ice cream crank, first. I think Uncle Virgil was next, then Uncle Bob, and they were followed by Uncle Lyle, though the latter wasn’t my real uncle, at all.

After several minutes of pants-wetting anticipation, it became my turn, to turn the crank.

Looking out across the Rose Lake pavilion I wanted to see if my older brothers were watching. I wasn’t beyond puffing out my concave chest, and I wanted them to know who it was they’d been messing with the past six years.

I had watched my dad turn the crank. I had watched my uncles – my real uncles, and my pretend one. I watched how they methodically turned the crank in a clock-wise fashion. I watched so when it became my turn, I’d be ready.

Oh, I’d be ready, alright.

Funny thing about such life-churning moments – the whole world seems to gather around and watch. It’s like they’ve been secretly tipped off to what is about to happen. There must have been 10 million people in that 20-foot by 40-foot pavilion then and there. Heck, maybe there was 20 million, I don’t remember, to be sure.

Sitting on my little stool I grabbed hold of the crank. I tried to turn it, but it wouldn’t budge. Grabbing it with both hands, I tried to turn it in a clock-wise manner. Nothing.

Everyone laughed. A lot. Out loud. They pointed and they snickered and they laughed, aloud. No one laughed harder than my brothers. Go figure.

Who knew the more you turn the crank on an ice cream maker, the harder the ice cream becomes, and thus, the more difficult it becomes to turn the crank? Who knew?

Apparently my dad and my uncles knew. And my mom and my brothers and my cousins and everyone else, too. Everyone knew, but me.

But bound and determined to show ’em all that I could turn that gosh-darned ice cream crank – determined to show ’em all I’d become a man – I grunted and groaned and … nothing.

Here’s another funny thing, when you’re six years old and everyone laughs at you – it’s no laughing matter. The truth is, it hurts.

For me, there was nothing to do but cry. So I did just that.

But before you feel too sad and bad for me, remember this – we’re talking about a time-honored rite of passage here, folks! I didn’t know that at the time, but I came to realize this very real fact of life, later.

So, in time, I did what any good father would do. Several years later I told my own six-year-old son, Jason, that he could “join the rest of the men,” and help make ice cream.

As Jason giggled and wiggled his way to the front of the line, he bent over, grabbed the ice cream crank, and gave it a turn. And then he gave it another turn, and another. Danged if my son didn’t turn that crank over and over and over.

As everyone else cheered him on, I felt somewhat cheated.

And that’s another rite of passage, isn’t it, when your child surpasses your own efforts and accomplishments?

But at age six? Come on!

David L. Barber is the retired editor of the Manistee News Advocate. He will be contributing columns weekly for the News Advocate. You can contact him at dlbarber1006@gmail.com.


Posted by David L. Barber

David L. Barber is the retired editor of the Manistee News Advocate. He contributes columns weekly for the News Advocate. You can contact him at dlbarber1006@gmail.com.